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Chianti vs. Barbaresco: Two Italian Powerhouses
These are the darkest, coldest months of the year and we know you could use something to warm you up. This month, we’re honing in on Italy and presenting one of the incumbent powerhouses of Tuscan winemaking side-by-side with a fledgling Barbaresco producer we’ve been following for the past 3 years - a certifiable mad-man who has slowly been perfecting his craft. There is simply nothing better than cherry-driven, well-structured Italian vino when it’s cold, wet and snowing.
We also wanted to put a stake in the ground that will allow you to further enjoy the great wines of the world. And less a few great winemakers in southern Italy, if you’re going to shell out top dollar to buy Italian red wines, you’re going to drink Sangiovese (or something genetically related, like Brunello di Montalcino) and Nebbiolo. It seems to me that all top-shelf Italian wines are best understood through Nebbiolo from Piedmont and Tuscan Sangiovese.
I hope these two wines will help you frame the conversation about age-worthy Italian reds and that you’ll enjoy them this winter, or in the winters to come. Both of these wines will benefit from serious aging, though both wines fall on the finesed and approachable side of the spectrum even in their relative youth.
Matthew & The Vanderbilt Wine Merchants Team
Fabio Gea Barbaresco Reserva 2012
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Fabio Gea is a young winemaker whose grandfather bequeathed him a few, tiny plots around the Bricco in Barbaresco. When I say small, I mean it. His few rows of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Grignolino amount to less than one hectare. Just to put that in perspective, if you put all of his land together it wouldn't even cover the field in Yankee stadium. He makes such little wine, he is able to hand-number each bottle with a pen and there were less than 2K bottles of this one produced. Oh, and the wines were good when he started, but they are getting better and better. If this wine speaks to you, please reach out because we’re sitting on the largest collection of his bottles in New York.
Everything about Fabio's wines is unique. The first thing you'll notice are the bottles themselves. His Barbaresco bottlings are labeled with hand-pressed pulp paper. Another has no label affixed (seriously). Another is a bottle so oddly shaped that you would think it was unearthed from an ancient tomb or it was hand-blown by an ogre on acid.
But what's in the bottle is far, far more interesting. Fabio's wines are gorgeous, clean and natural, with plenty of muscle and finesse. All of the farming is done by hand. In the cellar Fabio uses a mix of older, large barrels (500L), glass and steel. And he has been experimenting more and more with the "toilets" as he calls them, porcelain amphora that he has designed and created himself.
His Barbaresco barrels are not toasted like 99.9% of all barrels are. Instead, Fabio "vaporizes" the wood oils and sugars by applying dangerously hot volcanic stones to the interior. Imagine a sauna turned up another 1,000 degrees. Yet another innovation from this brilliantly crazy man.
Like I said in the introduction, the wines from Barbaresco are some of the great wines in Italy, and in the world. They are typically the more approachable analogue to Barolo, and this wine it no exception: the wine falls on the elegant side of Nebbiolo, and is certainly ready to drink now. You'll definitely want to pair it with pizza or a steak, because the tannins are big and the acid is dialed up to 10.
Montevertine Rosso di Toscana La Pergole Torte 2015
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Appellation: Rosso di Toscana
It’s not every month that we get to highlight one of the most important winemakers of its region - let alone its country - but this month we’re presenting the top wine from one of the trailblazers in Italian viticulture. There is no understating the importance of the Montevertine Winery in the history of Tuscan winemaking. While Montevertine is not a Super Tuscan, its rejection of the Chianti laws paved the way for the restructuring of the Italian wine appellation system.
Montevertine sits smack dab in the heart of the Chianti district, halfway between Florence and Siena. Historical records date the first inhabitants back to the 11th century, when it was settled as a rural defensive fortress; traces of that original construction can still be found today. Modern winemaking in this area didn’t begin until 1967, when Sergio Manetti bought the estate and planted two hectares of grapes. While the original intention was to produce wine for friends, the first vintage (1971) received such a great response that Signor Manetti devoted himself to winemaking full-time. He prefered the Sangiovese grape to any other.
It sounds a bit strange to modern drinkers, but at this time, to be included in the Chianti appellation, the winemaker had to blend white grapes in with the reds. Because Manettie refused to incorporate Trebbiano into his blends, Montevertine left the Chianti Classico consortium and dropped the denomination from his wines. He then simply labeled his wines Rosso di Toscana (the lowest regional appellation he could use). Again, this is not a Super Tuscan, though it is frequently lumped in with them. Super Tuscans defy the Chianti appellation by purposefully including non-local grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Manetti, on the other hand, simply refused to blend Trebbiano into his red wines. A distinction, which to me, should be more highly lauded.
The estate has 18 hectares under vine, 90% of which are Sangiovese, with the remaining vineyards planted with Colorino and Canailo. The vineyards are separated into nine parcels and the oldest vines (planted in 1968) make up 100% of the Pergole Torte bottling. The grapes are hand-picked, then fermented in large cement tanks. The skin extraction is long and slow. After fermentation the wine is moved to Slovenian oak barrels for a year and the wine is then moved to smaller French oak barrels for the final 6 months of aging.
In terms of flavor, the 2015 Pergole Torte is both nuanced and expressive - the kind of wine that whispers in order to draw you closer. Upon leaning in, the voice is deep and powerful. It’s the voice of Morpheus from the Matrix. The wine shows counterpoints of savory spice, fresh brown leather, a hint of smoke. In the background, the dark fruit acts like a rhythm section, keeping the earthy characters in time. The finish is intense and indicates that the wine will live for decades. In time it will reveal mind-boggling layers of complexity. You owe it to yourself to resist the urge to pull the cork too early.