This is a story of reinterpretation, a story of elevating the subsoil, allowing it to speak through the wine. It’s a story that can be a bit confusing, too.
When I received these samples of wines from Tenuta Licinia in Tuscany, they were not what I expected, not on the surface, through the story, or in the end in the glass.
(These wines were received as media samples. All opinions are my own)
Tenuta Licinia was founded by Jacques de Liederkerke. No, that’s not an Italian name. Mr. Liederkerke was a Belgian Lawyer. He met a gentleman from Tuscany in the 70s when the EU was forming, with meetings in Brussels. They became friends, and he traveled to Tuscany and, unsurprisingly, fell in love with the land. His friend had come across a small vineyard and an abandoned farmhouse for sale and suggested it to Jacques for restoration.
Liederkerke was fond of wine. He often enjoyed wines from Bordeaux and Bourgogne in Belgium, but wine growing? That was something he was not an expert in. It wasn’t until he retired that he put his focus on the vineyard and replanting it. His grandson, James, often spent time with his Grandfather in the vineyard and the cellar.
The first vintage came in 2013, but this was a freakish year. James tells the story of a hailstorm when fish were thrown from a nearby lake into the vineyard. They ended up making 40 bottles. 2014 was another challenging year. 15 and 16 seemed to be shaping up but were still not right. 2017, they had issues with Brett, and the 2018 came out overoaked.
In 2019, his Grandfather felt it was getting close, but after vinification, he fell ill. James took over selected lots and blended. He was able to take the blended wine to his Grandfather to taste before he passed.
Now James, while enjoying the work with his Grandfather, was actually studying at Oxford, working on his doctorate in Philosophy. His studies had him researching the nature of value and the foundations of ethics. Research was second nature to him, and he also began researching subsoils and their impact on wine.
James speaks of tasting 100s of wines and visiting 200-300 vineyards as he explored the mosaic of subsoils in Tuscany. He eventually found 3 hectares that they planted to Sangiovese in a vineyard they call Montalceto. Their first vintage of this new vineyard was in 2023, so it will be a few years before this wine is available.
His Grandfather had replanted the original vineyards to Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, & Petit Verdot. But these wines were made with Burgundian sensibilities. They look at their vineyards here as Clos, the tiny walled vineyards in Burgundy that can be expressive and specific to the site.
Their parcel, Sasso di Fata, is surrounded by forest and is far from neighboring vineyards. The subsoil is on a yellow slate, similar to Galestro, but here the soils are yellow from the limestone and chalk.
James refers to these wines as Identitarian. They have 3 common elements that express this place. First is aromas of floral and rose, then a saline minerality and graphite note, and finally a finish that he attributes to the slate of a textured tannin that you feel on the bottom front of your mouth, that can be described as velvety.
James feels strongly tied to the aromatics and is looking for the perfect time to pick and the suitable extraction to highlight these notes. When asked how he chooses when to harvest, he tells us it is sensory. He chews the skins. No analyzing the numbers of acid, sugar, or phenolics. Picking by the numbers, he finds, can lead you to pick too early as you try to keep the alcohol below 15.
We tasted 3 wines with James: The 2019 Montipolli and the 2019 and 2021 Sasso de Fata. All 3 of these wines are IGT Toscana wines. The vineyards are located between Siena and Arezzo on the eastern side of Tuscany. The village of Lucignano is nearby. This is at the entrance of the Valdichiana, the famous fertile valley known for wheat, olive oil, fruit, and the Chianina cattle, famously used for Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Tenuta Licinia Montipolli 2019
This vineyard, planted in 2008, sits on a limestone hill. James’ Grandfather chose this site to make a more approachable wine. The name is that of the Etruscan hamlet near the area.
This 2.5-hectare plot sits at 360 meters. It is certified organic, and James employs some biodynamic practices. After reading about biodynamics, James was skeptical but found several practices to have a positive impact, especially in keeping the soil from compacting.
This vintage is 47% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc and 12% Petit Verdot.
James finds that this site has a very compact window for harvesting to keep it from overripening and becoming jammy. The wine spends 16 months in 500 liter French oak Tonneau.
This is an elegant wine that is light and fresh, with mineral notes and a sense of seriousness.
Tenuta Licinia Sasso de Fata 2019
James describes this as the prototype for wine from this vineyard. It is not complete, but it is the blueprint to move forward. This wine he describes as 90% his Grandfather and 10% his work. They made just 3000 bottles of this special vintage, the first single vineyard release, and only a few are left.
A bit about the name of the vineyard. The name means “stone of the fairies” and refers to a nearby fairy stone in the forest nearby. James wanted to use the site name, but the field is called Meleto, and that name is already used by a large Chianti producer. James contacted a local historian. The gentleman is in his 90s, and his records of the area were in 8 notebooks he had handwritten. The two of them spent 3 hours combing through the notebooks, searching for a historical name to use, when the gentlemen mentioned the Fairy stone, a 4-meter-high stone vaguely reminiscent of a fairy’s face, and the name fit.
The plot is 3.5 hectares on yellow chalky slate soil, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot planted to a mix of spur pruned and guyot.
The 2019 is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. As with the Montipolli, it spends 16 months in 500L Tonneau.
This wine has glorious floral notes followed by pencil lead graphite notes and something savory. James says this wine was picked a little “al dente.”
Tenuta Licinia Sasso de Fata 2021
This latest vintage of the Sasso de Fata was just bottled a couple of months ago and has not yet been released.
Whereas the 2019 was the prototype, this is their flagship wine and is much closer to the finished product, although with wines, each vintage, they look to refine and perfect.
The subsoil here is a gold schist that is super friable and brings a graphite sensation to the wine.
This wine has floral notes, fresh herbs, a soft mint aroma, savory notes, and something like a fine cocoa powder.
So these are wines from Tuscany but made with International grapes. This might lead you to think of Super Tuscans, but those wines tend to be big and bold, International varieties created with a Tuscan flair. The wines of Tenuta Licinia are subtle, aromatic, coy, and elegant. Culturally, they are decidedly un-Tuscan, without the boldness normally associated with wines from this region. But they hold true to their expression in these soils and this place.
The vision of a Belgian Lawyer and his Oxford-educated grandson in Eastern Tuscany, with Bordeaux varieties, made in a Burgundian style.
Seems an odd mix, but the wines are enchanting.
Pairing the wines of Tenuta Licinia
The notes of rose petals and the tannins led me to make bacon-wrapped filets with a rose petal sauce. The sauce was simply dried rose petals in olive oil, the zest of one lemon, the juice of ½ a lemon, and a touch of rosewater. We served this with mashed potatoes with chives and zucchini sautéed in butter and olive oil with black garlic salt.
The rose petal sauce elevated the aromatics in the wine and was heavenly. The fat with the filet calmed the tannins in the wine. All in all, this was a fantastic pairing. We did taste it with all 3 wines, and if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the 2019 with the food, although all 3 were delicious. James mentioned that he expected the 2021 to evolve a bit in the bottle over the next few months, and I look forward to Corovining it and trying this pairing again.
Currently these wines are available through their allocation list, as their production is still very small. https://tenutalicinia.com/pages/allocation-1
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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