Monteverro – French savoir faire in Capalbio

Finesse is not the word that one normally associates with the wines of the Tuscan Maremma. They can be big, bold, full of immediate flavour but in a warm climate with rich soils finesse tends not to be the leading card. Monteverro is an exception. It was created by Georg Weber, former CEO of a German garden centre group, now devoting himself to the tuscan estate he took three years to find. The full story is told here. You get an idea of the ambition of the estate when you learn that Michel Rolland, perhaps the world’s most famous consultant, is one of the two external consultants.

If the inspiration was the fine wines of Bordeaux, the implementation is firmly on the Tuscan coast. Matthieu Tauney, French wine maker, explains that the property was bought in 2003 and planted initially in 2004-06. He arrived in order to make the first wines in 2008. 30 hectares have now been planted with Vermentino, Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache, and of course the Bordeaux varieties. They buy in Sangiovese – once more making the point that it rarely does well down on the coast. The soil is clay-based but with a good proportion of rocks. These enable the drainage and allow vine roots to explore the full extent of the soil pan. At the magnificent view point looking down to the coast over the vineyards there is a also textbook cut-away into the hillside which allows us to see this for real:

In the vineyard

With a fresh sea breeze blowing most of the time disease pressure for the common fungal ailments of the vine is very low. The estate decided to stop using insecticides back in 2010 and found that this was not a problem. Certified organic status followed in 2016. The sea breeze also moderates the temperatures. While there is not a big day/night temperature difference due to this effect, there are also few days of really high temperatures which hopefully will lengthen vine life. The lack of rain this year (no significant rain has fallen between November 2016 and June 2017) means that this year’s harvest is likely to be severely reduced. The vineyards are all equipped with drip irrigation which can be used in emergencies – to save the plants or to save the crop. It has already been used this year (June 2017) in a few places on steeper slopes.

In the winery

Meticulous sorting of fruit is the first priority in the winery. In a warm climate this means especially removing any raisined fruit which would reduce the freshness of the final wine. All the processes are are delicate as possible with soft pressing and moving of the must by gravity. But the key decision is harvesting and vinification by parcel and even by sections within parcels. During harvest each day the winemaker and vineyard manager walk the vineyards specifying which rows are to be picked. This means that fruit is picked at the exact point of ripening desired. It is at this point that you realise that the model is a Bordeaux first growth with this level of attention to detail. On the entrance to the winery there is a refrigeration room which can quickly bring grape temperatures down by 10ºC or more as necessary. Cool grapes are less sensitive to oxidation and, for white wines cool fermentation temperatures are very important.

The wines

Vermentino 2014, IGT Toscana, 13.5% – the staple of the Tuscan coast and here made in an intensive way to get it into bottle as soon as possible to promote the freshness of the fruit. The fruit is whole cluster pressed, fermentation is with selected yeast and acidity is retained by blocking malolactic fermentation. After 6 months on lees in stainless steel tanks the wine is fined with bentonite, filtered lightly and bottled. Fragrant and fresh, a touch of richness from the lees, highly drinkable.

Chardonnay 2014, IGT Toscana, 13.5% – by contrast this wine is made in a traditional barrel-fermented style with natural fermentation. Full malo follows. The wine is aged for 14 months: 50% in barriques, 40% new, 50% in the concrete egg – which tells you what a tiny production this wine is. The 2014 has just been released. This is easily the most subtle Chardonnay I have tasted from the Maremma or for that matter from the whole of Tuscany with its poised ripe apple and white stone fruit and long, savoury finish.

Verruzzo, IGT Toscana Rosso, 2014, 13.5% – although the estate’s website makes a big deal of this wine reflecting Tuscany terroir because of the presence of Sangiovese in the blend, in reality it is a Super Tuscan blend: 40% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Sangiovese. Aged in used French barriques for 12 months. Made to be early and easy drinking it does just that. Medium weight of ripe fruit, enough structure to keep things honest.

Terra di Monteverro, IGT Toscana Rosso, 2013, 14% – if we were in Bordeaux this would be the second wine of the estate and the first wine which has input from Michel Rolland. With 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot it is broadly the same blend as the top wine. The wine is aged for 20 months in barriques, 60% of which is new. The ripeness of the fruit means that this can stand rather more oak than a typical second wine in Bordeaux. This wine at €35 acts as something of a calling card for the estate and for the Grand Vin. But before we get to that we have what is perhaps the estate’s most unusual wine:

Tinata 2010, IGT Toscana Rosso, 14.5% – 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache. While there is increasing amounts of Syrah in Tuscany and a fair amount of the long established Alicante/Grenache in the Maremma, there are very few blends. The estate would like to increase the amount of Grenache in the blend but is wary as the Grenache is not as reliable as the Syrah. They are also reducing the amount of new oak (here 40% new) and ageing part of the wine in concrete. Distinctive and aromatic nose with lavender and red cherry to black plum fruit; light on its feet for a full-bodied, softly but well structured wine. In many ways, the southern Rhône is a much more natural model for the Tuscan coast than Bordeaux or Napa.

We were then treated to two vintages of the Grand Vin, the first ever vintage and the most recent:

Monteverro 2008, IGT Toscana Rosso, 15% – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged for 22 months in barriques, 70% new.  From a dry and quite hot year this wine has now developed tobacco and leather tertiary notes with the cassis of Cabernet Sauvignon shining through. Fine, very ripe tannins. The high alcohol level is well matched by the weight of fruit. It is clear that these wines have real capacity to age and develop in the bottle.

Monteverro 2014, IGT Toscana Rosso, 14.5% – the youngest of this line to be released and a complete contrast in terms of the weather, cool and rainy by comparison. But a cool year on the Tuscan coast is still warm enough to ripen fruit fully if you are prepared to be ruthless in your selection. The balance of the blend is slightly different in this year with 40% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot. Elegance and finesse are the hallmarks here, along with a very fine, chalky, tannic structure and a sumptuous cedar note from well-integrated oak. The wine is a classic international style Bordeaux blend with precise, ripe fruit, full bodied with a stylish mid-palate and, above all, perfect balance. Perhaps the dominance of Cabernet Franc here also shows the way forward. One could say Tuscan fruit and Bordeaux balance. The quality of this wine is no doubt also a testament to the seven years of experience the team at Monteverro have garnered.

On questioning, Matthieu Tauney says that the key to fine tannins here is not just the warmth of the climate and very careful handling in the winery. What he has learnt is judicious use of irrigation to allow berries to ripen but not grow extra leaves. Then it’s a matter of careful extraction, of tasting every day and responding to the wine. All this work has been richly rewarded by high scores from Monica Larner on behalf of Robert Parker, 93-95 for the recent releases. What is fascinating is that the Tinata (94) and the Terra di Monteverro (92) achieved nearly the same score as the Monteverro (95), despite the greater concentration of the latter and the substantially higher price. But then scores never could tell you everything!

My own preference or prejudice is always for local varieties and styles but I was really impressed by the complexity and finesse of the French blends here and the quality of the Chardonnay. Monteverro can more than give Bolgheri a run for its money.

With thanks to both the estate itself and to Maremma Toscana DOC for its support for this trip.  

June 2017

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