It was an absolutely perfect day. We had left Montalcino after a light breakfast at the Borgo Banfi and had made the leisurely drive up to Chianti. After a relaxing lunch in Castellina , we were ready to do some tasting at Fontodi. Armed with my GPS, I was certain we’d find this winery without incident. After all, the landscape was dotted with those brown signs that direct you to almost every winery you could imagine. And surely Fontodi would be easy to find. Or so I thought.
I fired up the GPS and typed in F-O-N and before I could get further it said: “Fontodi Panzano in Chianti” Yes! We’re golden……
So we followed the lovely British voice inside my GPS and as we got closer, we were clearly in the correct general area. “Turn right”, came the command. I wilted a bit in the driver’s seat but I relented and followed her instruction. Up we went. Up a narrow, beaten white dirt path leaving a cloud of dust in my wake. What was a narrow two car thoroughfare quickly turned into a one car alley. Not having a clue where we were heading, I turned to my wife and uttered a familiar phrase: “this can’t be right” and just as I finished speaking, the Brit announced “You have reached your destination.” And indeed we had. You see, Flaccianello has come to be known by that single word, but the actual name of the wine, as Giovanni Manetti would later explain to us, is “Flaccianello della Pieve” or Flaccianello of the Church. And we were right in front of the church. The same church the provides the cross pictured on the wine’s label. Oy….
So, with the precision and skill of a Formula 1 driver, I maneuvered our petite Audi A3 through a cow pasture and then prayed to the very church we were leaving that no other cars would be coming up the alley. Down the hill we went all the while cursing the GPS. I couldn’t help but think, had I wanted to find this church, there’s no chance in hell the Brit would have accommodated me. Wench!
At the bottom of the hill I made a right turn following the signs for Panzano and hoping to see a brown sign for Fontodi. After driving a few minutes longer I came to the conclusion that we should turn around. Again. So I pulled over and sheepishly asked the Brit for guidance. This time I typed in the entire phrase: “F-O-N-T-O-D-I W-I-N-E-R-Y” Oh, she tried to interrupt me a few times, but I was having none of it. There would be no confusion this time. After missing an appointment at Mate earlier in the week, I was finding Fontodi. As I suspected, she turned me around and announced that were only 1/3 of a mile away. I turned to my wife and said: “If she takes me back to that Church, I’m throwing her out the window!”
Back we went. And as we neared the turn for the Church alley, I braced myself. But this time my fears proved unfounded. Just beyond the turn off for the Church was a long dirt driveway with a faded, worn wooden sign that said “Azienda Fontodi”. Proudly I turned off the Brit and muttered confidently, “I can take it from here”….
After admiring some of the views from the hill outside the winery, we made our way through the courtyard and met our host Reena who would lead our tour and tasting. Pleasant and seemingly eager for company, she quickly left her desk in the office and led us to the tasting room.
Fontodi is both fully organic and biodynamic. Since 1968, the Manetti family has run this exceptional property which extends for over 130 hectares, 80 of which are devoted to vineyards. And Giovanni Manetti is devoted to Sangiovese. Almost 95% of those vineyards are planted to the quintessential Tuscan grape. Giovanni leaves nothing to chance in producing his wines. He told me believes that “the land is a gift, from God and nature and that he has a moral obligation, a duty, to cherish and honor what the land provides.” But Manetti’s observance of nature even goes beyond our earthly limits. Fontodi also pays particular attention to the phases of the Moon; especially when it comes to bottling. Reena told us that the moon’s elliptical orbit affects the earth’s gravity and thus affects liquid. Therefore, the descending moon is considered best for removing sediment and bottling. Guided by that principle, the winery bottles once per month. We were lucky enough to be visiting on a bottling day. You can see a video of the Chianti Classico being bottled here: Fontodi Bottling.
It was time to taste. Reena had glasses all set and returned with 4 bottles. The light inside the tasting room was very dim, so I decided against taking pictures. First up was the 2014 Chianti Classico. Comprised of 100% Sangiovese and barrel aged in French barrique for 18 months, this is typically a very dark wine – but not in this vintage. 2014 was a gray, rainy awful year. Giovanni explained that they made the risky decision to delay the harvest in hopes that the rains would subside and summer would return. They received a reprieve in late September and although production was greatly reduced, Fontodi made a good Chianti Classico. This is a moderate ruby color with aromas of red fruits that are surprisingly fresh and simple. Medium bodied, with straightforward flavors, this is one of the best 2014 Chianti Classico I have tasted, but it’s still not up to its normal level. 85 points. Find this wine: Wine Searcher
Next we tasted the 2013 Case Via Syrah. This is a deep dark purple in color and very reminiscent of a restrained Northern Rhone. Black plums, white and black pepper and herbs on the nose follow through on the palate and add an earthy meaty note. This is very well made, but in a more austere style that isn’t typically what I enjoy. But if you love Northern Rhone wines, this one has a Tuscan accent. 90 points. Find this wine: Wine Searcher
We then tasted two vintages of Flaccianello della Pieve; the 2009 and the 2012. I bought both of these vintages direct from the winery that day and have since reviewed the 2009. Here is that note: On the advice of Giovanni Manetti we chose not to decant the wine, but rather open it about 30 minutes before dinner and allow it to unfold as the meal progressed. The wine is a deep ruby that trends close to garnet at the center of the bowl. Immediately you are struck by the aromas of the wine. They are so pronounced, complex and discernible that I sat there playing with the wine for several minutes until my wife said “You haven’t tasted it yet?” Color me guilty. Crushed cherry, fresh flowers, terra cotta, cypress, sweet tobacco and dried fennel permeate the air around the top of the bowl. It’s magnificent. On the palate, there is no let up. The flavors follow the nose and add dusty, minerally white road, and just a hint of mushroom. Concentrated, ripe and elegant, the wine sits on your palate for minutes after you swallow caressing your mouth with finely woven tannins and mouth watering acidity. Can you still cellar this wine? Absolutely. But it doesn’t need it. Quite simply, a masterpiece and everything I expect. 96 points.
The 2012 was just as impressive. Sporting a lot of the character that many of the 2012 Brunello possess, this is high toned, with loads of crushed wild berry aromas framed by flowers, chestnut oak, and cypress undertones. On the palate, the wine is juicy and bright, with lots of sapid tannins that absolutely make your mouth water. I had barely swallowed when I told Reena, “we’ll buy both vintages.” While the 2009 may show more complexity, the 2012 is more elegant and will likely age better. 97 points. Find Flaccianello with no GPS: Wine Searcher
Our tasting and purchases complete, Reena led us on a tour of the wine cellar and the aforementioned bottling of the 2014 Chianti Classico. The Manetti’s own another business in Tuscany and one that is seeing a resurgence in a certain manner. Terra Cotta. There’s a good chance if you’ve purchased a terra cotta bowl or urn, or walked on a terra cotta tiled floor, that it was made by the Manetti’s. Now, with the recent experiments of amphora aged wines, terra cotta is again in the spotlight.
After the tour we bid farewell to Giovanni and Reena and the two lazy cats that were sunning themselves in the courtyard. We were off to do some shopping, some sipping, some eating and some wandering. In other words, some Tuscany! And since wandering is by definition not precise, I turned down the driveway and turned off the Brit.
Stay tuned for more!