I walked up to Barbounia, on Park Avenue South, aware it was that odd time of day for New York City restaurants: long past the lunch hour, yet a tad too early for dinner. For a minute I wondered if the restaurant were closed or if I’d written down the wrong address. I felt a quick flutter of panic as I searched for my phone: I didn’t want to be late, not for this event.
A few days earlier I had been invited to attend a wine tasting and discussion with Andrea Cecchi, one of the principals at Tuscany’s Famiglia Cecchi (thank you Terlato Wines and Donna White Communications!) We would be sampling wines from his property in Castellina, one of the original villages of Chianti Classico, as well as a white wine from the family’s La Mora estate in Maremma, on the Tuscan coast. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be part of a large group of wine writers and PR folks, or if it would be a smaller gathering where I’d have the chance to ask questions and engage in conversation. Either way, I was really looking forward to it!
A quick glance at my phone confirmed I was in the right place, so I took a deep breath and headed for the door. As I crossed the outdoor terrace I noticed a well-dressed gentleman standing to the side, checking his phone. On the surface he looked like a New Yorker, but I knew better: his vibe was too relaxed and chill for that.
He moved out of my way as I passed, nodding politely and beaming a warm, welcoming smile. I said hello, certain that I had just met my host, Andrea Cecchi; already comfortable that I was among friends.
The Family Table
The greeting I received inside the restaurant was just as warm: Kanchan and Josephine from Terlato Wines introduced themselves and ushered me to our table, three girlfriends meeting for happy hour to catch up. I noticed our table was a six-top, meaning that we would be dining en famille, as the French say, with a real chance to converse and become acquainted.
Many of the wine events I’ve attended thus far have been on the opposite scale – multiple tables of attendees, with the host giving a presentation, then circulating around the room for small chats. I was delighted to be in a quieter, more relaxed environment.
Within a few minutes, the remaining spots at the table were filled by Andrea Cecchi, his daughter Giulia (with the same easy smile as her father’s), and esteemed wine writer Jameson Fink. We chatted like old friends, sharing what we enjoyed most about New York City in the summer: less traffic, fewer people, a dialing-down of the day-to-day frenzy on the streets.
I was immediately struck by how comfortable everyone was; a credit to our host’s low-key nature, for sure. He and his daughter shared anecdotes of their training routine (they’re running the NYC marathon together in the fall) and Giulia’s earliest wine-tasting exercises as a child. Within a few minutes I realized we were witnessing first-hand what has propelled the Cecchi Family wine business forward over the years: a commitment to the family story and the importance of sharing it; the need to encourage the next generation to make it theirs and to pass it on when the time comes.
As we perused the menu, our waiter poured each of us a glass of 2017 La Mora Vermentino, from the Cecchi property in Maremma, a rustic swath of land on the Tuscan coast where daily life harkens back to the time of cowboys (known as the Butteri d’Alta Maremma) tending cattle on the plains. They still exist, by the way, as you can see in the photo above. In a way, this parcel of land and its homage to traditions of old is an honest reflection of the wines made by the Cecchi family.
Famiglia Cecchi Wines
Andrea started out by sharing a bit of the winery’s history, noting that 2018 was the 125th anniversary of its founding. (More on that later!) It all started in 1873 when Luigi Cecchi, a professional wine taster by trade, saw an opportunity to educate the public about qualities of fine Italian wine.
The family’s approach to making wine today is a reflection of Luigi’s original philosophy: a careful blend of innovation and tradition that never loses touch with its roots:
“Every step forward taken by the winery throughout its history has been preceded by careful and thorough experimentation, and it is the respect for tradition that has always led the family in making its daily decisions.”
For the Cecchi family, that means farming with an eye toward defending and improving the land, adopting sustainable agricultural practices, and protecting the environment. Technology is employed to streamline winery operations, yes, but also to minimize energy consumption and conserve natural resources.
Andrea and his brother Cesare, the fourth generation of Cecchis at the helm, refer to their efforts as “looking into the future,” always searching for opportunities to improve and evolve. Over time that has meant different things.
