I don’t think I really understood Chianti until I tasted the wines of Rocca di Montegrossi. I remember the first time I enjoyed the winery’s 2007 San Marcellino Chianti Classico and had an eye-opening moment. It was a little voice inside my head whispering insistently, “this is sangiovese!” Pure red-berry fruit, a touch of graphite minerality and the dusty aroma, reminiscent of fallen leaves and damp earth.
I am passionate about all of Italy’s wines, but this was the bottle that let me fall in love with Chianti.
I had the pleasure of attending a wine dinner at Drago Centro hosted by Marco Ricasoli of Rocca di Montegrossi winery. Marco was generous enough to provide several older vintages so that we could start to understand the progression of Chianti, and the real soul of the winery as well.
The bottle of 1987 Geremia Chianti was clearly labelled “Vino da Tavola di Toscana” or “Tuscan Table Wine”. Why? Well, because like many of Italy’s wine denominations, in Chianti there have been many revisions over the years. In 1987, Rocca di Montegrossi’s Chianti was made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. However at that time in order to qualify as “Chianti”, it needed a percentage of other blending grapes as well. Today that law has been revised, but this does shed some light onto the history of Italian wine denominations, and the lengths producers like Montegrossi have taken in order to keep their standards high and their traditions faithfully protected.
It was clear to me that Rocca di Montegrossi is obsessed with Sangiovese and its expression in Chianti. Marco’s eyes lit up as he humbly relayed the story of how the “father of Italian wine,” Giacomo Tachis visited his vineyards and used the term “chianteggia” to describe the wines- a word that means “the very essence of Chianti”.
As if these are the wines that begin to define the land, equally as the terroir defines the wines.
Fans of Montegrossi know the winery’s real secret is not the fabulous Chianti, nor is it this gorgeous rosato. The gem of the winery is Montegrossi’s seldom-exported Vin Santo.
Vin Santo is a sweet wine, typical of Tuscan wineries, typically made by drying the grapes after harvesting, and before vinification. It is (unfortunately) a loose classification that has produced numerous questionable watery-sweet-after-dinner drinks served to tourists as an accompaniment to dry biscotti or cantucci.
Rocca di Montegrossi however, produces a luxurious, honeyed Vin Santo- one any Toscano would be proud to claim. We tasted the 1998 and 2001 vintages of this magical elixir, both equally complex and astoundingly aromatic. There were notes of beeswax and dried apricots. A perky bit of acidity offset the glycerine, palate-cloaking mouthfeel. These wines are the very definition of “vino da meditazione”, what Italians would call a wine to “meditate on”. Wines of this caliber need no accompaniment, especially not a dry cookie.
In fact, when somebody asked Marco about the cookie-dunking tradition, he smiled and said,
“I tell everyone, I’m not going to sell you my wine unless you promise me you won’t dip anything into it.”