Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Here Today, Gone to Merlot

There are those magical places that make a wonderful wine weekend destinations. The combination of L’Andana with their sister winery, Petra is an elegant, simple retreat from the everyday realities. In this fantasy escape from those realities, the wonderful luxury of L’Andana, and the simplicity that is woven in the resort, can recharge one very well. As written before, this is Alto-Borghese living. But the stars shine bright in the nighttime sky, and the breeze that sifts through the curtains is pure Maremma. And so if there is a Ducasse donut with the cappuccino in the morning, is that such an infraction? There will be time for more rustic experiences on this 2008 harvest trip, they are coming. For now, we are living in lapland, that space between where you have come and where you will be going. Someone else’s everyday world, opened up for a few days by the wine gods.

The ride from L’Andana in Castiglione della Pescaia to the Petra estate near Suvereto is a pleasant 45 minute saunter up the coast. My travel companion and I easily slipped into a California state of mind. And this is not to diminish anything that Tuscany and the Maremma has to offer; it is simply lagniappe for the wine traveler.

We are in a time when the fruits are all ripe and dripping their honey. Fig trees droop from the weight of their bounty and the grapes weigh the vines down, waiting for their appointment with the portable guillotines, those hand held harvesters that pick the clusters and send them to their miracle moments.

Much has been written about Petra. It is one of those architectural statements that seems so unusual for Italy, but not for the Maremma. Not too far from L’Andana is another architectural gem, Rocca di Frassinello, a partnership between Chateau Lafite and Castellare. The smart money sees something happening and they know what it is and they have gotten in before the rush. At this point it is probably too late for the rest of us. But there is something about the Maremma that is still undiscovered and quiet in its revelatory being. It isn’t crowded like Napa Valley, for one.

Beautiful land, olives and grapes, wheat and figs. Merlot has a wonderful summer home here. As we arrived in mid September, the Merlot had already been brought in at Petra. What we sampled was still fruit juice, but it was bright and rich and healthy. Like we all want to be, no?

Petra has a cellar and sometimes dining area that has been hewn out of the rock underneath the vineyards. It reminds me of Sinsky or many other Silverado Trail showcase wineries. Still a fairly small production, at this point just about 25,000 cases of wine. Smaller than Chateau Lafite. I hesitate to put down my tasting notes here, as they will be needed for an article in Sommelier Journal. In any event, most folks don’t come to On The Wine Trail in Italy for tasting notes. Or gossip. I’ll leave that to those who are better and more interested in those things.

I am pretty knocked out about the mineraly-stony thing going on under the vines at Petra. Some pictures show an other-worldly aspect to this ancient craft.

We had been told to expect lunch. What I hadn’t expected was this wonderful woman who prepared a simple meal with many fresh vegetables from the Petra garden. As we ate we could look out onto the garden where much of our lunch came from. Zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, grapes. A little porchetta, not too much, just enough to show off the wines. Especially the Merlot.

Folks who know me are aware that Merlot, like Chardonnay, doesn’t thrill me. Except when it comes from areas that I think they should come from. Merlot from the right bank, Chardonnay from the Côte d'Or. That kind of thing.

I am intrigued by the interest by French winemakers in this area. And Merlot, while resembling more their California cousins than their Pomerol ones, still has a liveliness and an appealing quality. Ok, so I can learn to love Merlot from Italy too.

Just as long as I also get to enjoy it in a rustic pie at the end of a meal during the 2008 harvest, on the wine trail in Italy.

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