Palafreno 2017 shows impressive intensity, purity, and a remarkable balance between power and grace.
Upon taking the first sip of Palafreno, you realise you are tasting something extraordinary. Wines like these don’t just “happen”: they require patience, respect for the land and endless skills. They are a labour of love only worth crafting in optimal vintages. After all, they are the highest expression of a winemaker’s admiration for the grape and the region.
Palafreno is, as the name suggests it, Querciabella’s parade horse. It’s our quintessential terroir wine, made from one vineyard whose soil, sun exposure, and cool microclimate combine perfectly to nourish the gentle nature of Merlot. Deep to the sight, it charms you with a nose that gracefully combines the fruity notes typical of the varietal with the fragrance of Mediterranean herbs, the profusion of spices and the aroma of smoked meat. It is magnificent on the palate, with a refined, silky texture and a savoury, sustained finish. It is also a long-lived wine that can age for years.
A bit of background
Tuscany has proved to produce outstanding Merlots. As a matter of fact, Merlot is nowadays the second red grape variety cultivated in Tuscany after Sangiovese. We did not plan from the beginning to make a purebred Merlot at Querciabella. The initial idea was to introduce Merlot as a partner variety in the international blend of Camartina, our flagship Super Tuscan. So the search began for finding a potentially suitable site for this grape variety.
Just beside the main cellar on the slope of the Ruffoli hill at about 400 mt a.s.l., there’s a small parcel whose soil is rich in clay. Clay retains water and maintains cool, consistent temperatures below the vine, which can be very helpful in Tuscany’s sunny vineyards, where the Merlot grapes might otherwise become overripe and lose acidity. This blissful combination of factors soon translated into producing a high-quality wine that not only perfectly married the robust structure of Cabernet Sauvignon and the rustic character of Sangiovese but deserved to be in the spotlight. Since the vintage 2000, we have exclusively dedicated our small batch production of Merlot to making Palafreno.
The best Cru sites are vineyards capable of producing outstanding wines. This is even more obvious in a vintage like 2017, one of the driest on records, that only the most experienced winemakers could navigate successfully. The scarcity of rain, a cold winter with a hint of frost, and a long, hot summer limited bunches and berries development, giving us more than a reason to worry.
As the growing season progressed, though, the vines turned out to be less affected by the punitive weather than we expected. Merlot especially had become accustomed to the hot and dry weather quite early in the year and, thanks to the moistness provided by the clayey soil, managed to withstand the scorching summer heat. Finally, September blessed us with timely rains and near-perfect conditions that lasted throughout the last weeks of the ripening season. We harvested healthy grapes with vibrant profiles and depth.
Blackberry, licorice, cloves and menthol all build in a resonant, super-expressive Merlot that will tempt readers with its considerable powers of seduction. The 2017 is classy and supremely elegant.
—Antonio Galloni 96/100
The Making of
When making a single-vineyard wine, growers must understand the terroir. At Querciabella, this means undertaking a genuine partnership with nature, stimulating the vine defences, boosting deep rooting systems or limiting the use of chemical inputs. The vineyards grow on rugged soils, with south, south-west orientation. The grapes from higher up the slope show distinct concentration and intensity, whereas those from the lower sides, richer in clay, have a fresher, more ethereal delivery.
In the cellar, moderation rules. Gentle extraction during fermentation preserves fresh fruit and avoids the bitterness that Merlot can sometimes give. Maceration lasts about two weeks and, after completing the malolactic fermentation, the wine is racked into French oak barrels where Palafreno is given eighteen months of elevage before bottling, with thirty per cent of the casks new for each vintage.
Bright ruby core. Floral, herbaceous nose with hints of cinnamon, cocoa, and a touch of underbrush. Medium, velvety body swaddled in juicy flavours of ripe red cherries, liquorice, walnuts, baking spices and black plums rounded out by a firm, mouthwatering acidity complemented by lightly dusty, refined tannins. Savoury flavours mingle with elegant fruit notes, making this wine complex and expressive as it continues to evolve in the glass. There is a generous yet restrained fruit character evident right now, but the tertiary flavours’ depth is rumbling under and just starting to show what this wine can do in another 8-10 years.
With Palafreno, we suggest a flavorful dish that pairs off with the flavours and composition of the wine but also allows you to focus on what you are drinking. The characteristic varietal notes of cherry, plum, cassis and blackberry, coupled with herbaceous, earthy and spicy notes, respond very well to deeply savoury umami tastes opening up many attractive doors for food pairing.
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 sweetness in caramelised root vegetables, especially roasted butternut or honey nut squash, red bell peppers, onions and red and golden beets, helps 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. Suitable pairings include terrines or a mushroom-walnut pâté, polenta with grilled mushrooms and herbs, a caramelised onion tart or simple pasta with truffles.