Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tuscan Tourists, 3 of 5

Simona Fabroni at Villa S Anna

After the morning in Chianti Classico, we arrive in Ababbio di Montepulciano a little late and drive straight past Villa Saint Anna, finding it on our second pass through the village, such is the discreet nature of the estate. With that said, once we're through the gate it is every bit as impressive as you could hope.

We are met by Simona Fabroni, the owner and winemaker. She is an immediately engaging woman, full of enthusiasm and passion for her wines, and who can blame her?

Simona explains that the winery has been in her family since the mid 1800s, but it was her grandfather in the early 1900s who decided to focus on increasing the quality of wines they produced.
Their land covers 88 hectares in total, but they plant only 18 of these with grapes. The remaining 70 are rented out to local farmers who grow vegetable and tobacco on these flatter sites, lacking the slopes favoured for the vines. Given this limited space, it was a conscious decision to focus on making wines of extraordinarily high quality, rather than lesser wines in higher quantity.

Concrete fermentation tanks

In the winery there are three different tanks: the oldest 110hl concrete tanks, newer concrete with smoother (therefore more easily cleaned) walls at 91hl, and some temperature controlled stainless installed in the 1990s. Initial alcoholic fermentation performs best in the newer stainless vessels, the oldest tanks are preferred for malolactic.

The first cellar we explore is cut deep into the ground, keeping it naturally insulated from the extreme temperatures to be found outside. As we descend the stairs we leave behind a dry heat to find ourselves immediately enveloped in what feels like a cool, wet blanket. This is achieved purely by traditional design (deep underground, no windows) rather than modern (and expensive) air conditioning.

The steps down are incredibly slippery and only once your eyes have adjusted to the dark do you realise why. Such is the humidity in the cellar that a particular mould has made this cellar its home. It looks like grey cotton wool, and plays a part in regulating the air quality in what would otherwise be a stagnant environment. It is with a wry grin Simona refers to it as 'noble rot'.

Mould visible on walls
Simona use a range of barrels on the estate: large (39hl) Slovenian oak, 500 litre and 225 litre French Oak ("I am sorry to recognise French is the best"!). The smallest of these are arrange on a beautiful and functional stacking system which allows them to be rolled upside down for cleaning without disturbing any of the surrounding barrels.

Roller system for French barriques
The vinsantaia yields yet further delights. The mother yeasts in these tiny barrels are some 200+ years old (see previous post for production details). Each barrel produces just 17half bottles per year, and it is easy to see why Simona is so enthusiastic about these wines, insisting they must be "always sweet, but never sticky" - once again underlining the importance of acidity in the great wines of Tuscany.
The picture at the top of this post shows this cellar.

The final cellar, as far as the production process is concerned, is the bottle cellar. Since it is important for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to be bottle aged (it's a legal requirement), a lot of thought has gone into the planning of this cellar, down to the finest details.

Bottle cellar

The cellar itself it air-conditioned (a welcome relief from the afternoon sun) and meticulously clean. Of course, there would be little point in circulating air around the cellar if it weren't in someway interacting with the bottles. As such, specially constructed crates are employed which feature open hinges, to allow a small amount of air movement within the pallet. You can just about make these out on the zoomed-in picture here:

After the tour, Simona was kind enough to treat us to a wonderful lunch, paired with her excellent wines. For me, the stand-out wine was her Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This is a wine of such complexity one could be tempted to write pages and pages describing its virtues. However, Simona observes that the wine can described with just one word: elegant. And who am I to argue?

As much as we would've loved to stay longer in Montepulciano, the hills of Montelcino await. Told you this was a jam-packed tour, didn't I?

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