This provocative mother creates a different touch of Tuscan wine


Renaissance artists Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, working to a contract signed by Niccolò Machiavelli in 1503, were commissioned to paint the opposite walls of the Hall of Five Hundred at the Palazzo Vecchio in the Italian city of Florence. They started drafts, but never finished their work. Leonardo da Vinci’s subject was The Battle of Anghiari, a 1440 fight between Milanese and Florentine warriors (the Florentines prevailed).

Just as that battle is a quiet memory, the associated town of Anghiari today is quiet and somewhat forgotten. Yet this silent part of Tuscany now sparkles with excitement in the world of wine, where old, unsorted vines growing on volcanic soils of pebbly red clay provide unusual filaments of flavor.

Anghiari is close to where four of Italy’s 20 administrative regions meet. As the crow flies, the city is five kilometers from Umbria, 14 kilometers from Le Marche and 30 kilometers from Emilia-Romagna. It’s a kind of land everywhere and nowhere between memory and discovery. Nearby is the Tiber, which eventually flows through Rome.

A defiant Italian mother now has her sights set on making Anghiari a paradise for fine wines.

Paola De Blasi was born in the city of Florence to a Florentine mother and a physician father from southern Italy, originally from Salento in Puglia. She studied agricultural science and technology and wrote a thesis which earned her a research grant on the application of plant DNA diagnostic methods to the analysis of sterols responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.

Then geography changed his life.

Paola inherited two hectares (five acres) of wild vines outside the town of Anghiari, an hour and a half drive southeast of Florence.

“My grandmother’s father planted this soil,” she explained.

The last vines were planted on his land around 80 years ago, at a time when grapes were not grown separately according to variety, but all together – a living basket of diversity. The old vines of Paola are ideally located. They grow 1,500 feet (460 meters) above sea level in well-ventilated terrain that is painted by various winds, including from the Adriatic Sea.

To date, Paola has produced wine from just one vintage (2019) and only 2,500 bottles. Beba99 refers to the nickname of his grandmother Elena Testerini, who was a century old when this wine was bottled (so 99). The label image was drawn by Paola’s friend and includes hands symbolizing the thousands of people who have worked these vineyards for decades, as well as the hands of friends and neighbors who continue to help Paola to realize his dream. The orange color of the circle of the label recalls the color of the soils of Anghiari, while the circle itself indicates a planet, because everything begins with the earth, in which the roots of the vine sink to extract the content of the place.

“From my parents, I acquired the dedication to pursue family roots. My mother gave me family values, and my father gave me self-love in action, as well as commitment, dedication, tenacity and gentleness. He told me to always believe in dreams and in ourselves and that each of us has great riches within that we can express.

In addition to her own grapes, Paola’s business, Podere Casaccia, now buys grapes from a neighbor.

De Blasi differentiates his wine from others in four ways. First of all, its grapes are grown in a region little known for viticulture: Anghiara. Second and third, its vines are both ancient and undifferentiated – with red varieties of Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Mammolo, Ciliegiolo and Aleatico growing together, mixed with whites that include Trebbiano and Malvasia Toscana. The mixture of all these berries is simply called alla vecchissima maniera—‘old.’ Also mixed are grape varieties that she does not recognize, although she is able to separate most (not all) whites from reds at harvest.

“From each of these varieties comes a particular smell and contribution. Beba99 is like an image, where color and also emotion create a special moment.’

Paola’s fourth wine differentiator may raise some eyebrows. His land and the vines are Tuscan, but after handpicking grapes in 35-pound (16-kilogram) baskets, she loads them into a refrigerated truck and hauls them for nearly five hours around the northernmost region of Italy. , Trentino-Alto Adige. There, at the foot of the impressive Dolomite mountain, these grapes are vinified by winemaker Andrea Moser of Cantina di Caldaro and aged at De Vescovi Ulzback, which has been producing wines for more than three centuries (Moser was named one of the top 40 wine industry leaders under 40 this month by Fortune Italy magazine).

