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Home from home at the Gratis

Sebastian Payne MW tastes late into the evening at our Society Chianti Rufina suppliers & Jo Goodman gets an insight into the Rufina style from Gualberto Grati

From Umbria we travelled across the regional border into Tuscany to the town of Montalcino – a leg of the journey which we covered in an earlier edition of Travels in Wine. Not included in that write up was our final winery visit of this buying trip; an evening at Fattoria di Vetrice, producer of The Society's Chianti Rufina. It was late in the evening when we rolled up to the fattoria, home of the Grati family who have been making wine in this part of the Rufina Valley for five generations.

View from the Grati's terrace over the valley to the town of Rufina below View from the Grati's terrace over the valley to the town of Rufina below

Sebastian wanted to taste the constituent parts to put together the next blend of our Society wine. But we were also to work our way through a huge stash of samples from across Italy which Sebastian had arranged to be delivered here for tasting. I thought it very accommodating of Gualberto to facilitate this, but he said it was a great opportunity for him to taste widely alongside Sebastian.

Having visited a number of other producers in the valley I was getting a feel for the Rufina style and Gualberto Grati would give us a masterclass in what to look out for later on. I had visited this property with Sebastian nearly 20 years ago, at that time we only bought their estate wine, but Sebastian had the property in mind as a potential Society-label producer even back then.

'They have some great vineyards and old vines,' Sebastian told me, 'the vineyards are in a beautiful spot on the west side of the Rufina Valley and they work with a really good consultant winemaker to get the best out of the grapes.'

The estate is actually more than 500 hectares in size with 100 of these dedicated to vines. The rest is planted with cypresses and olive groves, typical of the Chianti region, and the Gratis are well-known for their olive oil too. They also have a Vinsantaia for the production of Vin Santo, traditional dessert wine which is made from dried grapes and aged for a long time in small barrels.

Canaiolo bianco made from one of the family's experimental vineyards to revive ancient varieties Canaiolo bianco, made from one of the family's experimental vineyards to revive ancient varieties

As well as the typical Chianti grapes of sangiovese, colorino and canaiolo, the family also grows malvasia and some merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Gualberto is also very involved in research into old Tuscan grape varieties, working with the horticulture and archaeology departments of several universities. 'It's a critical time for this work,' Gualberto says, 'as so many vineyards are being replanted with modern clones, we are losing some of our ampelographical heritage.' Over dinner later we taste a wine that has been produced from an experimental plot of canaiolo bianco – a sub-variety of the more common black variety and one which we'd come across previously in Orvieto where it goes by the name of drupeggia.

When I last visited, it was the parents Gianfranco and Nicoletta and grandfather, Grato Grati, who were running the show. The son Gualberto and his sister Cristiana were still students at that time but now they have pretty much taken over. We would be seeing Gianfranco and Nicoletta later over dinner, and bless them, they said they remembered me well from 20-odd years ago!

We taste through the samples for our Society Chianti Rufina and Sebastian calculates that we have enough stock of the 2013 vintage to be able to skip the less full-bodied 2014 vintage and move straight onto 2015 – the early sample of which shows sweet ripe fruit and generosity.

Tasting late into the evening with Gualberto Grati at Villa di Vetrice Tasting late into the evening with Gualberto Grati at Villa di Vetrice

My tasting notes refer to roses and cold tea rather a lot and Gualberto says that these are quite common characteristics for Rufina wines, as is a fresh acidity. The vineyards are at a higher altitude here than in the Chianti Classico district which gives these wines a particular perfume and freshness.

Gualberto explains in more detail in this short video (with sounds of our dinner being cooked in the background!)

After a convivial and delicious dinner with Gualberto and his parents Gianfranco and Nicoletta, we roll down the hill to our hotel in Rufina. It's gone midnight and tomorrow we plan another stop on the way to the airport.

Where to go next?

Tasting at the Consorzio >

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