Palafreno is Querciabella purebred Merlot. The newly released vintage 2016 has already made an impression for its fruit density and fragrance and won a place among the most prestigious bottlings of the last decade.
With Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni taking over the stewardship from his father in 2000 many changes took place at Querciabella. Notable amongst these was the conversion of the whole estate to biodynamic farming. It was indeed an inspiring time at Querciabella: we had entered the new Millenium at the pinnacle of success with Camartina and Batàr regularly appearing in the most prestigious wine circles. We were eager to renew the ecological context of our work as growers and had just acquired a new estate in Maremma.
It is against this exciting background that we decided to launch a new wine. Not just any wine, but a wine destined for greatness. Sebastiano has never made a secret of his love of Merlot and its potential for expressing a sense of place. With the idea of showcasing the real value of our vineyards in Ruffoli firm in his mind, he spared no effort in crafting a superb wine to live up to its namesake – Palafreno refers to a medieval knight’s parade horse.
A purebred Merlot made exclusively in exceptional years.
The inaugural vintages of 2000 and 2001 included Sangiovese in the final cut, in the fashion of other Super Tuscans in Chianti Classico. 2002 and 2003 were not deemed worthy enough of consideration. It was with 2004 that Palafreno really found its stride as a small batch (less than 3,000 bottles) 100% Merlot aged in fine-grained barrique, only created in exceptional vintages when all the elements necessary for fine winemaking perfectly align. In fact, since inception, 20 years ago, only nine vintages have been released.
The southern aspect of the Cipresso and Marrone vineyards coupled with long summer days allows for a slower ripening which Merlot demands to flourish. Palafreno has just the right amount of weight filling in the mid-palate, which so many wines from this varietal lack. The scrupulous attention to the grapes and soil in the vineyards followed by a meticulous fermentation and long maturation in the cellar put the seal on the wine’s finesse and longevity.
Off to a great start, Palafreno 2016 is another prestige bottling from Querciabella.
According to the ones in the know, 2016 is one of the best vintages of the decade in Tuscany, especially in Chianti Classico. While very different in style – 2015 is about volume and elegance, 2016 about vibrancy, fragrance and density – the release of two spectacular vintages back to back confirms Tuscany as the strongest beacon for great Italian wines around the world. After a mild winter, this vintage saw ample spring rains, followed by a long, hot summer. Fortunately, even in the heat of the season, the temperatures significantly cooled off at night, allowing the vines to recover from the daytime highs. The long stint of ideal pre-harvest weather that followed steadily built up excellent phenolic potential leading to the harvesting of perfectly ripe grapes on September 13th.
Winemaking was gentle to avoid over-extraction, with an extended post-fermentation maceration resulting in wines with tight, yet smooth tannins and a lovely freshness. Characteristics one would typically associate with a cooler vintage. In terms of power and silkiness, this vintage compares well with 2011; it shows tension and aromatics similar to 2013, freshness and purity like 2014.
The world-famous critics have very well received Palafreno 2016: James Suckling has praised it for its beautiful fruit density. And Antonio Galloni rewarded it with the highest score of our newly released wines.
In the glass the 2016 is deep and vibrant, yet also remains light on its feet. A whole range of mineral and savoury notes confer freshness. (…) It’s another stellar wine from Querciabella. —Antonio Galloni · Vinous (96/100)
Merlot makes the perfect foodie wine.
Among red wines, Merlot is arguably the one gifted with the broadest range of expressions, from light and juicy to broad and supple, to more solemn and refined versions that require time to come into full display. Querciabella’s Palafreno most definitely falls in the latter category.
The terroir-borne acidity well balances the richness of the varietal, making Palafreno a fantastic contender for the cellar and a phenomenal companion for the table. Its exuberant character and long finish can especially accompany dishes of rare complexity and unusual combinations of flavours. With the characteristic varietal notes of cherry, plum, cassis and blackberry, coupled with herbaceous, earthy and spicy notes, Merlot opens up many attractive doors for food pairing. Palafreno, with its more serious build and dried herbal undertone, is a textural wine with firm acidity and a modest alcohol level of 13.5% which makes it very food-friendly and suitable for different tastes and cuisines.
Special notes for the holiday season.
When in the presence of a majestic wine like Palafreno, your preference should go to foods that have earthy and herbaceous notes and are of similar weight. The holiday season often offers dishes that are baked, braised, glazed, roasted slow-cooked or roasted. All these cooking methods develop the flavours and provide a rich, satisfying experience that brings out all Palafreno’s finesse and grandeur.
Mushrooms and root vegetables mimic the earthy, woodsy flavours of the wine. In contrast, spices as well as the seasonal herbs, complement the similar notes you can find both on the nose and the palate. A young Palafreno calls for the sweet, warm-yet-cooling flavours of spices like fennel seeds, caraway, star anise or five-spice and herbs such as tarragon, basil and chervil. The red berry flavours a companion to red fruit-based accompaniments such as cranberry sauce and salads that contain dried red berries, often present on tables during the most festive season. The sweetness in caramelised root vegetables, especially roasted butternut or honey nut squash, red bell peppers, onions and red and golden beets help bring out the vibrant red fruit in the wine.
With some age, Palafreno develops a lush and silky body with velvety tannins, nuttiness and flavours of dried figs and prunes, truffles, sandalwood with a touch of cinnamon and clove. More appropriate and succulent pairings include terrines or a mushroom-walnut pâté, polenta with grilled mushrooms and herbs, a caramelised onion tart or simple pasta with truffles.
Palafreno 2016 was released in January 2021. Only 2,600 bottles were made.