My favorite sangiovese

Sangiovese is a lovely grape that produces great wines throughout Tuscany. Montalcino with its Brunello is probably the highest quality region for sangiovese, but my favorite happens to come from Chianti which is arguably the spiritual home of sangiovese. I have always liked sangiovese; when I was in my early stages as a wine drinker, you could get decent Chianti Classico for $20 or less and it paired well with pizza and pasta, so it was a regular rotator in my house. That said, I was never truly impressed by a sangiovese until I tasted Montevertine. I still remember the moment. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I had just taken a trip to Santa Cruz to visit some wineries, namely Ridge and I found a wine shop that had some great options from Europe as well. I bought some Allemand Cornas, Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey, Pierre Gonon St Joseph, and the proprietor seeing the purchases recommended that I try Montevertine. He had 2 bottles of the 2008 so I bought them both and took them back home with me. I let them settle for a bit and then one evening while we were making a fairly simple pasta with meat sauce I decided to test one out. The first smell and sip nearly left me speechless. I’d never tasted sangiovese that had such crystalline purity. The flavors were so pixellated they were easy to assess and enjoy. The elegance and seamless balance was incredible. That said it still seemed to have significant power and saturated the taste buds. I was actually stunned by how good it was as I was not expecting it to be on that level. That set me on a course to collect Montevertine and I try to buy every vintage though I’ve missed a few over the years. Given my admiration for the wines, I thought I’d delve into the estate a bit deeper and share some thoughts.

Montevertine is located very close to Radda in Chianti and is on a hilltop overlooking the area. The elevation is around 425-450 meters. Radda is one of the cooler subzones in Chianti and this likely contributes a fair amount to the hallmark elegance and freshness that Montevertine is known for. The estate was acquired in 1967 by Sergio Manetti who originally planted a small vineyard mostly as a hobby. However, he soon realized that his wines were excellent and began to devote himself to the project. The first vintage was produced in 1971. One thing that is very interesting about Chianti at the time was that it was required to use white grapes in the red wines (generally trebbiano). Manetti felt that this lowered the quality of the wines and wanted to use only Sangiovese. This decision was frowned upon and Manetti elected to leave the classification of Chianti. Therefore his wines are labeled as Rosso di Toscana rather than Chianti. You will notice on the labels they are in the category of Indicazione Geografica Tipica or IGT (which is the lowest level classification) rather than the DOC or DOCG which are the highest levels of classifications for regions in Italy. This is still the case today even though the Chianti consortium eventually realized he was right and eliminated white grapes from the allowed blends! Manetti later partnered with Giulio Gambelli who was the estates wine maker for many years. He was a great advocate for sangiovese and the natural expression of the grape. In more recent years, Montevertine has been directed by a second generation. Martino Manetti has taken over for his father and he has partnered with Paolo Salvi who was a protege of Gambelli. Their goal remains to make pure and elegant sangiovese which their elevation allows them to do easily. They don’t focus on extraction and power and generally avoid new oak. The results are consistently excellent.

I love the Pergole Torte label; next to it is the 2014 Rosso which you will notice is labeled IGT

Montevertine makes 3 wines; Pian del Ciampolo, Montevertine Rosso, and Le Pergole Torte. All of these are primarily sangiovese based (90+%) though they do blend in some canaiolo and a bit of colorino as well. Pian del Ciampolo is the entry level cuvee and it is designed for earlier drinking. The wine is aged in large Slavonian oak barrels for about 18 or so months. Generally approachable young, this is a fresh, fruit forward wine that still showcases the elegance and purity of the Montevertine style. A great wine with pizza or pasta. The Pian del Ciampolo is often available for around $35-40. The Montevertine Rosso is the standard of the estate and one of the great wines of Italy in my opinion. This is generally a blend of 90% sangiovese with the remaining 10% a blend of canaiolo and colorino. This wine sees about 2 years in barrel, again generally larger Slavonian oak vessels, before bottling. The wine is elegant with an airy, ethereal nature; it has a lovely purity of fruit often with some lovely floral and spice notes mixed it. Despite the elegance, it definitely ages well and I find that it often begins to peak after 10+ years in bottle depending on the vintage. It is very versatile at the table as it has a lovely fresh acidity, but I enjoy it very much with pork and lamb dishes. The Rosso was generally around $40-50 when I first started buying it, but it is now usually around $65-75. Really though in the scheme of incredibly fine wines, that is still quite a great value even though it is expensive. Not much Napa Cabernet or Burgundy in that price range can hold a candle to Montevertine. Finally, the Le Pergole Torte is the only wine that is 100% sangiovese. It comes from a vineyard that was planted exclusively to sangiovese in 1968 and is about 5 acres in size. This is generally the biggest, richest, and most structured of the wines from Montevertine. The Pergole Torte also sees a little bit of smaller barrique aging in addition to the larger oak barrels of the other two. It is a monumental wine that ages very well and can go toe to toe with any other great red made in Italy and really in the world. If broached within the first decade of life, this wine definitely needs a bigger meal to stand up to it. Pergole Torte used to be available for $80-100 when I first bought a bottle, but it now priced quite a bit higher, often $160+. Definitely a special occasion wine, but worth a splurge for the cellar if you can swing it.

