One of the luxuries of my job is that I can take long leisurely lunches with interesting people, good food and good wine. This lunch was at the Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate with Barbara Widmer, the beautiful blond winemaker for Brancaia.
Raised in Switzerland by a family who purchased the winery in Tuscany in 1981, Barbara originally had no interest in the family business. By 1998 her feelings had changed and she’s been the winemaker and director of Brancaia’s three Tuscan estates ever since. The original Brancaia Estate (32 acres) and Poppi Vineyards (30 acres) are both nestled in the hills of Chianti Classico, and another Brancaia vineyard (99 acres) in Maremma is located further west toward the Mediterranean Coast.
“When I participated in my first harvest, I finally realized that I was meant to be a winemaker,” explains Barbara. “Being involved in the entire process – from growing the grapes to vinifying the wine, from making the label to seeing your own creation in a boutique wine shop – winemaking is where all of my artistic passions come together.”
Barbara lives on the original estate with her two children, three dogs, four cats and seven turtles.
Four of the wines she makes are imported in the United States. Each is very different, and very good in its own right. Together it’s an impressive and diverse portfolio (albeit a small one).
TRE 2010 is the entry-level wine ($23), and is 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are sourced from all three vineyards – hence the name. This wine is a perfect match for Insalata Caprese -- medium bodied with a searing acidity that would balance the tomatoes and cut through the creaminess of the cheese.
Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 ($40) is a more modern-style of wine made from 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot. The wine is slightly rounder on the palate than most traditionally styled wines from the region, but it possesses the pronounced acidity you expect in a Sangiovese-based wine. The flavors are mostly those of red fruits. The wine pairs beautifully with an assortment of cheeses, as well as other components of an Italian meal.
ILATRAIA 2009 ($50) is sourced exclusively from the Maremma estate (still Tuscany). It is made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc. This is a brawny style of wine with pronounced dark berry flavors. The acid, which isn’t very apparent, is still on par with the first two wines. I’d look for this with steak, perhaps a grilled filet mignon with blue cheese.
IL BLU 2008 ($85) was my favorite wine in the lineup. The grapes come from the two Chianti Classic vineyards, which include Poppi, the highest altitude vineyard they own (1400 feet above sea level). This wine shows more red fruits like raspberries, strawberries; there are also some dark berry undertones. The wine is full bodied but elegant with very silky tannins and a long finish. I would drink this with anything.
As for Victor, he was a duck that Barbara rescued from an outdoor market in France where he was being sold for slaughter. She brought him back to Tuscany to live on a pond on the family estate (where the seven turtles live now).
Because she was still in school, the duck became her mother’s responsibility. Over time he became an outdoor part of the family. One day, though, Barbara’s mother called her to say Victor would not eat and was walking with a limp. Barbara came to take Victor to the veterinarian, where he ate and walked just fine. A few months later, the same thing happened.
It seems that Victor was a very manipulative little duck. If he felt he was being ignored, he feigned illness. With proper attention, he went on to live a long and healthy life in the pond.