April 19, 2017

Vertical of the month: Pian del Ciampolo 2012–2002

Montevertine, located in Radda in Chianti, the heartland of the famed Chianti Classico region, is hailed as one of the greatest producers of classically styled Chianti Classico.

Or they would be, if they happened to produce any.

Let's start off with the mandatory introduction to the winery, so everyone knows what's the stuff we're talking about today. Montevertine started off as a hobby of Sergio Manetti, a steel product manufacturer. In 1967 he bought a dilapitated house in Chianti – that was to become the Montevertine winery – as his holiday house, restored it and planted two hectares (5 acres) of vines to the newly acquired lands, just to produce some wine for his family and friends. In 1971 Manetti produced his first vintage and after some encouraging feedback he also presented his wines in Vinitaly fair in Verona. The wines were so welcomed there that only after few years Manetti decided to leave his day job and concentrate fully on creating high quality wine in Montevertine, planting and acquiring new vineyards and installing winemaking facilities more appropriate for a real winery. Since the first vintage of 1971, Montevertine has produced wine in every single vintage – not counting the remarkably poor and rainy vintage 1984, when no Montevertine wines were produced from the estate's fruit.

Montevertine was originally a Chianti producer, but in 1981 the winery's top wine Le Pergole Torte, a 100% varietal Sangiovese, was denied rights for the Chianti Classico appellation, as the appellation laws back then (and until 1996) stipulated that the CC wines should be blends of white and red grapes instead of varietal wines, and thus the wine was deemed unsuitable for bottling. As a countermeasure, Manetti decided to bottle all his wines as basic table wine bottlings from that on, be they eligible for the appellation or not. Even though all of the winery's labels could now be eligible for DOCG Chianti Classico, Montevertine steadfastly still labels all of their wines under the lower-tier IGT Toscana appellation.

Montevertine's core range consists of only three wines: two top-tier reds and one entry-level red. The aforementioned Le Pergole Torte is not only a more modern take on the Tuscan reds (being a 100% Sangiovese from selected fruit that is aged for a years in large Slavonian oak casks and another year in small Allier oak barriques), but also the wine better known as the world's first single-vineyard Chianti Classico –albeit never having been labeled as such – from the original 2 ha vineyard planted by Manetti. The wine known only as Montevertine is the standard bearer of the winery, made from the classic Chianti grapes of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino, and aged for 2 years in the traditional Slavonian oak casks. The entry-level wine Pian del Ciampolo is the little sibling of Montevertine, made from the Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino wines that were not used for the higher-quality Montevertine and aged for only 12 months in large Slavonian oak casks. Despite bearing the IGT Toscana appellation, both Montevertine and Pian del Ciampolo are through-and-through Chianti Classico wines at their heart.

In addition to these three wines, there are also a handful wines that are produced only in best vintages, otherwise sporadically or have just went out of production. These include the Vin Santo that goes by the name Ambradolce; the white wines Bianco di Montevertine and M; and the single-vineyard wines Il Sodaccio and Il Cannaio – of which the latter one is a special wine made for the three Michelin star-restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence.

As the wines have since 1981 boasted only Vino da Tavola and – from 1992 onwards – IGT Toscana in their labels, many people think that Montevertine is a Super-Tuscan producer. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: the winery has never planted anything but the local, traditional varieties in their vineyards and their winemaking reflects the traditions of the regions. Thus, the wines are not mouthfillingly voluptuous and powerful blockbusters as one might associate with the IGT Toscana wines, but instead very sophisticated, harmonious and classically styled Chianti Classico reds with much emphasis on the balance between the fruit and the structure.

Of the core range, Montevertine and Le Pergole Torte wines are usually considered to be good choices if one wants to have excellent, ageworthy Chianti wines in the cellar, whereas the Pian del Ciampolo wines are considered to be great alternatives if one is thinking of getting into the Montevertine style with more younger-drinking wines. Normally this entry-level wine is considered to be a nice, more pedestrian example of both Chianti Classico and Montevertine, suitable mainly for early consumption and less for cellaring. However, I recently attended a Montevertine tasting that aimed to show that even this least ambitious wine of the range is not just a simple, easy-drinking red meant for early consumption, but also a serious Chianti Classico on its own, capable of withstanding a decade of cellaring.

These are my tasting notes on the Pian del Ciampolo wines we tasted through that evening.

