Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Weight of Time - An Ancient Tuscan Family and Vineyard

On a cool Friday afternoon in North Texas, autumn finally reached us. Time to put on the long pants, even socks. Maybe a jacket. Or pull that black Italian suit out of the closet and wear it. It fits now. After a year away from constant dining, wining and being part of the ever-so-involved wine world.

Now, it’s a different season for yours truly. But it is one I am digging in and rooting around. Not like there will be that much time, but we’re here, now. So, what is one to do?

How about a casual Friday afternoon lunch with a few friends, Italian and otherwise, all very nice, warm and cordial souls. And our hosts from Fonterutoli in Tuscany.

I can be a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to Tuscan wine. Not that I don’t like it. Actually, I have quite a bit stashed in my wine closet. Some sleeping in the cool dark peace of the room, waiting for their moment to shine. That is, when we aren’t huddling in it as a safe room to shield us from nearby tornadoes. Meanwhile, our Italian colleagues have brought their wine to shine and for us to enjoy.

The moment was to savor, over food, a small vertical of Fonterutoli’s Siepi, a blended red from Sangiovese and Merlot. And with Giovanni Mazzei, the 24th generation (of 25) in the family to lead us in the tasting. I think about that, that’s quite some time. Giovanni and I talked about that after the lunch and tasting over a coffee before he sprinted to the airport. But first, the wines.

There were four wines: 2013, 2015, 2004 (in magnum) and the current US release, 2016, of the Castello di Fonterutoli Siepi.

2013 – Delicate fruit, floral, almost this orange blossom kind of thing going on. It was a cool vintage. The wine had a good, strong entry, with ripe cherries and good balance – slightly sour, but not off-putting at all. And again, a cherry on the top to finish.
Three impressive attributes – Balance – Length - Steady

2015 – Our host, Giovanni Mazzei said the vintage was “bright, open, a gastronomic vintage,” by way of introduction. I found a bright cherry (again) this time in the beginning. Also, a nutty quality along with a slight hint of vanilla. Tasting: Wow, bursting with fruit – velvety finish. Looks to be a classic vintage.
Three outstanding (and subjective) attributes: Spice – Power - Lovely

2004 – “Powerful, tannic vintage,” Giovanni remarked. I found brick in the color, cedar in the nose, with a slight tawny bouquet. Forest floor notes and a slight cedar quality as well in the nose. The tannins are fully tamed at this time.
Three notable attributes: Mellow – Calm – Ready

Giovanni noted here that he felt there were some similarities between the 2004 and the next wine, the 2016 – Vanilla nose, again, Giovanni remarked, “classic vintage.” My initial reaction to tasting was “wow!” the entry was fabulous, quite a statement of play between the fruit and the tannins. Well balanced and the fruit, I must say, was perfect.
Three prominent attributes – Power- balance – Fruit

In all four, there was a nice sway between the Sangiovese and the Merlot. The Sangiovese likes to dive and take chances, while and the Merlot will hug the floor, not falling or tipping. They make great dance partners, very complementary. And, very age-worthy.

A few words about Merlot – it’s easy enough to bash the grape. But I am often startled by wines with Merlot. Easy enough to say about wines from the right bank in Bordeaux, or in places where there are resources enough to bring out the finest attributes of Merlot. Sadly, like Pinot Noir, there are too many examples of poor winemaking and the meagerest of sensitivity when it comes to the nature of the grape. Fortunately, at Fonterutoli, there has been more than adequate attention paid to the nature and destine oy Merlot. It has found another home in Italy. A beautiful one at that.

On to the navel-gazing portion of this piece….

While Giovanni was waiting to catch a ride to the airport, we had the chance to talk a bit. It seems his grandfather had the idea to catch up to modernity in the vineyards. The local nurseries, at the time, were pressing for international varieties to be planted, and while the grandfather planted Cabernet and Merlot, Giovanni says it was all done naturally, in an organic manner. “The terroir was excellent for Merlot,” he said.

In fact, all the hubbub about international varieties often elicit laughs in Italy, and especially Tuscany. This place was, and remains, a crossroads for culture, for trade, and for the exchange of ideas, both philosophically and in practical terms.

I asked Giovanni if some relative, 5 – 10 generations back, might have had an idea of what awaited their descendants in the 20th century. And as a follow-through, what he might be thinking in terms of what his offspring might receive from him, 200-300 years in the future, as a result of what his grandfather, and by extension he, might be planning and setting in motion. All pretty heady stuff, mind you. But we’d been baptized in the red wine of the region over lunch, and so those words flowed out into the room. “Well, now we’re getting a bit philosophical,” he said. “But I don’t know. I know that our family moved a lot over the past 25 generations. We left a lot of family crests on buildings and homes in Tuscany. We weren’t so much attracted to materialism; the trappings of the world weren’t what motivated my grandfather.” At the time, his grandfather was facing a world that had been turned upside down. War and destruction had cut a path through Tuscany as well as in lots of Italy and Europe.

What impressed me about Giovanni wasn’t so much what he said or how he said it, but how he carried the weight of time without the burden. Life seems to truly be beautiful. And as well, so are these wines.

written and photographed (in the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci in Volterra) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Imported into the US by Taub Family Selections

1 comment:

vinotravels21 said...

25 generations.....simply amazing! That is what I love about Italian wine. The history and generation after generation of the family working together. Such passion, dedication and love.

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