Elegance from the Alps: San Leonardo 2019

San Leonardo, from the estate of the same name, has many roots: a prehistory under the Austrian Habsburgs. The heritage of French vines. And finally, the reinvention of Italian viticulture in Tuscany. The 2019 vintage marks the 31st edition of Trentino's top red wine.

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Many wineries are said to have a “rich history”. This is certainly the case at San Leonardo. The estate is located on the Via Claudia Augusta, one of the most important Roman roads linking northern Italy with southern Germany. Some 1,000 years ago, the estate was a monastery. In the 17th century it belonged to the Gresta family (later De Gresti), to whom Marchese Tullo Guerrieri Gonzaga di Montebello married in 1890. At that time the place of origin, Borghetto d’Avio, was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From here it was only a few kilometres to the border with the Kingdom of Italy, which until 1866 had been the border with the Republic of Venice. The award-winning Riesling and Borgogna wines produced here were bottled under the name of Château St. Leonard. Trentino was then annexed by Italy in 1919 – and for a while we heard little about the wine.

Apprenticeship in Tuscany

In the early 1960s, however, Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga decided to study oenology in Lausanne. After graduating in 1962, however, his father passed the reins of the family winery to someone else. So Carlo went to Tuscany as an independent wine consultant. There he worked for several years with a friend of his grandfather’s, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who would bottle his first vintage of Sassicaia there in 1968. When Carlo took over San Leonardo after his father’s death in 1974, he also set about making an Italian red wine from French grapes. He was able to rely on old vineyards of Merlot and Cabernet Franc dating back to the Habsburg era. With the help of oenologist Giacomo Tachis, Sassicaia’s consultant, he also planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1978. The first San Leonardo was bottled in 1982. A “Vino da tavola dei Campi Sarni”, with a production of 9,780 bottles.

A lot has changed since then. But the style has remained remarkably consistent. First, in the early 1990s, the supposed Cabernet Franc was “unmasked” as Carmènere. A discovery by the ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot that surprised the world. The San Leonardo blend has gradually become more and more Cabernet Sauvignon. Now the composition is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenère and 10% Merlot. Carlo Ferrini replaced Giacomo Tachis as consultant in 2000. And Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga now runs the estate, succeeding his father Carlo. He is breaking new ground in a number of areas, including a partial return to the old pergola cultivation method, which means the grapes produce less sugar. In other areas, such as French grape varieties, he has followed his father’s vision.

San Leonardo 2019 in the glass

65,400 bottles of San Leonardo 2019 have been filled; the wine has been labelled I.G.T. Vigneti delle Dolomiti since 2000. The harvest was relatively cool, which is actually San Leonardo’s favourite weather. A cold winter with a cool spring and late flowering was followed by a summer with moderate temperatures and, compared to 2018, a harvest two weeks later. Vinified using spontaneous yeasts in cement tanks, with daily pumping over. Maturation then took place for 24 months in barriques and tonneaux with first, second and third passage and a further 24 months in the bottle.

Deep dark ruby red in the glass with violet reflections, the bouquet has notes of violets, dried herbs and spices, to which currants and sour cherries are added retronasally. Initially appears lean on the palate due to its high acidity, but has a finely structured, seamless texture and well-managed, powdery tannins. With a little air, the complexity of the wine reveals itself, developing increasing pressure and impressive length. Very focussed, sinewy and certainly made for long ageing (97 p.).

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