Montevertine Pian del Ciampolo
IGT Toscana
  • Montevertine
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Toscana, Chianti Classico, Radda in Chianti
  • Grape(s): Sangiovese (90%), Canaiolo, Colorino

The entry-level red of Montevertine, made from a Sangiovese-driven blend of local red varietals. The wine is first fermented and macerated with the grape skins for 25 days in cement vats. The wine also goes through the malolactic fermentation in the cement vats before it is transferred to large Slavonian oak casks, in which the wine ages for a minimum of 12 months. After the wine is bottled, it is aged for a further 3 months in bottles before it is released to the market. Since 2009 the wines have been made from organically grown grapes.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the pronunciation, it is PYAn del CHUM-polo (ending with two short o's, not pow-low).


Pian del Ciampolo 2012
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 3/5 by Montevertine. This year there was no real winter nor were there any spring rains. The summer was very warm to even hot, especially towards the July-August, halting the ripening process in many vines. However, the rains arrived in late August, resuming the growth and ripening in the vines.

Youthful, dark yet moderately translucent ruby red appearance.

Somewhat restrained but fragrant and surprisingly sweet nose with fruit-forward primary aromas of red cherry, rose petals, some boysenberry aromatics and a hint of raspberry marmalade.

On the palate the wine feels quite youthful and easygoing, albeit drier than what the nose suggests with juicy flavors of ripe cherry, dark-toned forest fruits and some sour cherry crunchiness. Overall the wine feels moderately acid-driven, bright and quite structured with medium-to-moderate tannins.

The wine finishes with flavors of sour cherry bitterness and sweeter flavors of ripe dark berries. The aftertaste is medium-long, juicy and quite straightforward with some tannic grip.

Overall this young vintage of Pian del Ciampolo seems rather simple and easygoing basic-level Chianti Classico with more emphasis in sweet but rather one-dimensional fruit than complexity.

Summary: Although the wine seems structured enough, I fail to see much aging potential here and most likely the wine is best for earlier consumption – although if this wine is representative of the house's young style, the older Pian del Ciampolo vintages have proven me quite wrong with this prediction.


Pian del Ciampolo 2011
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 4/5 by Montevertine. Overall not considered a great vintage, starting with a warm spring, followed by extended spring rains well into the summer. The rains were followed by a record-breaking heat wave in August that not just ripened the grapes, but also shut down some vines and raisined some grapes in the vines. Due to the very irregular weather, careful selection of fruit yielded best results.

Quite translucent and luminous, but also pretty dark ruby red color.

Very dark-toned and somewhat earthy nose with aromas of juicy and quite sweet dark cherries, some plummy fruit, hints of dried prunes and an underlying nuance of leather.

Rich, supple and full-bodied on the palate with lots of ripe, well-delineated fruit on the fore: dark cherries, plummy dark fruit, some sour cherry bitterness and hints of peppery spice. The warm vintage is quite evident in the sweet edge of the fruit. The structure feels in balance with the fruit, the wine having moderate acidity and moderate, firm but not that grippy tannins.

The finish is long, juicy and quite opulent with somewhat less sweet and more savory flavors of peppery spice, dark cherries, some tart sour cherry character, a hint of earth and a little tannic astringency.

A classy and sophisticated Chianti Classico with more weight than in 2012 or 2010 and with much emphasis on the pure, slightly sweet and very ripe, dark-toned fruit. Although somewhat big and pretty ripe, the structure feels well-balanced with the rest of the wine.

Summary: This is an enjoyable and nice Chianti Classico from the sweeter and obviously more ripe end, drinking very nicely right now. Although the wine shows potential to short-to-medium-term cellaring, I wouldn't hold on to this vintage for too long.


Pian del Ciampolo 2010
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 5/5 by Montevertine and one that is also considered as one of the best (but also very difficult) in Tuscany in some while – especially so in Montalcino. The vintage started off pretty wet and remained rather cool until July, when the temperatures started to rise. The wet and cool start reduced yields and kept the ripening about 2 weeks behind the normal schedule. The grapes ripened very late, well into October, and many producers had to pick their grapes in may tiers in order not to harvest grapes that weren't ripe enough or not to let some go overripe. In many cases the resulting fruit quality was outstanding.

Quite translucent and luminous, but also pretty dark ruby red color.

