Forget what you know about Merlot. Petrolo Galatrona is 100% estate Merlot from the Val d’Arno di Supra DOC in the heart of Chianti. And it is nothing like the Merlot of Pomerol or St. Emilion or Napa Valley or any other Merlot you’re likely to find.
The fruit all comes from a single, contiguous 25-acre vineyard of clay, shale, marl and sandstone. That clay, and the low-vigor Bordeaux clones, allow the vines to thrive, despite the hot, arid growing season. Proprietor Luca Sanjust says the wine tastes of that place. The February 3, vertical tasting in which I participated left little doubt of that.
My initial reaction to the wines—and I started with the oldest first—was surprise at the structure. The tannins are fine, but there are plenty of them and they are firm and drying.
The wines were not decanted, per Sanjust’s preference. He “likes them to decant in the glass over time.” Coming back to the wines numerous times over the hour-long event showed some evolution, but not notable softening. They will be very long-lived.
Next, I was struck by the extremely savory nature of both nose and palate. These aren’t round, soft wines with unctuous fruit, nor are they at all oaky. Look for complexity, length and notes which complement many classic Tuscan foods: Florentine steak, wild boar, pheasant and white truffle.
I found myself thinking of the Petrolo Galatrona not as Merlot, but a variant of Sangiovese. The wines are loaded with earth and leather. Sanjust said as much himself, just moments later, “My Merlot is similar to my Sangiovese. Sometimes I mistake one for the other.”
He spoke to the character of the wine in detail, agreeing the structure is unique among Merlot, “outspoken, yet austere, earthy and a bit rustic. What I feel is the piece of land, the flowers, the forest and the truffle.”
Petrolo Galatrona is a wine you can cellar for a long time, but they are also good young. The tannins diminish in volume with maturation but, at least at 13 years of age, are still firm. They are wines for food regardless. Your choice is between the full body and richer fruit of youth or medium body and greater complexity.
A great, complex nose of sweet herb, earthy spice, cooked rhubarb and sarsaparilla introduces the nearly full-bodied palate, replete with very grippy, fine-grained and drying texture. The flavors, which echo the nose but also include briary red fruit, are very long and intensely flavorful.
The nose is again very savory but with more fruit and slightly less intensity than the 2015. A melange of red, purple and blue fruit complement the core of earthy spice, leather, iodine minerality and dry herb. The youthful palate is very similar to the 2015 structurally, with nearly full body and loads of firm, fine-grained, grippy tannins. The flavors are very long and reflect the multi-colored fruit and powerful, savory notes of the nose.
2012 Petrolo Galatrona Val d’Arno di Supra DOC
This vintage shows both riper fruit and more development than the two younger wines. It’s also the closest to a conventional Merlot. The aromas include red cherry, forest floor, earth, chocolate and mint. There’s medium body in the mouth and flavors of raisined red cherry, chocolate, herb and briar. The trademark Galatrona structure is still there, fine-grained and grippy, though slightly less voluminous than in the younger wines.
2011 Petrolo Galatrona Val d’Arno di Supra DOC
A relatively soft and juicy vintage for Petrolo Galatrona, yet still very structured for Merlot. The nose and palate offer earth, leather, spice, iodine and mineral, accompanied by blueberry and dark red cherry. Body is medium plus and the finish very long. While the lesser tannins might suggest slightly less capacity for aging, it is still powerful and the greater acidity will lead to a long life.
2008 Petrolo Galatrona Val d’Arno di Supra DOC
Ten years in, the 2008 vintage is still standing strong and is consistent with the younger wines. Rich aromas and flavors of leather, spice, earth, forest floor and dark red fruit are contained by plenty of fine, very firm tannins. The finish is long.
2007 Petrolo Galatrona Val d’Arno di Supra DOC
Another vintage in which the nose is more typically Merlot, with plum, cocoa and hints of leafy herb, along with the forest floor notes of maturity. The palate is long, but quite firmly textured, and its flavors are concentrated: forest floor, chewy dark red cherry and earth.
2006 Petrolo Galatrona Val d’Arno di Supra DOC
This wine is more fruit-centric than most of the others, yet has veins of dark mineral running through it. The fruit is rich and on the ripe side—macerated dark red cherry, black raspberry and huckleberry with a splash of balsamic. The firmly textured palate is medium-bodied and moderately juicy with fine, powdery, drying tannins.
2004 Petrolo Galatrona Val d’Arno di Supra DOC
There’s plenty of life and backbone in this classically flavored Merlot. It’s showing developing notes of forest floor, drying mint and graphite, but also pure red cherry and plum. Mulberry leaf and spice add further interest. The very long, medium-bodied palate is sturdily framed by fine, drying tannins. Nearly 14 years in, this Petrolo Galatrona still craves ossobuco.
JJ Buckley has a deep collection of Petrolo wines, including three vintages of Galatrona as of this writing. Explore the lineup here. And, for a contrasting view of Tuscan Merlot, consider Ornellaia dell’ Masseto.
JJ Buckley guest blogger Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator, and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing has appeared in The Tasting Panel and SOMM Journal. Online, he writes for his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine), PlanetGrape, and GuildSomm. He teaches at the San Francisco Wine School. Fred’s certifications include WSET Diploma, Certified Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, Napa Valley Wine Educator and Level 3 WSET Educator. In 2009, he was awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. In that same year, he was inducted into the Eschansonnerie des Papes, the honorary society of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC.
Photos courtesy of the estate.