A good friend of mine Inge Hoste kindly hooked me up with this fine estate. Castello Monterinaldi is based in the hills of the Chianti region situated forty-five minutes south of Florence. I had such a struggle this morning getting my rental car sorted out. It was like one of those parodies in a ‘Faulty Towers’ episode. I arrived at the Europcar office, camera and apple-tablet in hand eager to get on the road for my first meeting of this tasting season. As I reached the desk I was to be told by my not so humble servant, your chariot does not await you m’lud. “What do you mean I need a Voucher?” I said to the five-o-clock shadowed extra from scarface. I was careful though, as I know my canny little European friend was waiting for an excuse to not do business with this seemingly arrogant American, whom he thought was American because of my California drivers license. I got on the phone with American Express and had them sort out the mess. It's never smooth in France or Italy when you have to book a car. The help is designed not to help, but to turn business away. Finally the car was ready and I took off. I got lost almost immediately heading out of Florence without GPS. It was a nightmare, I had the sweats. I was worried I was going to be super late for my appointment. I hate that. When my sister and I were kids at national school in Donegal, we were once displayed by our teacher at the top of the classroom, “Karl and Cathie Curran, you are late for school every morning by five to seven minutes, thats roughly thirty minutes every week, times the number of school weeks in the year…” what made matters worse was that I was not pulling my weight and Cathie was top of the class. I pulled over to the side of the road, took off my jacket and calmed down.
I exited the highway taking the winding chianti road through ‘Greve in Chianti’ towards the hamlet of Lucarelli. Radda in Chianti is the next village over, where my hosts were waiting. What a welcome even though I was an hour late. It helps that I can break the ice as I have taken an intensive Italian Language course over the last year. “Buongiorno, piaccere, sono Karl”. I could tell they were impressed that I had made the effort to speak Italian, things are just that little bit easier. Fabrizio Benedetti introduced me to Danielle Ciampi the owner of the property. His father was an insurance business man and I gather of some wealth as he bought the estate in 1964, a summer retreat where he and his family could retire for the holidays to enjoy the warm tuscan sun. The seller did not want to sell the estate without the vines. So the estate was bought and winemaking and olive oil became the family business. It must be said that the welcome was one fit for a king, Both Fabrizio and Daniele were true gents.
Fabrizio took me on small tour of the estate, showing me the vines and the winery. Old concrete vats that you see in the more traditional cellars are a wonderful sight. The place reeked of traditional winemaking. They have mostly Sangiovese which is the staple fruit of Chianti. There are other grapes such as Canaiola, Colorino, Petit verdot, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which can go into the blend, and are all cultivated on the property, however if I am not mistaken some seventy percent of any Chianti DOC has to be Sangiovese. The estate has roughly sixty-two hectares and seventeen different parcels of land from which they harvest the fruit. There are several different clones of Sangiovese involved, all adding to the complexity of the wine. I am looking for something different. I am a beginner, however I can identify the hallmarks of the varietal and what I believe it should deliver. Italian wines such as Barolo, Brunello and Chianti whilst warm in alcohol all possess a definite elegance and sleekness in the mouth. This delicate elegance is what I am after. It makes for great conversation at the dinner table. I like wines that are elegant such as Guisseppe Rinaldi of Barolo, Chateau Pavie Maquin from St Emillion, La Chapelle from Tain l’Hermitage. The shape they take in your mouth is one of a kind. We tasted the wines from 2008 to the current year 2011. It was great in a word. I preferred the ’10’s to the 11’s and the ’08 reserve was my favorite. There is a wonderful red fruit aroma omnipresent in Chianti that forms the base of the wines underlying the initial musty waft, a spicy-inky type aroma hails from Monterinaldi’s wines with a cacao-dark chocolate note towards the end. A very refined cedar-tree type aroma on second thoughts persists now that I think of it… We talked business, pricing and marketing. We discussed the brand and how it would suit my portfolio. This is the part that gets my juices flowing, the business end. I felt I had a deeper understanding of the buying process as I have the experience of having imported from France under my belt. I also understood the nuances of the product, my palate has developed, I am confident in my ability to assess good from bad. I felt good. I am only looking for a small batch of cases though, I prefer low risk until I really understand where my market and potential to sell lie. I was honest and upfront, explaining my model. I was complimented on my website. That bolstered my confidence, and gives a feeling of stability. We sat down jokingly at the dinner table. “Mangiamo oggi a La Toscana Karl” Today we eat like Tuscans, to clarify: a starter, a pasta with ragu, a main course which was a chicken escallop marinated in a vinsanto wine sauce, followed by a fruit of the forest.
Cake, the ever-present espresso, and the grappa. I nearly fell asleep. I wished my father were alive so he could experience these traditions together, we could discuss afterwards knowing he would have pointed out things I would have missed that when told about would have intrigued me even more. On the road back through the winding hills I pulled over for a fifteen minute cat-nap. I gave myself that time to reflect on a great experience. Lets see where the experience takes me…