Friday, July 13, 2012

Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva il Poggio: A Vertical

The 1962 In the Glass

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Fabrizio Bianchi's decision to try something that at the time was a radical innovation for Chianti Classico: Making a wine from a single vineyard. It was Chianti Classico's first, and is from the vineyard that still yields the cuttings for all of Castello di Monsanto's other vineyards.

Not that one would necessarily recognize the Il Poggio vineyard if one were to go back in time: It was 2.8 hectares then (as opposed to the current 5), but more importantly it was a vigneto promiscuo, farmed according to the old tenant farmer tradition that dictated one plant other crops between the rows of vines, and olive and fruit trees too.

But the grapes were good, and Fabrizio therefore fermented them according to local custom, which dictated one throw the bunches, stems and all, into chestnut vats -- he admits to having had doubts, because his relatives in Piemonte did things differently, but did things the Tuscan way, with punch-downs and pumpovers, and also included the white grapes traditionally used. The aging was for 4 years in large (30 hectoliter) chestnut casks because that's what they had, and the results were good, good enough that he decided to continue, and one of the things he did was replant the vineayrd just to vine.

He also began to innovate; by 1968 he had stopped fermenting whole bunches with their stems, was fermenting (with punchdowns and pumpovers) in temperature controlled steel, and had also decided to work only with the red grapes of the blend, primarily Sangiovese, with about 10% Canaiolo and some Colorino. Aging was still for 4 years, in chestnut casks.

But he was thinking about that too, and by the time 1974 rolled around was just pumping over in the fermentation tanks, and had decided to age the wine in 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, for a little less -- 3 1/2 years.

And so things continued through 1979, 1985, and 1988. More innovation with the 1995 vintage, however; 40% of the wine aged in barriques and the remainder in 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, all for 18 months, and then spent another 6 months in cask after assembly.

Barriques made further headway in 1999, when the wine was entirely barrique aged, in a mixture of new and used barriques, and rested in steel for 3 months after assembly. Things stayed the same in 2001, while in the 2008 vintage we finished with, the wine was aged in a mixture of barriques and tonneaux.

The Wines, tasted June 30 2012 

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1962
Brownish garnet with Moroccan leather reflections and rim, which pales to orange. The bouquet is powerful, and though clearly mature has a pleasant rich freshness to it, with spice and leaf tobacco mingled with some leather and dried roses, and considerable underlying slightly balsamic sea salt, and as it opens some hints of lathered horse as well. Something one can meditate about. On the palate it's fresh, with bright sour prune fruit supported by sour prune acidity and some leathery accents, and silky tannins that gain direction from bright prune acidity that keeps the wine very much on its toes, and flows into a long tart finish. Very impressive, with acidity that is frankly scrappy -- it was made with white grapes, and the entire bunches went into the tini -- and of a sort that will guarantee many more years of life to the wine.  Beautiful, and a child of a different winemaking technique, one that was more approximate but could be sublime when everything fell into place, and that I miss.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1968

Here they destemmed the grapes for the first time. Slightly duskier tawny garnet ruby with brownish reflections and Moroccan leather rim. The bouquet is more mature than the 62's with saddle leather and some spice with slight dried flowers, some savory notes, and fairly intense chestnut leaves as well. On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich savory sour cherry fruit supported by floral notes and pleasant savory accents, and flows into a long clean savory sour cherry finish with slight leathery underpinning. The tannins are quite smooth, and silkier than the 62's, and the wine as a while is more delicate than its older cousin, and this is because of the destemming, which removes a degree of scrappiness. The wine is very much alive, however. Just a touch more genteel.

Both the 62 and the 68 display terrific austerity.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1974

Lively brownish almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim paling to orange. The bouquet is elegant, with dried flowers and some savory notes, and some minerality mingled with struck granite, and fairly intense saddle leather. It's not quite as fruity on the nose as the older vintages, especially the first. On the palate it's ample and smooth, with rich cherry fruit supported by bright acidity and by tannins that are smoother, and reveal the influence of oak as opposed to the chestnut of the first two vintages. It's extremely elegant, displaying great depth, and does have that acidic imprint, but is I think a bit more mature than the 68, and to a greater degree than the 62, because the acidity isn't as brash. Very pleasant, and a wine that has a great deal to say even now.