The nose feels somewhat dark-toned and even a bit reticent with ripe red cherry fruit on the fore, supported by a blanket of earthy and dusty tones and hints of tart dark berries. However, there also lingers a slightly green undertone of bell pepper and celery behind the brighter fruit notes.

On the palate the wine feels a bit restrained as well, but with pure and bright flavors of plums, sour cherries, darker berries, some dusty earth notes and nice, subtle bitterness. The mouthfeel is full-bodied with moderate acidity and moderate, ever-so-slightly grippy tannins.

The medium-long finish follows the midpalate with slightly rough-edged flavors of roasted spices, brambly blackberries, ripe plums, some tannic grip and hints of sour cherry bitterness.

As I've had lots of tremendous Tuscan reds from 2010, I had high expectations for this wine. However, they were met only partially; the wine was pure and lovely with a bit more tightly-knit texture than in 2009 or 2011, but it fell a bit short on the depth and complexity department.

Summary: Overall this is a nice, bright and balanced Chianti Classico-style red with lovely purity of fruit and one that is obviously still on its way up, but most likely this is not going to be one of the great Pian del Ciampolos despite the great vintage.


Pian del Ciampolo 2009
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 5/5 by Montevertine. The year began with a normal spring, followed first by an exceptionally hot May and then a month of more or less nonstop rain. After the rains, the summer was warm and got pretty hot towards the end of the summer – culminating in a heat wave that arrived during the time when the temperatures normally start to decline. The summer nights were somewhat cool, preserving some of the acidity, but most of this year's wines bear the mark of the hot vintage in their sweet, somewhat jammy or cooked fruit.

Quite translucent and luminous, but also pretty dark ruby red color.

For a 2009, the nose is quite sophisticated and nuanced, albeit very fruity and juicy. The aromas are quite dark-toned and brooding with obviously sweet edge, betraying succulent aromas of dark cherries, blackberries, even some strawberries – and a hint of alcohol.

On the palate this wine feels a bit richer, fruitier and more plump than the surrounding vintages with its full body and pure but somewhat rich and obviously very ripe flavors of dark forest berries, earthy spices, some red cherries and even a hint of syrup. However, there is a hint of bitterness and sour cherry tartness to offset the sweetest edge. Due to its modest acidity and suave, mellow tannins, the mouthfeel is noticeably silky, but lacking that certain Tuscan brightness.

The wine finishes with a spicy, dark-fruited medium-long aftertaste that shows a bit more bitterness and sour cherry character than the midpalate, yet remains rather sweet and soft.

This vintage feels excessively mellow and easy for a Pian del Ciampolo, as if the hot vintage just had polished away all the rough edges and personality from the wine.

Summary: This is an enjoyable Chianti Classico-style red, albeit one a bit too ripe and sweet for my taste. The wine is drinking really nicely now, but although the wine might keep for a handful of years in a cellar easily, I fail to see much potential for development here. Most likely a vintage for earlier enjoyment.


Pian del Ciampolo 2008
Size: 0,75
Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 4/5 by Montevertine. Overall a cooler vintage with high diurnal temperature variation, resulting in lighter, structured and more serious wines. In Chianti Classico the vintage was less successful than in other Tuscan regions, with only the very best vineyards producing fruit for the truly remarkable wines.

Remarkably dark, almost opaque black cherry color.

Somewhat restrained nose that shows that slightly darker-toned aroma profile of Montevertine, but lacking all that sweetness which was so evident in the vintages that followed. The nose is pure and fresh with aromas of red berries, sour cherries and crunchy – not that sweet – dark cherries with some earthy spice tones.

The wine is very dry, fresh and savory on the palate with moderately full body, balanced high acidity and rather pronounced, firm but not angular tannins. The fruit feels ripe, but intense instead of sweet, showing flavors of juicy dark berries, dark cherries, roasted Moroccan spices, some fresh red forest berries, a little smoke and a hint of aged, slightly raisined dark fruit.

The wine leaves a long, spicy and crunchy finish with some astringent, tannic grip and bright flavors of plummy dark fruit, tart cranberry, some Middle-Eastern spice and a hint of sour cherry.

This vintage shows exactly those characteristics I look for in a Chianti Classico: sour cherry, spice, intense structure of acidity and firm tannins, great finesse and no distracting sweetness.

