Montesodi Cru Is Chianti Ruffina’s Gem

In winespeak, with decades of patience comes a reward higher than just mesmerising aromas and a captivating palate. The liquid develops a personality and speaks a language of a bygone era. It tells tales of that vintage, describing the harmony between soil, varietals, play of nature, and sings fables about the winemaker’s skills in converting that expression into a discerning drink. Not everyone can comprehend it, leaving even the most trained and experienced palates humbled. Tasting old wines is always exciting though. And so was the experience of tasting vintages spread over the past half century. Recently, Marchesi de Frescobaldi, one of the pioneering families in Tuscan winemaking, poured Chianti’s history in our glasses. I was amongst the selected few to taste their Montesodi cru since its inception year of 1974, at Hotel Principe de Savoia in Milan.

Montesodi is a monopole cru from the family’s Nippozano estate in Chianti Ruffina. Located in the ‘magical stretch’ at 350-450 meters height, Sangiovese naturally flourishes here. It offers phenolic balance between high acidity and tannins, while preserving its hauntingly beautiful varietal aromas, and keeping alcohol tamed. Stone and limestone-rich soils ensure good water drainage rendering it formidable for viticulture. These south-western facing vines receive cooling winds from the sea, maintaining equilibrium for the warmth-loving Sangiovese. These aspects combine to create a harmonious environment for an ageable complex vino. Growing Sangiovese isn’t always this easy though. Its extreme susceptibility to minor alterations in soil, clonal selection, vintage variation, and handling at winemaking makes it a nagging and fussy varietal, and amongst the most challenging to work with. Not for everyone, and definitely not for everywhere. Even after decades of cellaring, it can be unforgiving, providing a window into nature and/or winemaker’s flaws. Thus, tasting old Sangioveses can be quite revealing and intimate affair. 

We started from the founding year of 1974 and moved forward through 1985, 1990, 1993, 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2010. Mr. Lamberto Frecobaldi, owner of Marchesi de Frescobaldi, walked us through the wines, reflecting on the vintages and winemaking influences, together with his personal memories and experiences from those times.

1974

Deemed as an exceptional vintage, it was a good year to begin the label. Grapes were fresh and ripe, yielding a varietal wine. It saw 18 months in barrels and the rest in bottle, nearly 40 years that is!!

With bright red brick colour, wine showed its first signs of having matured gracefully. Inviting nose with delicate tertiary notes of soft leather, petrichor, truffles, sweet tobacco, and light oak. Tones of dry violets, wet cherry skins, and aromatic dried herbs opened up on a bed of velvety tannins, lined with sweet oak, tar, and kiss of warm spices. Acidity was still lively, binding the palate that ended on tangy, dry black mango, braised sweet potato, roasted white meat, and heena aromatics. 

An impressive display of the varietal’s lasting strength. It still had a few glorious years to see before it would start dipping on the cellaring curve.  

1985

Registered as one of the finest vintages in Tuscany, Sangiovese enjoyed cold winters and dry summers, delivering perfectly matured crop. Decision was to move into a more ‘Chianti’ style, blending Sangiovese with Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the whites of Trebbiano and Malvasia. French barriques (225 litre barrels) were en-vogue, providing the wine an international appeal, implementing a tad longer ageing regimen. 

Intense and dynamic aromas flowed quickly, without decanting. Pronounced nose with fragrances of roasted dark meat, smoke, damp old oak, dried black currants, and toasted sweet spices. Sweetness of primary fruit was still intact. It rolled graciously on the palate, graduating to dried shrubs and florals, foie-gras, and balsamico, bound with husky oak and spry chewy tannins denying growing up. Structure and grip was commendable and the cherry tang acidity held promise of another few years.

1990

Good vintages are usually followed by disappointing years. After the success of 1985, ’86 and ’87 were difficult harvests. The consequent dip in financials lead some wineries to cut corners, concluding in the catastrophic ‘Methanol Scandal’ that marred the growing image of Chianti, and wines in general. No one spoke of wines then, let alone indulging in them. Healing from this slump, 1990 was a new beginning, marking a classic vintage to begin the decade. Frescobaldi family decided playing safe without altering the blend or oak’s intervention. 

