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In its current incarnation, Monte Bernardi is now 14 years old; wine was made there before (for centuries) but things changed dramatically when Michael Schmelzer and his family bought the property in 2003. The farming moved to all biodynamic (certified as of 2004), and the winemaking went from modern to old-school. Michael has proved to be a truly brilliant grape farmer and winemaker, producing wines that range from light-hearted to long-aging and serious. Even their super Tuscan - Bordeaux-blend, not usually my cup of wine, is terrific. Most importantly, all of the Chianti bottlings are as good as it gets, and are the best wines in Panzano – in fact I don’t think they have a lot of competition in the entire region. I highly recommend visiting if you get a chance; Michael is an unusually articulate guide who makes even arcane details fascinating.
Over years of many visits we’ve become good friends; following my earlier email about post-hurricane life on Vieques, Michael very kindly proposed donating wine to raise some money for the island – if you thought it sounds desperate in Puerto Rico, things are even worse in Vieques. Some people we know and trust have established a fund for the island, and we are confident that donations actually reach people who genuinely need help. So: today, Tuesday, October 24th, all proceeds from the sale of Monte Bernardi wine will be donated. Michael will be here tonight to pour the wines. Please join us - and please pitch in – and get some great wine at the same time! Jamie Wolff
We still don’t have much detail after the storm – there is no regular cell service – and still no electricity, running water, fuel, or reliable sources of food. Cement structures survived pretty well, but anything built of wood (or with wooden roofs) suffered the kind of damage you see in these photos, which were taken near our house in barrio Monte Carmelo.
Retromarcia means “to back up” or “to reverse” and is Michael Schmelzer’s reference to an old approach to Chianti that is hard to find today, focused on allowing the character of Sangiovese to show above everything else. The wine is made from 100% Sangiovese composed of young vines planted on a mix of galestro and sandstone soils. The grapes are fermented with native yeast on the skins for 2 weeks in stainless steel and then raised in a mixture of old barrels and unlined concrete tanks for 18 months before being bottled unfiltered. This wine to me is always quite pretty and the 2015 vintage is no exception. Pale ruby in the glass, it smells of bright red cherry fruit, violets, and woody herbs with slightly darker earthy tone underneath. On the palate, it is light and quite refreshing with great acidity and lots of sour cherry fruit backed by delicate tannins. As a classic Chianti should be the acidity is mouthwatering, warming up the palate for a range of food; try it with everything from classic red sauce pastas, sauteed greens, and saltier cheeses all the way to richer food like roasted lamb or game birds. Andy Paynter
The Fiasco from Monte Bernardi is a more playful cuvee, but the wine inside the bottle is no less serious for the packaging. Produced from certified organic Sangiovese farmed at high altitude, fermented with native yeast, and aged for a year in tank it is meant to be fresh and easy going. Red cherries and raspberries overlay fresh mint and sage on the nose with a slight tone of red roses. The palate is light and juicy with only a bit of tannin and a slightly bitter finish. All in all this is a classic Italian table wine, able to match with whatever happens to be for dinner though certainly perfect for your next pizza night. Andy Paynter
The 2013 Chianti Classico Riserva is a more serious reflection of the same principles underlying Retromarcia. It is produced from a plot of 40 year-old Sangiovese vines that contain around 5% Canaiolo Nero and naturally yield about half as much fruit as the young vines used for Retromarcia. The wine is fermented for 3-4 weeks on skins in steel and then aged for 2 years in old wooden botti and unlined cement tanks. It is rich on the nose with dark cherry fruit, spicy notes of cedar and allspice, and hints of rosemary and resinous herbs. Elegant rather than heavy on the palate with ripe tannins and restrained acidity, persistent and cherry fruit lead into an earthy finish. Lovely and open now, this is will improve for years to come in the cellar. Andy Paynter
Sa’etta is a cuvee dedicated to the best terroir of the Monte Bernardi estate: the oldest vines planted 45 years ago in the distinct compact sandstone of the area known as Pietraforte. The wine made from the best bunches of Sangiovese which are fermented on skins for 4 weeks and aged in used Slavonian and Austrian Botti for at least 2 years. The nose is intense and forward with a deep earthy tone layered with notes of tobacco, thyme, and rosemary followed by black cherry fruit. Full with grippy tannins and plenty of acidity, the palate is quite structured without being heavy or over-extracted leading into a intensely mineral finish. An assertive wine that is all the better without the presence of new oak or other “prestigious” flourishes. Perfect for the cellar, I would recommend decanting if drinking now and pairing with any full-flavored foods. For me it will always be the perfect match for a roasted leg of lamb. Andy Paynter
"Cherry water and rocks." This is how Monte Bernardi winemaker Michael Schmeltzer first described his 2015 rosé to us, and we couldn't agree more. This blend of Sangiovese (90%) with Canaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano comes from the village of Panzano in the heart of Chianti Classico. Certified organic and farmed biodynamically, this is serious and classic Italian rosé, abundant in structure, texture, depth and longevity on the palate. "Cherry water and rocks" is indeed an apt description, and those qualities are interwoven with raspberry, rhubarb pie, an herbal medley, and a faint, pleasant bitterness reminiscent of candied blood orange peel that feels refreshing on the palate. Delicious now, but should have the stuffing to age a few years. Oskar Kostecki
When Michael purchased the Monte Bernardi Estate in 2003 he was committed to making traditional Chianti without the use of "Bordeaux" varieties even though estate was already planted with French grapes that found their way into so many of Tuscany’s wines. He was already in the process of replanting the vineyards used to produce Retromarcia, so rather than uproot more vines, he diverted all of the French grapes into his own Bordeaux blend: Tzingana. Composed of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot, all co-fermented for 3 weeks and raised in barrique and tonneaux for 2 years, the wine is certainly more dense and smooth than any of his Chiantis. Rich blackberries and cassis are lifted by the smell of black tea and bay spice. Soft texture and smooth ripe tannins are supported by nice acidity, and there is a discernible minerality on the finish. Andy Paynter