Tasting Seven Vintages of Luce, a Super Tuscan of Sangiovese and Merlot

by Fred Swan - Guest Blogger

The first release of Luce, a celebrated Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, came 20 years ago. The wines, 1993 and 1994 vintages made jointly by Lamberto Frescobaldi and Tim Mondavi, realized the shared vision of their fathers, Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi. Since 2004, it has been solely a Frescobaldi project.

The estate, Tenuta Luce della Vite, includes just under 200 acres of vines on nearly 500 acres of land southwest of Montalcino. The high, sloping vineyard blocks—ranging from 1,150 to 1,375 feet—saw their first vines in 1977. Most were planted in 1997.

Soils vary with the terrain. The higher blocks have a well-drained mix of marl and limestone (called Galestro in Italy) that is ideal for Sangiovese. The Merlot is happy downhill where erosion from above has created a soil of sand and clay. In both cases, the exposure is southern, allowing the vines to bask in the sun while remaining somewhat cool due to the altitude.

I recently had the opportunity to taste through seven vintages of Luce, from the 1997 through 2014. All of them were quite good and clearly expressed the personality of their birth years. My notes on each of them are below. [The wines are written as “Luce Luce” to distinguish them from Luce’s other three products: the second wine, Lucente, a Luce Brunello and a Grappa.]

1997 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT Italy

20 years from vintage, this wonderfully mature wine is garnet in the glass with medium-plus darkness. The nose is showing a gorgeous blend of spices, drying rose petal, tobacco, cedar with ripe and raisined red cherry. It’s medium-bodied in the mouth with a moderate amount of very fine and soft chalky tannins. The flavors are generous and very long-lasting: dried, dark berries, spice, cedar, dried cherry and tea. The fruit is both chewy and tangy, but with a great deal of elegance. Savor the 1997 Luce while gazing at a Tuscan landscape at sunset. Best to do it within the next two to three years. 13.5% alcohol

Luce Toscano IGT1999 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT, Italy

The 1999 is a dramatic wine, dense and impactful. It’s deep garnet in color with striking aromas of dark mineral, bright floral notes, spice, very ripe cherry and mahogany wood. Those aromas carry through to the palate, with the addition of prune. Body is medium-plus as are the tannins of fine, firm chalk. I would drink this in the next 3-5 years with braised short rib.14.5% alcohol

2006 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT, Italy

The 2006 is stellar, a dark and seductive beauty. It was the favorite by acclaim of those lucky few who joined me for this tasting. After 11 years, the wine remains almost youthful. It is deep purple in the glass and captivates with aromas and flavors of violet candy, blackberry jam, spice, oak, sweet licorice and graphite. The masculine, tightly-packed palate is full-bodied with loads of fine, firm, chalky texture and a lengthy finish. It is obviously drinking very well right now, but has 10+ great years ahead of it. 15.0% alcohol

2008 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT, Italy 

The 2008 tells the story of its vintage which began cool and damp, but finished hot and dry. The wine is a mixture of savory earthiness and ripe fruit. Gentle aromas of dark flowers, sweet spice, baked cherry and dark berries, and potting soil waft from the dark purple wine. In the mouth, flavors of dark spice and potting soil ahead of raisin are framed by dense, fine-grained and firmly chalky tannins. The finish is admirably long. This wine will be at its best with food, now through 2020. 14.5% alcohol

2010 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT, Italy

The 2010 vintage was somewhat tough for Tuscan growers. The result for Luce was much lower than average volume, but a splendid wine. Still quite young and tightly wound, it’s opaque with a purple hue and aromas of black cherry and black currant liqueur peeking through a curtain of handsome, dark flowers. It is structured in the mouth, but richly fruited, and will open up gradually over an evening of food and conversation. Very fine, firm, chalky texture blankets flavors of oak, vanilla, caramel, spice, dark mineral and an inner core of lush, black fruit. Best drinking will be from 2020 through 2035. 14.5% alcohol

2012 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT, Italy

The Summer and Autumn of 2012 were lovely and led to a supple, fresh wine that has plenty going on but doesn’t shout. Still a baby, it is opaque and purple in the glass with emerging aromas and flavors of violets, dark mineral, lively spice and red cherry. The palate is medium-plus in body with fine-grained structure of firm chalk almost balanced by the notable acidity. The finish is good and will lengthen with food or time in the cellar. Enjoy from 2020 through 2040. 13.5% alcohol

2014 Luce Luce, Toscana IGT, Italy 

Bottled in December, the deep ruby-colored wine almost clung to the inside of the bottle, begging for more time in the cellar. But, as we insisted, it offered us juicy, dark fruit, spice, caramel and savory notes which included dark chocolate and coffee. The palate is firm—fine, grainy chalk—but also juicy and body is a generous medium. It will happily be consumed from 2025 through 2040. 14.18% alcohol

You may also be interested in this article about Ornellaia, another Super Tuscan owned by the Frescobaldi family: A Sneak Peak at the 2014 Ornellaia, Tenuta dell' Ornellaia Super Tuscan

Click through to see JJ Buckley's Luce selection.

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, where he is a contributing editor. Online, he writes for his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine), PlanetGrape, and the San Francisco Wine School where he also teaches. Fred’s certifications include the 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.