Summary: This is a wine that still, at almost 8 years of age, shows good potential for further cellaring – yet also starting to drink very nicely as well. Seeing how this one feels much more serious, leaner and less sweet than the younger vintages, this is definitely a food wine. No hurry to open this one now, but if you do, let it breathe for a while. A terrific example how the best vintages of Pian del Ciampolo can be actually quite ageworthy and truly worth the buck.


Pian del Ciampolo 2006
Size: 0,75
Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 4/5 by Montevertine. Generally hailed as one of the greatest vintages of the the millennium along with the superb 2004, resulting in very serious wines. The weather conditions were very variable, ranging from the heat waves of June and July to the cooler days of Autumn, and from the hot Indian summer to the rains that closed the harvest.

The wine's appearance is translucent, yet moderately dark cherry red with a limpid, almost colorless rim.

The rich and nuanced nose is starting to show some hints of maturity in its dark-toned aromas of dark cherries, slightly tart plums, boysenberry marmalade, light earthiness and floral hints of aged Sangiovese. Overall the fragrant nose feels really beautiful and attractive.

The wine has full body and lovely, textural mouthfeel on the palate. There are somewhat developed, but remarkably intense and focused flavors of dark cherries, dried dark berries, some roasted exotic spices and umami hints of soy sauce and game. The flavors are juicy and succulent, but more dry and savory than ripe and sweet. The structure is remarkably good with moderately high acidity and ample, but ripe tannins that feel round yet still firm.

The wine finishes with a really long and slightly aged aftertaste of earthy spices, slightly wizened red cherries, some dark berries, a little sour cherry bitterness and a hint of rocky minerality.

Now this is the stuff, really! Judging by this bottle, 2006 is by far the best vintage of Pian del Ciampolo I've had. Not only it is a textbook example of a high-quality Chianti Classico, it is also an entry-level red that is capable to putting many flagship reds to shame!

Summary: This is really a remarkable example of the Montevertine style – even at 10 years of age, this wine feels like it was opened 10–15 years too early. Definitely a beautiful Chianti Classico that is all about aging potential. Just wow.


Pian del Ciampolo 2002
Size: 0,75
Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 3/5 by Montevertine, which is surprisingly high considering how horrible this vintage was on average: it was cool and wet, resulting mainly in grapes that were either unripe or rotten – or both. Definitely not a vintage that made keepers.

Somewhat translucent and somewhat hazy cherry red appearance with a matured maroon hue.

The obviously developed nose is really complex and attractive with fascinating aromas of dried cherries, dark forest fruits, some leather, a little mushroomy earthiness and hints of smoke.

On the palate the wine feels medium-bodied and moderately high in acidity with very mellow and fully resolved tannins. The fruit seems to have dried out a little, resulting in a quite developed, but rather unassuming taste with flavors of wizened red cherry, some raisiny dark fruit, a little syrupy, a hint of figs and a touch of dried dates. The wine's structure is in balance with the fruit, so it hasn't become yet overtly austere nor has it fallen apart yet either.

The finish is rich, albeit somewhat unfocused and lacking cohesion. There are pretty light yet still rather sweet flavors of dried dark fruits, wizened red cherries, some caramel and a hint of dried dates with some sensation of soft, powdery tannins gripping the gums very lightly.

Unsurprisingly, as a wine from a vintage universally recognized as poor, this was on a decline already. The wine was still quite alive and thoroughly enjoyable, but obviously it had never been a remarkable wine and its peak years were already in the past.

Summary: Perhaps the wine would have had a few points more, if enjoyed some years ago. Now most of its charm was reduced to only a shadow of its former self and those syrupy-raisiny notes of old wine had started to take over. It's high time to drink up these.

The wines of our tasting, pt. 1
The wines of our tasting, pt. 2

Although only an entry-level wine, this vertical successfully challenged the widely regarded view that Pian del Ciampolo is a wine for early consumption. Of course not all of the vintages are meant for the long haul, and quite certainly even the better ones won't outlive any good Montevertine or Le Pergole Torte, but it's quite plain to see that even the less impressive vintages are not just early drinkers, but also capable of benefiting from cellar age, whereas the best vintages can easily develop for decades.

Above all, this vertical really showcased the lovely, sophisticated style of the Montevertine winery that obviously emphasizes clarity and purity over power and concentration. You don't need to spend bucketfuls of bucks in order to get stunning, classically styled Tuscan reds – all you have to do, is study which vintages were really good in Chianti Classico and look for Pian del Ciampolos from those years!

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