Bulichella in Suvereto – wine by design
Welcome to the beautiful and historic Val di Cornia and coastal Tuscany, where the Bulichella winery is only two km outside the medieval walled town of Suvereto. When I stayed in Suvereto (and nearby Campiglia Marittima) a decade ago, I imagined this place might become my future Italian home. While that was not to be, we’ll see that the founders of Bulichella had much the same feeling. They made it happen.
Suvereto is on “La strada del vino e dell’olio Costa degli Etruschi”. This wine and oil route of the Etruscan Coast winds for 150 km through the Suvereto, Val di Cornia, Terratico di Bibbona, Montescudaio, and Bolgheri wine areas. It also includes the island of Elba, where Napoleon was first exiled before making his brief comeback.
Apart from the now glamorous Bolgheri, all these areas deserve to be more well-known for their wines. However, the Etruscans were making wine here in the pre-Roman times, a practice which has continued ever since. Indeed, the name Suvereto derives from the Latin suber, referring to the natural presence of cork oak trees in this area.
In recent decades, these territories became Tuscany’s frontier wine lands, once neglected areas attracting ambitious winegrowers and an el dorado of investment. New designer wineries with innovation and experimentation resulted, leaving a legacy of wine excellence. Bulichella is one of the leading lights in these parts, and this is their story.
Bulichella – origins
And so to Bulichella. It has a fascinating backstory because the estate’s origins are Japanese. In 1960, 22-year-old Hideyuki Miyakawa started on a motorbike journey to discover the world. After travelling through India, Pakistan, Persia and Europe, he arrived in Rome for the Olympic games. Needing money to continue, he found work as a foreign correspondent for the Japanese national newspaper Mainichi Shimbun. Then, in 1962, he met and married Maria Luisa Bassano, and the journey changed direction.
Hideyuki became a partner of car designers Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani, helping to found a company in 1968 that would soon become the world-famous Italdesign in Torino. Ital designed famous concept and production cars for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari and many others. Their most iconic examples are arguably the DMC DeLorean (of Back to the Future film trilogy fame) and the hugely influential VW Golf Mark I. No wonder Hideyuki was awarded the honour of Grand Officer Order of Merit of the Italian Republic!
In 1983, together with three other families, Hideyuki founded Bulichella, wanting a slower, simpler, and environmentally friendly lifestyle suitable for raising a large family. It was organic from the outset and one of the first Italian organic wine estates. In 1999 the Miyakawa family took over the shares of the other partners, so becoming sole owners. This brought a new focus on quality wine, a new winery and vine plantings.
Suvereto was once part of the Val di Cornia DOC, a subzone recognised for its quality and identity. However, in 2011, Suvereto gained recognition as a DOCG in its own right. This is some achievement, given that by comparison, neighbouring Bolgheri is still, curiously, a DOC. Hideyuki was essential in establishing the DOCG when President of the Val di Cornia DOC Consorzio.
The Suvereto DOCG is tiny, with just 18 hectares and 20 producers, including Bulichella. It only covers red wine, with four categories. The Suvereto Rosso blend stipulates a minimum of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in whatever proportion. In addition, three varietal wines are also defined; each must include at least 85% of either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Sangiovese. All four require a minimum ageing of 19 months and can be designated as Riserva if ageing is extended to a minimum of 26 months (including 18 months in barrel and six in bottle).
Wines from this area that don’t meet the Suvereto DOCG criteria are usually designated IGP Costa Toscana.
The Tuscan coast’s Mediterranean climate is ideal for white and red grapevines. Onshore sea breezes moderate heat extremes and keeps the vines dry and healthy. Soils are rich in minerals such as iron, while gravels and ironstone clays are ideal for Cabernet and Merlot. The rolling hills are of only low altitude, but differences in slope and aspect remain essential. Natural pine and cork oak forests are interspersed with viticulture, olive trees, arable land and Mediterranean scrub.
The main wine challenge here is that climate change drives up natural alcohol levels, and moving to higher altitudes to mitigate this isn’t an option. As a result, harvests are becoming ever earlier; indeed, the 2022 vintage was in early September, now a month earlier than in previous times.
Bulichella – today
Bulichella’s organic estate covers 42 ha in total. 14 ha are vineyards, with 10 ha of olive groves, and the winery is solar-powered. As for the grape varieties, Vermentino is their only white. In reds, Sangiovese is the local representative. The other reds are those French varieties that do so brilliantly in these parts; the Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot) and Syrah.
Meanwhile, the design heritage established by Hideyuki extends to the symbolist wine labels created by his nephews. As these are an essential part of the Bulichella story, some details about them are included in the notes on the wines.
Tuscanio Bianco, IGP Costa Toscana Vermentino, 2021. 13.5%
On this label, two wild boars sit atop a hill under the moon. Is this Hideyuki sharing experience with his children? This is my favourite Bulichella label. There are Twelve thousand bottles pa, using Diam 5 corks.
100% Vermentino, all old vines from four vineyards, each planted with a different Vermentino clone. The grapes are hand-picked in the early morning to preserve aromatics. After a light pressing and low-temperature fermentation in stainless steel, the wine ages on the lees in steel tanks for five months. This example has now been in the bottle for a year.
A pale yellow, there are stone fruit aromas with nuances of almonds and white flowers. The palate is fresh and exciting, with a savoury salty minerality enhancing the fruit and an attractive slippery texture. Excellent balance, precision and persistence. All this suggests that this wine can still improve and develop more complexity.
This matched sushi and sashimi perfectly, as you might expect! It was also an excellent foil for a smoked salmon pasta dish, and I’d like to try it with deep-fried vegetables in tempura batter.
