Siena in the Rain. Ricolma in the House. Vin Santo Redux.

We arrived after hanging with the Ciacci family. It was dark in Siena. The main Piazza empty. But the signature clock tower loomed high and proud above. The next day, the skies starting welling up and then cried. We walked the walled city of Siena and reminisced about the fight for control and struggle for power between the Sienese and the Florentines. We’ll be in Florence soon. But here we’ll tour the great country of Northern Tuscany known to the rest of the world as Chianti.

We met Lucca who is one of the brothers that run San Giusto A Rentennamo the makers of the Percarlo, that great Sangiovese we had back at La Grotta in Montepulciano. We had stopped in earlier to do a quick tour and tasting, but Lucca wasn’t around. So we returned the next day. I wanted to open a bottle of California Merlot that I schlepped all the way from Newport Beach – a 1996 Pahlmeyer. You see one of San Giusti’s rarest wines is called Ricolma. It’s 100% Merlot and virtually impossible to find. And if you find it, prepare to pay. My brother Jon was able to get his hands on a bottle a year ago when he was last in Florence. We drank it last year around New Years. It blew us away. So I was determined to track down the owners and share one of California’s finer Merlots.

When we arrived in the late afternoon Lucca led us to a small dwelling toward the back of the 15th century building that serves as San Giustis cellar. He opens the door and immediately the chill of the cooled Chianti evening was comforted by a toasty warming offered by an old wood burning stove in the corner. Lucca pulled a plate of salami, cheese and bread from a cupboard and placed a bottle of Olive Oil made from the 1,000+ olive trees on his property on the table. Unexpectedly, he pulled a bottle of Ricolma that was slightly more than half full and placed it on the table. I handed him the Pahlmeyer which he opened.

Lucca, Tim and I tasted the great Merlots of both Tuscany and Napa Valley. His Ricolma showed more finesse and silkiness while the Napa contingent showed brute force, power and tannin. For a 1996 the Pahlmeyer could use a few more years. Different styles from different regions. Each its own character and reflecting the personality of its maker. And for Lucca, the maker is the earth. The soil. There’s not much interfering with the winemaking process at San Giusti. Sure, he explained how he’s playing with drip irrigation. But his biggest challenge is understanding how the shift in weather pattern will affect how he farms and plants his vineyard. Worried that the climate may soon me more in tune to the North or Germany, he’s wondering how to manage change in the vineyard. Lucca will go to Australia later this year to meet with winemakers who he says have adjusted to a similar change in weather pattern that affected a particular region down under. I need to understand more of what happened in Australia. But to watch Lucca’s expression and hear in his voice the concern it makes me concerned, too.

We exchanged cards and Lucca and I agreed we’d pull corks on his next visit to California. The good news is earlier that day we met a gentlemen from Woodstock, New York who runs a wine shop in Chianti. He found us a couple bottles of Ricolma for a very reasonable price. Nice.

Photos: (1) Siena Piazza Campo at night. (2) Siena in the Rain. (3) San Giusti wines in dusty old cellar. (4) Barrels of Percarlo aging. There was no 2000 release. So it’s a rare to find a bottle. (5) San Giusti Vin Santo Grapes drying on traditional bamboo racks. Amazing scene. (6) Old Vin Santo Cask waiting it’s six year hibernation to end. (7) Vin Santo Grapes drying.