2004 Tenuta San Leonardo, Vigneti Delle Dolomiti IGT Rosso, Italy.
It’s not often that you get a chance to taste an aged and well kept bottle of San Leonardo, a legendary estate near Trentino and the Alto Adige in the Dolomites that is well known for their Bordeaux style top bottling that has an almost cult like following, but when you do, you are really lucky, as I was recently when my friend Giuseppi Cossu surprised with this lovely 2004 vintage. Cossu, a native of Sardinia, a jazz musician and sommelier turned winemaker, who has a long history, like myself, in wine and has worked in the United States since moving here in the mid 1990s, in restaurants and as an importer/distributor rep, so he had access to some of the world’s most prized wines, especially from Italy and collected a few, hence him opening this one and blind tasting me on it. The 2004 San Leonardo, made from mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, along with good doses of Merlot, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc, was a difficult wine to peg without reference points to grab on to, I said it was like Chinon (Loire Cab Franc) meets out Medoc (like Saint Julien) and had no idea what I was experiencing as I’ve not had it before and it kept changing in the glass. I found this wine, which still had plenty of dark garnet color, it didn’t look 20 years old, or taste it either, to have an intensity of flavors with blackberry, currant and cherry fruits with just a little tertiary elements showing, but with loads of pyrazines in evidence and subtle wood notes. In the end, I knew this was a serious and rewarding wine, though I finally guessed it was a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, but after the reveal, and with food it became more Cabernet Sauvignon like and took on a deeper complexity with hints of graphite, bay leaf, anise and loamy earth with a faint cedary note and some lingering creme de cassis. San Leonardo, does this wine as its Grand Vin, as well as offerings of Riesling, common to the region, a solo varietal Carmenere, Sauvignon Blanc, Terre, a second Bordeaux style red wine, a Merlot based offering and a Rosé, which is 100% Lagrein, a native grape in the Alto Adige. The San Leonardo was fermented and macerated in cement tanks, with close to 15 days on the skins before pressing, and aged a minimum of 18 months in a combination of Slovenian and French oak, which can be in a range close to 80% large Slovenian casks and 20% small newer French oak barrels. After which the bottled Grand Vin of the estate saw another 6 months of resting time in the cellar before being released to the market, with most people holding it for 5 to 10 years before even thinking about opening one of these treasures.

Founded in 1724 the Tenuta San Leonardo is one of Italy’s most iconic wine estates, and wine, which is a unique Bordeaux blend from up in the Italian Alps with a centuries-old history, far before the modern times legends of Bolgheri happened upon the scene in the later part of the 1960s. A classic cool climate Bordeaux blend, typically about 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Carmenere, with some years seeing a small percentage of Cabernet Franc as well. Interestingly Carmenere, which has long been in Italy, had almost been forgotten in Bordeaux itself since Phylloxera wiped it out in the late 1800s, until vines in Chile were discovered, even though it had a continuous happy home here in Italy. It has influenced the character here in San Leonardo’s blend for many generations with its earthy spice and bell pepper notes, as seen here in this 2004. Unlike its Tuscan cousin, through a family relation, from Bolgheri, Sassicaia, San Leonardo is much more old school and while both age exceptionally well, the San Leonardo really needs that bottle age to show off its best side. Located in the Vallagrina area, which was carved out by the Adige river, San Leonardo, on sandy and pebbly soils, has a more temperate climate and sees lots of s un and is blessed by the Ora del Garda wind that cools and helps project the vines from lingering humidity. Once a medieval fiefdom that spanned over 740 acres, the San Leonardo estate, as I learned, has been producing wine for centuries. The property has been under the ownership of the Guerrieri Gonzaga family since the mid 18th century, and according to their importer, it has also been the setting of many historical events, from the marriage of Longbard kings to the negotiation of the WWI armistice with Austria. But, it is the wine that is this place’s most prized jewel, and today, San Leonardo has some 50 acres of vines that are planted to these Bordeaux varietals that seem to thrive in the varied microclimates here. The majority of these vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, but Carmenere, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are also found here and add a very distinctive class and character to the wine, as seen here in this finely aged version. What a pleasure, this San Leonardo, made by the Marchesi Guerrieri Gonzaga and his winemaker Carlo Ferrini, was, a big thank you to Giuseppi for sharing this remarkable wine with me, to my great honor, and to the team at Cella Restaurant in Monterey that encouraged our evening of exciting wines with great service and exceptional food, including an outstanding duck paté with a cherry reduction and cherries, to go with them.
($125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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