Dried spice mix aromatics blended with ripe red fruit liveliness welcomes, opening to hints of white pepper, dark currants, and soothing herbaceousness. The palate was an exciting blend of ripe raspberries and red cherries’ sweetness, mildly toasted baking spices, earthy minerality, finishing with a kiss of savouriness. Chewy, gripping tannins delicately complimented by lively refreshing acidity. Impressive structure, commendable integration of elements, and concentration of fruit made a captivating proposition. Another decade in the bottle, easily.

For me, and many others, it was the star of the tasting.

1993

Long dry summer favoured the heat-loving Sangiovese, increasing its share to 90% in the blend. With riper tannins, without losing much acidity, the crop was destined to yield a wine deemed to stay youthful for long. Cellar was introduced with new barriques, yet dominated with older ones.

New oak showed its impact with bulky smoke, tar, grilled meats, and toasted wood notes. Fruitiness was carefully extracted and integrated retaining very clean flavours of cranberries, tart cherries, black currants, slowly moving towards pine nuts, wet earth, wooly huskiness, forest floor, and hints of tobacco savouriness. Acidity was tangy, making the palate juicy, mellowing the effect of chewy youthful tannins. Energetic wine with ample life live ahead.

2000

As the family moved into a new century, they moved a little backwards too. Sangiovese was a solo rider again and was to stay, much like what was the vision in its inception year. Bigger casks replaced barriques, mostly new, with plans of further reducing oak’s impact. Ageing wouldn’t fluctuate and stay set at 1.5 years in wood before further bottle ageing or release.

Significantly appealing nose with fruit and oak battling to dominate. Fruit showed easily while tertiary notes prevailed. Wood tannins trying taming the rough skin tannins, dusty palate with earth, dense tobacco, caramelised oak, sweet ham, candied fruit, wet leather, quince, apple skin, and pounded olive. Sharp acidity aided long finish, leaving a clean palate. Delicious drop!!

2004

A rather cool vintage providing elegant fruitiness but a round crop. Winemakers took six months in just understanding the handling of the liquid in the cellars. The verdict was to play safe with varied oaks.

Ripe fruits, rich and sweet, but short lived on the nose. Lifted with floral elegance, aromatic dry condiments, aniseed, hint nutty, marzipan hues, currant syrup, and dry tobacco. Chewy gummy tannic palate with grainy dusty oak, and biting leather. Aged meat, old red cherries, baked rhubarb, and chalky minerality. Mouthwatering dark plum acidity is a relief from the gripping tannins. 

The wine was struggling, presenting an idea how agronomists and winemakers must’ve struggled producing this vintage. Though tad edgy, it had enough to tell.

2006

‘The Golden Vintage’, prompted Mr. Frescobaldi. Sangiovese at Montesodi was pampered by nature providing everything it needs, and it delivered exceptional quality fruit. It’s the vintage of the fruit, not of wood or cellaring.

Sweet red and dark fruits prevails while oak supports with toasted warm spice and caramelised touches. Palate was smooth, harmoniously integrated, and concentrated with matured tannins, ripe fruit, and commendable structure. Sangiovese’s classic interpretation of varietal notes, finishing with mocha and pomegranate juice bitterness. Though high, alcohol seems balanced, though the tannins can still use some time in the cellar. 

We encountered a baby, but the wine was outstanding. I’d happily put my money on it.

2010

Operationally testing vintage marked with frequent rain followed by ample summer sun filled Sangiovese with enough of everything. Fruit quality remained stable and ripeness was key, predicting a long future for the vintage. 

It was a youthful wine from the start. Palate opens with powerfully gripping skin tannins, dusty charred oak bite, toasty nuttiness, roasted meat tones, and prickly stoney minerality. Ripe fruit shines with only little tertiary growth and acidity’s depth provides liveliness to a rather boastful palate. At 14.5%, alcohol speaks, leaving a warm aftertaste.

It’s like betting on a new-born how it’d do as a communication expert. It’s a long time before it will integrate, and mature with patience, to become an impressive fine gentleman. Till then we wait.

It was a youthful wine from the start. Palate opens with powerfully gripping skin tannins, dusty charred oak bite, toasty nuttiness, roasted meat tones, and prickly stoney minerality. Ripe fruit shines with only little tertiary growth and acidity’s depth provides liveliness to a rather boastful palate. At 14.5%, alcohol speaks, leaving a warm aftertaste.

It’s like betting on a new-born how it’d do as a communication expert. It’s a long time before it will integrate, and mature with patience, to become an impressive fine gentleman. Till then we wait.

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