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The Italian wine scene has never been more exciting than it is now, with producers exploring new terriors in places like Mount Etna and Friuli, and utilizing many long neglected cultivars (ever hear of Ciliegiolo?). In the rush to explore this incredible variety of new wines, excellent producers in more traditional areas like Silvio Messana of Montesecondo in Chanti often get short shrift. In a region known for producing mostly staid wines, Silvio has always produced wines of character without pretension, in traditional as well as innovative styles.
He took the helm of the estate in 2000 and quickly moved away from conventional farming in favor of organic and biodynamic practices. Silvio had realized that not only was his health suffering from the chemicals but that the land wouldn't express itself without a more natural approach. His goal has always been to allow the terroir to show itself in the glass. The farm contains two separate vineyards in the Chianti Classico zone, each lending different qualities to the resulting blend. The first, a lower elevation plot on a heavier soil of clay and marl, produces richer wines while the second, much higher at 500 meters on a soil composed primarily of limestone, lends acidity and freshness. All fermentations in the winery occur with native yeasts, sulfur is only used at bottling, and new oak is shunned in favor of more neutral vessels.
The approach hasn't been without conflict. In 2003, when he first produced a young-vine cuvée, the DOCG commission refused to certify the wine as Chanti Classico; intially they claimed it had too little color, then that it had too much. This was of course in an era when French varieties and small, new oak barrels were increasingly being used in Chianti to create richer and more standardized wines. Silvio took this as a sign that the commission simply would not certify the cuvée as he had made it: a lighter wine made entirely from Sangiovese without the flavor of oak. As a result he now only seeks to label his most traditional wine as Chianti; the rest are simply labeled as IGT wines even though all of his vines are in the Chianti Classico zone. Silvio also produces two cuvées in clay amphore, including a skin-contact Trebbiano that is quickly becoming one of my favorite orange wines.
No matter how they are labeled the wines are wonderful, elegant expressions of Tuscan terroir, classic or not. Please join us in welcoming Silvio Messana of Montesecondo to the store to taste his delicious wines this Friday the 16th from 5 to 7 PM. Andy Paynter
The ‘Tin’ cuvées are the most innovative wines being made at Montesecondo. The name is an homage to Silvio’s North African heritage (“Tin” means clay in Arabic); the ‘Tin’ wines are fermented and aged in clay amphora. The white 'Tin' is produced from a parcel that is primarily Trebbiano Toscano interplanted with a bit of Malvasia. The grapes are destemmed and placed in 250 to 350-liter unlined amphora to ferment for six months, and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine is a rich, hazy gold in the glass and shows aromas of ripe stone fruit, orange zest, honeycomb, and wildflowers, with a spicy cut of cinnamon and cloves. The palate is more lifted than many orange wines made with extended skin contact, perhaps due to the relatively tame personality of Trebbiano Toscano. The texture is soft rather than rugged with crisp acidity and delicate tannins showing flavors of tart white peach and fresh citrus fruit. Fascinating on its own I think that it would be an easy match for all kinds of food: try it with rich pasta dishes, olives and cheese, white fish, with grilled chicken or artichokes. Andy Paynter
Silvio’s IGT Sangiovese Toscano is meant to be a lighter style of Chianti (that immediately ran afoul of the DOCG committee). Originally bottled in 2003, the wine was denied DOCG status for lack of color and the was subsequently failed for having too much color, a sure sign to Silvio that it was never going to be approved for DOCG status no matter what he did. The wine is essentially a tank wine made from younger vines that are picked earlier in the season than the other red cuvées, fermented on native yeasts in cement tank and aged only in concrete. Certainly not a simple wine, it is definitely a fresher style than Silvio's Chianti Classico. Bright red cherry fruit comes out on the nose over pithy orange, red raspberries, and fresh apricot, with green herbal tones of sagebrush. The palate is medium-full with plenty of acidity and soft tannins, showing more round and juicy than light and playful. A serious wine that is nevertheless easy going. Try it with red sauce pasta, soft cheese, wilted greens, finger food or anything involving guanciale. Andy Paynter
The Chianti Classico is the only wine that Silvio seeks DOCG status for despite all of his vineyards being within the Chianti Classico zone. The wine is a field blend composed mostly of Sangiovese with around 10% Colorino and Canaiolo sourced from older vines in both vineyards the estate owns. The grapes are crushed and fermented in a mix of unlined concrete tanks and very old tonneaux and then held in a mix of old tonneaux and barrique for around a year. The nose shows rich layers of dark cherry and blackberry fruit with orange zest, damp soil, woody herbs and a bright red floral tone. The palate is quite full with ripe, restrained tannins braced by crisp acidity. The flavors follow the nose with a more earthy tone and notes of anise on the finish. It is a lovely Chianti; I can see why Silvio feels confident that the DOCG committee couldn’t help but certify the wine. Try it with rich foods like pasta bolognese, seared steak, roasted lamb, or with dishes like eggplant parmesan. Andy Paynter
The ‘Tin’ cuvées are the most innovative wines being made at Montesecondo. The name is an homage to Silvio’s North African heritage (“Tin” means clay in Arabic), the ‘Tin’ wines are fermented and aged in clay amphora. The Sangiovese ‘Tin’ is produced from the best grapes sourced from both of Silvio’s vineyard sites, which are destemmed and fermented in unlined 250 to 350-liter amphora for six to eight months. Amphora-fermented Sangiovese seems to have become quite the trend in Tuscany though Silvio’s cuvée predated many other examples with the first release coming from the 2013 vintage. Andy Paynter