Castello di Monsanto – the first 50 years

Update May 2014: for a remarkable tasting of five decades of this property, see below. 

Castello di Monsanto is one of the premier league Chianti properties. The castle itself is very fine and small enough to look like a grand home. It has been loving restored and – from a wine making point of view – extended by a spectacular tunnel which gives seemingly endless, stable and cool storage space.  Aldo Bianchi bought the property as a rural retreat, a common enough story, but then set about making fine wine and storing it.  It is now said that this is the largest collection of old vintages in Italy, stretching back into the early 1960s. Certainly there are large numbers of bottles of many vintages to be seen in the 250 metre long tunnel/barricaia built in 1986.  They aim to keep 2500-3000 bottles of the riserva Il Poggio from each year.  The wine making and improvements in the vineyards, including planting top vineyards solely with Sangiovese, were supervised by Fabrizio, Aldo’s son and the estate is now managed by his daughter Laura. The money behind the estate is from textiles in Lombardy. 

The estate makes 9 wines from its 72 hectares of vines, planted at quite traditional (ie lower) densities of 5-5,500 plants per hectare.  They have some land in Chianti Colli Senesi which produces a simple red, a rosé, a white wine, a Vin Santo, a Super Tuscan and no fewer than four Sangiovese-based wines – Chianti Classico, two riservas and one 100% Sangiovese called Fabrizio Bianchi which I look forward to tasting another time. 

Fabrizio Bianchi, IGT Toscana, Chardonnay 2007 – fermented half in stainless steel and half in barriques, this wines spends at least two years in bottle before being released.  Clean tropical fruit with peach and lemon on 

IMG_3262the nose; a soft palate where the oak moderates the fruit; good length with slight savoury notes.  A remarkable wine to be offering for €13 in Tuscany …

Chianti Classico 2009 – 90% Sangiovese, 10% of Canaiolo and Colorino which makes for a 100% Tuscan blend. The wine is aged for a year in large, neutral Slavonian oak barrels, so no new oak aromas at all.  Great nose and mouthful of fruit with a touch of oak ageing, very good depth of flavour (not just freshness), soft full tannins; classic sour cherry, herb and tea notes; balancing high acidity and tannic structure. Everything you want from Chianti Classico.

Nemo IGT Toscana 2004 – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1982 and aged in barriques and thus in the vanguard of Super Tuscans in Chianti Classico. The name is the beginning of the biblical saying ‘no one is a  prophet in their own country’ in Latin (but you probably knew that), a homage to the unconventional.  Rich vanilla and cedar notes, dense black fruit but the fruit checked by a fine acidic and tannic finish. Very fresh for a 2004, a great year, but tasted at eight years old in 2012 this was surprisingly youthful, a testament to its quality. 

Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio 2007 – the same Tuscan blend as the Chianti Classico above but now from a treasured single seven-hectare vineyard.  Taut nose full of potential, refined red and some black fruit, smoke and vanilla; real density on the palate with good structure for an elegant future; drink between 10 and 20 years and probably much more. After all they have wines from this vineyard (if before replanting) which goes back into the 1960s. Walter Speller gives an account of a recent tasting of historic vintages (including a 1962) here.  

With many thanks to all at Castello di Monsanto – I hope the next 50 years are as good as the first half century!

Five vintages, five decades

In May 2014 I was fortunate enough to return to Castello di Monsanto on the occasion of the Institute of the Masters of Wine Symposium held in Florence.  As an aperitivo, so to speak, we walked out to see the views from the top of this vineyard in the late evening sun. After a splendid dinner – including fresh herbs and leaves from the garden in a a very light batter – we were treated to a vertical tasting of the top, single vineyard wine, Il Poggio, with one example from each of the last five decades.   

Chianti Classico Il Poggio Riserva. The vineyard Il Poggio was planted in 1962.  The universal practice is those days was to plant a range of varieties,  Sangiovese accompanied by Canaiolo and Colorino, plus, in that period, the white grapes Trebbiano and Malvasia bianca.  The minor varieties were there to soften the sometimes ascerbic major variety.  By contrast, the bold decision was made to plant exclusively Sangiovese.  

2009 – being the current vintage on the market. 2009 was one of the many recent strange vintages. A mild winter was followed by a rainy spring and a hot second part of the summer. This resulted in low yields but with real concentration.  The wine has already developed some forest floor notes on the nose and combines a sour cherry fruit core with savoury notes. At five years, the tannins are very prominent but this is a wine either to be drunk with red meat (perhaps a little less refined that the strips of beef fillet we enjoyed) or for longer ageing.  The wine is now aged in a combination of large casks and tonneau, for less overt oak than barriques.  High quality, impressive, great potential to develop further. 

1995 – to my taste this near 20-year old hit the perfect balance between fruit and development in the bottle.  It combines marked mushroom and truffle on the nose, savoury fruit and continuing freshness on the palate.  In terms of the season a mild regular spring was followed by a warm rather than a hot year.  6g/l acidity reinforces the fine tannins and creates that wonderful freshness.    In this period the wineswere aged partly in barriques (the 90s being the age of new oak in Tuscany as elsewhere) but after two decades you don’t notice this anymore.  

1982 – this was not just a famous vintage in Bordeaux but a very good one in Chianti Classico.  A good, regular, season led to wines of really ageing potential which in this earlier period were matured traditionally, in this case for three and a half years in large casks.  In its fourth decade the colour is very much in the garnet direction and the nose leads with walnut and a hint of iodine.  The palate has sweet fruit core and fine textured, properly grippy Sangiovese tannins.  

Monsanto five decades

1977 – my last year as an undergraduate!  A good vintage from a warm summer led to wines of high alcohol by Tuscan standards, here 15.2%.   This was also the first year of picking into smaller, 20 kilo, baskets, showing the continuing tendency to high quality.  This wine had perhaps not stood the test of time as well as some. It was rather lean on the palate in terms of fruit with drying tannins.  

1968 – you can fill in what you were doing nearly 50 years ago. This was the ‘year of revolution’ at Castello di Monsanto with a number of key innovations. The vineyard had only been planted four years earlier.  1972 was the first year that no white grapes went into the supposedly Chianti Classico; the labelling was completely illegal according to the rules then in force.  The fruit was fully destemmed for the first time and there was no resort to governo toscano, the old fashioned way of taming Sangiovese tannins and acidity by blending in wine from semi-dried grapes to add softening richness.  So this was an historic vintage which it was a real honour to taste:  marked mushroom notes and a fine pale garnet colour; sweet, dried fig on nose and palate which also showed those indefatigable Sangiovese tannins but here well balanced by the developed sour cherry and plum fruit. 


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