A lovely vintage of Pian del Ciampolo which I’ve enjoyed several times this year

A few tasting notes from various Montevertine vintages I have tried over the years:

Pian del Ciampolo 2018 (tasted 7/2021) – pure red cherry, strawberry, mint, balsam, and floral notes on the lovely nose which leads into a very fresh delicious palate. Elegant and airy, but with great fruit concentration and a lovely finish. Great stuff that is drinking really well now!

Montevertine Rosso 2004 – (tasted 1/2018) the nose is mature now with lovely red fruit, anise, leather, tobacco, hints of earth and iron. The palate is delicious; still has lovely fruit, earth, spice, and hints of game with integrated tannins and still a nice fresh mid palate. Probably not getting better, but should be really enjoyable for at least another 5-10 years.

Montevertine Rosso 2008 – (tasted 3/2018) this actually seemed denser and more compact than when I last tried it in 2013! The nose is just pure sangiovese; lots of red berry fruits, fennel, tobacco, mint, floral notes, leather, forest floor, and a minerality that actually reminds me of Chambolle-Musigny; the palate has more robust tannins than I recall and incredibly vibrant acidity; this absolutely needs food as otherwise I could see it coming across as a bit harsh, but with a nice bolognese this was fabulous. I think this should drink well for another 5 years easily based on this bottle and potentially longer

Montevertine Rosso 2009 – (tasted 8/2017) Classic Sangiovese nose with cherry, anise, forest floor, hints of tobacco, and lots of floral scents. The palate is beautifully elegant, fresh, and delicious with lovely red berry fruit, spices, and floral scents, very good concentration, but great freshness for a warmer vintage.

Montevertine Rosso 2012 – (tasted 8/2020) The nose is beautiful with cherry, raspberry, anise, mint, floral notes, and fresh loam. The palate is fresh and vibrant, but has good concentration, especially for the vintage. Still some tannins that lurk, but they disappear quickly with food and leave a lovely finish.

Montevertine Rosso 2013 – (tasted 12/2018) this is very tight and needs time; took an hour in the decanter before the nose showed much of anything; there is some fresh red fruit, mint, and damp earth. The palate is super closed and tight, though has more density than almost any other straight Rosso I recall and seems to have plenty of potential. This should be a beauty in time, but needs plenty of it. Try again 2023-2025

Le Pergole Torte 2006 – (tasted 5/2015) This needs more time, but has outstanding potential. Initial pour shows really dark fruit in color compared to the normal Rosso with sweet cassis, black raspberry, and some floral hints. With air and a bit of warming it becomes more classic Sangiovese with rose petal, tar, damp earth, and black cherry. The fruit remains a little darker than the regular Montevertine and there is definitely more depth and development potential. The tannins are there, but are enveloped by the ripeness of the fruit. I think this wine is fantastic, but currently needs at least 4-5 more years and will probably be peaking in around 10.

Le Pergole Torte 2009 – (tasted 7/2018) still a bit young but developing nicely. The nose is beautiful with lovely ripe cherry and raspberry, anise, fennel, a hint of dried lilac, and just a whiff of damp earth. The palate is rich, showing the warmth of the year, with very nice depth and concentration. It lacks maybe a tiny bit of energy for me, but it really is quite delicious. Definitely on the upswing still and I suspect peaking in 5 years; doesn’t have the stuffing of the 2006 I don’t think based on this showing

As you can see from the notes the wines are consistent, show the vintages well, age well, and are generally across the board excellent! The only sangiovese’s I’ve tasted that can come close to competing for the purity and balance that I love so much are Soldera’s Casse Basse and Pian dell Orino’s Brunello. Both of those wines are quite a bit more expensive than Montevertine. So if you enjoy sangiovese or want to give it a try to expand your horizons, I can’t recommend Montevertine highly enough. It is a staple in my cellar and will always be my first Italian epiphany wine. Until next time

J. Newman, CSW

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