Introducing the 2016 “Montevertine” and 2017 “Pian del Ciampolo”
A new round of releases from the legendary Montevertine estate, high in the hills above Radda-in-Chianti, is always a cause for celebration. Montevertine as we know it today began back in 1967, when Milanese steel magnate Sergio Manetti acquired the property as a summer home. Within a few years, and with the help of a beloved local named Bruno Bini who was born and raised at Montevertine, he began producing wine from the farm’s enviably situated high-altitude vineyards and reaped virtually instantaneous acclaim. From the outset, Sergio was an ardent proponent of Sangiovese, and felt that the then-required presence of Trebbiano only compromised Chianti’s ability to express a sense of place—especially in such a refined terroir as Radda. When regulations finally changed to allow Chianti Classico to be Trebbiano-free, Montevertine had long since abandoned the DOCG, and the wines have thus been classified as “Rosso di Toscana” since 1981—although, ironically, they are (and always have been) among the most pure expressions of true Chianti to be found. Sergio passed away in 2000, and his son Martino has held the reins since his death, changing virtually nothing about the steadfastly low-tech, traditional processes from which the wines are created. Vineyards are worked entirely without chemicals; grapes are always hand-harvested; fermentations are spontaneous; no stainless steel exists at the estate—only cement and old wood; sulfur is applied conservatively and only at racking; and neither fining nor filtration have ever been employed. These are wines that wear their low-intervention, “natural” origins not as a gleaming badge, but in a comfortable, matter-of-fact manner; wines this pure, this expressive—of course they are produced without unwelcome manipulation. It is truly rare to find wines of this level of breed that also utterly lack any sense of striving or polish, and every bottle of wine issued from the Montevertine estate is a testament to the beauty of which Sangiovese at its zenith is capable.
2017 “Pian del Ciampolo” Rosso di Toscana
The 2017 growing season heaped its share of abuse on the winegrowers of this zone. A monumental late-April frost reduced Montevertine’s potential yields by 40% all by itself, and a punishingly hot and dry summer exacerbated the issue. Martino remarked that, while there is typically a 70% ratio of juice weight to total grape weight, 2017 provided a mere 55% ratio, and production was effectively cut in half this vintage. On the bright side, “Pian del Ciampolo”—the wine most affected by the one-two punch of frost and hydric stress—is remarkably pure and balanced in 2017, with a sense of bristling energy at its core. At 13.5% alcohol, it is ripe but taut, with vigorous acidity and a terrific concentration engendered by the vintage’s drought conditions. Martino began picking on the 28th of September under ideal weather which persisted throughout the duration of the harvest, and the finished wine is a wonderful emblem of a world-class grower’s triumph over a challenging season. “Pian del Ciampolo” undergoes alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in large cement vats with no added yeasts, and extraction takes place solely through pumping-over rather than punching-down. It spends twelve months in well-worn Slavonian casks between 7.5 and 18 hectoliters in size, and the wine is bottled by gravity, unfined and unfiltered. The Pian del Ciampolo vineyard—a 1.5-hectare parcel of Albarese limestone—comprises the bulk of the wine, with smaller plots in Selvole, Il Casino, and Borro ai Colli completing the blend. The vines are fifteen years old on average, and it has been satisfying to watch “Pian del Ciampolo” gain complexity over the years as these vines have developed deeper root systems.
2016 “Montevertine” Rosso di Toscana
Always one to downplay media hype, Martino admitted a personal preference for the 2016 vintage over the much vaunted 2015, comparing it favorably with 2013 and 2010 in its classicism and complexity. A rainy May presented some challenges, but the weather turned gorgeous in mid-June—dry and sunny—and remained so through harvest, which commenced on October 5th (late by today’s new post-climate-change standards). The 2016 “Monteverine” is strikingly dynamic in character, with immense tension between its regal, tight-berried fruits and a sense of savory earth brooding below the surface. Despite its lifted freshness, however, this is coiled like a cobra at this young phase, its tannins as abundant as they are suave. Absent the plump fruit of a vintage like 2015, Montevertine’s essential mineral rigor is on full display, and it is a style we find irresistible. Vines for the flagship Rosso come from a variety of parcels: primarily from the Montevertine plot itself (2.5 hectares of south-southeast-exposed vines planted in 1982) just below the house itself, but also from nearby Villanova and Il Pesa, along with choicer parcels from the Selvole and Il Casino vineyards mentioned above. Just as with “Pian del Ciampolo,” fermentation takes place naturally in enormous cement vats, but this spends a second year in cask before being bottled. A handful of new 7.5-hectoliter barrels entered the rotation for the flagship Rosso in 2016, and although they comprise a small portion of the total, it is worth noting since there is typically no new wood employed at all. In our mid-February tasting of the wine in assemblage, the oak had been superbly absorbed, and a little time in bottle should render it all but invisible.