Tenuta degli Ultimi – autumn in the Veneto.


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“For once you aren’t arriving in the wrong season!” Sebastiano has been encouraging me to visit Conegliano away from the heart of bitter winter for years. “A proper tour of the area is now possible.” Harvest is over but only just, foliage and the occasional grape is still on the vine. His homeland is sunny and breezy.

I arrived at sunset. By the time we reach Al Castelletto for dinner it is decidedly chilly. From my perspective necessarily cold, because we’re about to get run over by a cavalcade of traditional workingman’s country fare. I’ll be sweating by the end of it, no matter how icy the room. This is a meal of retribution, for every eastern NC barbecue dinner I’ve inflicted upon unsuspecting visiting Italians. Chicken in a spicy yogurt sauce comes out first, along with some fried ham dumplings, a mixed greens salad (rare as a unicorn sighting in my travels in Italy) beef carpaccio, fritto misto with chicken nuggets instead of frutti di mare, baccala, polenta squares, turkey in gravy of all things, straight-up meatballs, more. It blurs. Next thing I know it is midnight and I’m drinking a brown distillate at the hotel bar, for purely medicinal reasons. It needs to burn through.

At sunrise I go for a run, through a cloud of school children heading for the large, columned Academia, through the centuries-old stone center of Conegliano, eventually up some frighteningly steep roads to the castle above it all, a lung-busting ordeal that does yield beautiful panoramas of the town and undulating hills that retreat to Dolomites on the horizon. The fortress above Conegliano looks particularly medieval: high stone walls, a chess-piece tower flying the Italian flag. The sun is rising across a circular cobblestone piazza lined by lollipop Seuss cypresses. It gives an austere white Romanesque church aura, luminescence.

The roads that circle the hilltop are steep and stony and windy enough that I slow to a trot and then a gingerly walk on my descent. Falling would alter my itinerary to include a tour of emergency rooms of the Veneto, an unappealing prospect. After barely half an hour I limp through covered arched walkways back to the painted faux-Michaelangelo façade of my hotel, cherubs, clouds, lutes, salvation from the cross. I’m exhausted, and ready to see Sebastiano’s vineyards from the comfort of a 4x4’s passenger seat.

And there is more climbing to do. The Conegliano-Valdobiaddene DOCG is a vertically inspiring place, conical hills lined like topographic maps by vines broken only by the occasional remote farmhouse, buildings that seem like hermitages in their inaccessibility and isolation. It’s dark under the shadow of these slopes, in rich green pathways lined by mossy stone walls improbably holding back so much earth. The vines haven’t started to yellow. The narrow gravel road is crowded by shoots and tendrils, invertebrate arms clawing at our windows. I use the wooden posts of trellises to steady short excursions into the verdant valleys of vines. You could get lost here in a highly manicured, overwhelming-to-the-senses collaboration of humanity and nature. This is impressive agriculture.

We stop at the church where Sebastiano wishes to be married (I believe the bride is as-yet unselected.) Its clock face is huge! Oversized I suppose, but probably necessary to be visible from settlements at the base of the hill. I peer through a vent and see a white marble alter and mahogany cross illuminated by sunlight. Rich reds and blues give the quite violent oil paintings contrast from the rather ascetic white stone walls and grey vaulting.

Sunlight makes hilltop quite warm. I’m getting thirsty! Luckily, Sebastiano knows a little place nearby where we can grab a snack. Osteria Senze Oste is a regional oddity, a self-serve, honor system “café” on a hillside surrounded by vineyards. Several large vending machines dispense Prosecco and more, if you want coffee or bread or salami or cheese you simply take it, and leave money in the cash box. I buy a crostata made with Raboso grapes, a loaf of white bread to support my growing collection of local cheeses, and a bottle of water. A collection of tired-looking cyclists were enjoying an early lunch when we arrived. From the look of them I’m glad we drove! Several scarecrows in fine autumn attire loom above the steep hills and dizzying switchbacks of Conegliano-Valdobiaddene that swirl around us. These slopes aren’t scenery casual wine fans associate with Prosecco, and maybe for good reason. On the car ride back to reality Sebastiano says that any producer in this area making less than half a million bottles of bubbly is considered small. The big wineries (Mionetto, etc) pump out millions of cases. It’s hardly an argument for terroir.

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Near the village of Collalto we meet the dog of Sebastiano’s brother, a friendly Australian shepherd charged with patrolling the fence line of the family’s large, gently sloping vineyard of Glera, Verdiso, and Bianchetta grapevines. It’s a quiet place bordered by a centuries-old farmhouse and barn. The dog seems happy to have company. I’m happy to discover that an inattentive harvester missed a significant amount of mild, ripe Glera grapes. I pick several sticky handfuls to snack on during our amble around the property. On this warm day at the edge of autumn it’s easy to feel why this is a favored site. I lose my coat and roll up my sleeves. Across the sunlit valley stands an ancient tower. Sebastiano ruminates on the constancy of the view, how ancestors would have looked across the landscape and seen the same fortification cleaving the horizon.

We stop by Sebastiano’s house, to borrow a cheese knife (for the road.) By the end of the day I’ll be on the Slovenian border. It remains to be seen if my appetite will ever return. At dusk I’ll be watching container ships making waves in the Adriatic. And eating cheese! New dogs, new vineyards, same fuel to keep this journey going.

Jay Murrie
Anglo-Italian deference. Contemporary Pizza at i Tigli.
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British people are debilitatingly bad at eye contact. The steward on my flight will not under any circumstances look at me. She is trapped three feet away, between her drinks cart and the next. I awoke at the moment she was handing my neighbor a wine bottle. I stared directly at her face as she served drinks to every person in a 270-degree arc around me. The mechanics of her craning neck to avoid locking eyes were owl-like or extra-human, an evolution. It’s a skill honed in a lifetime of walking the High Street searching for points on the ground or in the mid-horizon to look at, in grim defiance of greeting neighbors and strangers.

Similar professional optical focus was on display at I Tigli in Verona last night. The kitchen team are a study in singular intensity, knowing intuitively the movements and intentions of each other member, a skill marshaled through countless hours of near-contact. When a couple of the cooks bumped heads on the pull-down spotlights, proximate colleagues and injured parties barely flinched. The synchronicity continued. The pace of pizza production belies the attention and craft focused on each ingredient. I order from a short list of classics, which represent exceptional value. My first pizza is studded with wild mountain capers, the second is an anchovy pizza. The crust is big and holy, less ephemeral than the Neopolitan style. It strikes me as a valid take on crust, more wholesome perhaps, and certainly easier to work with. Toppings on the restaurant’s more creative pizzas are mounded to intimidating heights. The pizzas fly from the kitchen in the hands of a front of house staff that match my BA steward’s resolute avoidance of eye contact. They have a higher purpose. The pizza must land on the tables of this very full room while still hot.

