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Seeing the Light of Luce
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 7, 2010
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Luce della Vite, Toscana (Italy), La Vite Lucente, 2007 ($30, Folio Fine Wine Partners)

When Robert Mondavi and Vittorio Frescobaldi decided to create the wine called Luce in 1995, the venture was hailed as a momentous one, along the lines of Mondavi’s collaboration with Baron Phillipe de Rothschild to create Opus One in 1978.

Followers of Italian wine might have seen it differently.  Another Super Tuscan wine, envisioned in large part by a California winemaker — what’s the point of that?  I was skeptical.  But I have come to believe that over its15 years of history, the Luce della Vite winery has developed authenticity, and its wines are worthy of attention in their own right, not just for the famous names that created the brand.

Today, Luce della Vite is an actual winery, situated in the Montalcino district of Tuscany.  It has become the property of the Frescobaldi family since the purchase of the Robert Mondavi Winery by Constellation in 2004.  A Mondavi family connection continues, because the wines are imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, a Michael Mondavi company, and the Mondavi family has a financial interest in the property.  And today, Luce della Vite produces a DOCG Brunello di Montalcino in addition to Super Tuscan wines.

Frankly, I hadn’t given Luce or its sister wines a thought in years.  But last year, I tasted the Luce Brunello di Montalcino 2004, and found it to be a wonderfully rich Brunello.  And recently I opened a sample of this 2007 Lucente, an affordable $30 wine from a very good vintage.  I loved it.

The concept-wine of the property is Luce (about $90), a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that slightly favors Merlot.  Luce claims to be the first Sangiovese-Merlot blend in Tuscany.  It’s a very logical blend, because Merlot’s richness of color and texture compensates for Sangiovese’s own lack of those qualities, and Merlot’s soft tannins can help balance Sangiovese’s dryer tannins.  Luce ages for 18 months in all-new French oak barriques.

Lucente is the second wine, produced from Sangiovese and Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon (the percentages are 35-50-15 in the 2007 wine), and aged for only 12 months in new American and French oak and 40% used French oak.  Different blend than Luce, less and different oak, less alcohol, slightly higher acidity, and distinctly Tuscan.

Here’s what to expect from the 2007 Lucente: The aromas and flavors are rich and complex, but only moderately pronounced, especially in the mouth; they include dark fruits such as plum, dark cherry and blackberry, as well as oak spice, a distinct note of baker’s chocolate, a suggestion of tobacco leaf, and a mineral note similar to lead pencil.  The wine is full-bodied and dry, with fairly high acidity and grainy tannins that combine to give the wine a real firmness of structure.  But the fruit character is concentrated and it stands up to the structural firmness.

Altogether, despite the whopping 14.5 percent alcohol, the wine’s style runs in the direction of lean and taut more than soft, fleshy and powerful.  But its leanness is packed with pure, focused fruit flavors and the wine is not without some softness of texture.  Appropriately for an Italian red, the acidity is mouth-watering.

The 2007 Lucente is definitely enjoyable now, and I believe it will improve over the next two years or so, and then hold its quality for five or more years.  A large glass softens the taste and makes the wine more approachable, while a narrower glass brings out the purity of fruit character.

91 points