Our tasting impressions
A few lucky VDLT ducks had a chance to taste from the pitifully tiny allocation we had of the 1997. The result was always the same: how can I get some? Innocenti's Occhio di Pernice is indeed nectar of the gods. The 1998 is a worthy successor. Not quite as sweet and the flavors lean more to honeyed and dried stone fruit than fig. It needs some air time to integrate and focus the flavors. Oh, and this will last for...forever. Truly a rare and wonderful treat!
About this wine
Occhio di Pernice translates to eye of the partridge, so named because it is darker in color than the more common Vin Santo. Innocenti's version of this rare, sweet wine, which is 100% Sangiovese.
The grapes come from low density vineyards planted on average, 40 years ago in Montefollonico, which neighbors Montepulciano. They are handpicked and collected in small crates. Only the best grapes that are ripe and have tough skins from sparse clusters are selected. They dry naturally in the crates for about about 5 months and then, are pressed. The must obtained from this process - the Madre (mother yeast) -is fermented in small, 50-75L barrels called Caratelli. Innocenti uses chestnut.
The mother (yeast) has been used for generations and provides the unmistakable taste of Vin Santo. Significant evaporation occurs during the many years the wine is in the barrel. By regulation, the final product must not be more than 30% of the original volume of grapes. Technically, this is an oxidative wine because of the protracted maceration and aging.
About the grape
Sangiovese is the most planted grape in Italy and is the dominant grape throughout the central part of the country. There are many variants and even different names like Prugnolo Gentile, Brunello, Sangioveto and Morellino.
The grapes are dark and thick skinned, slow-ripening, acidic and tannic. Like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese is heavily influenced by its terroir and similarly can be quite transparent in its differences from place to place.
Traditionally, Sangiovese-based wines (except in Montalcino) have other grapes mixed in, but in recent history there have been many successful wines produced from 100% Sangiovese. So, today, they are quite common.
On your table
Drink on its own after dinner or with a simple dessert. A traditional accompaniment is cantuccini - a type of biscotti with almonds. Vittorio remembers in his youth, people drinking it with a creamy custard, either pudding or cake (I'd suggest not too sweet). Once opened, the wine should stay fresh for about 1 month.
Suggested Glassware: Grassl Mineralité
Vittorio Innocenti, a former philosophy teacher and his son Tommaso run this estate from a 13th century cellar in Montefollonico. They own 32 hectares in and around Montepulciano but only 12 are planted with vineyards of up to 50 years old. The vista views from the back patio are incredible.
They produce seven wines, but the cellars (in multiple locations) are dominated by the small barrels containing Vin Santo - a traditional Tuscan dessert wine. Vittorio says he has enough crops to produce more wine but he can’t because there is no room to store it.
Vittorio speaks no English and I no Italian. So we struggle to communicate in French unless, as usually is the case, his close friend Laura is on hand to translate. Despite the language gap, I like and have a deep respect for Vittorio. He is intensely committed to producing the highest quality wines and takes as much pride in his most modest offering as he does his top bottling.
VDLT is the only North American source for these extraordinary wines.