I arrived at 7:30. It was quiet. Two Maseratis were parked outside. The host’s request that I return to the 20% full dining room in 30 minutes seemed arbitrary. By the time I was eating, I Tigli was transformed into a fascinating cross-section of Verona. There were a scattering of couples. Mostly, 8-18 tops filled the room. Several were solely one gender. I was seated at the one high bar table. A group of men in casual workingman’s polos occupied the other end of my table. I was facing the wine cellar. The selections are brilliant. Tight, intelligent, with range, vision, and a nod to localism. All a drinker could hope for. Binner, Germain, Terpin, Daniele Piccinin, Pra, Gaja, Pepe, Laherte, Maule, Egly, Gravner, Foradori. Maybe 50 wines, all priced at American retail. A master class.

I thought I’d order more food, but the ancient grain crust is filling. I’ll return for pizzas created with raw gambero rosso shrimp, fiore di latte cheese, rare tuna, mountain cheeses and meats, more.

The waiters fly past. They also smile the right amount, ask the right amount of questions, are friendly, not familiar. This is also a dream. I like people. I value a few words, to share moments of being human. But this team keeps focus and organizational shape. They don’t loiter at tables. They don’t have to curry favor for tips. We are in Italy, and they are dynamite professionals doing their jobs.

The room is at least 70% women. Two large parties are all women, and two other sizeable groups are 80/20 female. I love that the restaurant elevating perfect quotidian food isn’t overrun by dude bros. I am alarmed though at the amount of people drinking beer. Pizza loves wine, and I love I Tigli’s wine list. Beer is good, and Italy has found beer (first love really) during the craft beer renaissance. Italy is making better beer than ever before. But they are making better wine than maybe anywhere else on the globe.

Bravo to I Tigli. A rewarding experience. In the top 10 for my 2018 pizza travels. Two maseratis.

Chicken curry or veggie plate is my current predicament. I abhor industrial meat, but I do love a curry. Flavor must prevail. Trapped in a window seat, 5,000km from home, it’s enough to keep hope of a better future meal alive.

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Jay Murrie
Nicolini by the sea.
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The bora wind pins us to the hillside. “It feels like winter!” Rossana Nicolini dons a coat for our short tour of vines outside Nicolini’s home and cellar. Mother-and-son dachshunds Brigitta and Tristan dart around, playing, schooling each other. Giorgio Nicolini points to the house he was born in on the farm, still occupied by his father and sister. Scant rows of Vitovska, Refosco, and Malvasia fill spaces between sheds and fences on a slope that ends at the gulf of Trieste. Most of the vines were planted by Giorgio and his father in 1990: Vitovska vines are slightly younger. Piccola Nera and Borgogna Nera are planted here as well, close to a clubhouse the family use for Giorgio’s birthday celebration in November. The inside of the clubhouse has a small kitchen and tables covered in posters of sports teams from Trieste, mainly basketball. The local team is in Serie A this year. Eugenio played for them not too long ago. He remembers fondly traveling to tournaments in Vienna. The Austro-Hungarian influence is everywhere around us. Old parts of Trieste resemble Vienna by-the-sea. Wines have been grown here since Roman times. The clubhouse reminds me of the Heurigen in the outskirts of Austria’s capital city.

Today Trieste is a modern port city with 200,000 residents. The same size as my hometown of Durham. And that’s where the similarities end! A large container ship is unloading across the harbor from the Nicolini’s farm. Their land is at the northern end of Istria, a kilometer up the hill from Muggia, population 2,500. Slovenia is at the end of their driveway, 50 meters away. Croatia begins a kilometer to the south. The boundaries have been in place since 1945, the bordering nations were part of Yugoslavia during the cold war. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria loved the region and gave its inhabitants (and those of Alto Adige to the northeast) special dispensation to produce 600 liters of grappa per vineyard-owning family per year. Unlike grappa production in other regions that must be done at centralized distilleries, Nicolini produce their grappa in a small cellar under their home, and (also by distinct regional law) only from grape skins, no stems.

2017 was an exceptional year for Nicolini. Both quality and quantity were good at this tiny (perhaps two hectare) domaine. There are 300 bottles of the 2017 Piccola Nera left in cantina, plus 50 magnums. I’ll buy them all. The wine is bright red, tart, a tiny bit herby (rosemary?) It will be by favorite wine come summer 2019, if bottles stick around that long. “Good with fish soup,” Rossana notes. Exactly. I want a magnum of Piccola Nera in the kitchen of our beach rental in Ocracoke next summer. We’ll drink it with bouillabaisse full of every sea creature hauled into the working fisherman’s co-op in the morning. Rossana and I try to capture the Slovenian and Croatian names for this obscure grape, but she doesn’t speak those languages (nor do I!) When jolting along in rusty Italian gets old we can talk in Spanish, because the local dialect near Trieste shares Iberian syntax. She is quick to point out that all of Istria shares history and Venetian traditions, not just the Italian side of the invisible borders.

Speaking of borders, it turns out the “Ambrosia” Malvasia Istriana is grown on the Slovenian side. News to me! I was led to believe (not by the Nicolinis) that it was vino bianco instead of IGT wine because it was younger vines. Nope. It is grown Frisbee-throwing distance from the cantina, but outside the IGT’s boundaries, in a different nation. Ain’t bureaucracy grand? I’m happy to welcome our first (already in stock) Slovenian wine to the PWI portfolio. Piedmont Wine Imports: secretly selling Slovenian wine since 2014.

The 2017 Malvasia IGT is aged in big barrel, as big as it can be given the tiny quantity produced. It spent four days on the skins, before being bottled in April. The wine is a regionally-moderate 13.5%. The vineyard faces the sunny sea, a great heat sink ensuring consistent ripeness. It tastes of tangerine pith/skin, beeswax, and Christmas cake spices. Not surprisingly (given the terrain and culture of Istria) it would also be excellent with seafood, of the more robust variety.

A stainless steel Malvasia is also produced. The vines grow in clay with marine sediments. It is my favorite of the whites we tasted. Don’t get me wrong, I am philosophically predisposed to the use of large neutral wood vessels for fashioning wine. But the stainless version brings clarity to Malvasia’s iridescent aromatics. More tropical, like the fruit you’d taste along this coast from Trieste to Puglia. There are persimmons in Nicolini’s front yard. More citrus.

