When it comes to Chardonnay, California, Burgundy and Australia come to mind. Sauvignon Blanc? That would be the Loire Valley and New Zealand, among a host of others. But when was the last time you had a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc from Tuscany?
I have to admit that when the folks from Castello Banfi, the big American-owned producer in Tuscany’s Montalcino area, sent over their new Chardonnay and Sauvignon releases for review, I was slightly skeptical. The region, after all, is known more for its reds, such as Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, made from the red Sangiovese grape. And, with so much good Chardonnay and Sauvignon around, why even bother with Italy? The answer is that the wines are very good and have their own signature.
Stylistically, they have little in common with their better-known cousins from the areas I mentioned. And that’s a good thing. The wine world has its share of big, buttery Chardonnays and racy, in-your-face Sauvignons, which is to say that the Banfi wines, at about $19 each, are markedly different and highly attractive in their own way.
First, they are characterized by a lean elegance, which is something I like, and often wish for, in both in Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Both are relatively limited production, single-vineyard wines from the Banfi estate. I opened the Chardonnay, the 2003 “Fontanelle,” before dinner, to the delight of friends who had stopped by.
The main tastes — pear, apple, lemon and lime — are punctuated by minerals and a touch of vanilla from a relatively modest seven months of aging in oak, which doesn’t mask the fruit as it often does in big Chardonnays from California, for example. Alcohol is 12.8 percent, which is light by Chardonnay standards, but the fruit is ripe and expressive. We enjoyed it as an aperitif, and it will be a good match with any number of chicken and fish dishes.
The 2003 Sauvignon Blanc, called “Serena,” is very dry, light and crisp, marked by grapefruit and orange peel, but also by minerals and a subtle oak presence of its own. It, too, was delightful to sip by itself and easily brought shellfish to mind.
Banfi has been producing these wines since 1982 for the Chardonnay and 1989 for the Sauvignon Blanc, and I wish I had discovered them sooner. Clean and focused, they have a sophisticated, original style from which many others churning out Chardonnay and Sauvignon might borrow a thing or two.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Thursdays. Write to him at .