In 1984 I spent a couple of weeks on a Paleolithic dig in Gavorrano, one of the towns in the Val di Cornia; the work consisted of digging trenches in an area that was destined to become a road and sifting the dirt in search of man-made flint chips and such. Which we found in abundance, though no other traces of humanity had survived in that particular spot.
But one day we piled into our van and rattled over to the Valle dei Manienti, where Riccardo Francovich, an archaeologist with the University of Siena, and his students were peeling back a huge briar patch that had overgrown a hilltop; we could see crumbling walls in the areas they had already cleared and were told we were looking at the remains of a medieval mining town called San Silvestro. By the time the team finished clearing they had found a tower at the top of the hill, with immediately below it a cistern, a courtyard, and a tiny church, and about 50 houses below, within the town walls.
Some background is in order: The hills inland of Populonia, a promontory on the central Tuscan coast, are called the Colline Metallifere - the Metalliferous Hills. The area is a mineralogist's paradise, and if you're driving along you will see many spectacular splashes of colors on the hillsides, where ore veins come to the surface.
In the past people did more than appreciate the beauty of these deposits: The region is honeycombed with mines, some dating back to the Etruscans. The veins of the Valle dei Manienti (directly inland of the town of San Vincenzo) were instead worked during the early Middle ages by the Conti della Gherardesca, who extracted silver-bearing lead, copper and iron. The miners needed somewhere to live, and since they were providing a valuable service to their lords, the Counts built them a fortified town. San Silvestro flourished for about 300 years before changing economic conditions made the operation uneconomical, and then it was abandoned.
San Slivestro is now the centerpiece of a fascinating archeominarary park with hiking trails, mine shafts you can visit (with a guide), and traces of all sorts of mining ventures, dating from the Etruscans through the post-war period. It's a perfect change of pace if you're spending a few days at the beach, especially if the wind kicks up, stirring the waves, and the lifeguards won't let you in the water because of the undertow.
You should park in the Valle del Temperino, and begin with the museum, which has a nice mineral collection, with some beautiful specimens from the various mines, and exhibits devoted to miners and mining. Guided tours of one of the mine shafts sunk at the turn of the century by the Etruscan Copper Estates Mines (an English company that worked the veins from 1900 to 1907 and then went out of business) depart hourly on the half hour in June, and on the half hour in July and August. They require covered shoes, and since the air is chill, a sweater.
The shaft leads through country rock to skarn deposits (mixed sulfides, including silver bearing galena (lead sulfide), chalcopyrite (copper iron sulfide), sphalerite (zinc sulfide) and in some cases cassiterite (tin oxide)) that formed as a result of the interaction between intruding magmas and the mineral-rich solutions they contained with the calcareous rocks they intruded -- quite interesting, and the shaft intersects a number of older shafts as well that reveal the older mining techniques.
Once you have seen the mine shaft, it's a short walk to the Museo del Minatore, or Miner's museum, with interesting displays of equipment. The departure point of the narrow-guage rail line that follows one of the longer shafts through the mountain to the Valle Lanzi (named after the Tyrolian miners Archduke Cosimo summoned and quartered there in the 1500s) and the town of San Silvestro is next to the Museo; it's an interesting ride. If you'd instead rather say above ground, it's a three-hour hike on a well marked trail with rest stops and lots of things to see, everything from powder houses and another section of the narrow guage rail line built by the English company to pre-Roman shafts and pits.
San Silvestro itself is quite beautiful, and even though only the walls remain enough has survived to give you a good idea of what life must have been like: The boredom of the guards, who scratched the patterns of board games into the steps by the gate; the constant need for water, which led the inhabitants to chip grooves into the bedrock to guide rainwater to cisterns....