Next up is a Moscato named after Rossana and Giorgio’s son Eugenio. Dry, with aromas of honey and white flowers. It’s very tasty. It is more exotic than the name Moscato implies. I adore this grape, and think it is criminally misunderstood. It is also dizzyingly genetically diverse. Ancient and widespread, this grape once surrounded the Mediterranean. Carefully selected Moscato (or Muscat or Gelber Muskateller) delivers distinct and layered flavor. I think people are afraid to admit to liking something this delicious. People.

The final wine presented is the 2017 Refosco, an inky tannic red that smells exactly like just-ground black pepper. Giorgio says to drink it with venison. Somewhere between 200-300 bottles (all they have) will land in North Carolina this winter. It is earth and fire to Piccola Nera’s wind, sea, and sky.

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We taste unoaked grappa in the style preferred in Triete. They make 300 bottles. The distillate is enjoyable. Sharing something so scarce feels special. The mountain of tender, thin-as-parchment pancetta and craggy nuggets of stravecchio cheese holding down the table become essential. After the fruity young grappa we try a 2012 barrel-aged version, made in the style popular around Parma, Emilia. Italy even has fractuous opinions on grappa. Makes sense: look at whiskey in Tennesse/Kentucky! Grappa gets an (often deserved) reputation as industrial firewater. Nicolini is carrying forward an older tradition. The amber-colored distillate that marks the end of our lighthearted tasting spends two years in barrel and three in bottle before release. It is the antithesis of simple coarse grappas more commonly found in N.C. It is 54% alcohol: hang onto your hat!

Meat, cheese, and booze make stretching legs in the cool air outside very appealing. Just up the hill from Nicolini lives Mauro, an agriturismo proprietor who loves to bake cakes and listen to soft pop hits in his kitchen, while chatting with neighbors and guests. A nice guy. He named his agriturismo Villa Ambrosia after the Nicolini wine he prefers. His house has a large central fireplace in the living room, and big windows that face Trieste across the bay. Dusk and dawn are the best times to view the city. It twinkles and smolders and melts into choppy waters cut with parallel lines of breakers. Maybe it’s the grappa. The place seems simultaneously ordinary and magical.

The season for production from the grape skins begins on October 23, at 7:30am. Fortuitously I arrive on the 22nd. On the morning of the 23rd I steel myself with Moka pot espresso and Mauro’s homemade apple pie, and head for the still. It is copper, small-ish (the size of a large rain barrel) and was imported from Hungary in the 19th century. The moment I cross the threshold Eugenio hands over a Champagne flute full of grappa novello. Piles of partly-dried Malvasia skins fills baskets all around the room. I sniff and taste: it’s so grapey! Like popping a grape into your mouth, and finding it full of liquor. In spite of the hour I make short work of the grappa, and beg a bottle to share with friends (even you!) back home.

While Eugenio has a day job as a scientist in Trieste, I’m happy to see him at work in the cellar with Giorgio. This farm will continue father-to-son for another generation.  Selling and supporting their work is deeply rewarding for me. They are real Italians, characters, generous and kind.

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Jay Murrie
Carussin after the harvest. San Marzano Oliveto to Torino.
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Matteo’s house across the valley from Carussin is hard to describe. I like it very much, but there is a certain lack of creature comforts. Now that he lives there full time with his girlfriend things are improving. Their vegetable garden is impressively diverse and thriving, given that it is mid-October. Tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, nasturtium, spiny plants without names, there’s no doubt he is a man with a green thumb.

Mateo extended an invitation for gin and tonics in has half of the building. WOOFers have recently vacated the other half, where I will be sleeping. The tile throughout the large crumbling farmhouse is impressive, a mix of late sixties/super-seventies earth tones and bold patterns.

I caught up initially with Matteo on his tractor in a vineyard they use for Asinoi. A shallow plowing (30cm, not turned) of every other row of the field allows oxygen into the soil to aid the nitrogen-fixing legumes and clover that are planted to further structure the earth of the field. He shows me some rows of Ancellota that made fruit to darken the Completo liter-bottle vino rosso. The juice of Barbera is clear, the Ancellota runs blood-red. I popped a berry and stained my fingers. Only a few grape varieties have red juice like this.

I met Matteo’s girlfriend for the first time in the cellar. She was labeling bottles: boring work. She is from Mantova, Veneto. Now both Luca and Matteo’s girlfriends live on the farm. The family continues to grow.

After gin and tonics in their kitchen it’s time to drive back to Carussin/Bruna’s house for dinner. Luca, his girlfriend, and a friend with a three-year-old named Dante arrive. Bruna has prepared a simple feast, cooked salami, a tuna, white bean and onion salad, a 12-inch saucepan filled to the brim with locally-made agnolotti. We taste new vintages of Lia Vi and a Nebbiolo from Fara in the Alto Piemonte. It’s 11 percent alcohol and made in the style of Sisto/Felice: no oak, no sulfur, crown cap. Also there’s a new vino rosso Dolcetto, sturdy, ripe, 14 percent alcohol. The other end of the Carussin stylistic continuum.

After the feast it’s time for grappa. After the grappa it’s time for bed, for the finding of clean sheets stowed away by the retreating WOOFers in a wardrobe and choosing one from many available mattress options. In the morning there is hazelnut cake and espresso delivered by Matteo. They are thoughtful hosts, and I am grateful for being allowed to crash at their farm with very little notice.

It’s a perfect day in Torino. I should be on the autostrada to Veneto, but Bruna and the girlfriends are working at Torino Beve Bene, and I’ve been invited to tag along. The wide avenues of the city are swarming with joggers, cyclists, hikers, happy couples meandering along the Po. The tasting is held in a small event space in a leafy neighborhood close to downtown. It’s hipster enough, with vibrantly and expertly graffiti-ed walls, and sliding rusting industrial doors. A throng of maybe 100 winemakers hang around tables in the main room. Initially I’m more interested in the affineur selling aged Fontina, Toma, Gorgonzola, and Comte in the foyer. Also there is a vendor of pretty spectacularly delicious tripe, words that don’t often fall into the same sentence for me. It is served in a mellow tomato sauce with white beans. The tripe itself is perfectly tender, and not at all rubbery, a flaw which I fear is the global norm.

