Florence, owing to its peerless artistic heritage of glorious renaissance treasures, is a good place to get suckered on industrial wine. Almost no one cares, however, because almost everyone is a broke study-abroad student content to drink Santa Cristina from plastic cups on apartment stoops. I'm describing myself, actually, age nineteen. I spent a month there, ostensibly studying Italian, in fact just desperately attempting to hook up with fellow students and certain of our tutors. I recommend anyone visiting Florence at age nineteen do the same.
The rest of us - including me and my reunited high school cohorts, now approaching our thirties, in town for a destination wedding - needed something decent to drink last spring.*
While I had predictably maintained no connections from my previous stay in Florence, I had in the intervening years become friendly with the native owner of a fashion boutique in the city. He didn't claim to be a wine expert, but the two recommendations he gave me both proved unimpeachable. The first was a wine shop on the refreshingly non-touristy Via Gioberti, east of the city center, called Enoteca Bonatti, where upon glancing at the shelves I instantly realised I'd need another suitcase for the trip back to Paris. Among the pearls on offer were a masterful Montalcino Rosso by Francesco Mulinari, and Abruzzese biodynamic legend Azienda Agricola Emidio Pepe's rare Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo rosé, which latter wine, I later confirmed with the winemaker's niece, is still not sold outside of Italy.
The shop was founded in 1934 by Pasquale Bonatti. The shop is presently run by Bonatti's grandsons, Stefano and Roberto Righi, with the aid of two longtime collaborators, Selvaggio Denti and Luca Tarchi. I showed up shortly before the shop closed for the afternoon, and, upon seeing the gleeful geek interest I was taking in the selection, Stefano kindly let me linger.
I was surprised to see very few names I recognised about the selections of Brunelli and Rossi di Montalcino. Some part of me had been vainly wishing to see bargain Soldera, I guess. But after I explained I was looking for something very traditional, with molto acidity, Stefano suggested a 2009 Rosso di Montalcino called "L'Aiette," by a young Montalcino winemaker called Francesco Mulinari. Mulinari, unlike the majority of winemakers around Montalcino, had no familial vines, and created his miniscule 3ha domaine himself in 2001. Production is limited to about 4000 bottles total, divided between Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, and Sangiovese Rosato.
I also read now via MontalcinoNews that Mulinari has apparently just finished producing an experimental cuvée of metodo classico (Champagne method) Sangiovese vinified in bianco, which, to be honest, sounds completely insane and sort of belies what Stefano Righi had told me about Mulinari's traditionalist bent. Given that Tuscany has, in my experience, never produced a single good white wine, I don't expect this particular foray into the unknown will yield any real alchemy. It reminds me of quasi-natural Bordeaux vigneron Dominique Leandre Chevalier's stunt-bottling of very bland Cabernet Sauvignon en blanc, which I'm told was made with the help of Champagne clarifying agents. The latter bottle wins the award for outright pointlessness, since Bordeaux, unlike Tuscany, regularly produces some lovely white wines.
But I digress. I shared the astonishingly inexpensive bottle of Mulinari Rosso di Montalcino with the Native Companion back in Paris while watching Hollande debate Sarkozy.
The Rosso di Montalcino won. It's traditionalist platform of sharp black cherry, tobacco, and winter spices was marvelously well-expressed. It's persistence on the palate polled well with all correspondents. It's a masterful wine, and I still look forward to trying anything else from winemaker, even sparkling Sangiovese, should the wines ever reach France.
As for the Emidio Pepe Cerasuolo: I saved that too for dégustation among fellow afficionados back in Paris.
It was heartbreakingly great. My general impression of other Montepulciano rosati I've tasted is that they're nice, but a little bassy and hard-hitting, like picnicking beside a Lowrider.
Emidio Pepe's Cerasuolo bears no comparison. It's holographically precise, with a lightly musky rose and cherry nose, and a majestic wholeness of raspberry / blueberry fruit on the back palate. A closer breath reveals a light whiff of the grape's characteristic rubberiness, and a delicate note of spring onion. It so far transcends the tropes of the genre, it borders on another one entirely.
|Chiara Pepe and Sofia Pepe, whom I met later that year at a tasting at A La Marguerite in Paris.|
I left Stefano Righi my card and told him to look me up the next time he passed through Paris on his way to domaine visits in Champagne, which has of course not happened. But one of the many ways in which good wine shops are more reliable than gap-year friends is the former tend to remain indefinitely, like monuments, in the city where you first encountered them.
* It's been about a year since I traveled to Florence for the destination wedding of a friend from high school. If I nonetheless feel okay posting a few notes on the trip's culinary-oenological content now, long after the fact, it's because I suspect that Florence, being a smallish city in central Italy overwhelmingly reliant on the tourist industry, is probably not a hotbed of new activity on this front. I had zero good addresses in mind before arrival. The ones I found or had pointed out to me are probably still there. And it's presently a miserable soaking cold springtime in Parigi, which means the majority of the city's population is either daydreaming of an upcoming vacation or making plans for one as I type.
Via Gioberti 66
Tel: +39 055 660050
A piece on the Mulinari Rossi di Montalcino at VitisBlog.
2013 news of Mulinari working on a sparkling white Sangiovese (?!) at MontalcinoNews.