Almost a month ago now I introduced you to Montebernardi, the lovely estate in Panzano in Chianti; today we continue with the third installment of our focus.  As I wrote previously,  since 2004 winemaker Michael Schmelzer has been farming his property biodynamically and organically and sparing no effort to ensure that grapes of only the purest possible provenance end up in his finished wines. 

In discussing his estate and wines with Michael,  I discovered this interesting factual tidbit:  Montebernardi employs the use of German and Austrian oak in aging their Riserva wines.  This may or may not be unique in Tuscany, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it.  This intrigued me so much that for this article I caught up with Michael for a quick interview and asked him why. 

~ Montebernardi ~

“For our Riservas, Monte Bernardi Riserva and Sa’etta Riserva, I use large oak casks (bottle grandi) with oak sourced from the Pfalz, Germany and Yybs, Austria.

Being in the central part of Chianti Classico, with higher altitudes, steeper slopes, rocky soils and big drops in temperature at night, I’ve always held the belief that we can produce some of the most elegant and perfumed Sangiovese of the whole Chianti Classico region (20,000 overall acres-highly diverse in all these respects).

Therefore I prefer oak originating from German and Austrian forests because they produce less aromatic wood aromas on the nose, but still have fine quality tannins, like French oak, in the mouth.

My preference, though is neutral barrels with some age, because I think oak should be at most a small hint in the background of our wines, like the right amount of spice (eg. cinnamon or clove in a beef stew), so faint you are not sure if it was even added.

We spend the whole year growing perfect grapes, I want them to be the main attraction!”
~ Wearer of many hats – Tractor driver extraordinarie: Winemaker Michael Schmelzer ~
I can’t argue with that philosophy one bit, and I remarked that I was aware of some European and American wineries that were experimenting with Hungarian oak and American oak and that I’m wary of American oak because many times it seems green and imparts vegetal aromas to wines. Then I asked him if the German and Austrian oak barrels were less expensive than their more notable French counterparts.

His reply was interesting.

“I’ve seen a lot of green tannins from different barrel makers and different sources of forests. The green tannins are not because the oak is American, but because the oak wasn’t seasoned in open air long enough for the thickness of the wood chosen to age.

My barrels do cost more, but not because they are made of German or Austrian oak, in fact it probably costs less than French oak, because it’s less prestigious. My barrels cost more because I buy from a tenth generation barrel maker, Franz Stockinger, who only makes barrels if he has the properly aged wood for the size of barrel requested. 
A 3000 liter botti grandi, like mine, needs at least 5 years of open air seasoning. By comparison, a barrique (225L) needs only 3 years. Some less than honest barrels producers use heat or vapor to try to mimic proper aging, but that’s like trying to achieve dry aged beef with a dehydrator!”
~ Cover crops between vine rows are critical for natural fertilization of the soil.  Beans and other legumes release nitrogen when churned over into the soil ~
Getting insight like this directly from winemakers is priceless and frankly, it’s one of the reasons that sets Tuscan Vines apart.  We drill miles deep on topic matter and today, we’re exposing a tasty little Chianti Classico from Panzano: Retromarcia.

The 2013 Montebernardi Retromarcia sports an interesting label. It reminds me of a sign on a 1950’s diner in Walt Disney World.  In fact, as Michael explains, the Italian word “Retromarcia” means to backup or reverse, and the name is to emphasize a return to the natural elegance of Sangiovese.  

In the glass, Retromarcia is a medium ruby with light violet accents.  Classic aromas of berries, flowers and earth notes are very pleasing.  Retromarcia is meant to be accessible early and this version fits that mold.  Fermented in a combination of cement and stainless steel, the wine is aged in 2nd and 3rd passage barrique and tonneaux for 18 months prior to release. 

On the palate, the wine is fresh, with light to medium body and a pretty core of berry fruit backed by hints of anise, orange peel and spice notes.  Not a lot of depth or complexity here, but this is fresh, honest chianti classico that delivers exactly what it advertises.  Better with food than without.  87 points, about $20.   Disclosure: This bottle was a producer provided sample.

~ Retromarcia is 100% Sangiovese and produced from vines that are about 10 years old ~

Buon settimana!

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