Rocca di Montegrossi – the full Monty?

Rocca di Montegrossi, eight kilometres south of Gaiole in the hamlet of Monti in Chianti and just 20 km from Siena, has been under new ownership since just 1994, though it has some top connections. In an review of 2010, Robert Parker commented on its remarkably quick progress and is enthusiastic about the wines (Wine Advocate, 191, October 2010). But there are a few clues. One is to the history of Chianti. The owner, Marco Ricasoli-Firidolfi, is a descendant of the Ricasoli who created the blend for Chianti back in the nineteenth century. Equally important, the consultant enologist is Attilio Pagli, one of Italy’s leading lights. It is therefore quite clear that the venture was set up to produce a range of true-to-type, high quality wines – and from this tasting they have evidently more than succeeded. There are 20 hectares of vines planted between 350 and 510 metres above sea level, with a minority of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the higher land and Sangiovese in the lower part of the vineyard. The estate received its organic certification in 2010.

The blending grapes here include Canaiolo, Colorino and Pugnitello (‘small fist’). The last named is a rare Tuscan variety, rescued in the 1980s from old vineyards further south-west in the Montecucco DOC. It is the best of the bunch of rediscovered varieties and produces ‘a generous, well-structured red, with smooth tannins and aromas of remarkable complexity’, according to near-neighbours at the research-oriented Agricola San Felice.

The highest standards are employed in the vineyard and the winery: as Elisa says, ‘it’s like a beauty farm for grapes here’.  But the test is of course in the glass.

Rosato IGT Toscana 2010 – we didn’t taste this at the winery as they had sold all their bottles but we did pick up a bottle at the local  bar and tasted it later with friends.  The wine is a similar blend to the Chianti Classico, ie 90% Sangiovese, though then 5% Merlot and 5% Canaiolo.  It is made by blending two styles of rosé – saignée (salasso in Italian, ie bleeding of the must before it ferments) and short-maceration rosé, plus low temperature fermentation and ageing on the lees. In other words they have really worked at this!  Lovely mid rosé-pink, quite an intense fruity nose, fine fruit on the palate and the finish, balanced and refreshing, some tannins. What really stands out here is the attractive fruit and the balance – too many Tuscan rosés are over-weight!

Chianti Classico 2009 – the ‘base’ wine, ie the one that in many ways is the most important of all because it is the one that the majority of people are going to drink most of the time. It is aged for a year in Allier oak vats (a mixture of botti and tonneaux) and then for a second in bottles before release.  The blend is 90% Sangiovese,  5% Canaiolo and 5% Colorino, ie a classic traditional blend.  The estate also grows Merlot but it doesn’t end up here, I am pleased to say.  Brilliant, sharp, obviously Sangiovese-dominated wine, light on the palate but full of sour cherry fruit, spiciness, good minerality, excellent quality.  (Parker comments on the complexity and excellence of the base wine, including the wet 2002 vintage.)

Chianti Classico San Marcellino 2007 – named after the chapel you can see in the pictures but which you can’t enter for good health and safety reasons – the stones do appear to being held up by gravity alone!  This wine is only made in the best years, so there is no 2000, 2002 or 2005,  It is aged for just over two years in a mixture of barriques and tonneaux of a range of ages and then rested for a year and a half in bottles.  The blend here is 95% of the best Sangiovese from the single vineyard San Marcellino and 5% of our new friend, Pugnitello, which according to Elisa, softens the wine.  It only produces half a kilo of grapes per plant and with the individual grapes being very close to together is very difficult to grow in a healthy state.  2007 is a great year for the riserva, up there with 1990, and this certainly has a great deal going for it:   pronounced and beautifully integrated fruit and oak nose, cloves, darker berried fruit; quite a substantial palate, full of fruit, very taut and long, with many years of development ahead of it.

Geremia IGT Toscana 2007 – which in this year is 71% Merlot and 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, again not made in the less good years.  The wine has morphed over recent years from being all Sangiovese (up to 1998), to a Sangiovese-Merlot blend (1999), to its current Super Tuscan manifestation.  Given the full Super Tuscan oak ageing treatment solely in barriques, this is much darker in colour of course, but not as dark as some of the wines of the Tuscan coast.  Rich on the nose, medium density of mainly black berry fruit, excellent acidity (though less than the Sangiovese-based wines above) and refined tannins with a dense texture.  Another excellent wine of its type.

Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2004 – in the pictures above you can see the (empty) nets that they use to dry the Malvasia Bianca (95%) and the Canaiolo Nero grapes for 4-5 months before making the wine.  The small barrels are kept upstairs, under the roof, in the traditional way, and have some end staves of a range of woods – mulberry and cherry, as well as oak.  It is a tiny production.  In fact, 2004 which is one of the best years, has got a bit of 2003 in it – the quantity was so small in that very hot year that it wasn’t worth persevering with the single vintage on its own.  This method of production is really not an economic proposition – by the time the grapes have been semi-dried, softly pressed and then fermented/aged for 6-7 years in small barrels, the end product is about 15% of the starting volume.  Liquid caramel in colour and caramel on the nose, rich luxurious dried fruit and nuts on the nose and palate, reminiscent of English Christmas cake, but subtle with it, quite sweet (getting towards 400 grams/litre of residual sugar) but with balancing acidity.

There are many fine wineries in the Chianti Classico area, but clearly they have now been joined by the Rocca di Montegrossi. Many thanks to Elisa and all for their good work.

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