I enjoyed my stint as a wine civilian. Aimless wandering for enjoyment. When did I last attend a wine fair for the sake of enjoyment? The probably in the 20th century. Since I’m not shopping for anything, I stumble into a phenomenal young producer of natural Arneis and Nebbiolo, a man making maybe 7,000 bottles of each in a very refreshing, directly enjoyable style.  You may be seeing these wines in NC soon. Along with this newfound secret potential source there are fun farmers to be met all around the dolled up warehouse. Bruna takes me to a buddy of hers from Rocca de Carpento, a strong-looking tan woman with an awesome smile whose estate bottles big-boned dolectto and barbera from five hectares in Ovada that contain 45+ year old vineyards, organically farmed. Then I meet a man making Riesling (called Davero) and Syrah (named Grijer) near Vicenza, and improbably I enjoy them both!

Natural wine events are not inherently better or worse than “normal” wine events. But maybe I like the people more. The stereotypes are different. There are more intellectuals, more enthusiastic younger drinkers who probably also love Dead Moon and Sparks, and read books. And the whole thing feels less grossly commercial, more like community. I guess it means the big money isn’t here yet, in spite of the relative rise of natural wine in journals and on urban wine lists. I taste some stinkers: it’s about 50/50. But that’s pretty good, by any trade show’s standards. At a more industry centric event the stinkers would be boring, tired, slick retreads of dull, focus-grouped flavor profiles. Here the bad wines are flawed, they have scars and funk like a brackish pond. But the good wines are unfettered and alive. They still provide the thrill of experiencing a sip of undigitized reality.

I take my gooey aged Fontina and head for different hills, across the industrial plain of Lombardy/Veneto (a place Matteo accurately described as Mordor) to the surprising beauty of Conegliano. As regions change so does the weather. I’m happy. I packed sweaters. It would be deflating to take them home clean. And Sebastiano has a massive meal of Venetian grandma food planned, in a timeless countryside restaurant where everything passes before the ever-watchful eyes of a septegenarian matriarch, with 40 years of her life lived inside its rooms.

 

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More soon.

Jay Murrie
Lunch at La Casaccia

 

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For the first time, all four Ravas are at home! Margherita and Marcello are serious world travelers, India, Burkina Faso, Portugal, South Korea, plus all the countries that sell La Casaccia’s wine. We take a family portrait to celebrate the event. My intermittent inclusion in the photos confirms the mathematical proof: 1 Murrie = 2 Ravas.

My travel to Italy included more and different airports than expected, so I arrive late to lunch. Margherita and Elena run a small agriturismo at the farm (when time permits) with a cozy but fully-functioning restaurant kitchen. Meals here are always a healthy treat! Within moments of wandering into their courtyard I’m eating a salad made from the last of the season’s tomatoes grown in Margherita’s kitchen garden, along with cheese, psychedelically meaty and juicy salami made in their village of Cella Monte, and locally grown hazelnuts that the family just toasted.

It’s a wonderful way to ease into a week of farm visits. There is so much familiarity. Margherita was in North Carolina barely over a week ago. We careening around the state with a rotating cast of characters from the PWI ranks. She is unremittingly friendly, and very good at handling all the curveballs I throw her direction.

While I feast Giovanni and Marcello leave to clear a fallen tree from the road, and bring back firewood for looming winter. Margherita makes her father change his clothes before the photos begin. I understand, but also kinda wish we took snapshots of the Giovanni in his torn work attire. These people are real farmers, for lack of a better phrase. The do daily physical labor, they are not overseers distant from dirt and lifting. I make the distinction because I think it is one of the critical differences scrubbed away as wine crosses the Atlantic. There are many types of wineries, many ways to make wine successfully. I like working with farmers like the Ravas. Their daily connection to their land leaves a fingerprint on the wines we import.

With lunch we taste a handful of new vintages that were not ready when we collected wine in preparation for Margherita’s American tour.

The 2014 metodo classico bubbly is appley and accessible, a great start to a meal. Margherita hopes to do a stage at a small organic Champagne estate soon.  The long lees aging and tiny batch size for this wine contributes to its sporadic availability in North Carolina. We’ll get one last delivery before New Year’s: grab them swiftly is my advice.

The 2017 Grignolino is intense cranberry fruit at this early stage. The wine was bottled in July. Summer months without rain and a “this is the new normal” torridly hot summer created Grignolino with tart intensity that I will find irresistible come summer 2019.

By contrast, the 2013 Ernesto Grignolino has mellowed to a point where Giovanni is contemplating releasing it (at last!) The wine is aged in big tonneaux, as was the tradition in Cella Monte before the arrival of cement and stainless steel. Ernesto (named after their great-grandfather, who fought in World War I) macerates on the skins for 6-7 days, which is long by modern Grignolino standards. The grape imparts abundant tannin from its numerous seeds (Grignola is Piedmontese for seed/pip) so long aging is necessary. The wine is appealing. Margherita worries that some customers will be bothered that it contains a little sediment. I am unconcerned. It’s an education issue. Filtration robs a living wine of so much. We aren’t selling Parmalat ultrapasteurized milk.

The 2017 Freisa smells of ripe strawberry compote. The warm summer gave this wine an almost candied cherry character. A gregarious aromatic red at a price that should make drinkers of both. Langhe Nebbiolo and Oregon Pinot swoon, and buy cases. Freisa is remarkably ageworthy.

We have to be swift. The Ravas are preparing for agriturismo guests. And for me,

a trip to Barolo calls and a dinner with Renata Bonacina from dacapo winery. It’s amazing to visit restaurants where the amount of Rinadi and Mascarello that is allocated to the state of North Carolina for a vintage is just sitting on the cellar shelf. The feasting continues.

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Jay Murrie
Beach wine: A retrospective

 It’s not a MAGA hat.

It’s not a MAGA hat.

I’m writing from the eye of a hurricane. Violent summer’s end, exclamation point. This essay is not advice, the cheerful looking-forward essay that appears in spring. I’m feeling retrospective. Kicking through the ashes of holiday recently gone by, receding memory.  

Ocracoke island. Like all true sociopaths, our ideal vacation setting was as inaccessible as we could manage with two children in tow. A beach vacation of diminished crowds and radically winnowed access to goods-and-services. Two hours via ferry from the sad tumbledown towns of remote coastal Carolina, three hours in a car through swamp and empty geometric agricultural isolation, without wifi. Past all the Dollar Generals, with a requisite stop at Bojangles: even for Biscuitville, this place is a bridge too far.

I last visited Ocracoke as a teenager, a UNC freshman with a car and a poor understanding of the physics of driving on sand. We ran aground somewhere near Duck, met a helpful carpet-layer with an Econoline van and the time and inclination to tow us from the dunes. Car camping, isolation: the southern outer banks were even more deserted back then. Improbably, my tiny Mazda contained a love triangle, tension for close-quarters travel. My affable, fragile roommate was in love with my “girlfriend” for whom I felt some ambivalence that over time would grow into resentment. She was strongly attached to me. Her willpower was the dominant force in our lives: my wavering and his insecure love blew over like sea grass in its path.

