At 90+ degrees Fahrenheit it was definitely beach weather, albeit a little hotter than the vines really needed. White grape harvest was starting (record-breaking early) in many estates. It sounds like most estates will start picking the red around mid-September, about 10 days before average, as long as they don’t start to lose acid and gain too much sugar.
This was a short trip, just 4 days, but there were a few real highlights…
Got to visit an old friend Tomasso at Vecchie Terra di Montefili, who I hadn’t seen in many years. The rest of the family were all at the beach so Tomasso was pretty busy getting the green harvest (thinning out bunches of less-ripe grapes to increase concentration and assure evening ripening when it comes time to pick). He took time out to give us a first-class tasting of the estate’s first class wines.
Vecchi Terre, although a relatively new winery (Tomasso’s father-in-law bought the estate in 1979) makes a rarity in Chianti’s modern world of blends. Though in the past Bordeaux varietals were used in the reserve, today’s entire range of Chiantis from this estate are 100% Sangiovese.
The only wines that don’t use Tuscany’s most historic grape are the Bruno di Rocca which is now 100% Cab Sav and the new addition to this elite family of wines, the white “Vignaregis” which is made of Chardonnay with 25% Sav Blanc and 5% Gewürztraminer. A truly stunning wine combining minerality and freshness with layers of complexity and a luxurious creaminess, Tomasso reckons this will be at its best in another 5 years. It’s fabulous now, but he’s probably right; it certainly has the complexity and balance and after being open an hour and a half the last half of the bottle was still as good as when we popped the cork – generally a sign of good ageability for a white.
By the time we finished the last wine – a 2001 Bruno di Rocca (60/40 Cab/Sangiovese in this vintage) that was a real treat to taste – it was about 2:30 and we were in danger of starving to death as Italian restaurants don’t stay open all day like McDonald’s! However, as it happened we’d planned on lunching at Chianti’s best hamburger joint, McDario’s. If you haven’t heard of this place, be sure to get there soon.
Opened in 2008 by Dario Ceccini, the best-known and most colorful butcher in Tuscany, the name is of course deliberately tongue-in-cheek. Dario’s hamburgers are made from his prize Chiannini beef, and could very well be the best in the world according to his customers. Unfortunately were indeed too late to get hamburgers, but the alternative was voted by all to be even better. Dario’s smorgasbord of local specialties was actually more interesting and included tartare of Chiannini beef, a local sausage with a kind of sweet/spicy orange zest sauce, alongside Tuscan “Tuna” (made from shredded pork) and my favorite; cold cuts of slow-baked pork belly that were simply delicious.
Tomasso had joined us for lunch (following us from the winery on his Harley-Davidson) and we had the remnants of our tasting to swill down Dario’s goodies, so things weren’t too rushed.
Tomasso’s dad dropped in as we were eating, on his way to pick up the meat for dinner from the butcher below the dining room. Tommaso and Dario are good friends, so we had to go down ourselves after lunch to check out the shop. Sides of beef hanging in the chill-room at the back of the shop, an array of mouth-watering cold cuts in the display case shared space with cooked joints of various animals waiting to be carved.
My eye was drawn to what looked like a huge pile of mashed potato… turned out it was pork fat, dressed with Dario’s cocktail of herbs and spices. “Aha” I said, “like dripping – lovely!” Almost right… this fat wasn’t cooked though. We tried it, it was fantastic! Tomasso finally split so he could get back to his cellar before his workers left for the day and locked him out. We’d blown off our original plans for the rest of the afternoon, and headed home to nurse rather extended stomachs…