Le Miccine winemaker Paula Papini Cook is celebrating her Scottish roots in Tuscany, writes Peter Ranscombe.
FOR Scots living abroad, there’s always once thing they miss more than anything else.
For some, it’s Irn Bru; for others, it’s haggis.
For Paula Papini Cook, the winemaker at Le Miccine in Tuscany, it’s tattie scones.
While she may have been born to an Italian mother and Scottish father in Quebec, she is clearly proud of her Scottish heritage, draping a saltire as the backdrop for Friday night’s online tasting with wine merchant Woodwinters.
Having studied agriculture at university in Canada, a move to Italy cemented Cook’s desire to work with wine.
Italian wineries were very interested in employing a talented linguist like Cook in their tasting rooms, but winemaking roles were few and far between.
Cook realised she’d need to buy her own estate and so, in 2010, she and her parents took over Le Miccine in the “classico” heart of the Chianti region.
The 300-year-old estate was once a stopping off point for travellers on the road from Siena to Florence and takes its name from the local name for the small female donkeys that carried the walkers’ luggage.
Perched on a hill and surrounded by forests, Cook described Le Miccine as a “pocket of cool”.
“This isn’t hot Tuscany,” she explained.
One man and his bike
That cool site is already paying dividends as the climate warms.
While other farmers struggle to retain acidity in their grapes and therefore freshness in their wines, Cook’s cooler climes mean her wines remain bright and lively.
She’s also pruning her vines later, which in turns means the buds flower later and the resulting grapes ripen later, giving them time for their flavours to develop before their sugar levels get too high.
That freshness in the wines is one of the factors that caught Woodwinters owner Doug Wood’s eye.
He had rejected wines made at Le Miccine under its previous owners but decided to revisit the winery while he was cycling through Tuscany.
Wood was blown away by the improvements in the quality of the wines under Cook’s care and became her distributor.
Being surrounded by forests has also allowed Cook to switch to organic farming; the trees act as a barrier to any chemicals used by her neighbours on their fields.
Cook has also made changes in the winery, removing the merlot that previously went into the estate’s Chianti Classico and bottling it separately.
And the name of the standalone merlot?
“Carduus” – the Latin word for “thistle”, our national emblem, which also adorns the estate’s crest.
Le Miccine Chianti Classico 2018 (£17, Woodwinters)
Made from a blend of 90% sangiovese with dashes of fellow native varieties colorino and malvasia nero, Cook describes 2018 as a “warm vintage”. You wouldn’t know it from the freshness of the wine, with the fresh acidity balanced by assertive yet well-integrated tannins and great fruit concentration, featuring classic red cherry with darker black cherry and blackberry, plus vanilla, and more raspberry on the palate than the nose suggests.
Le Miccine Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 (£22)
Stepping up from the “classico” wines to the “riserva” level, Cook uses 100% sangiovese, with more dark chocolate and woodsmoke joining the cherries on the nose. The fresh acidity is still there, while the tannins are finer and more assertive, yet still well balanced by the concentrated, sweet, ripe fruit, centring on raspberry and blackcurrant, with licks of milk chocolate and vanilla.
Le Miccine Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 (£22)
In contrast to 2016, Cook describes 2017 as a hot year. For me, there was more red fruit on the nose, with more obvious cedar aromas too. In many ways, it’s closer to the bolder style we’ve come to expect from Chianti, as opposed to Le Miccine’s more nuanced elegance. The tannins are grainer and perhaps need longer to integrate – or a meatier ribeye steak – but the red fruit flavours on the palate show the same depth.
Le Miccine Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015 (£42)
Cook harvests the grapes for her gran selezione from a single plot containing a single clone of sangiovese growing on calcium-rich rocks under the central slope of the hillside. She selects individual bunches to give the right ratio between skin and juice. This level of attention to detail would command a three-figure price tag in other regions, but Cook’s example is an absolute steal, delivering concentrated raspberry, red cherry, and darker black fruit, intermingled with spun sugar and vanilla. It’s the integration of the tannins that’s most impressive though; a wine to sip by the fireside or on the patio, with no need for food.
Le Miccine Carduus 2016 (£28)
There’s a surprising depth to the dark fruit flavours in Cook’s merlot, with dark plum and blackberry balanced by sweeter cedar and vanilla aromas, and then a healthy dose of dark chocolate on the palate. Le Miccine’s tell-tale fresh acidity is still there, while the tannins are riper and chewier than in the sangiovese. Only three barrels – or around 1,000 bottles – of Carduus are produced, matching the rarity of the gran selezione.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his blog, The Grape & The Grain