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Malcolm Jolley: Clean and deep Capezzana: Trend-bucking wines worth the try

Commentary

What’s the point of wine writing? By which I mean, what’s the point of reading wine writing? It’s something I do every day, but I’m not sure with purpose, other than a vague sense of looking for something “interesting”, whatever that means, and to see generally what others are writing about.

Is the point to find the latest trend? In the wine world, that’s not as hard as it is in other realms of human creativity. Wine fashion moves slowly, with one vintage per year, and often three or five years for newly planted vines to produce serviceable fruit.

Is the point to buck the latest trends, and run in the opposite direction of the madding crowd in search of undiscovered gems or ones that have passed from fashion and ought to be rediscovered? I lean towards this answer. There is so much wine out there, it’s good to be reminded of some old favourites, like listening to an old album after many years.

In any event, I was looking for an interesting story about a wine I hadn’t thought about for a few years last week when I met Pierpaulo Guerra for a quick tasting at Loop Line Wine and Food in Toronto. Guerra, who looks to be in his late twenties, is the export manager for Capezzana.

Tenuta Capezzana is an estate just outside of Florence, where they have been making wine for a very long time. The Carmignano Hills, on which the estate rests and from which you can see the Duomo in the old city below, is also the name of the DOCG for the red wines made there. The appellation is small by Tuscan standards and Capezzana is the largest producer and makes most of the wine.

Carmignano wines were first given official sanction in 1716 by Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici, though there is reference to wine growing there as early as the ninth century. The Capezzana estate is a tourist attraction, with a B&B and seasonal restaurant, and these are impressive dates, but it’s the modern history of the Contini Bonacossi family, which acquired it in 1926, and Carmignano DOCG that makes the wines particularly interesting.

Carmignano was restored to its own appellation status in the 1970s. The patriarch of the Capazzana estate at the time, Ugo Contini Bonacossi had revived winemaking in a serious way and was instrumental in re-establishing Carmignano independently from neighbouring Chianti. He’d also just established Cabernet Sauvignon vines, grafted from no less a prestigious source than Bordeaux’s Château Lafite Rothschild.

When Carmignano got its DOC status in 1975, to be upgraded to DOCG in 1990, it became the only Tuscan appellation that actually requires the inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend (up to 20 percent). In an age when so-called indigenous grapes are the height of fashion, not least of all in Italy where they claim more than 400 of them, and when the producers of Chianti Classico continue to limit the amount of “international varieties” in their classified wines, Capezzana’s Carmignanos are happy to buck the trend.

Pierpaolo Guerra sticks to the Carmignano party line when it comes to explaining why Cabernet should be home in Central Italy: Catherine de Medici. Bill Buford’s 2020 memoir Dirt includes an amusing story thread about the Italo-Gallic debate about whether de Medici, who married the King of France in 1547, invented French cuisine. The theory that her court brought Cabernet to Italian winemakers could be France’s revenge.

Whatever happened in the sixteenth century, in the 1970s Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot seemed like the future of Italian wine. One of Tuscany’s first families of wine, the Antinoris, had established one of the first Super Tuscan, Tignanello in 1971. English-speaking export markets were attracted to wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon due to either sentimentality for the great wines of Bordeaux’s last bank, the growing demand for California fine wines, or both.

The Super Tuscans are as popular as ever, but they’ve always stood outside the “classic” wines of the region. The contrarian in me liked that Capezzana and the other Carmignano wineries decided to co-opt what they liked into their tradition. I also remembered quite liking the wines.

My memory was proven true when we tasted the first wine: 2020 Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano DOC. Barco Reale (“Royal Park”) is the appellation for wines made in the region that are not aged before release, and are meant to be drunk relatively soon thereafter.

The 2020 is made up of 75 percent Sangiovese, 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, and 5 percent Canaiolo. This was an unforward, friendly, and classically Mediterranean wine, with dark cherry from the Sangiovese and a touch of black fruit from the Cabs.

When we moved on to the more serious Villa di Capezzana Carmignano DOCG red, Guerra presented two bottles. They were both from this year’s release, but from the 2019 and 2013 vintages, respectively. Some years ago, Capezzana had decided to hold back a few thousand bottles of their flagship Carmignano to be released ten years after harvest as a Riserva.

The Villa di Capezzana is 80 percent Sangiovese and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Between the 2019 and the 2013 10 Anti Riserva, the remarkable thing was how similar they were despite a difference of six years of ageing. More Sangiovese dark cherry, but also a note of Cabernet cassis. Tannins had softened somewhat in the 2013, but were firm in both.

