On the Road with the Grape Guy

Visiting Il Colombaio di Santa Chiara (San Gimignano)

01 Sep 2023


Il Colombaio Sign(February 2023) ... San Gimignano - I have been to San Gimignano for 10 years-plus. I have tasted through their anteprima wines (takes me about 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours to do them all) and then I cool my heels in town till the bus deems it time to pick us up. That's usually some five or six hours later.

That means I have wasted days of my life in San Gimignano. I've eaten ice cream (gelato), walked down one street and up another, ate more gelato, strolled down more streets, walked into every open shop door at least once. I’ve also seen more pottery and textiles than I care to mention. I've eaten as much as three to four cups of gelato (Yes it is that good?) in a day.

... But you know what I've never seen in all my time in San Gimignano? A vineyard. Not one. Not once. Which I believe is a crime. They have a whole bunch of journalists from a variety of countries and they let us loose in their streets, or to put it another way: they’ve left us cooling our heels in the lobby.

This year I followed the folks from The Connected Table to a vineyard, they privately arranged. Yes, I played third wheel, and I loved it. I got to see a vineyard, taste a whole pile of wines and learned something about San Gimignano besides the story of Dondali. Which reminds me, my report for the wines tasted during the anteprima San Gimignano - Vernaccia, can be found here.

But now, let me tell you about my visit to Il Colombaio. Il Colombaio di Sant Chiara is a Locanda dei Lagi ... A winery and inn that was started in 2002 (with their first vintage in 2004). They boast six rooms, and a restaurant. The project started with 2.5 hectares, and has since grown to 20 hectares: half red varieties and half white: 90% Sangiovese along with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc (red). On the white side it's 100% Vernaccia. It is located in the area called San Donato, which has limestone, clay and sandy soils, but mostly known for its mineral driven soils. The property is located in the southeastern part of the area of San Gimignano. The eye-opener here was the amount of red wine being made: 50% ... Super-impressive, since all we taste during the anteprima is white.

We kicked off our tasting with five vintages of Selvabianca, their Vernaccia, and ended with their 100% Cabernet Franc.


White Wines …

2022 Selvabianca
Once picked, these grapes are refrigerated for 24 hours to preserve the freshness... Morning picks are normal for these grapes as the temperature can be 3 to 4° c, optimal for picking and freshness. This current vintage shows a lovely minerality, along with grapefruit pith and lots of freshness. (It receives a “Better” rating, during the tasting and receives the same here).

2020 Selvabianca White Wine at Colombaio
There's still a freshness here, but there's also a bitterness that manages to get in the way... Think about biting too deep into a watermelon.

2018 Selvabianca
Similar notes to the 2020, but that bitterness of fruit seems to be waning here.

2014 Selvabianca
This year's version (which is 9 years old) leans a little more herbaceous in nature, especially on the finish – emerging notes of banana leaf with a mineral finish; but there does seem to be a bitterness kicking around on that lingering finish.

2013 Selvabianca
Simple mouth feel: mineral, dry and citrusy. Interesting for a 10-year-old wine.

Single Vineyard White Wine2021 Campo Della Pieve - single vineyard (Vernaccia)
The wine spends 18 months in concrete ... Steely notes on the palate with a mineral freshness and a citrusy / salty finish.

2020 L'Alberata Riserva - single vineyard (Vernaccia)
A richer mouthfeel that comes across more zesty than the previous wine... The use of oak is very subtle. It is fermented and aged one year in botti of 2500 l (French oak) ; then 4 to 6 months in concrete to let the wine meld and shuck some of that oak - then it spends one more year in bottle before release.


Red Wines ...

2020 Campale
A wine that sees both barrique and concrete made up of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. 70% of the wine goes into barrique, 30% into concrete then one year in bottle before release. Big acid with burnt cherry and smoke ... On the palate it’s fresh and lively with sour cherry and currants; while cranberry takes up residence on the finish.

2019 Il Priore RiservaRed Wine Colombaio
A blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo that spends two years in second use barrique and another 2 years in bottle. This oaky wine hides the fruit in the background and it has a rather smoky finish.

2019 Il Colombaio Riserva
100% Sangiovese that spends 2 years in barrique than 2 years in bottle... This is very Sangiovese forward with its high acidity, plus dark fruit and spice.

2018 Bacicolo
100% Cabernet Franc that spends one year in French oak and made from 4-year-old vines... The wine also spends 2 months in concrete before bottling. This wine was tasted in two glasses: the winery recommends a Burgundy glass – I asked for a Bordeaux.
Bordeaux - high acidity, raspberry and chalky.
Burgundy - tones the acidity down so the fruit really pops on the finish.
Interesting experiment for this wine, because of the high acidity, the Burgundy works better to tame the wine.


End notes ...

This was an "unauthorized" visit, but it was so worthwhile to learn about San Gimignano and it’s wine regions (if only this one) first hand. To see vines and touch soil aids in the understanding of a region – plus to witness the passion of the people is invaluable. I certainly hope those in charge of Anteprima San Gimignano will think about adding winery visits to the program in coming years. It sure does add a further element of understanding to the area... And keeps me from waiting in the lobby of the region for a bus - the only drawback will be less ice cream ... but I think me and my waistline will be fine with that.

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