Why transport grapes north?

“My wine incorporates Tuscan passion and tradition, but I also use Alto Adige’s ability to create a very precise nose and evolve aromatic complexity, using a Teutonic winemaking process. Andrea knew how to tame Tuscany by extracting the purest soul in each precise characteristic coming from the different grape varieties. A tailor-made way of working that takes care of every detail. Andreas’ precision, mixed with a dash of wholesome madness, results in genius. This makes our journey unique.

Coming from a woman who studied plant DNA, such words carry weight.

Transporting its grapes elsewhere for winemaking means, by law, that it is classed as a table wine, so cannot include the vintage on the label.

Paola sees blending different geographies and skills as analogous to various flavors in a great wine.

“You taste good fruit, then after you taste pepper, then honey. It’s the same with the winemaking process. The more different people working together, the more the process looks like a mosaic, a kaleidoscope. The intertwining of different cultures and ways of loving our profession of winegrower and oenologist amplifies the nuances and colors of wine.

“The intelligence of the vine is in the root,” she explained. ‘So the tillage has to be very respectful. 2019 was a good vintage. The cool nights preserved the acidity of the clusters and the ripe grapes were balanced.

Its wine ages for 16 months in oak barrels.

This sounds fascinating, but what does Beba99 taste like?

I opened a bottle of 2019 Beba99 on the porch of a wine bar in rural Bordeaux, France, then shared it with two American wine distributors who happened to be visiting that day. After two sips, one immediately offered to represent Beba99 in Chicago, and the other from New Jersey demanded to know more. Although its stocks are limited, the famous (and Michelin-starred) Restaurant Pipero in Rome also orders this wine several times.

Think tapestry here – threads of luminescence. Aromas of bramble, holly, cherry, wet moss and strawberry; a misty forest with wild berries along the trail. This wine is an airy tangle of complex flavors – light as a Beaujolais, though more delicate and refined than many; fine and subtle like a Burgundy, although older than some. Flavors of cherry and caramel emerge like fireflies from a shaken glass – bright, energetic, yet light and fleeting. It’s an unvarnished, unpolished beauty, albeit with polished tannins.

The lands surrounding Anghiari are not yet classified to produce Denominazione di Origin Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) or DOC level of quality controlled wine. The only designation applied to it is the general designation of Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) Tuscany. To the west is the famous Chianti appellation; to the south are the Valdichiana and Cortona appellations.

This truth only emboldens Paola.

“I think the terroir around Anghiari has the potential to create a great wine with real personality. It’s a part of Tuscany that the US doesn’t know. It has the traditions and the beautiful country of Tuscany, but also has aspects of the neighboring region of Umbria, famous, for example, for pasta with a special spicy stew sauce.

Paola’s website describes the town of Anghiari as “a village suspended in time where mass viticulture has not arrived”. This ancient curved and walled city is surrounded by fields of sunflowers, tobacco and corn. It is known as a land of poets and every year Anghiari organizes a festival of autobiographers. The town is a 20-minute drive south of the artist Michelangelo’s birthplace and a 15-minute drive from Monterchi, famous for its 15e century painting of a pregnant Mary—Madonna del Parto. The town includes a bar named ‘La Battaglia,’ (The Battle) and in late October and early November there is the centogusti dell’appennno of Anghiari, where farmers from all areas of the central Apennine mountains gather to present their products, including cured meats, distinct chocolates, pecorino sheep’s cheese, Anghianese brustichino (toasted bread with oil, salt, garlic and sausage) and chestnuts from the Apennine village of Ponte all Piera, roasted over the brazier.

Paola’s dedication to her land and her craft seems deep.

“This vineyard kidnapped my heart,” she admitted. “It has become my life, my passion. Every day that I learn more increases the fire inside me.

From a land renowned for a great battle now emerges a mother struggling for the fame of this land.

One sip and you might understand why.


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