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by Fred McMillin
for September 13, 2001


When The Iron Baron Saved The Day



1775: "Chianti was formerly much esteemed in England, but [it] has entirely lost its character."

...Physician Sir Edward Barry, London, England.

1824: "The grapes are gathered too early, no pains are taken to separate the different species, [the juice] is put into dirty vessels, and the wine is often spoiled irrecoverably before it has left the vat."

...Physician Dr. Alexander Henderson, London, England.


One Dance Too Many

A few years after Dr. Henderson wrote those words about the Italian winegrowers, Baron Bettino Ricasoli, (pictured), took his gorgeous young wife Anna to a ball in Florence. There she danced one too many dances with a young nobleman. Author Rosemary George tells us the irate Baron summoned his coachman and instructed him to carry them directly two hours south to the abandoned Brolio family castle. There they lived happily ever after, while he raised grapes and she raised children. Now, not many of us have an empty castle to use in an emergency. Let's see how the stern, hence "Iron," Baron came to own it.


Baron Bettino RicasoliBack to the 12th Century

There was a lot going on in the 1100s.

The Chinese created a new game, using playing cards.

The Crusaders brought back to Europe a new food that turned out to be a smash, sugar,

Nearer to the Baron, the tower at Pisa was built.

The monks of Vallombrosan sold their property to the Ricasoli family in 1141 It was dominated by a hill known as "Brolio."

It was on this hill the Ricasoli family built their fortress which they surrounded with grape vines and olive trees. What some say is the world's oldest winery was off and running. Some of the original walls were still standing when the Iron Baron and his bride abruptly moved into the rebuilt castle six centuries later.


The Ricasoli Rules

The "father of Chianti" summarized a lifetime of research on how to improve the wine with these words written to a professor at the University of Pisa:

"From Sangioveto (Sangiovese) Chianti takes the main component of its bouquet as well as its vigorous quality; the Canaiolo grape softens the tone of the first without taking anything from its bouquet.. etc." That formula for ageable Chianti has survived to this day. If you wish to try it, here's your wine.

1998 Barone Ricasoli 1141 Chianti Classico
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Alcohol—13% by volume
No oak

Learn More:
Can you detect the Canaiolo's contributions? To find out, try the Sangiovese without the Canaiolo in...

100% Sangiovese.
1998 Barone Ricasoli "Formulae"
100% Sangiovese
Alcohol—13% by volume
Has a tad of American oak


Help's Available

If you can't find these wines contact Jill Salomon, FAX (732) 225-0950; phone (732) 225-9000, X-222.


Postscript—Ricasolis Are Forever!

The great-great-grandson of the Iron Baron graduated from the University of Florence in 1948 (agriculture). Also named Bettino, the 31st Baron Ricasoli (see photo) guided the winery to its current heights.

He has now passed the baton to the Iron Baron's great-great-great-grandson, Francesco. As we said, Ricasolis are forever.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



This page created September 2001