A day late, running on fumes and maxed-out credit cards, we arrived in Ocracoke. It was wonderfully, eerily empty. Quiet, nothing. A meandering collection of old southern houses, gravel roads, a few boats. It was spring. There may have been tourists, I didn’t see them. Not sure exactly where we stayed. The place had an old manual card-swiper, the knuckle-busting kind we still used in power outages at my wine shop decades later.

My return to Ocracoke 19 years later was essentially unmarked by memory. The place was new again. My thoughts of it were less sepia-toned than covered in a layer of dust, faded film left in the light, a window left open for too long. The stages of life had changed. This trip was very intentional, mapped down to the last detail months in advance, ferry schedules pored over and debated, accommodations analysed in detail impossible back in the 20th century, before the internet’s true dawn. I argued successfully to take the Swan Quarter passage, a longer ferry ride across Pamilco Sound that shortened the interminable “are we there yet?” car travel with kids by an hour. As a parent I’m a little tickled by how true-to-stereotype my daughters are inside our station wagon. We’re lucky to be 30 minutes from home when the five-year-old lets fly the first salvo. By Tarboro the unremitting waves of “are we there yet?” have battered us to submission. Crumbling sanity forces a fast food stop. Sweet silence reigns while girls are stuffing their faces with chicken biscuits. And soon we are in the true unknown, marveling at the empty grid lines on the car’s GPS that show us rising vertically into space, taking off into Tron. We count, compare, and award medals for the best abandoned buildings we pass. They are impressive in quantity and level of architectural submission to creeping nature, kudzoo and ceiling beam interwoven, farmhouse and century-old barn peeling away from functionality and joining the organic world. Splintered grey siding yielding to mold, rusted barn tin bent by the wind, reaching into the otherwise unbroken sky above. I see a cluster of men digging a grave, waist deep with shovels, a scene from a different century. We drive along levees between patties of soybean and corn, a horizon that seems tailor-made for flood irrigation and rice. Small commercial fishing boats in various levels of maintenance dot the sound-side water. We arrive in Swan Quarter, a moviescape of emptiness dwarfed by a clean modern administrative complex and courthouse. Megan has been here before, for a traffic violation (not hers.) The only other movement is at the ferry terminal, and all signs funnel us to its lanes. They skirt close to stating, “there is nothing else here for you. Only this. Don’t delay, or look too closely.” A pet chicken roams around the terminus. People are relaxed, helpful. My girls make a fast friend who days later we’ll see on the beach. On the other side of the sound, where we belong.

My long absence is not the reason I misread the supply situation. In 1994 I had no need for fancy food and wine, for kid-appropriate fare, for comforts. We had a tent and sleeping bags. Maybe snacks, possibly beer, maybe not. In haste to arrive an hour early for our ferry, we forgot to pick herbs from our garden. But the wholesale absence of produce on the island didn’t sink in until we landed. Ocracoke has the best seafood in North Carolina, thanks to the working fishermen’s co-op in the center of town. And we needed it! Just-caught giant shrimp, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, scallops, sea trout, perfect seafood displaced all other sources of calories in our week offshore. Except ice cream. And pasta.

And wine! There are two places to buy wine in Ocracoke. I thought I’d brought a week’s-worth with us. I radically underestimated the effects of exile and separation from quotidian labor on my rate of wine consumption. We’d drained our cellar by Tuesday, and had to pick up bottles from the island’s shops.

Here’s my wine diary from the trip. I hope it can be both a guide and a cautionary tale. We had top-notch family time, great meals, I came home happy and a little tan. But a wine professional ought to do better when planning for all-important vacation meals. It’s my job to make good wine for meals (special and everyday) appear. Perhaps I stumbled.

Day 1: Drink all the good stuff.

I have no patience. Or, what patience I had died roadside hours ago. I rush out, buy two pounds of huge shrimp, and made a lemony, delicious chitarra pasta. The utter lack of vegetables hasn’t dawned on me yet. We eat on the porch, and drink glasses of Thierry Germain Insolite. The wine is so good I am momentarily distracted from the fact that our rental house is surrounded with small cemeteries full of Spanish moss and 19th century graves.

Megan accurately describes our bedroom for the week as decorated in the style of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks. Not the ideal refuge from ghosts. At least it’s on the second floor. Ghosts can’t climb stairs. Everyone knows that.

Day 2: The day we all burn.

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Whew, that was creepy. From now on, I’ll stay inside after dark. A few hours at the beach will burn off the ghostly haze. And the top layer of my skin. Away from the lifeguard beach you can walk for miles, alone with your thoughts, the only sign of civilization being literal signs instructing one not to stomp on the buried sea turtle eggs, or set the beach on fire. It is peaceful. The white noise of waves is at perfect decibel level to drown out the omnipresent chatter of a 10-year-old. So many questions! What am I, a marine biologist? Ask a research device how all this stuff got here. I’m thinking about dinner.

Several hours being battered by waves and sun will stir up an appetite! A three-story fig tree in the backyard is full of fruit on the leading edge of ripeness. I implore my fig-mad kids to leave them for just a day longer. To no avail. It’s true: the birds won’t wait. We feast, then feast again on yellowfin tuna sashimi and scallops. From the moment I lay eyes on it in the seafood co-op, every primal fiber of my being wants to gorge on the tuna. It is otherworldly, vivid, glistening. I struggle not to push the woman in line in front of me to the ground to procure this maddeningly perfect meat. I rush home, do some quick You Tube research, and begin slicing. We serve a bottle of Roulot Bourgogne Blanc with dinner, knowing full well that our meal has crossed a threshold. It is obscenely delicious. One day we may have to stand trial for our crimes.

Day 3: We venture out in search of the worst meal of the year.

Hello, Cap’n! Ahoy! Do you have a fryer, and a bottomless pit of frozen margarita mix? We’ll, we’re at the beach, this must be our spot to day drink and watch the seagulls rip fish heads to shreds just yards from where we dine. Ooh, tarter sauce with our hush puppies and fries: a local delicacy!

It rains. We abandon the beach in search of kid-friendly lunch fare. Cooking every meal in our ghost house is already getting onerous. We sit outside on a covered patio and suffer a little spray from the wind and rain. But it’s fine! We’re having fun. The kids love the pelicans, and I’m content with the gut-bomb fare. The bluefish seems fresh. Nothing wrong with a sprinkling of mediocrity in our holidays. Thank you, tequila!

Day 4: Penance.

