Podere Forte: Burgundy-inspired wines in the heart of Tuscany

Imagine a Tuscan winery boasting a state-of-the-art cellar recalling the most groundbreaking chais in Bordeaux, while the wines hint at a Burgundian approach. The two things may sound conflicting, yet this rare combination is what defines Podere Forte, one of Italy’s most fascinating estates – and a well-kept secret among savvy connoisseurs.

 While rarely grabbing the headlines, self-made entrepreneur Pasquale Forte’s extremely ambitious wines have earned cult status among a niche of fine wine enthusiasts, fetching similar prices to the most coveted bottles from Montalcino, which lies only a few kilometers away from the estate as the crow flies. They stand apart from most of the production of the often hard-to-address Orcia DOC, which tends to emulate Brunello but rarely achieves the same complexity and poise. 

An engineer by training, Pasquale Forte took his first steps in the wine industry in the mid-1990s. He was serving as the CEO of Eldor Group, the leading automotive company that he founded about twenty years earlier when he started developing the desire to go back to his roots. His parents owned a farm in Calabria before moving to Northern Italy in the early days of his life, but when he decided to buy vineyards, his entrepreneurial sixth sense brought him to Tuscany.

Montalcino was an up-and-coming denomination, and land prices hadn’t yet begun to soar: he could have chosen the easy path, acquiring vineyards in the surroundings of the Sant’Antimo abbey and producing top-notch Brunello, but he soon fell in love with a far less-traveled outpost on the highest reaches of Val d’Orcia, where steep slopes dominated by ruined medieval towers create an unexpected scenario that could become the setting for a fantasy movie.

 He was drawn to this place by the peculiar geography and even rarer geology: schistous calcareous formations allow vineyards to dig deep into the soil and withstand hydric stress. Together with high elevations – 400 to 550 meters asl – they shape wines that are silkier, fresher, and more “cool-climate” in style than most Brunello di Montalcino. 

1997 was the inaugural vintage. The startup phase of Podere Forte overlapped with the golden age for globetrotting consultants, so he could have at least appointed one of them to make wines embodying the zeitgeist and quickly attract critics’ attention. But even in this case, he preferred to go against the grain, experimenting with organic agriculture, and collaborating with biodynamics guru Lydia and Claude Bourguignon, who then became close friends. “ We developed the project very slowly, planting approximately 1.5 hectares of vineyards per year,” explained Cristian Cattaneo, who joined the estate as an apprentice in the early 2000s and has been overseeing wine production ever since. 

The Anfiteatro vineyard

A unique approach to viticulture

Forte likes to think about the estate as a self-reliant ecosystem: vineyards cover only 30 out of 168 hectares, with the rest being devoted to olive trees and orchards, and a large proportion of the land still lying untouched. Sheep and Cinta Senese pork roam free among the woods, and horses have recently replaced tractors. At first glance, this minimalist agricultural approach may seem to starkly contrast with the hyper-modern production facilities reflecting his engineering background – and including a laboratory analysis that would put NASA scientists in awe. “ It is all part of our vision: biodynamics and technology aren’t mutually exclusive. We try to combine archaic knowledge with groundbreaking technology, which helps maximize the low-intervention approach,” explained Forte. 

Petrucci and Guardiavigna have long been the estate’s flagship wines: the former was a single-varietal expression of Sangiovese, while the latter was born as a textbook Bordeaux blend, then became a single-varietal Cabernet Franc. 

“ Cabernet Franc seemed a rather obvious choice – remarked Forte –  it is the only international grape that allows him to achieve the finesse I seek in Val d’Orcia, thriving in soils with high PH and retaining herbal freshness and floral aromatics”. 

The original Petrucci was substituted by four different expressions of Sangiovese: Villaggio, the entry-level offering, pays homage to Burgundy village, and originates from younger vineyards. Petruccino, the name of which may recall a second vin from Bordeaux, is actually meant to be on par with a 1er Cru. Petrucci Anfiteatro and Petrucci Melo are the estate’s top-shelf expressions of Sangiovese: the single-vineyard philosophy and lofty price tags – 140 to 170 € – aim to emphasize parallels with Burgundy Grand Cru. 

In the cellar

Wild fermentation happens in cone-shaped oak vats, and extraction is managed with the submerged cap technique. Maceration lasts between 30 and 40 days and occurs at a 26-28-degree temperature.

 The two single-vineyard Petrucci wines then rest in 15 hl French oak casks for at least 20 months, while the entry-level offerings undergo shorter aging in mostly used tonneaux. Guardiavigna spends about 18-20 months in a mix of tonneaux and barrique. The wines then spend up to two more years in bottle before release.

Tasting notes

Villaggio 2021

Fragrant raspberries and sour cherries mingle with violets, balsam herbs, and a hint of iron, anticipating a mid-weight mouthfeel loaded with luscious flavors of crunchy red fruits. Easygoing and bright, with lively acidity cutting through the mid-weight structure and a touch of oak spice echoing in the background, this offers a taste of Podere Forte’s style at a relatively affordable price.  ( Four stars ****)

Petruccino 2020

Slightly darker and earthier than Villaggio, dried herbs and cocoa powder take center stage, while violets and tobacco emerge with coaxing. Iodine-tinged red cherries and blood orange acidity make for a juicy and bright mouthfeel yet the tannins are slightly more angular, and give an impression of youthful exuberance. ( Four stars **** )

Petrucci Anfiteatro 2018

The translucent color anticipates elegant aromas of kirsch, pot-pourri, menthol and sandalwood, followed by a lick of toasted and balsamic oak. Substantial tannins and piercing acidity are seamlessly interwoven in the luscious core of sweet cherry and strawberry compote. Exotic spice and pot-pourri linger on the long finish. Extremely elegant and distinctive. ( Five stars *****)

Petrucci Melo 2018

Deeper and less immediate than the Petrucci Anfiteatro: a lick of dark chocolate underpins pomegranate, iron, lavender, and tobacco. It enters rich and velvety, with loads of fragrant bramble fruits framed by a kiss of spicy oak, then turns savorier and brighter. Slightly powdery tannins lend depth, while botanical herbs and iron linger on the savory finish. It needs a bit more time than the Anfiteatro tu fully come together. ( Four stars plus **** +)

Guardiavigna 2018

Slightly darker in color than the Sangiovese-based wines – but equally translucent – varietal aromas jump out of the glass: hibiscus, black tea, wild fennel, blueberry juice and liquorice outline an intoxicating nose. Silky and airy, gentle tannins underpin the rich and velvety core of red and blue fruits. Seductively floral and balsamic on the long finish, this is a happy medium between the lighter, herbal Francs of the Loire Valley and richer and bolder wines from the Tuscan coast.  ( Five stars  *****)

Looking ahead

The current lineup is impressive yet Forte will continue expanding the portfolio in the upcoming years. To make up for the chronic lack of alternatives to red wine in Tuscany, he recently introduced a new range of Sangiovese-based Metodo Classico sparkling wines, and is also experimenting with small volumes of white wine from a small plot planted to clones of Greco from the Irpinia region. As cutting-edge as all the wines of Podere Forte are, this yet-to-be-named still white is currently aging in a mix of ceramic eggs and oak. It will hit the market in 2025.