The family has continued to acquire parcels of land, expanding beyond Castellina to other parts of Tuscany such as Morellino di Scansano and the Maremma. One of the more recent additions to the portfolio is an estate in Montefalco, Umbria. While the grape varieties differ from one area to another, the family philosophy remains constant; the thread that binds them all together.
2017 La Mora Vermentino Maremma Toscana DOC (13% abv; $18.99 retail)
This wine is 90% Vermentino, with the balance contributed by other approved white grapes (e.g., Ansonica, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano, or Viognier.) Not sure of the exact composition of that 10%, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Viognier in the mix. Grapes underwent fermentation in stainless steel tanks in a temperature-controlled environment and received no oak treatment. It is as lively and refreshing as a coastal summer breeze!
I didn’t take formal notes at the table, but I do remember how much I enjoyed this wine. It was a hot, humid afternoon and this Vermentino really hit the spot – full of ripe tropical fruit aromas and flavors that were held in check by tart, lemony citrus. Imagine a slice of fresh, grilled pineapple drizzled with lemon juice. My tablemates agreed: it was the only bottle we finished – to the very last drop!
2015 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG Storia di Famiglia (13.5% abv; $21 retail)
Made from 90% Sangiovese and aged for 12 months in wooden casks, this wine is what we all hope for when we open a bottle of Chianti Classico: bountiful aromas of cherry and strawberry, with a little leather and meat laced in. On the palate it was a youthful mix of sour cherry, thyme, and savory grilled meat, prompting me to imagine how perfect it would be with a crisp Vitello alla Milanese. Sigh.
2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva di Famiglia (13.5% abv; $36 retail)
As with the previous wine, this one is 90% Sangiovese and went through a similar aging regimen. What’s special about the Riserva di Famiglia is that it is made in only the best vintages. The family considers it to be the wine most representative of their winemaking philosophy, which is to emphasize the pure varietal character of the Sangiovese grape.
Of the four wines we tasted, I have to admit that this was my favorite. It showcased all the things I love about Sangiovese – tart red cherry fruit, dusty herbal notes of rosemary and thyme, and grippy tannins – all in one sip. Beautifully balanced, simultaneously youthful and grown-up, this wine had me at hello. It would be marvelous with a grilled Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Another sigh.
2015 Cecchi Valore di Famiglia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (13.5% abv; $59.99 retail)
This wine was created to commemorate the Cecchi Family’s 125th anniversary celebration. It’s the first time they’ve crafted a Gran Selezione, which represents the highest tier in the Italian wine quality pyramid. What’s different about it? Well, the grapes for Gran Selezione wines must be estate-grown and are subject to 30 months’ total aging (as opposed to 24 months for Chianti Classico Riserva and 12 months for Chianti Classico.) Minimum alcohol requirements are higher, too: 13% for Gran Selezione versus 12.5% for Riserva and 12% for Chianti Classico.
Much discussion has centered on this new classification, with many American pundits debating whether this is a distinction that the average consumer will understand (or be willing to pay more for.) I haven’t tasted enough of them to know. In fact, this was my first experience with Gran Selezione and I brought no expectations into it.
The Valore di Famiglia Gran Selezione is 100% Sangiovese. The juice rested on the grape skins for 20 days and was aged first in tonneaux (15 months) and then in cement vats (3 months) and another year in the bottle before release.
I remember thinking how elegant and smooth this wine was, at the same time noting how much potential lay within. There was an abundance of red fruit – raspberry, cherry, plum – alongside herbal and savory notes that hadn’t quite evolved yet. Tannins were strong but in balance; acidity was high. It was delicious, but I couldn’t help imagining how it would smell and taste ten years from now. The Valore di Famiglia is a wine to test your patience, encouraging you to forgo the ephemeral pleasure of a sip today in anticipation of hedonistic joy in the future.
That said, give me a plate of rabbit braised in mustard and fennel, and pour me a glass of the Valore di Famiglia. Today. (And leave the bottle!)
How to Find Famiglia Cecchi Wines
And, if you get to experience these wines for yourself, please let me know what you think. Drop a line in the comments section with your tasting notes – and a recipe for whatever you paired them with!