It was 1998 when Brancaia decided to invest in Maremma, the Tuscan coastal region that was then appearing on the scene of high-quality wine production. It all began with some uncultivated land and with the idea to understand and give an interpretation of this region which is so different from the Chianti Classico: mild and relatively rainy winters and hot, dry summers.
Located a few kilometres from the sunny Mediterranean coast, the vineyards of Brancaia in Maremma are framed in a breath-taking view of the surrounding hills, valleys and, in the distance, the sea. Soils, located at a height of with an elevation between 75 and 175 meters above sea level, are shallow and characterized by layers of decomposed sandstone and clay. These characteristics ensure complexity and exceptional characters in the wines that are produced here. Brancaia’s initial sustainable and, later organic, agricultural practices and the choice not to use irrigation systems also contribute to maximizing their ability to express the terroir. The climate is typically Mediterranean. The refreshing breeze that blows from the sea mitigates the temperatures during the day and ensures cool nights, creating perfect conditions for the development of notes of ripe fruit and elegant acidity in the wines.
The first wine, Ilatraia, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot, was released in 2002, just 4 years after estate was purchased. Why Ilatraia? The wine was about to come out, but the name had not yet been chosen. By chance, consulting some historical maps of the area, dating back to the mid-19th century, the name Ilatraja was written on one of the hills of the estate. The choice of a toponym that also rhymed with Brancaia was quite natural. Looking up at the dictionary, the entry Ilatro indicates a shrub typical of the Mediterranean vegetation, whose scientific name is Phillyrea Latifolia and which is also known as green olive tree, a plant that, most likely, over the centuries covered the slopes of that hill, which instead today houses a Petit Verdot vineyard.
While always remaining faithful over time to the identity of Ilatraia, Brancaia has never stopped working to perfect this wine. In recent years, older vines and a new grape varietal have allowed us to further innovate, up to the creation of a new blend: the vintages subsequent to 2009 have been revisited to create a cuvée of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, where Sangiovese has left room with Cabernet Franc. What has remained unchanged is the perfect balance between maturity and refinement drawn by velvety tannins, typical of the terroir of the Maremma coast. Today we are presenting two vintages (and two styles) side by side: 2008 and 2016.
The 2008 vintage began with a rather cool spring, but summer was practically ideal, so that we could achieve a perfect ripeness of the grapes. As already mentioned, 2008 is the last vintage produced with the initial blend: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese and 10% Petit Verdot. The wine, of elegant complexity and great structure, matures for 18 months of in barriques, half new and half already used, with some additional months in the bottle. It is also the last vintage with the characteristic label with silver dots that ideally recreated the geometric pattern of the vine rows on the Maremma hills, the only label not dominated by the distinctive square logo, that distinguishes Brancaia. The 2008 vintage of Ilatraia has earned the unanimous appreciation of the public and wine critics, as evidenced by the Tre Stelle (Three Stars) awarded by the guide I Grandi Vini di Veronelli (the highest accolade for the guidebook) and 91/100 given by both James Suckling.com and Wine Spectator. A must-have for all wine lovers, a not-to-be-missed bottle that over time has developed complex spicy notes and a seductive softness.
The 2016 vintage turned out to be one of the best of the recent ones in Tuscany. A truly beautiful harvest both in terms of quantity and quality of the grapes, characterized by a perfect level of polyphenolic ripeness and a balanced relationship between acids and sugars. The 2016 Ilatraia blend features Petit Verdot (40%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) with Cabernet Franc to complete. These varietals have found their ideal place in Maremma, where the slightly higher temperatures and the lower temperature range compared to the Chianti Classico area bring them to perfect ripeness, enhancing their great organoleptic richness. Ilatraia is therefore a wine characterized by elegance and great complexity. With velvety but tight tannins, it fascinates with its notes of spices and ripe black fruits, enhanced by the maturation for 18 months in French oak barriques. It is a perfect match for foods with intense and well-balanced flavors, roasted or braised meats and game. Ratings and tasting notes of wine critics confirmed the extremely high quality of Ilatraia 2016, a vintage capable of obtaining some of the highest points achieved so far, including the 96 + / 100 assigned by Monica Larner for Robert Parker or 95/100 by James Suckling, up to 97/100 assigned by WinesCritic.com. Try them both, compare them, and maybe let us know your opinion! Enjoy!