At Vino Italiano with Giulia Cecche
Another memorable evening at Vino Italiano in Waltham, MA sampling the wines of Castello di Monsanto, one of the most historically significant wineries, located in Chianti Classico. Giulia Cecchi, the daughter of Laura Bianchi, owner of Castello di Monsanto, led us through a wonderful journey of wine, history, and culture while curating their amazing wines.
Aldo Bianchi, Giulia’s grandfather, and a native of San Gimignano, left Tuscany before the Second World War to seek his fortune in the North of Italy in Milan. In 1960, he returned to Tuscany for a wedding and was enchanted by the view from the terrace of Castello di Monsanto: the sweeping panorama of the Val d’Elsa with the imposing, backdrop of the Towers of San Gimignano. Aldo fell in love and within a few months of his visit, he purchased the property. But Aldo’s enchantment was nothing compared to his son Fabrizio’s passion for the wines he found in the cellar. Fabrizio’s enduring love of wine, handed down to him by his grandmother, a “Piedmontese,” together with an undying entrepreneurial spirit, provided the energy required to restore Castello di Monsanto’s rightful place in Tuscany. Together with the untiring help of his wife Giuliana, Fabrizio started to plant new vineyards and restore the various farmhouses on the property. As Giulia related this story, one could picture the true love and passion that emanates from the vineyards of Castello di Monsanto.
Castello di Monsanto consists of four vineyards: il Poggio, Scanni, il Mulino, and il Salcio. There are a total of 72 hectares (178 acres) dispersed over altitudes ranging between 280 and 320 meters (919-1050 ft) above sea level. Of these 72 hectares (178 acres), 56 (138 acres) are planted with Sangiovese. Castello di Monsanto has made the Sangiovese a point of strength and underscores the grape’s tremendous potential. This belief has resulted in the production of Castello di Monsanto’s two great wines: the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (formerly Riserva) from the “Il Poggio” vineyard and the Sangioveto Grosso from the Scanni vineyard.
From their website: “The soil is certainly the factor that best defines the identity of each of Castello di Monsanto’s wines. The presence of galestro, a schistous rock, gives the wines bold characteristics and considerable depth. At the surface it is gravelly, allowing the roots to penetrate through the layers, gaining tannins and vibrant acidity. In its solid form it is known as Macigno Chiantigiano and retains moisture at profound depths, allowing plants to survive prolonged dry spells. On the southern slope of the estate, the presence of galestro alternates with a high concentration of tuff, a looser soil type with better drainage. Over time, fossils from the Cretaceous period have been found in this soil, illustrating the area’s dynamic geology.”
In the DOCG wines, Sangiovese, from the mother vineyard Il Poggio, is combined with small percentages of other traditional red grape varieties, Canaiolo and Colorino to create the cuvée. In 1974, the Valdigallo vineyard, known today as Il Salcio, and Il Mulino, two non-native varietals are planted: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The planting densities follow tradition with around 5000/5500 plants per hectare (2000-2200 plants per acre), with the guyot system and the spurred cordon system is used throughout the vineyards.
Fabrizio was a trendsetter and believed passionately in the power of Sangiovese. As a result, in 1968, he decided to eliminate the traditional white grapes from the Poggio blend (Trebbiano and Malvasia). Interestingly, changes in the DOCG requirements in 2006 finally codified this approach. Other innovations during this time period involved the replacement of traditional wood primary fermentation vats with stainless steel, temperature-controlled containers. Fabrizio also substituted Slavonian oak barrels for traditional chestnut barrels in an effort to impart sweeter, less-aggressive tannins to the wine.
Experimentation and innovation has continued apace throughout the 80’s and 90’s, as well as redevelopment of the various buildings on the property. In 1986 construction was begun on a 300 meter tunnel, developed for the storage of wooden barrels during aging, leveraging classic marl stone to imbue the space with classic Etruscan architecture. It took six years to complete and represents the spirit and strength of the Bianchi family and their commitment to Castello di Monsanto.
Giulia’s mother, Laura came into the business in 1989 and has gradually learned the about the many marvels and difficulties of transforming grapes into wine. In 2001, Laura and Fabrizio began a collaboration with Andrea Giovannini, noted Italian enologist to focus on producing some of the highest-quality wines in Chianti.