Though the park wardens give guided tours (on the hour in June, and on the half-hour in July and August), you may want to explore the village at your own pace. It should take about an hour, and once you're done, you should also look at the experimental station, where the archaeologists reconstructed the smelting furnaces to find out how efficient they were. Quite, and indeed the village was completely self-sufficient with regards to iron. Copper was also refined on site. Silver was not, however: It occurs in galena, lead sulfide, and the Counts Gherardesca found it more practical to smelt the mineral into lead, and then extract the silver from the lead once they'd transported it to Pisa (bandits were a problem, and lead ingots are a lot harder to steal than flakes of silver). Even so, the skeletons of a couple of people dead of ax wounds were found in the slag heaps by the foundry; they differed physically from the people whose bones were found in the cemetery, and may have been thieves, or even pirates.
Getting there: Campiglia Marittima is close to the coast. Take the Aurelia, the Roman road to Marseilles (it's at last four lanes), to San Vincenzo Sud; follow the signs for Campiglia Marittima, and then those for the Parco Archeominerario. It's about 10 kilometers.
For more information (quite a bit more), check out the Parco Archeominerario di San Silvestro's site. The hours change depending upon the month (though opening is almost always at 10 AM), and you should therefore check the hours page. There's also a simple trattoria, if you get hungry.
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.
There are many ways to meet people at Vinitaly. One is to run into someone you know, and be introduced to who he is talking with, and that's what happened here: I had just left a stand when I met up with Lorenzo Begali, who was talking with a gentleman he introduced as Michele Castellani, and suggested I taste the wines. I had another appointment, and when I got back he was gone, so his daughter poured.
It was the last day and I was too rushed to converse, but they are located in Marano della Valpolicella, where they have 40 hectares of vineyards planted to the three classic varietals of the Valpolicella, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.
Castellani Campo del Biotto Calpolicella Classioc 2011
Lively cherry ruby with violet reflections and cherry rum. The bouquet is fresh, with a slight pungency that is due to recent bottling and will fade, while there is also berry fruit supported by some greenish accents and slight sandalwood. Fresh. On the palate it's ample and fresh, with moderately intense berry fruit supported by warm smooth light tannins and moderate acidity that has a slight greenish overlay and flows into a warm slightly peppery finish with slight tannic underpinning. Pleasant, in a slightly softer key, and this is attributable to the heat in August and September. It will drink quite well with foods, supporting rather than taking center stage, and you may need a second bottle.
Castellani Valpolicella Classico Superore Ripasso 2010 Lot 12/16
This ages in large wood for about 18 months. Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is quite young, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by mentholated accents and some balsamic notes, and also sea salt and some deft jammy notes. Pleasant, and still coming together. On the palate it's bright, with lively fresh wild cherry fruit supported by tannins that have a slight flinty bitterness, and by deft sour berry fruit acidity that flows into a clean berry plum finish supported by lasting acidity. Pleasant, and very fresh; it needs another year for the nose to come together, and will be quite versatile, working well with a wide variety of red meats and also roasts; I might be tempted to serve it with stuffed turkey too.
Castellani Campo Casalin Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2008
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is intense, with considerable cedar that at present blankets the fruit, which manages to peek out from underneath its coating, revealing some red berry fruit. On the palate it's full, with rich sandalwood laced cherry fruit supported by moderate peppery acidity and tannins that are very smooth and flow into a fairly long cedar laced finish. It's quite international in style, and well made in this style though very young, and needs at least a couple of years to digest the oak. I wouldn't think of opening it before 2016. If you like the international style you will enjoy it, but do be patient.
2 stars (barely)
Castellani Cinque Stelle Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008
This is from vineyards at higher elevations, and is aged in a mix of large and small wood. It's deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is intense, with berry fruit supported by cedar that is quite apparent but not completely predominant, and by sandalwood and some underlying vegetal notes. On the palate it's ample, with powerful spicy cherry fruit laced with sandalwood and supported by some sweetness, and by tannins that have a dusky cedar laced burr, and flow into a fairly long dusky finish with berry fruit and some sweetness, and underlying savory cocoa accents, and sandalwood laced sweetness as the other things fade. It's more approachable that the Campo Casalin, and also more graceful, a powerful wine in a fairly international key that has the fruit and intensity necessary to stand up to the wood, and will with time be quite pleasant. If you are not an absolute traditionalist you will enjoy it.
