When you come across places where the history delves back thousands of years, there is something incredible about the senses of place you feel there that you cannot always put your finger on. I recently was reminded of this when I was in London and went to evening prayer in Westminster Abbey, a building that has stood for over 1,000 years. Whatever your faith, it is a place of tranquility and peace, where you can sit in quiet contemplation of something that is bigger than you.
I often think that great wine has the same effect, as the vines translate the millions of years of geological history of our planet into something that we connect with in the moment. When a winemaker and viticulturist help the vines tell the story of the unique place where they grow, using limited interventions, they create wines that give us that connected sense of joy. Our first wine this week epitomizes this.
Montenidoli Il Templare Toscana 2018 ($36) Montenedoli is a stunning estate deep in the hills of Tuscany. In 1965 when Elizabetta and Sergio found it, it was an overgrown and wild place that time had forgotten. Ancient olive trees and vines adorned the landscape amid hundreds of acres of woodland full of wild boar and the odd truffle. From the start they made a promise never to use chemicals in any form and to slowly bring this estate, which was first farmed by the Estruscans 8,000 years ago and then became the home of a templar monastery, back to life. Elizabetta had a French uncle from Burgundy who often came to visit bringing great white Burgundy wines. This had a profound influence on her. Looking at the incredible Triassic rocks and soil packed full of shells, they saw the potential to elevate the local Vernaccia grape to a world-class level with careful cropping and use of barrel aging. Thus was born Il Templare. Only 3,000 bottles a year are made of this blend of Vernaccia, Malvasia and Trebbiano, which is just spectacular in its depth and complexity. It picks up the wonderful clean characteristics of all those ancient shells, but it is imbued with a warmth that reminds me of the Tuscan hillsides bathing in the sun. With honey and lemon aspects, this wine at 6 years old is really beginning to deliver all its beauty. This is a wine I’d love to drink with a roast chicken or Cornish hen, packed with fresh herbs and some slices of lemon. It would also be perfect alongside a goat cheese salad with fresh honey drizzled on top. Staying in Italy, we move north, not far from Venice, where Davide Spillare farms 10 hectares of land atop an ancient volcano.
Davide Spillare Rosso Giaroni Rosso IGT Veneto 2018 ($39) While his land has been mainly given over to white grapes, Davide has a small plot of Merlot whose roots have buried themselves in the iron-rich volcanic rock. What is unique about basalt soils is the way the rock fractures to give air to the roots of the vines, which creates the potential for intense microbiological activity. Through our Pinot project up in Oregon, we’ve found that this is basalt's secret of how it passes the essence of the rock to the roots of the wines and eventually its expression in the wines.
While I sometime find Merlot a little monotone on its own, this wine is something entirely different. It has wonderful structure and displays the nature of the basalt with its earthy iron backbone upon which blue fruit and chocolate drape abundantly. Duck was the first thing that came to mind, seared and topped with a little huckleberry sauce. I’m also inspired to make some braised or BBQed ribs.
SIMON'S COOKING TIP
Get a great quality BBQ sauce, some tinned cherries, and a shot of espresso, blend it together and then slather over your well-seasoned ribs. Roast in the oven at 300F for 3-4 hours or BBQ. Either way, it will be delicious.
I am currently at Rose and Arrow Estate in Oregon – home of our ALIT wines – tasting the 2022 vintage as it is fermenting. Very exciting. I will try to get a little more of the 2017 ALIT down for Wine Friends so do put your orders in now to reserve it.