Introducing the 2017 “Montevertine” and 2018 “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 planted vines and began producing wine from the farm’s enviably situated high-altitude hillsides, reaping 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 nor filtration have ever been employed. These are wines that wear their low-intervention origins not as a badge but in a 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 complexity and refinement that also lacks any sense of striving, and every bottle of wine issued from the Montevertine estate is a testament to the beauty of Sangiovese at its zenith.
2018 “Pian del Ciampolo” Rosso di Toscana
After the difficulties of the 2017 growing season and an ensuing tiny yield, 2018 came as a welcome and relatively problem-free vintage, both bountiful and high in quality. Tuscany experienced a mild summer compared to many other parts of Europe, and the wines are overall ample without being excessively ripe. The terrific 2018 “Pian del Ciampolo” fits the classic mold for this bottling, with a very Radda sense of lift and energy wed to a structure easygoing enough to allow for early consumption but promising some magic with a little bottle age. With its dense, sappy fruit, its crushed-rocks sense of minerality, and its tense, reverberating finish, 2018 is a particularly irresistible and delicious vintage for this wine. “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 north-facing 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.
2017 “Montevertine” Rosso di Toscana
As I mentioned above, the 2017 growing season heaped difficulties 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. Despite these challenges, the 2017 “Montevertine”—which Martino compares to the 2011—displays a sense of elegant serenity even as its richness and drought-vintage concentration contribute a certain intensity. Notes of licorice and spice frame a core of dense and tangy fruit, dark in character but scintillatingly fresh—a duality difficult to achieve but routinely executed at Montevertine. In typically understated fashion, Martino remarked during our last visit, “I prefer to have something imperfect but that represents the harvest and the vintage.” With imperfection this good, who needs something perfect? 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.