I go for a run along highway 12. It is straight, flat, dunes on both sides, marked only by telephone poles. The occasional couple on rented bikes glide by. I sweat, give thanks to Neptune for the cloud cover and constant wind. Tedium. It’s nature’s treadmill out here.

Next up: shrimp and grits! Megan brought some beautiful foraged mushrooms from the Duke farmer’s market. Our summer tomato supply is dwindling. The last wine from home is gone. We buy the most promising locally-available options. Prices are high, but considering where we are, you can’t complain. Note Blanche from Domaine Franck Pesson is the realest-looking French wine on the island. It eases our transition into the next stage of our holiday, watching the random VHS tapes scattered around the rental. E.T. is up first. I’ve never seen it. It is heartwarming. The wine, like the film, has no rough edges. A pleaser.

Day 5: Ambling about. Sea trout.

We go for a walk. After four days in the waves, the girls are sick of the sight of the beach. Luckily, Ocracoke is pretty walkable, if you don’t mind dodging those infernal golf carts people roll around in. It’s flat. Able-bodied adults who refuse to stroll around a tiny flat island community but instead have to introduce beat-up country club transport to the small roads and paths we traverse… I look askance at these people. I glare, sometimes at their walrus abdomens. We walk. The girls grump. But they like the lighthouse, and the maritime forest, where we see a snake. They play games. Fiona brings along Baby Jaguar, and takes holiday photos with her beloved pet. At night we eat sea trout and orzo and tomatoes. The pasta selection on Ocracoke is small. The girls love orzo. To me it’s disappointing rice. We watch Young Frankenstein. Less successful than E.T. Too much kissing for the girls. I’ve never been into Mel Brooks. It’s quotable for sure. It’s like the bible: kids should be exposed to it, but I don’t believe.

 Astrid is more Monty Python than Mel Brooks.

Astrid is more Monty Python than Mel Brooks.

A truly wretched Verdicchio mars this evening for me.

Day 6: I get a blister.

Shirtless and shoeless on the beach for five miles. The sea is angry, I pass a few dogs and soul surfers, but otherwise I revel in cool spray, the search for firm-enough sand, the realization that I’m in a national park, alone. At the end of the day we get ice cream. I get a strawberry parfait. I deserve it.

Sandcastles are constructed. We all are sensing the finish line. I make mahi with chitarra pasta and every last sad scrap of produce I can muster from the community store. We drink Heitz Grignolino rose. It’s fruity, bright, a really nice return to form after the previous evening’s worst-case Verdicchio.

Our last real wine, and the only red of the trip, is Clos Roche Blanche cuvee pif. The correct number of reds to bring to the beach may be zero. I always sneak down one or two, and they sit forlorn until all options are exhausted. This throwback from the final vintage at CRB is all the good things when served at 55 degrees. We watched Splash. The girls found it to be a frustrating film. Lots of questions. I’m wondering if we should get a VCR again.

Maybe they are best left for vacations.

Jay Murrie
Chianti Blind Tasting July 2018
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Chianti Blind Tasting end.jpg

Megan says I go to a dark place before major events. She cites correlative evidence but I don’t feel any connection: maybe I’m too close to know. Anyway, I stayed in bed, uncommunicative, until 2pm on the day before our Chianti Blind tasting at the warehouse. I was profoundly incapable of rising. Megan read the situation and jumped ship for the farmer’s market and a small-scale construction project, finishing a tree house in her parent’s backyard. I lay motionless and fully clothed in a room that was warm and still, aware and unconcerned with physical discomfort.

When I rose it was with a purpose. I decided to shower because being dirty isn’t cool, I dressed in all black to fit my mood, and I set out for the office. My car is a big dirt bomb littered with packing peanuts and granola bar wrappers, detritus and filth. It’s not cool, either, but I’m not tethered to it and anyway the thing takes longer to clean. The office was soothing: grey, organized, clean. Filtered light, no noise, no motion. When did chaos become the enemy? I posture like I’m on the side of chaos, in reality I find it profoundly upsetting. I need distance from sound, light, distraction. I need space to think.

A blind tasting is an attempt to remove chaos and distraction from the playing field, leaving only the essential things, flavor, color, aroma, and texture on the table. The absence of codes, markers, aesthetic presets, the void permits more ruminative and creative thought about what our senses are being presented with in these crumpled brown paper bags. Twenty-eight brown paper bags, casually linked by the word Chianti.

In some part due to my torpor preceding the tasting, the final hours had to be focused, on task. I wrote two pages of discussion topics to be distributed pre-tasting, and six pages of producer notes to be handed out once the sipping and spitting was done. I baked a pasta. I set up tables and chairs, bought glasses and more Chianti, 11th hour additions to the crowded field. Bread, cheese, crackers, plates, water pitchers, minutiae. Unthinking time. Chugging through a to-do list.

If your life contains events such as these, you’ll recognize that by the time you reach this stage, the tablecloths-and-flowers stage, the event is really over. There’s nothing substantive that you can do to change its direction, short of having a meltdown or a moment of unlikely epiphany. Once the first participants found our front door (no small feat, I’d forgotten to send out the gate code to unlock the warehouse complex) my stress level/threat index descended a couple of color bars, my core reactor temperature returned to the normal range, and I settled into jokey small talk and the realization that no matter what type of event I was attempting to stage, this is the one we’ve got, and it’s time to roll with it.

Parsing nuances between soundly made red wines from more-or-less the same place, made from more-or-less the same grapes, is pretty f-ing hard. When it comes to long professional tastings this ain’t my first rodeo, and I’ve spent many days on the ground in Chianti in recent years, but… I need a guard rail. The benefits of tasting without preconceptions for me were probably outweighed by the hinderance of tasting without context. I set up this tasting to learn about the terroir of Chianti. I chose clusters of wines from the distinct sub-zones of greatest interest to wine nerds (ok me.) I picked a variety of production styles and types of wineries, but kept it to producers relevant to the discussion “what is Chianti.” Small innovators, large shippers with solid reputations, new age farming zealots, affluent and established boutique wineries. 

The process was taxing. Everyone took breaks. Still, getting through the last eight wines took an eternity. In the final stretch I had to taste most wines multiple times because my senses were shutting down. Other participants talked about the need to nap, and it wasn’t simply alcohol: we were spitting. It was exhaustion, overload: our taste buds had packed up and gone home for the day.

A cluster of participants newer to this nonsense didn’t even try to taste all 28 wines. Smart. Know when the opportunity to learn has ceased.

