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Over a Glass - with Lamberto Frescobaldi

To be truthful, we never get beyond the glass of water. But it is highly rated New York City tap water, and the glass is always half-full.

I am with Lamberto Frescobaldi, who is in town to talk about his new jewel in the crown – Tenuta Perano in Chianti Classico, but our conversation in a PR agency’s conference room is wide-ranging, and we never get around to asking that the wine be poured.

In spite of the fact that Frescobaldi is arguably the oldest continuously operating winery in the world (around 700 years), and certainly the oldest owned by a family (Lamberto is the 30th generation), it has not in modern times owned a winery in Chianti’s most-treasured region – Chianti Classico. “It took me 40 years to do it,” Lamberto says of finding a Chianti Classico estate that he liked and that was available. “The estate is more important than the appellation,” he explains. “If a producer relies too much on the appellation, he is not pulling the train. He is on the train.”

Perano fit the bill. “I wanted the finesse that comes with elevation, and soil that was not clay, but schist,” he says. And it needed to be large enough to meet consumer demand “if success comes. Otherwise, you become a negoçiant.” The Perano estate first caught his eye when it was up for sale in 1992, “but I was too young,” he says, and missed the opportunity. An opening came again in 2014 when Frescobaldi rented the property, taking control of operations, and the sale was completed in 2017.

Although Frescobaldi was in charge of the 2014 vintage, the company waited until changes were made before deciding the 2015 vintage would be the first release under new ownership. “Only once in my lifetime did we have the inventory to sell wine right away” after a winery was purchased, Lamberto says. “That was a big mistake, and we sold the winery.”  And while the terroir is, of course, important, Lamberto emphasizes that the people who make the wine are also important. “If you don’t leave your footprint on the wine, you’re missing something,” he says.

Perano thus becomes the seventh of Frescobaldi’s Tuscan estates, following Nipozzano, Pomino, Castiglione, Rèmole, Castelgiocondo and Ammiraglia.

Lamberto is well aware of the tradition he carries forward, but, as he says, “Tradition is a knife with two edges. Tradition provides us with comfort, but if you become too comfortable, then you are afraid to take chances.” One of Lamberto’s chances taken was his decision in 2012 to partner with the Italian government and make a white wine on the Tuscan island of Gorgona, part of an archipelago that includes the more-famous Elba.  But Gorgona is not the eighth Frescobaldi estate. Rather, it is an island prison where Frescobaldi makes commercial wine (quite good, quite pricey) from the prison’s vineyard while teaching selected inmates a trade to help reenter society when they are released.

Lamberto also says producing an IGT is a bit of a chance in that it abandons having an appellation on the label and generally must be sold at a higher price. “When you do an IGT, there is no soft landing,” he says, “and I’ve always had a sweet tooth for that – and it’s the most democratic way to make wine.”

Before we know it, our hour is up. And don’t feel sorry we don’t have time to enjoy a glass of the 2015 Perano.  I had received a sample bottle a couple of months earlier and found the wine – which sells for $29 – to be a nice marriage of tart fruits and mellow oak and an excellent complement for both red and white sauces.

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