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Every so often a wine comes along that seems to sweep me away, where no matter how hard I try to focus on tasting and deciphering what's going on, after each sip I simply have to shake my head and say "wow!" Sips turn into glasses and pretty soon the wine becomes less of a cognitive exercise and more a conduit to enjoying the company I'm with, the food we're sharing and the place in which we've come together. Such is the true purpose of wine after all, and whenever I encounter these magical wines my first inclination is to share (despite the selfish urge to hoard it all to myself!). This was the case recently while enjoying a bottle of Monte Bernardi's MB1933 with some friends over a few brick-oven pizzas from Barboncino (a favorite in Crown Heights)—a perfect recipe for getting swept away!
The wines of Monte Bernardi are no strangers to our shelves, consistently offering some of the most direct and pure expressions of Sangiovese on the market. Owner and winemaker Michael Schmelzer is a champion of place, strongly advocating for the recognition of specific geographic sub-zones within Chianti Classico akin to the crus of Burgundy or Barolo. Located in Panzano, in the heart of Chianti Classico, he has been working biodynamically since 2004 and produces a range of wines, each highly indicative of the place from which they come—and each proudly carrying the mark of Panzano on the back label. Schmelzer makes decidedly old-school Chiantis, eschewing the use of new oak in favor of large, old barrels or concrete for aging and allowing the high-quality fruit from this historic district to speak for itself.
The MB1933 is a relatively new addition to the Monte Bernardi lineup and comes from a single hectare high-altitude (450-500m) vineyard in northern Panzano planted in 1933 and farmed by the same family for 50 years. Consisting of mostly galestro (clay schist) soils and densely planted Sangiovese vines co-mingling with a number of local varietals, it's a true field blend, a throwback to how wines were made in the region before industrialization took hold. While 2020 was a trying vintage for many due to the widespread pandemic, the resulting wines in Tuscany look promising thanks to hot, dry days tempered by cool nights that allowed the grapes to develop aromatic complexity. This rings true in the 2020 MB1933, as its bright and vibrant fruit characteristics are layered behind a complex bouquet of herbal and savory notes backed by singing acidity and great depth. It's an exciting Chianti Classico from 80+ year-old vines that's every bit as serious as it is fun! Jeff DiLorenzo
A deep translucent ruby in the glass, the nose is intensely aromatic with thyme, oregano and wild herbs along with a subtle lift of mint. Cherry and red plum fruit mingle with an earthy vegetal sweetness reminiscent of ripe tomato plants after a summer rain. More tart cherry and fresh tomato on the palate are followed by some peppery spice and lingering acidity. The tannins are rustic and firm but not out of place, softening a bit after a few hours open. This certainly has the structure to age several years or longer but it's so good now that it might be hard to wait! Jeff DiLorenzo