The opulence of Palafreno 2019 goes beyond a richly textured palate but offers an ethereal note, an indulgent as well as sophisticated delight.
As the name suggests, Palafreno is Querciabella’s parade horse, our purebred Merlot from a particular site in Ruffoli whose soil, sun exposure, and cool microclimate combine perfectly to nourish the gentle nature of this grape. But, of course, a wine like this doesn’t just “happen”: it’s a labour of love that requires patience and endless skills, only worth optimal vintages.
A bit of background
Tuscany has long proved to produce outstanding Merlots. As a matter of fact, Merlot is the region’s second most planted red grape after Sangiovese. However, at Querciabella, it initially served as a partnering variety in the international blend of Camartina to marry Cabernet Sauvignon’s robust structure and Sangiovese’s rustic character. Until the 1998 vintage, it also concurred to ameliorate our Chianti Classico Riserva.
The idea behind Palafreno formed at the turn of the millennium: crafting a wine so exclusive that it could showcase the world-class value of our vineyards in Ruffoli. The inaugural vintages of 2000 and 2001, which included Sangiovese in the blend, met immediate success when they hit the market. In the two years that followed, though, we realised the blissful combination of loose galestro schistous clay soils, a fresher microclimate and the southern aspect of our Cipresso and Marrone vineyards allowed for that slow ripening that Merlot demands to flourish. Thanks to punctual picking, selective micro-vinification and patient maturation, we worked toward enhancing the varietal’s territorial delivery until we could no longer keep it out of the spotlight. Since the vintage 2004, we have exclusively dedicated our small batch production of Merlot to making Palafreno a 100% varietal wine.
The making of
As growers we must understand the terroir point by point when making a wine like Palafreno. 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 delicate delivery. In the cellar, moderation rules to bring out these subtleties and combine them in the final wine. Gentle extraction during fermentation preserves fresh fruit and avoids the bitterness that Merlot can sometimes give. Maceration lasts about two weeks, and after the malolactic fermentation completes, we rack the wine into French oak barrels, thirty per cent new, for maturation. After about 18 months, the final blend of Palafreno is bottled and given another year of bottle-ageing until release.
The 2019 vintage gave us the opportunity to make something exceptional. After a mild and dry winter, a cool, wet spring triggered a relatively slow-growing season. Yet, the flowering and fruit set went well, anticipating a phenomenal harvest in quality and quantity. The first week of May saw the temperatures soar, and this heat continued through the Summer. It may have been torrid at times, but we had no problems with drought stress thanks to the abundant water reserves. September brought the desired day/night temperature differences and an excellent phenolic ripeness with beautiful skin-to-pulp ratios. We hand-harvested the 2 hectares of Merlot on the 19th of September.
The 2019 Palafreno is stunning, not to mention one of the greatest wines I have ever tasted here. Silky, plush and exceptionally vivid in the glass, the Palafreno possesses breathtaking beauty that captivates all the senses. Readers who can find it should not hesitate. It’s a real head turner.
—Antonio Galloni 98/100
The intense ruby-red colour introduces Palafreno’s assertive stance. At first, it charms you with the generous fruity aromas – cherry, cassis and plum – with the fragrance of flowers and Mediterranean herbs. Then, a profusion of spices comes to the fore. On the palate, it is simply magnificent, with a texture reminiscent of the fine-grained nose. Silky, intense, full-bodied, but finely balanced, with layers of dark chocolate and roasted coffee growing on the vibrant, savoury finish.
Pairing Palafreno 2019
With Palafreno 2019, you’d like a dish that stands up to the intense flavours but also allows you to focus on what you are drinking. The typical notes of the varietal, which are particularly charming this vintage, respond very well to the warm-yet-cooling flavours of spices like fennel seeds, caraway, star anise or five-spice. Caramelised root vegetables, onions, roasted pumpkin or butternut squash, and beets flavoured with tarragon, marjoram, and basil bring out the wine’s vibrant red fruit. Deeply savoury tastes open many attractive doors for food pairing, including a mushroom-walnut pâté, polenta with grilled mushrooms and herbs, a caramelised onion tart or simple pasta with truffles.