The wines of Montenidoli are in a class by themselves.
Though three of the bottlings technically fall under the Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, they are stylistically unlike any others in the denomination and stand head and shoulders above the rest. Its best reds are labeled Toscana IGT, but they offer a unique expression of the Sangiovese grape and Montenidoli’s terroir that I find more compelling than most from the surrounding Colli Senesi.
They remind me of other wines uniquely tied to place and the vision of the winemaker. Cappellano, Soldera’s Case Basse, Valentini and Emidio Pepe come to mind from Italy; Henri Bonneau and Domaine Leroy in France.
Montenidoli’s director, Elisabetta Fagiuoli, bought the estate in 1965; her family cultivated vines and olive trees in Veneto. Sergio Muratori, a friend and teacher, retired at Montenidoli with the goal of hosting and teaching kids and older adults from different cultures.
Fagiuoli replanted the vineyards, which had been abandoned, and the first wines were made in 1971. Today the property consists of 494 acres, of which 67 acres are vineyards and 25 acres olive trees.
The estate lies to the east and south of San Gimignano. The geology of the lower portion is marine sediments, with abundant fossils. These soils foster the growth of Vernaccia vines in an area known more for red wines. The upper portion is from the much older Triassic period, with burnt red, fine sandy soils rich in iron. All the vineyards were planted either from cuttings of estate vines or vineyards in the area prized by Fagiuoli.
There are three different Vernaccia di San Gimignano bottlings, all 100% Vernaccia. Tradizione is made in stainless-steel tanks and includes the press juice. Fiore is also made entirely in stainless steel, but only from the free-run juice. Both are aged 12 to 16 months. Carato is fermented in French barriques up to seven or eight years old; after 12 months in barrel, it ages another year in cement vats and two in bottle before release.
The best Vernaccia di San Gimignano wines are clean and correct, with varying degrees of depth and complexity. The Montenidoli wines, however, have different textures and flavor profiles, sometimes imperfections, but always plenty of soul. The Fiore is typically the most elegant of the three, the Tradizionale also sleek and tense. Both reveal toasty notes of sesame, rye, lanolin and occasionally malt, offset by lemon and saline. The Carato is always more textural, exhibiting a creamy quality, and is sometimes even tannic, featuring honey, hazelnut, pine and sage flavors.
The wines also age beautifully, as a recent tasting in New York with Fagiuoli proved. We tasted Carato 2013, 2003, 1997 and 1989. The ’97 offered a bouquet of floral, honey, hazelnut and vanilla, with apple, pear and lanolin flavors; the ’89 smelled like an aged Champagne, all coffee, toffee, honey and hazelnut aromas matched to a harmonious, velvety mouthfeel.
The Toscana White Il Templare is a blend of three white grapes from San Gimignano: Vernaccia (70%), Trebbiano Gentile (20%) and Malvasia Bianca. More floral in aroma and elegant in profile, it nonetheless manages to age very well, as the debut vintage 1999 attested with its freshness.
The important reds of the estate are the Toscana Sono Montenidoli, made from the best selection of Sangiovese on the marine sediment soils, and Toscana Triassico, from the single-vineyard Primo Sole on the iron-hued Triassic soils. Both are 100% Sangiovese. They seem to develop at a glacial pace, judging by the primary fruit character of the Sono Montenidoli 2004 and 2001. The 1997 and 1995 were superb, the former described by Fagiuoli as: “Beginning to be a wine, beginning to be an adult.”
Fagiuoli created a foundation to honor patriarch Muratori in which troubled kids and the elderly can spend a month at Montenidoli immersed in its winegrowing culture. The Triassico, sold only in magnum, supports the foundation through its sales. The 2007, its inaugural vintage, revealed gorgeous black currant and black cherry fruit, wild herbs and fine complexity and length.
Fagiuoli created a legacy serving the land she loves. She decided to release some older vintages of the Montenidoli wines, including what we tasted, also to raise money for the foundation. They will be sold through retail stores and restaurants. It’s a rare opportunity to taste some of Italy’s unique wines.