Beautiful continuity from vintage to vintage; they're very much cut from the same cloth.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1979
Brownish almandine with deep black almandine reflections and almandine rim paling to orange. The bouquet is deft, with balsamic accents and spice mingled with berry fruit and some dried flowers, and some mineral spice and acidity as well. On the palate it's bright, with fairly rich sour berry fruit that has a leathery underpinning and some vegetal notes, and flows into a long rich leather and balsam laced sour cherry finish. Very much alive, and graceful, in a slightly lighter key than some of the others. It has a lot to say and is quite engaging in a slightly tomboyish way, and this is not something one expects of a wine that is more than 30 years old. Terrific freshness.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1985
Deep black almandine ruby with brownish black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is elegant, with balsamic accents mingled with spice and leather, and supported by berry fruit and hints of shellac; it's tertiary but quite fresh and quite elegant. On the palate it's beautiful, with rich bright red cherry fruit supported by slight sweetness from hints of residual sugar that are a result of the length of the summer, and supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long slightly sweet prune finish with some savory accents. Quite pleasant, and shows an influence of the vintage that other vintages don't, in the sweetness and the sugars, while the acidity, which is present, isn't quite as marked. Impressive in any case; with respect to the 79 it is more approachable, and the sort of wine that one could serve to a wine loving friend who drinks wines to enjoy them, not to ponder them. This said, even a wine geek will find things to enjoy.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1988
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is elegant, with savory red berry fruit supported by slight balsamic accents and some savory notes. It gives an impression of having been a warmer summer; there are also fresh prune accents, and some Moroccan leather. On the palate it's fresh, with elegant sour prune fruit supported by slightly leathery tannins and moderate acidity -- there's less than in the 85 -- that flow into a fairly long rather savory balsamic finish that has a dry tannic underpinning that brings chestnut leaves to mind though the wine is in oak, and also reveals some pencil shaving bitterness that is oak related. Rambling here. The wine is in any case pleasant, though the acidity is a little less marked than the previous vintages, and I find it to be somewhat lacking in this respect. Roundness and smoothness steps in for acidity.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1995

Deep black almandine with black almandine reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is delicate, with leathery notes and some balsamic accents mingled with leaf tobacco, and some warm mineral spice mingled with savory notes. Pleasant in a more ethereal key, and this is in keeping with the vintage, which was cooler. On the palate it's bright, with lively sour cherry prune fruit supported by considerable prune acidity that echoes the older wines, and this is because of the coolness of the vintage, while the tannins are smooth, but do have a slight burr, and flow into a long sour berry fruit finish. The acidity is back! And the wine is very enjoyable in a graceful scrappy key, an odd combination, but it works.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 1999
This is, Fabrizio says, destined to be the longest lived wine Monsanto has ever made. The wine marks a change of sorts, it's more towards ruby with slight hints of garnet in the rim, but less of the orange cast and reflections that the older wines displayed. The nose also changes, with rich red berry fruit supported by dusky leathery accents and brooding shadow, menthol, and woodsy herbs; a fellow taster says it reminds him of a Barolo, and he has a point. Very impressive, but different. On the palate it's ample and rich, with powerful cherry fruit supported by deft slightly leathery acidity and by tannins that have a slight burr to them, and flow into a long rather tannic finish with some leathery accents and hints of Moroccan leather that echo the older wines. Beautiful and extremely fresh; it's still very young, and though one could open a bottle now if one had one, if one had more than a couple one would want to set most of them aside. Very fine, and has a long ways to go; a fellow taster says that it's the wine everyone will agree on and find something to enjoy. And he's right.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2001
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim that has slight almandine accents. The bouquet is young, and intense, with berry fruit and spice mingled with savory notes and sea salt, and also slight shellac. It's not still coming together, but is still quite young. On the palate it's ample, with rich cherry fruit supported by bright berry fruit acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that have a fairly rich oaky component and flow into a fairly long berry fruit finish. It's quite elegant, and much more modern in style, with a richness and ripeness of fruit and a smoothness that the older wines don't display as much, while there is also a more pronounced alcoholic warmth. It's welcoming, and elegant now, but how it will be when it's the age of the older wines is something to confirm. It's more modern in style, and this is in part the vintage, but may also be changes in winemaking.

Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Lively cherry ruby with cherry rim paling to white. Fresh, and very young on the nose,with ith lively cherry fruit supported by some dusky black cherry sweetness, and by moderate acidity. Youth in a glass. On the palate it's quite pleasant, but again quite young, with beight cherry and forest berry fruit supported by lively berry fruit acidity and by tannins that lay a dusty burr over the tongue and flow into a bright fairly tart finish. The acidity is there, hearkening back to some of the older vintages, and it has a pleasing vibrancy to it that I didn't note as much in the 01 or the 99; it's very young, and very fresh, and displays great potential. A fellow taster says it's a return to the past, and in some ways it is, though we'll have to taste several vintages before we can say this.

After more than an hour, the 62 is even fresher than it was at the beginning… And this is something worrisome, because it leads me to wonder if the more recent wines, made with oak as opposed to chestnut, and, more importantly, fruit that was likely riper (in 1962 winemaking was quite empiric) will hold up as well as it has. Quibbles, truth be told, because if I had a bottle of the 1988 I wouldn't sit on it for another 26 years to find out.

The tasting ended with much animated conversation; for logistical reasons the Bianchis divided us into Italian and non-Italian speakers, and I went with the Italians, most of whom (me included) were bowled over by the freshness of the 1962, and also much impressed by the 99, which is cut from the same cloth but in a more modern key. The non-Italian speakers, I was told, were perhaps more impressed by the 99. It was in any case a most impressive tasting; the standard was universally high, and allowing for improvements in agronomic and winemaking technique, the wines displayed a degree of continuity from vintage to vintage that isn't anywhere near as common as one might expect.

Wines to think about, remember, and perchance dream about.

A few more pictures from the tasting.

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