The world of Frescobaldi

A whirlwind tasting tour of five Tuscan wine estates.

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, the venerable wine empire owned by one of the top noble families of Florence, has been making headlines in Italy for 700 years. The winery’s legacy now includes a program producing the world’s first prisoner-made wine. Early this year, company vice president Lamberto Frescobaldi joined forces with Italy’s penitentiary department in devising a plan for rehabilitation through grape cultivation. The first cuvée, a white blend dubbed Gorgona, debuted this summer in a limited-edition 2,700-bottle release. The wine, made on the isle of Gorgona off the Tuscan coast—Italy’s answer to Alcatraz—is the first step. The socially conscious winemaking family has pledged to employ inmates upon their release.

The family has a long history of giving back to the community as patrons of the arts. Their new “artists for Frescobaldi” initiative doles out generous grants. Tiziana Frescobaldi, its driving force, conducted an Italy-wide search for contemporary photographers, tasked with symbolically interpreting the family’s CastelGiocondo estate in Montalcino. Three winning entries are featured on limited-edition Brunello labels. First prize went to Elisa Sighicelli, who climbed into a wine barrel and shot a photograph from inside through its small top opening.

On a tour of the Frescobaldi’s five wine estates in Tuscany, I started at the newest property, Ammiraglia estate in Maremma with views to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is a self-contained sustainable world with Angus cows and Cinta Senese pigs. I tasted the new vintage of Ammiraglia Syrah, which has notes of black currant, fig, clay and earth, with velvety tannins.

Next, I was off to CastelGiocondo located about an hour away from Ammiraglia near the historic village of Montalcino. The winery bottles both pure Sangiovese and pure Merlot. I sampled 2012 Brunello straight from the barrel, picking up raspberry and blood orange on the nose.

The following day took me to the Castello di Pomino in a nearby DOC—a cool-climate white wine-producing alpine appellation at 2,000 feet. The property produces a lovely barrel-aged Chardonnay, Benefizio. That afternoon, Lamberto Frescobaldi, his son Vittorio and their beloved dog, Brunello, took me on a tour of nearby Castello di Nipozzano, which appeared like a fortified stone castle on top of a hill. The wine flowed freely—first Mormoreto (a Super Tuscan), then Montesodi (single-vineyard Sangiovese). As a final surprise, Lamberto took a knife to the wax seal of Gorgona and let me have a sip of the already storied Vermentino.

I closed out my Tuscan immersion with patriarch Marchese Leonardo Frescobaldi leading me on a tour of the Tenuta di Castiglioni, which has been in the family since the 11th century. Over verticals of Giramonte, the Marchese spoke of the jealous pangs he felt upon discovering Robert Mondavi’s New World wines with their big oak, vanilla and fruit flavors. Afterward, he explained, he took his Italian wines in that big bold direction. “Now,” he says, “we no longer seek intense concentrated wine because it tires your palate. Instead, we want balanced earthiness with great acidity and harmonious wines.” A tablemate’s descriptor confirmed his achievement. “The ’06 Giramonte,” she said, “is like a bolt of velvet unfurling.”