Super Super Tuscan


The bleary eyes and hazy heads in the office this morning were not the result of the vicissitudes of London’s public transport but an excess of fine Tuscan wine at Manicomio last night.

It is not an overstatement to say that we love Manicomio. From an organiser’s perspective they are a dream to work with. Nothing is too much trouble and they over deliver on quality of food and service time and time again. And from a guest’s perspective they tick all the boxes – stunning rooms, charming staff and simply delicious food. As you can see, we are big fans – huge, in fact.

We kicked off with Simone Santini’s delicious Vernaccia di San Gimignano Tenuta le Calcinaie 2007, which slipped down far too easily and was, I fear, the beginning of the end for me. Trays of chicken liver and salt cod crostini, Parma ham with melon, pungent salami seasoned with fennel were passed around. There were also sublime shots of Pappa al Pomodoro – a traditional Tuscan thick soup of bread and tomato, which was a lot more delicious than my rather literal description makes it sound. For the committed red drinkers Sean O’Callaghan’s Chianti Classico Riecine 2006 made a happy start to the evening.

We adjourned upstairs for nine more wines with five courses introduced knowledgeably and eloquently by Julian Chamberlen (resplendent in pink shirt and jumper combo) and Robin Kick who have the enviable task of visiting our Italian estates each year to try the new vintage. There was a lot of talk of love and passion, with the word sexy being used over and over again. While not the most technical term it is one that fits these wines well.

The breadth of styles was fascinating and it as particularly interesting to see how the addition of a dash of Cabernet here or a splash of Merlot there makes such a significant difference to the overall shape of the wine. And there was plenty of healthy (and increasingly voluble) debate as to which wines were best.

My end of the table thought the 2005 Chianti from Il Molino di Grace was showing really well: rich, full and smooth. The Chianti Classico 2001 from Riecine was wonderful and not surprisingly someone has already snapped up our last few cases. I am going to be getting a bottle of the 2004 out to see if it is equally good. And, notwithstanding the pleasures of the Super Tuscans and Giugiu Sesti’s Brunello, we were positively rapturous about Ambra’s Vin Santo 2001.

Jimmy Low’s favourites:
La Gioia 2004 because it was a wine of sheer class, purity and precision. This is their top wine, Sangiovese with a dash of Merlot in the blend, it is rammed with vibrant red fruits, perfect balance with a fine streak on minerality soaring through it. Well made and very beautiful.

Vernaccia Di Sam Gimignano 2007 because I couldn’t say no to the fine looking waitress as she offered me ‘another’ glass. Delicious and refreshing. The perfect aperitif.

Robin’s favourites:
Carmignano Alte Vigne Montalbiolo 05 – Really refined, poised yet serious. Excellent balance and freshness. Delivers far beyond it’s price point.

La Gioia 04 – yet again an excellent showing for this little number. Sexy (word of the night thanks to JC) and sumptuous with some underlying truffle notes thanks to the 10% Merlot.

Julian’s favourites:
Vernaccia sassi 05 – wonderful nutty almond, lemon honey and smooth smoky flavour, not a million miles away from Montagny 1er cru in weight but much more original and stylish and organic to boot.

Gratius 04 – dense, animal, earth, black cherry plum spice, iron filings, v mineral and a perfect partner to the lamb.

While Johnny, our Chairman was unable to limit himself to two favourites and recommends almost everything…
Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2007 – No greater compliment than there are 3 cases on their way to the Chairman’s cellar for his summer drinking.

Sesti’s Rosso di Montalcino 2007. The Brunello is great wine but needs time. For pure value for money, charm and quality the Rosso was the star. Only rivalled by Sean’s wonderful offerings at Riecine.

Vin Santo Ambra 2001, glorious nectar but hugely dangerous. Three glasses was not a wise way of ending the evening!

And here is the full menu in all its glory:

Vitello tonnato
Vernaccia di San Gimignano Vigna Ai Sassi Le Calcinaie 2005
Chianti Classico Il Molino di Grace 2005

Rabbit and Tuscan sausage ravioli
Carmignano Riserva Montalbiolo Vigne Alte Ambra 2005
Chianti Classico Riserva Riecine 2001 (magnum)

Slow roasted Black Face lamb shoulder, aubergines, San Manzano tomatoes and oregano
Gratius Il Molino di Grace 2004
La Gioia Riecine 2004

Selection of artisan Tuscan cheeses
Rosso di Montalcino Castello di Argiano Sesti 2007
Brunello di Montalcino Castello di Argiano Sesti 2003

Vin Santo di Carmignano Ambra 2001

We will undoubtedly be holding more dinners with Manicomio – perhaps another Tuscan extravaganza for those who weren’t quick enough to get tickets this time, and maybe a foray to the North towards Piedmont. So watch this space.