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 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 received virtually instantaneous acclaim. From the outset, Sergio was an ardent proponent of Sangiovese, and felt that the then-required presence of Trebbiano compromised Chianti’s ability to express a sense of place—especially in such a refined terroir as Radda. When regulations finally relaxed 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. Sergio passed away in 2000, and his son Martino has held the reins since then, changing virtually nothing. The vineyards are worked entirely without chemicals; the grapes are always entirely hand-harvested; fermentations are strictly 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 has ever been employed. These are wines that wear their low-intervention, “natural” origins elegantly. Every bottle of wine issued from the Montevertine estate is a testament to the beauty of Sangiovese at its zenith. Martino recently told us that at Montevertine since 2007 no two consecutive vintages have been even remotely similar in character.
2016 “Pian del Ciampolo” Rosso di Toscana
With a characteristic blend of humility and pride, Manetti remarked during our last visit that Pian del Ciampolo is “a wine of the people; the kind of wine a native Tuscan loves inherently”—certainly a leading candidate for Wine Understatement of the Year, but also an apt summation of Pian del Ciampolo’s relative ease of use and broad appeal. Still, Montevertine’s “basic” wine bests almost anything else from the zone in terms of breed, purity of expression, and age-worthiness. Martino spoke effusively about 2016, calling it one of the most classic vintages in recent history and comparing it to 2013 in its complexity and refinement. Despite a particularly rainy May, the growing season was relatively problem-free, with a dry, sunny summer leading into gorgeous conditions at harvest—which commenced at the “normal” (i.e., pre-climate-change) date of October 5th. The 2016 Pian del Ciampolo is arresting in its elegance, offering a pure and direct nose of sappy cherry, lavender, and classic Sangiovese warm-earth. The palate exudes a sense of effortless balance, with fruit simultaneously rich and taut, a grace note of savory spice, and a crystal-clear, self-assured acidity that is very much a hallmark of classic Montevertine. As with all of the estate’s wines, Pian del Ciampolo undergoes both 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” rounding out the blend. The vines are fifteen years old on average, and it has been thrilling to witness Pian del Ciampolo gain depth and nuance over the years as these vines have developed deeper root systems.
2015 “Montevertine” Rosso di Toscana
Much has been made of the epic nature of the 2015 vintage across Europe, and those who were fortunate enough to try the 2015 Pian del Ciampolo will doubtless remember its sheer firepower and mass—a richer, denser wine even than certain vintages of Montevertine’s top wine, Le Pergole Torte. The estate’s standard-bearing 2015 Montevertine follows suit in impressive fashion, with an immense concentration of structural elements that, miraculously, do nothing to compromise the wine’s supreme sense of elegance. Fruits are pitched slightly blacker than in a more typical vintage, and a current of smoke-tinged ultra-dense black cherry fruit underlines the vintage’s intensely solar character. Radda’s relatively cool microclimate certainly lent a hand to this wine’s sense of poise, but the delicious restraint, the disciplined refusal to overwork the wine, is entirely characteristic of Montevertine. Tannins here are slightly firmer than usual, but still finely wrought. This wine demands a few years of patience, and it should make extraordinarily old bones. The vines for the flagship Montevertine Rosso come from a variety of parcels: primarily from the “Montevertine” plot itself (2.5 hectares of south-southeast exposition planted mainly 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 like Pian del Ciampolo, fermentation takes place naturally in enormous cement vats, and the wine is aged two full years in a variety of large old Slavonian oak casks before a bottling unencumbered by fining or filtering.