The evening began with guests greeted with a glass of the Fabrizio Bianchi Chardonnay, a Burgundian-style wine that demonstrates the commitment to quality, authenticity, and innovation. The wine is produced from Chardonnay grown on a tiny (6 hectare) vineyard composed almost entirely of galestro soil. The wine is aged in 30% oak barrels with no malolactic fermentation, preserving the purity of the fruit and the terrior. The wine was ultimately paired with a selection of Italian Antipasti, Thin-Crust Pizza and Arancini.
2021 Castello di Monsanto Fabrizio Bianchi Chardonnay Toscana Bianco IGT (100 Chardonnay)
Lemony, citrus nose, with green apples hints. Fresh and lively. Medium-bodied with firm acidity and great structure. Citrus palate with crisp, tart flavors. Strong minerality with hints of grapefruit and lime zest. Long finish – clean and refreshing.
The first course was Black Truffle Insalata (Frisee Greens, Crispy Poached Egg, Pancetta Dressing, Shaved Black Truffles). Accompanying the salad was 2019 Chianti Classico Riserva and surprisingly, the pairing worked very well. The acidity of the dressing softened the acidity of the wine and the earthiness of the pancetta and truffle melded beautifully with the wine’s earthy character.
2019 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino)
Garnet color. Earthy nose with dried cherry, book leather and dried herbal hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Well-balanced with firm tannins. Tight. More dried cherries on the palate with anise and dried rosemary. Long finish – refined.
The next course was Risotto (Creamy Risotto with Mushrooms, Parmigiano), served with the Sangioveto Grosso, which is a tribute to the power of Sangiovese, grown since 1974 from the Scanni vineyard. The creaminess of the risotto tamed the moderately aggressive acidity of the Sangioveto beautifully.
2018 Castello di Monsanto Fabrizio Bianchi Sangioveto Grosso Toscana IGT (100% Sangiovese)
Ruby, garnet color. Minerality with graphite hints – herbaceous. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Well-balanced with firm tannins. Dark fruit core. Dried herbs, anise, black licorice, and crushed rose petals. Long finish – structured and tightly wound. Needs time to develop.
The next course was Scaloppa di Capriolo (Pan-Seared Venison Medallion, Potato Croquette, Tuscan Kale, Chianti Sugo) and was served with three vintages of the Chianti Classico from the Il Poggio vineyard. This was a particularly special event in that 30 years of Il Poggio wines were showcased side-by-side, demonstrating how magnificently these wines can age and develop. The earthy, gamey quality of the wines paired beautifully with the venison.
2017 Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico DOCG Gan Selezione (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino)
Ruby, garnet color. Dried cherry, lightly floral with strawberry hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Well-balanced with firm tannins. Dried cherry with strawberry and violets. Tarry. Long finish showing tremendous potential.
2009 Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico DOCG Gan Selezione (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino)
Brickish color. Dried cherry, and book leather. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Well-balanced with firm tannins. Dried cherry with strawberry and violets. Macerate fruit compote. Long finish – seductive. The wine of the flight!
1998 Castello di Monsanto Il Poggio Chianti Classico DOCG Gan Selezione (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino)
Faded ruby color. Dried cherry, leathery, dusty. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Well-balanced with firm tannins, surprisingly. Herbaceous with dried cherry, earthy with pencil shavings and anise. Long finish with minerality and surprising vibrancy. Menthol.
The next course was Beef Tenderloin (Beef Tenderloin, Potato Lasagna, Garlicky Broccoli Rabe, Truffle Crema) and was paired with the Nemo. The tenderloin was simply perfect, and paired wonderfully with the Cabernet-based wine.
2015 Castello di Monsanto Nemo Toscana IGT (100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Deep garnet, almost opaque. Black cherry with menthol hints. Full-bodied with moderate acidity. Well-balanced with aggressive, firm tannins. Massive. Dark fruit core with eucalyptus and black licorice. Long finish. Tight. Needs a lot of time to develop.
The evening was capped off with a Crostato di Pinole e Miele (Honey Pine Nut, Orange Crème Anglaise, Vanilla Ice Cream), served with the Chimera Vin Santo. In a word – Heavenly.
2007 Castello di Monsanto Chimera Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOC (50% Trebbiano, 50% Malvasia)
Butterscotch with burnt orange rind and Madeira hints. Medium-bodied and firm acidity. Well-balanced. Delicious. Toffee, buttery with madeirized notes. Long, complex finish. Simply sublime.
Yet another spectacular evening – a very big thank you to everyone at Vino Italiano and an even bigger thank you to Giulia Cecche, a true wine and cultural ambassador with an abundantly engaging personality! Tu Salut!