Luce: Defining old and new world winemaking in Montalcino

Luce Vertical Wine Tasting
When traveling, we never know the impressions a particular place will have on each of us. Sometimes our awareness pops up months after we return. Last fall, I traveled to Italy and visited Montalcino. I walked the charming village and visited a nearby Abbey and winery, but the true impact of this scenic spot did not sink in until I sat at a wine-tasting luncheon for Tenuta Luce. As I viewed the slide show admiring the surroundings I had visited, it all came together.

The wine region of Montalcino is known for its Brunello di Montalcino. Perhaps this inspired two legendary wine icons, Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi, in the 1990s to unite and form Tenuta Luce. Their sons, Lamberto and Tim, led the way as the winemakers of this project.

The concept involved bringing two worlds together, the old-world traditions of Montalcino with the new-world style of Napa, California. Their expression of the terroir would be delivered through a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. In this case, Sangiovese represents the old-world Italian traditions while Merlot symbolizes Napa, the newer approach to winemaking, and combined together, it creates the impressive wine called Luce.

Luce Vineyards View in Montalcino
Luce Vineyards View in Montalcino. Photo courtesy of Luce Della Vite

By 2004 Lamberto took over Luce completely.  Today the winery produces three wines, Luce, Luce Brunello, and Lucente.

In the last year or so, the winery has undergone many changes. First, the additional 55 hectares, of which 11 hectares are currently planted vineyards. The estate now consists of 88 hectares of vineyards. Reconstruction of the winery and the building of an impressive new underground cellar came next. Finally, Luce hired a new head of the winemaking project, Stefano Ruini. His position is enologist and technical advisor. These three factors will steer Luce Della Vite in a new direction for the future and perhaps exceed the expectations of Luce’s original founders.

Luce Winery in Montalcino
Luce Winery in Montalcino. Photo Courtesy of Luce Della Vite

Viewing the images of the architecture of the underground winery and cellars, one sees the unusual design and inspires me to visit this winery. Think of the bone structure of a dinosaur, and you can get the feel of the interior structure. It gives one the impression of being inside the dinosaur’s bones. Inside, one finds the wine library that features 22 vintages of Luce.

Near the new winery building, a traditional Tuscan Farmhouse stands as the new hospitality and welcome center.  Again the concept of new versus old-world winemaking prevails while the Tuscan farmhouse symbolizes the old world, and the modern architectural winery signifies the new world.

Luce Vineyards with Tuscan Farmhouse
Luce Vineyards with Tuscan Farmhouse. Photo Courtesy of Luce Della Vite

Stefano is not new to the wine business. The 2017 vintage marks his 30th year producing wine. Most of those years he spent working in France, primarily Medoc and Pulliac.

The Wine Seminar:

The seminar presented by Stefano Ruini featured a vertical of the Luce wines that included 1997, 1999, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012. Some of the notable qualities of the Luce wines experienced both during the vertical, and our luncheon was the complexity of the wine, its rich, silky, and velvety textures, and an elegance that is consistent in all the wines.

Stefano Ruini, Enologist and Technical Advisor at Luce Della Vite
Stefano Ruini, Enologist and Technical Advisor at Luce Della Vite

Since Luce’s beginnings, the expression of terroir through each vintage of this Sangiovese/Merlot blend emphasizes the story of Montalcino, the grapes, the people who create the wine along with the people who enjoy the wine.

Luce 1997: With a balanced and velvety quality, the wine showcases the aromas of raisins and delivers flavors of plum, cassis, raisins, and currants enhanced by some spice on the finish.

Luce 1999: An earthy wine with aromas of white pepper and flavors of soft cherry. I found this wine not quite as together as the 1997 yet at the same time subtler.

Luce 2006: A bigger and denser wine delivers flavors of bright cherry. The wine ages in 100% new oak, which appears to be the most notable difference in this particular vintage.

Luce 2008: In my opinion, the wine was softer. Because this wine did not show as well as the others, I hope to revisit this wine in the future.

Luce 2010: A difficult year for Luce due to vineyard operations and anti-fungal issues. The wine, like 2006, ages in 100% new oak. I found more acidity and a lot of minty flavors.

Luce 2012: Although the wine appears very young, everything comes together to make this an exceptional wine. With smoky flavors, the wine presents a sophisticated balance, which is velvety and soft. I would love to revisit this wine at a later date, maybe in a year or so to see its development.

Lunch at Mr C Beverly Hills:

The wine was paired with tender Grilled Lamb Chops. The simplicity of the food allowed the wine to stand out on its own.

Mr C Beverly Hills Grilled Lamb ChopsMr C Beverly Hills Grilled Lamb Chops
Mr C Beverly Hills Grilled Lamb Chops

Luce 2014. Merlot appears very dominant in this vintage. The wine is big and bold in its delivery yet at the same time elegant.

Luce Brunello di Montalcino 2012: The grapes for the Brunello come from the highest elevation on the estate. The wine is an excellent example of Brunello that is produced in Montalcino and speaks totally of Sangiovese and Montalcino.

Lucente 2014: The secondary label of Luce Della Vite, the wine ages typically for 12 months. Like its predecessor, it is a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot but more fruit-forward and youthful.

Like the Luce logo that represents the sun with its shining rays, the wines of Luce Della Vite shine through like the light that is emitted from the sun across the vineyards of Montalcino.