Castellani Monte Fasenara Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2008
Deep pyrope with pyrope rim; it's close to poured ink. The bouquet is fairly intense and fairly sweet, with prune cherry fruit supported by some cedar and fairly bright spice, and also some greenish vegetal notes. On the palate it's full, sweet, and quite smooth, with elegant prune cherry fruit supported by moderate acidity and slight bitter accents, and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a fairly long soft finish with some underlying bitter accents. It's fairly modern in style, and very smooth, with relatively less acidity than some, and is as a result a little simpler; I would sip it far from the table with friends.
Enjoyable in a middle-of-the-road to modern key, and if you would like more information, check their site.
At the last farm in Chersogno, the altimeter on my wrist says 1997 meters. There are another thousand to the peak.
Above me are fog, rocks, and a pale trail. Below, the tattered roofs of the town of Campiglione, where a "For Sale" sign hangs over the ancient houses that look like tenements of the sort whose facades have a single open balcony per floor, though made with local materials: stone and wood. Everything crumbling or almost. And beyond, Lilliputian incredibly distant white cows working their way up the steep flank of the mountain, grazing a huge yellow meadow that opens to the sky well above the tree line.
I look down with astonishment to the dirt road leading down into the valley, which becomes steadily greener at lower altitudes.
This isn't just any valley. It's the Valle di San Michele, a branch of the Val Maira, in the Alpe Cozie. Occitania. No pass at the end of the climb leading to France; rather a closed gorge and a strange feeling. Lots of tiny hamlets spread about, lots of summer homes, sometimes displaying a casual use of cement. The residents who by now number dozens -- fewer than a hundred. More than money, the place seems to lack souls. In the winter, at least. In the summer the Swiss and Germans come, looking for quiet walks, and things liven up.
But now it's October, and on Chersogno, in Campiglione, the Landro family is about to pack to head down to the valley for the winter. Today, they say, they're leading their animals downslope, and won't be back until spring. Sticking around is out of the question: bad weather, cold, snow, and most of all, nothing to do.
In short, when the summer finishes so do the stays of the cattle and the herdspeople who stay on the slopes. Because Chersogno isn't just the name of the mountain, but also of the cheese the Landro family makes up in the meadows. People say it's like a Castelmagno, only sometimes better. They're the only ones who make it, and because of this haven't bothered to register it.
In any case, when we get to their shop, following traisl closed by the forest rangers, the shop is closed too. Because they're getting the animals ready for the trop, and they've also finished all their cheese.
We descend the winding trail, rocks and srubs giving way to meadows and pines, regain the paved road, and reach San Michele di Prazzo: it makes one think to discover that here, in the 18th century, there were 2,000 people. The façade of the old town hall has a solemn image of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and facing it a church whose size provides proof of the importance of the town. Two hikers with boots and packs look at us: who is the intruder?
For the past ten years Enrica and Roberta Cesano have managed the Tano di Grich, an old-fashioned inn under the porticoes where people eat, sleep and buy food. And, miracle of miracles, they have a whole wheel of Chersogno. The last of the season, they say. 3 kilos (about 6 pounds), 100% cow's milk, 20 euros a kilo: It's ours!
The rind is grainy, but on cutting turns out to be thin, dry, and soft. The body of the cheese is white tending towards pale yellow, and grainy, tender, holding together but not compact, rather friable. A distinctly milky aroma is barely sharpened by aging, but is still penetratingly fresh. On the palate it's deft, surprisingly soft, and soon dissolves into a delicate flavor that combines milk with more intense saltiness, and flows into bitter notes that are especially good. With chewing its initial dryness quickly gves way to a temptingly creamy, beckoning consistency.
Indeed, we put a serious dent into it, washing it down with both a delightful Dolcetto di Dogliani Clavesana DOC 2011 and a more refined but just as enjoyable Barolo Cerretta 2007 from Giovanni Rosso. And the only thing that kept us from continuing was a jolt of common sense.
Better make it last, because there'll be no more Chersogno until June.
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.