The 2016 Capezzana Villa Trefiano Carmignano Riserva DOCG is sourced from a single hillside vineyard at 300m above sea level. It’s a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Canaiolo. Only 1,200 bottles are made, and it was singing with dark red to black fruits and silky tannins, a wine to be paused over. This wine was first made in 1979, and the 40th anniversary 2019 vintage will be released in Canada shortly.

The 2018 UCB Ugo Contini Bonacossi is a single vineyard 100 percent Sangiovese wine that Capezzana makes only a few thousand bottles of every year. The high irony is that it isn’t a Carmignano DOCG, but rather a lowly I.G.T. table wine since it has no Cabernet Sauvignon. No matter, as it’s delicious with a clean, deep, and dark cherry note.

One thing Capezzana is on, or even ahead of trend, is its website. It includes a virtual tour of their cellars and vineyards art.

Andrea Mrozek: Stop saying women don’t want kids

Commentary

Stephen J. Shaw is a mild-mannered Brit. He is also a demographer, and in analysing global birth data he noticed there is a collapse in births coming. His response was to create a documentary called The Birth Gap, parts of which are now available free online.

If you watch the documentary, you will notice an important aspect of this demographic decline that is most often entirely missed or rebranded in any discussions of fertility. This is the sadness of women who are struggling with the loss of children in their own lives. There are women whose husbands are immature playboys, women who experience divorce and have to start afresh, women who cannot find partners—all while the biological clock ticks on. Of course, not every woman feels this way, but a good portion does. After all, having children is a human universal, something once taken for granted.

So the question is why does this angle on fertility receive so little attention? Why do the voices of these women go unheard? A recent column by John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail sums up the received wisdom. When women are educated, he says, they by default desire fewer children. “When women in any given society acquire the power to decide how many children they are going to have, they choose to have fewer,” he writes. He assumes broadly that, while there might be negative social consequences, on an individual level—the one that really matters for him—low fertility is a good thing.

But what if we actually asked, rather than assumed, what women want?

Cardus wanted to know precisely how Canadian women felt about their own fertility ideals and intentions, so we asked them. In a survey done by demographer Lyman Stone in conjunction with Angus Reid, we found that nearly half of women at the end of their reproductive years have had fewer children than they wanted. As we go about our lives, we should know that one in two women at work, in stores, and jogging on the street, wish to have more kids, and were unable to fulfill this. The survey also shows how unfulfilled fertility goals come with a discernable loss in life satisfaction. (So too do “excess births”—it’s just that the number of Canadian women experiencing that problem is vanishingly small when contrasted with those who experience missing births.)

That women choose a lower ideal family size today in contrast with bygone decades might speak to Ibbitson’s point about increasing education translating into lower fertility, except that he does not provide evidence of this being desirable, simply that this is what happens. Our survey points to multiple and diverse reasons for women who want (more) children deciding not to have them. Included in the top five are “wanting to grow as a person,” “desire to save money,” “kids require intense care,” need to focus on career,” and “no suitable partner.” Each would deserve its own discussion but the bottom line is that by the end of a woman’s reproductive life, half of women say they wished for children they do not have. To neglect the sadness associated with this is to do half of Canadian women a disservice. 

Further on the point about education levels consistently facilitating lower fertility: If we take income levels as a proxy for education, in that higher income women most likely have higher education levels, the survey shows that regardless of income, fertility ideals are higher than fertility intentions. Ideals are the dreams we have for our fertility. Intentions are what we actually think we will do. And in Canada today, both ideals and intentions are higher than Canada’s low and getting lower fertility rate.

There are actually plenty of uncontroversial ways to support a higher fertility culture, in which women can get an education, work, and have the number of children they desire. Some of these may include more family-friendly workplaces for parents and public policy that recognizes the desire to form families. It almost certainly involves cultural change; a different public narrative that doesn’t place motherhood in opposition to fulfillment and a media culture including movies, television, commercials, and yes, newspaper columns, that don’t abide by outdated visions that pit motherhood against satisfaction in a variety of areas of life. It may also include women speaking to the sadness of family foregone. But any and all change starts with accepting the data: “missing” children are a far greater problem for women today than “excess” children.

In his documentary, Shaw says a shrinking young population means “taxes are destined to soar, pension systems will become unsustainable while our health-care systems will not be able to cope with the ratio of old people to take care of compared to the shrinking number of taxpayers. Businesses will struggle to find workers to hire, school closures will accelerate while social care will continually be slashed.” Yes. It also means diminished life satisfaction for all women.

So many Canadians are rightly thankful for their kids. It’s well past time to give a thought to those who hope to have (more) children and find they cannot. In an emptying planet, it’s time to stop reciting decades-old myths when it comes to women’s fertility ideals and intentions.