An Amphitheatre of Elegance in Chianti Classico: Monteraponi
Chianti Classico has the capacity for great terroir-driven wines. There is huge variability among the region’s hills and valleys, forests and fields, heat and chill. Soil types include schist, clay, marl, and limestone. Despite this, true site understanding and expression is immature given the history, importance, and potential of the region. Those who have focused on nuance and expression in site are at long last increasing, but many of the wines with which most consumers are familiar are not in this category.
Monteraponi began as the project of the Bragante family, who made their wealth in the silver business. They purchased the winery, or more properly, the village in which the winery is situated, in 1974. Monteraponi is the site of an old abandoned village dating back to the 10th century. The Bragante family now owns about 90% of the village and the 200 hectares of biodiverse olive groves, vineyards, and forests surrounding it. When son Michele took over, the domaine honed in on biodynamics and biodiversity.
The site is magical and utterly distinctive. An encompassing arc of hills covered with forests creates an amphitheatre that opens onto an wide valley that skirts alongside the town of Radda. The oldest vine Baron ‘Ugo vineyard sits high upon the northern hill, facing south. It sees lots of light but brisk evenings – creating a wine of mature fruit complexity along with length, elegance, and highly layered aromatics.
At night, forest life echoes around the amphitheatre to create a lively peace, and a harmony only possible through diversity. The rhythm here is structured by light. Take the May I visited the estate. Morning brings myriad birdsong, pollinating insects, and a vibrancy of colour on the cherry trees, vine canopy and wispy olive tree leaves. Aromas intensify in afternoon heat. As the sun dips below the horizon, forest life sounds intensify, with crickets creating the baseline, and the rustle of wild boars shaking forest trunk and leaf.
This is not an idyl, it is the sound of a system of survival focused on balance and food security. This type of system is declining across the world. Monteraponi seems an unreal hold-out against changes dominating elsewhere that are imperiling our future. The experience of staying on the land, eating the food, and drinking the wine was thus for me less about lifestyle and more about ethics. It is a way of being in the world.
Learning from a Caretaker
The wines reflect the ethos of the place. Michele Bragante and his wife Ale shepherd the estate’s fruit and olives into delicate, perfumed, authentic food products that smell and taste of the land that produced them. I was struck by Michele’s genuine passionate intensity for ecosystems, restraint, and humility to the biology, land, and climate that make the products possible. This all makes sense given the fact Michele was inspired by wines like Montevertine, Isole e Olena, Pogio di Soto, and Biondi Santi. I’ve noticed consistently that exposure, context, humility, and passion are the essential ingredients of great wine.
There are important lessons here for us. We need to hone in on that connection that undergirds the passion of the world’s best wine farmers and producers. It has nothing to do with wealth or status and much to do with our future as a species and our ability to carefully caretake the natural environment.
The wines need no tasting note other than ‘elegance’. This is the uncommon truth of Monteraponi. When combined with the Domaine’s general philosophy, the result is profound wine from all vintages. The 2014 riserva defied the greenness of the vintage. The 2013 Baron ‘Ugo stunned. The very basic non-vintage Vino Rosso IGT is totally chuggable, as if it took lessons from Marcel Lapierre but is made in Chianti and is true to Sangiovese. These are great wines and among the most authentic in Tuscany.
For locals, Monteraponi is an exclusive import of Marquis Wine Cellars. These are essential wines for Italophiles with a naturalist bent.