Monastero Suore Cistercensi

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New Releases: 2016 “Coenobium” and “Ruscum”

It’s hard to believe that we are about to receive our twelfth vintage from the sisters of Monastero Suore Cistercensi. Led by Adriana and Fabiola (pictured left), these nuns have been organically farming their five hectares of vines in Vitorchiano (an hour or so north of Rome) in the region of Lazio, for decades, but it wasn’t until our friend, Giampiero Bea, began advising them in the early 2000s that their wines gained a larger audience. Today, the wines sell like hotcakes, and a ravenous fan base waits with bated breath each time new releases from the sisters are on the horizon… and justifiably so. Even before he began helping them gently refine their approach and commercialize their wines—only to the US and Japan it should be noted—Giampiero was struck by the raw frankness of a white wine produced with almost no technology. In a region rife with soulless, highly controlled, highly sulfured beverages posing as white wines, here was a wine of real character, an unadorned expression of healthy grapes grown in fascinating volcanic soil. Moreover, since we began with the 2005 vintage, the wines have only improved.

Each time we visit with the sisters, we are amazed by their warmth of spirit, their serene energy, and the shockingly spartan nature of their operation. The “winery” is a toolshed packed to the gills with old steel tanks, fiberglass containers of various sizes, and jugs of this and that—proving yet again that it takes the barest minimum to produce a wine of character and truth. We are excited to receive the 2016s from the sisters, which will reach our shores around the second week of January.

2016 “Coenobium” Bianco
As always, “Coenobium” is a blend of Trebbiano, Verdicchio, and Malvasia, harvested together and co-fermented without added yeasts or temperature stabilization. It is aged on the fine lees in steel and fiberglass tanks, and bottled before the next harvest without fining or filtering. Weighing in at a modest 12% alcohol, the 2016 is more subtle, refined, and “classic” in its carriage than the ultra-concentrated 2015. The nose is fresh without being bright, with an underlying gentleness—evocative of autumn on multiple sensory levels. Aromas of fennel fronds, chamomile tea, fresh almonds, and tangerine lead into a full but delicately rendered palate. Glowing acidity lets the slightly savory flavors ring out and really coat the mouth, yet the overall impression is one of freshness and drinkability. This is perhaps the most fully harmonious “Coenobium” to date, and sure to delight all those who—like we—are eagerly awaiting its arrival. [NOTE: Quite a few people throughout the years have thought “Coenobium” to be a skin-contact white wine; however, this is not the case. Being produced in such a natural manner, it offers strikingly different textures and aromas than the garden-variety squeaky-clean, tightly temperature-controlled white wines typical of the area—but it is not a wine of maceration.]

2016 “Ruscum” Bianco
“Ruscum” comes from the same vineyards and the same harvest as the “Coenobium” above, but its juice spends an extended period in contact with the skins—in the case of this 2016, fifteen days. Like its counterpart, this is a more restrained wine than the big-boned 2015, yet it still offers plenty of power and depth. An assertive, beguiling nose offers notes of veal stock, brass, warm spices, and white pepper, and the present but supple tannins are a firm handshake from a friendly hand. A faint wisp of smoke places one in front of a warm fireplace, and indeed, if “Coenobium” is a wine of autumn then “Ruscum” is its wintry sibling. It is difficult to find skin-macerated white wines that pull off this level of balance, detail, and drinkability, and the 2016 “Ruscum” possesses a density that belies its 12% alcohol.

2016 “Benedic” Rosso
The sisters produce a scant amount of red wine: a charming blend of equal parts Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo called “Benedic.” Despite a two-week maceration, “Benedic” is typically a beautifully pale, translucent wine, and the 2016 certainly fits that mold. Clocking in at just 11% alcohol, its color is calm, soft, and almost coppery—one can sense its gentle nature just from looking at it. A pure, honest nose of red licorice, dried leaves, and fresh pipe tobacco introduces an ethereal caress of a palate with almost no detectable tannins. “Benedic” is a pretty, tasty, plain-speaking wine with no makeup and no pretension, and its softly floral edge puts one in the mind of springtime. Those expecting power may be disappointed, but a wine this guileless is nearly impossible to dislike.

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