Can Tuscany rival Bordeaux?

The first time I experienced Arcanum from Tenuta di Arceno I actually didn’t know what I was tasting.

That’s because it was what the Master of Wine educational program calls a “blind tasting.”

All that we students taking the test knew was that wines 5 and 6, poured blind (without knowing the variety or producer) was that the two wines were from the same majority grape variety, but from two different countries.

Wine 5 had the crunchy red fruit typical of a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, but what of wine 6? It tasted like one of the finest Bordeaux wines I’ve ever experienced, and had just the right amount of what appeared to be New French oak to make the well integrated tannins supple. The complexity and nuances of flavor in that wine made me see lots of dollar signs in my head, but what could it be? Though some of the aromas and flavors reminded me of Bordeaux, there was a warmth to the wine I’d never experienced in Bordeaux. And the grapes seemed as if they were grown in a different type of soil and region …

After the exam, I discovered that wine was a SuperTuscan from Tenuta di Arceno called Arcanum, and that it retailed for over $100.

Though the quality and ability to age of Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum can be compared to Bordeaux, the styles are different. Arcanum is made in the Tuscany’s warm Chianti Classico region between Florence and Siena. Though wines have been made in these hills since the dawn of the Etruscan civilization nearly 3,000 years ago, it’s only been in the last several decades that Italy’s finest producers realized the potential of the soils and climate for fine wines, especially Bordeaux varieties.

Elevation is a hallmark for a growing quality grapes, and the Tenuta di Arceno estate climbs from 1,000 to 1,750 feet above sea level and features 220 acres of vineyards. The site boasts a sundrenched southwest exposure and ample protection from the cold north winds. The well-draining, stony soils naturally restrict crop levels and reflect sunlight back up to the vines creating additional warmth and light for the grapes. Tight vine spacing, low yields and modern winemaking methods create wines that are rich, pure, regionally specific and highly expressive.

The region is known for its native Sangiovese, but like many SuperTuscan producers Tenuta di Arceno grows both native Italian and Bordeaux varieties.

You can imagine my pleasure in receiving a sample of the 2011 Arcanum so I could taste this wine in a more relaxed, non-blind setting.

This 2011 blend is made up of 77% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petite Verdot and aged in new French oak for a year. Though the 14.% abv was comparable to Bordeaux, as was the concentration and nuances of new French oak, the wine seemed like a warmer climate than Bordeaux and the voluptuous nature of very ripe Cabernet Franc. The wine is black and dense with an aroma of black fruit, prune, spice, leather and black olive aromas.

I tried other wines from Tenuta di Arceno, which is owned by the Jackson Family estate.

The closest to the Arcanum was the 2011 Valadorna, 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, aged 1 year in 80% new French oak. It also had the rich concentration I typically associate with a fine, age worthy Bordeaux ($80).

The other two wines were the traditionally Sangiovese based wines from the region, including the 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva Strado al Sasso ($35) ad the 2013 Chianti Classico Riserva ($25). In both these wines, the ripe cherry flavor of Sangiovese came through, yet with more elegance and balance than the baked earth rusticity sometimes associated with less quality oriented producers.

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