Gabbiano Winery was established in 1124 on a prime slice of Tuscan land between Florence and Sienna. It covers 160 hectares and is the largest estate winery for Chianti Classico.
90% percent of its vines are Sangiovese due to the requirement that 80% of any Chianti must be Sangiovese. Today the winery thrives, offering more than just wine. From Easter until November, visitors can lodge in the castle, enjoy the estate restaurant and tour the old cellar under the castle. The estate is also dotted with private villas, making the land more of a village than a mere winery.
Federico Cerelli is Gabbiano’s esteemed winemaker, here to take the sold-out crowd on a viticultural journey. Gabbiano blends modern winemaking techniques with a solid base of tradition. Cerelli’s philosophy is clear: “The wine is in the grape”. He humbly insists that if the correct grape is chosen and well grown then the wine “makes itself.” “In Tuscany, wine is a part of the food,” Cerelli notes.
Siena is a small gem of a dining room, tucked away off Granville on West 12th Avenue. The warm and rustic spot is known for its Italian and Mediterranean fare: free-range meats, sustainable seafood, fresh house-made pasta and local organic produce.
Owner Mark Taylor (formerly of Cru) is clearly in his element as the evening’s host. His love for food, wine and bringing people together are evident in his attention to detail through the evening. Kind and attentive staff don’t misplace one glass or fumble on any question. The standard of service is high. Chef Jessica Howery was tasked with creating a tailored menu to marry with the selected wines. By all accounts, including that of owner Taylor and winemaker Cerelli, chef got it all spot-on.
Dinner begins with a crisp and buttery crostini trio. The brandade (an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil) and white bean with sage are lovely, but the caramelized onion steals my heart with its rich sweet and salty notes. Accompanying wines for this course are the Solatio 2011 and the Promessa Pinot Grigio 2014 – a traditional Pinot Grigio without the sugary notes that North Americans are used to.
The first course is gnocchi, made with rosemary and Grana Padano. These potato jewels are crisp and buttery on the outside, soft and luscious inside, sitting on a bed of tomato butter with a velvety smooth consistency.
This course pairs with the Chianti Classico DOCG 2013, made in the traditional method, consisting of 90% Sangiovese, with full flavour, balanced fruitiness and tannins. The bouquet is of ripe berries and a hint of tobacco, and the palate is bright with white pepper, black cherry and fresh acidity.
The next course is thyme-roasted pork tenderloin atop a bed of raisin and walnut couscous. This sweet, nutty dish is accompanied by two Gabbiano selections. The Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2011 is Gabbiano’s top wine, made from 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in their highest vineyard.
The beautiful view from this spot, at the top of the estate, is what gives this label its nickname: Beauty. The secret behind this wine is that Gabbiano uses one single block of vineyard with the best Sangiovese grapes to aid the complexity of the wine. But it’s the Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2012 that Federico is most proud of. Riserva needs more operational support to ensure quality, so it’s the hardest job for the quantity and quality, a true labour of love.
Gabbiano exports 95% of its wines which total about eight million bottles annually. Although the winery remains traditional, Federico notes that technology does have its advantages. “Technology helps work the skins gently, preserving the color and flavor of Sangiovese.”
The main dish of the night is an exquisite cherry-braised beef short rib on a cloud of pureed parsnip, with crispy fried kale. Served alongside the Alleanza IGT 2011, the pairing is heavenly. Alleanza is a medium bodied blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, balanced, with cherry and chocolate notes and a fresh finish. It’s considered a fine merging of old and new world style.
The evening is rounded out with a marscapone cheesecake and Gabbiano’s dessert wine, Traminer Vendemmia Tardiva 2011. This wine is blessed by the noble mold botrytis, rendering an interesting flavour and heavy viscosity. If you like Retsina, you’ll like this 100% Traminer.
With almost 900 years at its back, Gabbiano knows how to bottle magic. Sultry winemaker Federico Cerelli knows how to illuminate the wine-making process. Along with the culinary alchemy of Siena’s Chef Howery and owner Mark Taylor, this evening transported a group of lucky diners Under the Tuscan Moon.
Photos by Nancy Baye.