Tolaini – back to the roots in Chianti Classico

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Pierluigi Tolaini bought a one-way ticket to Canada when he was twenty years old. When he returned to Tuscany it was for making wine. Of the highest quality. Join us on a journey between Tuscany and Canada. BKWine Magazine’s Åsa Johansson tells the story.

Pierluigi Tolaini was only 20 years old when he left Tuscany for Canada in 1956.

-He had bought a one-way ticket, says daughter Lia Tolaini when we meet at the five-star Hotel Villa Cora in Florence.

The Tolaini family is one of many examples of Italians who sought luck in America, and succeeded. Pierluigi Tolaini started working as a truck driver, opened his own company, eventually becoming one of North America’s largest transport companies.

His dream was to buy a vineyard in Tuscany and in 1998 he found what he was looking for in Chianti Classico, in the municipality of Castelnuovo di Berardenga, just north of Siena.

When he started the winery, at the end of the nineties, he found himself in the midst of the “international era”, planting international grapes was “the thing”, not only for the popular Super Tuscans but also as a complement in the Chianti Classico wines.

Tolaini wines
Tolaini wines, copyright A Johansson

When Lia suggested focusing more on sangiovese, Pierluigi was completely against it and it took her several years to put her idea into practice. In 2008, Tolaini Chianti Classico Riserva came out on the market made from 100% sangiovese.

-It only took me two years to convince Pierluigi that it was the right thing to do, Lia laughs when we sit at a table in the beautifully decorated dining room.

For the ageing of sangiovese they only use botti, barrels of several thousand litres, while for other grape varieties they also use barriques.

-My father said that if I could not sell the wine made from 100% sangiovese, then I had to drink everything myself, says Lia.

Lia and Pier-Luigi Tolaini
Lia and Pier-Luigi Tolaini, photo courtesy of the producer

Lia managed to sell the wine; how could she not when she has started one of Canada’s most successful wine shops together with her sister? Their company is called Banville & Jones, the sisters´ surnames as married. Lia has also started an import company of Italian prestigious wines.

-When we were looking for an importer in North America, we found no one we liked, so we started one on our own, she says.

She travels back and forth between Canada and Italy, and is the only one of the siblings who speaks Italian.

-I studied art in Florence in the mid-1980s and then I learned Italian, she says.

At Tolaini, Lia has hired a young team working together and investing in organic farming.

-We are certified as organic since 2012, and our winemakers Francesco Rosi and Luca D’Attoma like to experiment so we are considering starting to use terracotta vessels, for example. We are also working on producing our own selected yeast. Another result of the new focus is that we have taken away petit verdot by grafting on local canaiolo and sangiovese on the old vines.

-Working with wine requires time and patience, says Lia, but she does not seem the least worried.

Facts and Tasting Notes

A total of 50 hectares (120 acres) of vineyards, in Chianti Classico in the municipality of Castelnuovo di Berardenga.

The winery produces about 250,000 bottles per year.

The wines are suitable for those who like a softer, rounder style of sangiovese with spicy oak tones. The wines are very well-made and consistently have a fresh acidity in the background that makes it easy to combine them with food.

Vallenuova 2016, Tolaini, Chianti Classico DOCG

100% sangiovese

Smooth sangiovese, dark ripe cherry, spicy oak tones, this is a perfect Chianti Classico for those who like the softer version of sangiovese.

Al Passo 2014, Tolaini, IGT Toscana

Sangiovese 85%, merlot 15%

Spicy, ripe cherry and dark berries, medium-body (2014 was a cool vintage) with silky tannins where merlot rounds off the sharp edges of the sangiovese grape.

Vigna Montebello Sette, 2014, Tolaini, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG,

Sangiovese 100%

A wine made from grapes from a single vineyard, Vigna Montebello Sette. Deep sangiovese, mouth-filling, but also with a fresh acidity in the background, elegant tannins, spicy tobacco, a rounder sangiovese typical of the municipality of Castelnuovo di Berardenga.

Valdisanti 2014, Tolaini, IGT Toscana

Cabernet sauvignon 75%, sangiovese 20%, cabernet franc 5%

Intense aromas of ripe blackcurrant and lavender, cedarwood and hints of vanilla, the oak barrel flavours are supported by the fruit of the wine, soft and inviting.

Picconero 2011, Tolaini, IGT Toscana

Merlot 65%, cabernet franc 35%

The winery’s flagship wine that is only produced in excellent vintages. A full-bodied wine with complex aromas of cloves, spice and chocolate. Inviting aromas and despite its power, it gives an “easy to drink sensation”, also because of its nice fresh acidity in the background. Gives a youthful impression.

More on the winery:

Åsa Johansson is BKWine’s person in Italy. She lives in Florence since the early ’00s. Asa writes regularly on wine and food in Swedish and Italian publications as well as online.

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