I learned a thing or two. At the end of the day the wine I wanted with my dinner wasn’t one of the cool kids. In hindsight, I found the iconic wines in the line-up underwhelming, the natural wines were interesting and relatively easy to pick out, and the more “industrial” stuff was less offensive flavor-wise than I expected it to be. Hollow maybe, in some places too polished, but not gross.

Here are my notes on the wines. They aren’t profound. Stopping reading at this point might be a sound decision. My tasting notes follow the estate name, the rest is background info that I handed out at the end of the event, for discussion/context.

Producer notes:

#1: 2013 Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva – Woodsy, lightweight, hollow mid-palate, clipped finish.

Source: Total Wine
From: Rufina

Key fact: A longstanding member of the external Chianti consortium, Frescobaldi make Chianti Rufina at their headquarters in Nipozzano, near Pontesieve, 35km north of Florence. They are an ancient family of Florentine aristocrats, and fierce rivals of the Antinoris.

90% Sangiovese and 10% other varieties (Malvasia Nera, Colorino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for 24 months in French barrique.

#2: 2014 Frascole Chianti Rufina – Much more aromatically intense. Animal, lots of length and intensity.
Source: Chambers St. Wines
From: Dicomano, Rufina

Key facts: Fifteen hectares of high-density, low-yield hand harvested fields (and 9ha of olives.) A small, family-owned and operated farm that's been practicing organic agriculture since 1998. The vineyards are 500m above sea level. 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino. Clay loam marl soils. Vineyards planted in 1970, 1996, and 1998. Indigenous yeast fermentation in steel and concrete tanks. Half the wine is aged for 12 months in French barrique.  

#3: 2013 Fattoria Castellina Chianti Montalbano – Smells real. Smoky, stony. Real good.
Source: sample sent by the estate

From: Capraia e Limite/Montalbano
Key facts: Four hectares of certified biodynamic Sangiovese planted to a density of 4,000 plants per hectare. South-facing vineyard, 250m above sea level, sandy soils. Aged for 12-18 months in big neutral barrels.

#4: 2015 Fattoria Castellina Chianti Montalbano – Alive, bright, fresh red fruit. Clean, delicate.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From: Capraia e Limite/Montalbano

Key Fact: Elisabeta Montomoli and her daughter run this estate with the help of oenologist Ivan Chirico. It’s a coastal vineyard area: on a clear day you can see the Tuscan coast from this hillside.

#5 2012 Fattoria Castellina Terra e Cielo Older. Caramel. Madeira. Still alive, but to be drunk soon. High toned.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From: Capraia e Limite/Montalbano

Key facts: This alberello-trained vineyard is plowed using a draft horse. It’s from a .6ha vineyard with limestone/sand soil. 100% Sangiovese aged in French Tonneau for 20 months.

#6 2015 Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico – More chocolate. A little strange texturally – acidified?
Source: Total Wine
From: Poggibonsi
Key facts: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Aged for 11 months in stainless steel and four months in bottle. From disparate vineyard sources around the Chianti Classico zone, including purchased fruit. Owned by the Folonari family, Ruffino are historically significant and powerful wine merchants who started acquiring vineyards in Chianti Classico and elsewhere over the latter half of the 20th century.

#7: 2014 Corzano e Paterno Terre di Corzano Chianti – Red fruit and flint. Light/delicate.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From: San Casciano in val di Pesa

Key facts: Certified organic. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo. Manual harvest from the 24 September until the 7th of October. Ageing in used barriques and 25hl and 40 hl oak barrels for 12 months. 29,000 bottles produced. Family owned, estate-bottled on a farm that also produces sheep’s milk cheese and monovarietal olive oil.

#8: 2015 Corzano e Paterno Terre di Conzano Chianti – Ripe/round. Fresh/bright, some tannin. Source: sample sent by the estate
From: San Casciano in val di Pesa

Kay facts: Certified organic. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo. Manual harvest from the 21 September to the 1st of October. Aged 50% in French barrique and 50% large barrels (25hl.) The estate has 17ha of vineyard and produces 80,000 bottles of wine annually.

#9: 2015 Corzano e Paterno I Tre Borri Sangiovese Toscana – More garnet/purple color. Transparent. An odd aroma. More sweet fruit on the finish.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From: San Casciano in val di Pesa
Key facts: Certified organic. Sangiovese 100% Manual harvest between the 21st and the 30th of September. Fermentation in small 10 hl containers. Aged in barriques and 25hl barrels for 23 months. 8,900 bottles produced. Corzano’s vineyards are 300m above sea level,  and south-southeast facing. I Tre Borri is their bottling of the best Sangiovese vineyard from a given vintage.

#10: 2016 Montesecondo Rosso Toscana – Funky animal red cherry candy.
Source: The Caviste
From: Cerbaia/Vignano (San Casciano)
Key facts: Organic since 2003. Biodynamic methods. Native yeast fermentation in concrete and amphora. Low sulfur. 100% Sangiovese grown on clay-limestone soils.

#11: 2015 Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico – Mid-weight with some tannin. Good clarity/accessibility.
Source: Total Wine
From: San Casciano in val di Pesa
Key facts: Peppoli was purchased by the powerful merchant Antinori family in the 1980s. It is a 100 hectare (247 acre) farm in the center of Chianti Classico, half of which is planted to vine. Fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel (26-28C.) It is aged for nine months in large Slavonian oak casks.

#12: 2015 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico – Pleasant. Bright.
Source: Parker & Otis
From: Gaiole in Chianti
Key facts: A historic estate that was resuscitated by Roman investors in the 1970s. Sixty-five hectares (161 acres) of vines grown using open lyre trellising at 480 meters above sea level. 40ha of olives. Marco Pallanti of Castello di Ama was head of the Chianti Classico consortium. This estate-bottled wine is sourced from four vineyards, with vines averaging 8-10 years in age. These modern clones are planted at a density of 5,200 vines per hectare.

#13: 2012 Montevertine – Easy. Good.
Source: Table Wine
From: Radda in Chianti
Key facts: Montevertine sits three kilometers from Radda in the heart of the Chianti zone. The estate has been in existence since the 11th century. Sergio Manetti, father of current proprietor Martino Manetti, purchased the 10-hectare property in 1967. All wine at this estate is hand harvested, never pumped but instead moved using gravity, and bottled without filtration.

#14: 2015 Monteraponi Chianti Classico – Funky. Reductive.
Source: Wine Authorities
From: Radda in Chianti
Key facts: The winery extends over an area of 200 hectares set in a natural amphitheater, which is exposed to the south and sheltered from the north winds. The vineyards are spread over 12 hectares, the olive trees over 8 hectares, while the remaining area is covered with towering, ancient oaks and chestnut trees. Harvesting, which usually begins in early October, is done by hand.

