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Rocca di Montegrossi: Making Wine from Stone

San Marcellino vineyard Sangiovese makes for outstanding, mineral-driven Chianti Classico
Photo by: Bruce Sanderson
The stony soil of Rocca di Montegrossi's San Marcellino vineyard in Monti is the source of long-lived Chianti Classico.

Posted: Apr 30, 2013 4:00pm ET

Marco Ricasoli-Firidolfi grows Sangiovese from the majority of 49 acres of vineyards surrounding his Rocca di Montegrossi cellar located in Monti, part of the Chianti Classico commune of Gaiole in Tuscany.

The soil here is very rocky, a mix of the friable schist called galestro and the harder albarese, a form of limestone, plus some clay. Sangiovese from this area possesses a very strong backbone and mineral expression, and is capable of long aging.

The vineyards are farmed organically, based on Ricasoli-Firidolfi's philosophy and personal observations since taking control of the estate in 1990. "The more careful you are with nature—organic farming, for example—the more nature responds," he said. "It's not scientifically proven, but my opinion."

The Sangiovese parcels are planted up to 1,485 feet above sea level, which Ricasoli-Firidolfi feels is the limit for the grape. He has Merlot in the parcels above the Sangiovese, up to 1,650 feet.

His approach is equally straightforward in the cellar. "It's very important to harvest Sangiovese ripe and healthy and rack when necessary into a clean barrel or tonneaux, to keep the fruit absolutely clean," Ricasoli-Firidolfi said.

His methods and attention to detail are immediately evident in the Toscana Rosato 2012, a fresh, fruity, dry rosé with intensity and substance. Made from 90 percent Sangiovese, picked early to keep acidity, and 10 percent Canaiolo, it was fermented cool and bottled early to showcase the floral and berry aromas and flavors.

There are two Chianti Classicos, the flagship and the smaller production 15-acre single-vineyard Vigneto San Marcellino, bottled in the best years.

The flagship Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico contains about 80 percent Sangiovese, with equal parts Canaiolo and, since the 2007 vintage, Colorino. It's fermented in cement vats and aged in large, conical wooden vats. The 2011, to be released in September 2013, boasts pure cherry and raspberry flavors, very succulent and long. About two-thirds of the San Marcellino grapes went into this vintage. It's capable of aging, as the elegant and balanced 2004 showed. The 2005 had greater intensity, structure and darker fruit, the result of the higher percentage of San Marcellino grapes in the blend, since no riserva was made that year.

The San Marcellino sees roughly two years in barriques, of which a quarter (2008) to almost half (2009) might be new (the rest 2- and 4-year-old barrels), and up to two years in bottle before release. From 95 percent Sangiovese and 5 percent Pugnitello, the 2009 shows smoke, spice and black cherry flavors, good structure and length, though it still needs time to integrate. It has more muscle than the elegant 2008, the current vintage, which was about one-third of the total production to select the best fruit.

The San Marcellino can go the distance, as the 1999, 1995 and a 1990 bottling demonstrated. The 1990 was actually a selection of the best Sangiovese (100 percent) grapes from the estate; the first Vigneto San Marcellino was the 1993. Boasting a bouquet of sweet fruit, truffle, leather and spice, the 1990 remains fresh and firm, still fruity, with spice, briar and a long, minerally finish. "All the characteristics you find in Monti," said Ricasoli-Firidolfi.

He replanted two-thirds of the San Marcellino vines three years ago, keeping the best 6 acres his father planted in 1965 and '66.

Rocca di Montegrossi also makes a Toscana IGT Geremia from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (70/30) and a superb vin santo, but this is first and foremost a Sangiovese specialist whose Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico San Marcellino express their stony origins.

Alessandro Lunardi
New York City —  May 7, 2013 2:31pm ET
Very nice Bruce! I put together a lineup of several Chiantis single vineyards from 1997 recently, and while I found a bit of unexpected evolution in most bottles, the San Marcellino was still vibrant with great fruit and life ahead. Certainly a wine that speaks its territory, and represents the high quality Chiantis can supply.
Daniel Bleier
Austin, TX, USA —  May 7, 2013 7:18pm ET
I had a chance to visit the vineyard and do a tasting a few years ago. The tour was conducted by Marco Ricasoli-Firidolfi - he was very generous with his time. His Vin Santo was the best I have ever tried (wish I brought more back home) and his San Marcellino was among the most fragrant and pleasing Chianti's I have tasted. One of my treasures from the trip is a photo my wife took of my wine buddy and I toasting with Marco. Thanks for bringing that memory back!
Matt Bonaparte
Calgary, AB Canada —  May 14, 2013 11:18pm ET
As the manager of an Italian wine boutique I have had the honor of meeting many producers from all over Italy, and Marco Ricasoli-Firidolfi is second to none. His passion for the production of wine, and attention to detail is exhibited in every bottle. As previosly mentioned, the longevity of Marco's wines is exceptional and I can't wait to open his '04 Vin Santo a decade from now.

If you enjoy a good Rosato than getting your hands on some of the Rocca di Montegrossi is a must. Marco tasted my staff and I on his recent visit to town and this product is just in time for summer. Right on line with the rest of his wines, Marco has nailed it again by showing the versatility of Sangiovese.

Follow @MattyB_1980

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