Currently unavailable in the UK. €16 at Bulichella. Someone bring this to the UK!
Rubino, IGP Costa Toscana Rosso, 2020. 14%
This label is a portrait of the Miyakawa family, represented as wild boar, a symbol of Tuscany. The founders (Maria Luisa and Hideyuki) are with their seven children. The estate gates are open to welcome guests. 25,000 bottles pa with Diam 5 corks.
Rubino is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, with 25% Merlot and 25% Cabernets (Franc and Sauvignon). Fermentation is in stainless steel. The wine then matures in steel tanks, followed by six months in third and fourth-use French oak barriques.
Young purplish colour. Aromas of cherry, violets and red berries. Big, bold, sweet fruit shows on the palate, reprising the aromas. Hints of vanilla and spice from the wood ageing, but no more than that. Light polished tannins and good persistence, finishing dry. It is made in a modern international style for young drinking and offers food-matching versatility. This wine will be right at home with Ragù.
UK availability: £17.90 at Eythrope Wine.
Coldipietrerosse, DOCG Suvereto Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018. 15%
In the foreground, a Napoleonic soldier reads a novel (perhaps The Count of Montecristo?) in the shade of an old pine tree against a backdrop of Suvereto and the island of Montecristo. There are 6,000 bottles per year.
Coldipietrerosse is a single-vineyard wine grown on the slopes of a steep hill facing the sea. The name means the hill of red stones.
This 2018 blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, fermented in stainless steel tanks. Ageing is in French oak (70% new, 30% second use) for 18 months, with larger tonneaux for the Cabernet and smaller barriques for the Merlot and Petit Verdot. After this, it matures in the bottle for twelve months before release. The Cabernet Sauvignon amount in the blend gradually increases with each vintage.
A classic “left-bank” Bordeaux blend, though the 15% alcohol suggests Tuscany rather than the Médoc. Aromas of black fruits and cassis, with a traditional herbaceous note from the Cabernet. Fortunately, that level of alcohol is well balanced and hidden by masses of dense dark fruits and has plenty of mineral freshness. Smooth polished tannins bring elegance before a long finish with cocoa, tobacco and cedar notes. While drinking now, this is a wine for keeping for 4-5 years at least and a classic match for rare roast beef and steaks.
UK Availability: £33.90 at Eythrope Wine.
Montecristo, DOCG Suvereto, 2018. 14.5%
This label recalls phases in Hideyuki’s life. In the background is the estate, and the wine takes its name from the island of Montecristo, which can be seen from Bulichella on a clear day. Here, Napoleon is riding through the vineyards after returning from Elba. Hideyuki’s 1960 motorbike is also shown. Six thousand bottles of Montecristo are produced yearly.
Montecristo blends 70% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks, with maturation in all-new French oak barriques for 24 months, with the final blend taking place after the first 12 months.
A Bordeaux blend made in a right-bank (Pomerol?) style, with Merlot as the dominant partner. A deep ruby colour, purple flecked. The aromas show damson leavened with violets and a hint of orange. A deep dark palate shows black fruits, umami notes, olive, graphite, vanilla, coffee and a powerful cigar box (cedar and tobacco). Smooth, polished and refined, this is best kept for another five years to allow full integration of the oak and will doubtless age for decades.
As for food matching, I’d suggest the finest beef you can find, so make that Japanese Wagyū. I suspect this wine was specially designed for it!
UK Availability: £85.00 at Eythrope Wine.
Hide, IGP Costa Toscana Syrah, 2018. 14%
Dashing through the vineyards is Hideyuki’s Jaguar Mk IV. Hide is named after him, with just 1,500 bottles per annum.
A powerful ruby-purple wine, preserving Syrah’s varietal character, shows white pepper and sweet red berries on the nose. The palate is broad and enveloping, with velvet tannins cut with juicy acidity. A long persistent dry finish follows, with cocoa notes dominant at this stage. The style veers more towards top-notch new world Shiraz than Rhône Syrah.
Once again, this will benefit hugely from another five years of keeping and will go on developing over many more. Food-wise, a Bistecca alla Fiorentina would be the first choice. Or try aged hard cheeses like Gouda, Parmesan and Pecorino.
Currently unavailable in the UK. €48 at Bulichella
Bulichella makes other wines, as yet not road-tested, if you’ll pardon the pun. These include:
Sole Sera. A Costa Toscana Rosato IGP. 100% Syrah rosé made in stainless steel tanks. (€17)
Maria Shizuko, a Suvereto Merlot DOCG named after Hideyuki’s daughter and manager of the estate. 100% single-vineyard Merlot, aged in new French oak barriques for 12 months before a further 12 months in the bottle. Only 1,200 bottles, all destined for Japan. (€75)
These are designer wines, finely crafted yet typical of their terroir. Moreover, they are authentic, gastronomic and sustainable. The reds are more marked by new oak than the current fashion, where many wineries have now dialled the oak influence back. However, that statement implies no criticism. While this expensive barrel work shows overtly in the young wine, this level of new oak is there to facilitate further ageing and development. It will integrate over time for those prepared to wait longer, and help with longevity, just like with any classed growth Bordeaux.
On a personal note, enjoying these wines brought back vivid memories of this area. Whether exploring wineries, Etruscan tombs, the confines of Suvereto or relaxing on the beach. You may ask yourself, as I once did if this place is paradise. While there are rival claims, it’s as good an approximation as any.
Società Agricola Bulichella s.r.l.
Località Bulichella 131,
57028 Suvereto (LI)