#15: 2015 Vignavecchia Chianti Classico Ripe red fruit “classic” Sangiovese aromas. Nice balance.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From: Radda in Chianti
Key facts: 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. Aged in French and American barrels for two months. Family-owned since 1840. Vineyards are 500m above sea level.

#16: L2016 Caparsa Rosso di Caparsa – Very clean approachable aromas. Some candied red fruit.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From Radda in Chianti
Key facts: Certified organic Soil type: Alberese, Galestro, clay, sand
Elevation: 450m Grapes: Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Malvasia
method of fermentation: Spontaneous with indigenous yeasts for about 12 days. Aged in cement tanks. Bottles made: 5,333

#17: 2013 Pruneto Chianti Classico – Darker red color. Tannin. Seems intense and good.Source: sample sent by the estate
From: Radda in Chianti
Farmed Organically
Soil type: Galestro, a friable schist mixed with chalk.
Elevation: 550 meters above sea level
Grapes: 95-100% Sangiovese
Method of fermentation: Hand picked, destemmed, fermented with native yeasts in concrete tanks then aged in very large neutral oak for two years then two years in the bottle before release. 833 cases produced.

#18: 2014 Gabbiano Chianti Classico – Seems legit.
Source: Total Wine
From: Panzano in Chianti
Key facts: A 147ha property surrounding an 12th century castle. Certified sustainable farming. Ninety percent Sangiovese, the rest is Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot , Colorino, and Malvasia. Temperature-controlled fermentation in tank, followed by 8-10 months of ageing in 15-50hl French oak casks.

#19: 2015 Monte Bernardi Retromarcia Chianti Classico – Fresh dark fruit. Some tannin, balance.
Source: Chambers St. Wines
From: Panzano in Chianti
Key facts: Nine and a half hectares of vineyards at 350m above sea level in southernmost Panzano that look down on the Pesa river. Organic farming. Ninety-five percent Sangiovese, three percent Merlot, two percent Canaiolo Nero.

#20: 2014 Monte Bernardi Chianti Classico straw basket – Red fruit. Tasty.
Source: Chambers St. Wines
From: Panzano in Chianti

Key facts: Owner Michael Schmetzler favors 1980’s clones of Sangiovese with larger, slower-to-ripen grapes with thin skins. Low-density plantings, close to the regional minimum. Schmetzler harvests variably ripe fruit and doesn’t use a sorting table. He uses large oval German and Austrian oak casks for fermentation and aging.

#21: 2015 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico – Tastes a little more oxygen exposed. Older barrels maybe? Tastes old school.
Source: Chapel Hill Wine Co.
From: Panzano in Chianti

Key facts: Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. Aged for eight months in concrete tank, 12 months in barrel and six months in bottle. 25-40,000 bottles made annually. Biodynamic farming practices are used at the estate. Owned by the di Napoli family since the 1960s.

#22: 2015 Le Masse di Lamole Chianti Classico – Approachable. Some dark fruit. I gave this a star (about as good a rating as I give.)
Source: Raleigh Wine Shop
From: Lamole

Key facts: vinified in steel without temperature control. From high elevation bush vines, organically farmed. Aged in 100-year-old 15-25hl chestnut barrels. The soil is Macigno, which is compressed sandstone (arenaria in Italian) with traces of Silicon. 95% Sangiovese, 5% Malvasia Nera. Wild yeast fermentation, 1,200 cases made.

#23: 2015 Fattoria Rodano Chianti Classico – Smoky/funky aromas.
Source: Parker & Otis
From: Castellina
Key facts: The estate was purchased by Enrico Pozzesi’s family in 1958. Today he is agronomist in his family’s 34ha of vineyards. The farm is 250m above sea level, with mostly clay soil. The wine is 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino, matured for two years in Slavonian oak casks.

#24: 2015 Felsina Chianti Classico – Distinctly green pea aroma. Herbaceous. Underripe.
Source: Parker & Otis
From: Castelnuovo Berardenga
Key facts: Southwestern exposure, 320-420m above sea level. Roughly a mile north of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Alberese and alluvial pebble soils. Fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel, followed by 12 months in Slavonian oak. 100% Sangiovese, 5,400 vines per hectare. Harvested in the first three weeks of October.

#25: 2014 Lecci e Brocchi Chianti Classico – Seems nice. Light, Balance. Typical.
Source: Chambers St. Wines
From: Castelnuovo Berardenga
Key facts: Run by second-generation winemakers Sabrina Lastrucci, her husband Giancarlo, and young son Giovanni. Vines are planted at 420m above sea level on ferrous red soil (akin to Galestro) to the east of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Two hectares of vineyard. Bush-trained alberello vines, Sangiovese, Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo. Winemaking in concrete, stainless steel, and old barrels. Lecci e Brocchi are in the process of being certified organic. Very old vines.

#26: 2013 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva – Weird. Also has some Cab herbiness (no Cab in this: ha! -ed.) Not what I expected.
Source: Total Wine
From Barberino
Key facts: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and Colorino. Vinified in stainless steel and aged for 12 months in 50hl Slavonian oak. Owned by the Bianchi family since 1961. The vineyards are 310 meters above sea level facing San Gimignano to the west. Galestro soils.

#27: 2015 Montenidoli Il Garrulo Chianti colli Senesi – Natural. Old school. Traditional. I like it.
Source: Raleigh Wine Shop
From: San Gimignano
Key facts: Elisabetta Fagiuoli moved to this estate in 1965. Il Garrulo" refers to the noisy chirping of birds in general, similar to happy diners enjoying wine, and to Garrulus, a particular bird that walks on the winery’s roof in winter. This estate practices organic farming methods. At Montenidoli, all the fruit is harvested by hand in small baskets to minimize damage to the ripe grape clusters. Harvest usually starts in late September or early October. The vines are east-facing, are planted perpendicular to the slope, in line with an old stream bed, for correct drainage. In 41 years they have never used an herbicide. Elisabetta writes, "We do not use insecticides; the vineyards are aglow with fireflies by night and dancing with ladybugs by day."

#28: 2015 Pietralta Chianti – Smells good. Red fruit. Lean. Good.
Source: sample sent by the estate
From: Gambassi Terme
Key facts: Organic farming, 350m above sea level in stony clay soil. Ninety percent Sangiovese, five percent Canaiolo, five percent Colorino. Vinified in temperature-controlled stainless steel and aged in enamel-lined cement tanks, 12 months in tank and three in bottle before release. 5,000 bottles produced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jay Murrie