Montenidoli Vernaccia di San gimignano Tradizionale– Organic, Biodynamic
Montenidoli Rosso Toscana IGT – Organic, Biodynamic
When Elisabetta Fagiuoli and Sergio Muratori arrived in 1965, San Gimignano was not known world-wide as one of the most ravishingly beautiful areas to visit and Montenidoli was a 200+ hectare overgrown abandoned property with a moderate potential of producing good Chianti. They set about restoring the olive groves and vineyards that mother nature was in the process of reclaiming, and the rest is history. To this day, only a small percentage of the acreage is planted as the choice was made long ago to retain the natural ecosystem of the mountain.
Montenidoli is literally and figuratively a mountain above the appellation of San Gimignano. It is a large estate of roughly 500 acres, though just 60 acres under vine, on a mountainside overlooking the picturesque town of San Gimignano with Chianti Classico in the distance. Elisabetta Fagiuoli is pivotal figure when talking about the last 50 years of Tuscan winemaking. In fact, 2020 marked her 50th vintage produced! Many people think of Vernaccia di San Gimignano as a simple white wine meant to be consumed fresh and young, though the whites of Montenidoli prove that this does not have to be the case. While the wines show well on release, they greatly improve both with extended aeration in the glass or decanter as well as with bottle age.
Elisabetta Fagiuoli traveled a great deal in her youth, from Europe to Southeast Asia and Japan. It was not until 1965 that she came to Tuscany and fell in love with the Montenidoli estate which she was able to purchase with the help of some money from her grandmother. When she found the estate, both the vineyards and olive groves were in total disrepair. As in many parts of Tuscany, many of the peasants who had previously lived on and worked the land had moved to the cities to follow jobs. This left many of the historic estates of Tuscany abandoned and in need of restoration. Luckily, there were still some old vines in good health. From then on, she began working toward restoring the property to its former glory.
The vineyards at Montenidoli are relatively high, between 1300 and 2300 feet above sea level, with soils and microclimate that are actually suited to both white and red grapes. The vineyards for her Sangiovese are planted at the highest elevations, with iron-rich soils and a base of limestone. Interestingly, in many of the vineyards, there are marine fossils strewn throughout, much as you find in Chablis, as well as huge blocks of white limestone that have been excavated from the vineyards. In fact, it is this marine sediment & limestone that ultimately led her to realize the potential of the property for white wine, as, in the beginning, Montenidoli produced only red wines.
Elisabetta was actually drawn to the estate initially for its great potential for red wine, in particular, Sangiovese. In fact, from 1971 when she made her first commercial wine, and up until 1984, she did not produce any white wine at all! Her reds earned early fame when Luigi Veronelli, legendary wine collector turned critic chose to write about her in 1971. Throughout her career, she was also able to get advice from some of the titans of Tuscan winemaking including Giacomo Tachis (of Sassicaia fame) and Giulio Gambelli (of Montevertine fame).
Elisabetta Fagiuoli is proud of the fact that her land has never seen the use of pesticides. She has farmed organically as long as she has had the property and can attest that previous to her it had been farmed organically. Given that her property is isolated on a mountainside, she has the added benefit of not having any close neighbors, relieving her of any concern about systemic, non-organic treatments being used in adjacent vineyards. In fact, “Montenidoli” means “mountain of the bird nests” which is a perfect name for the oasis of biodiversity that is her property. The soil at Montenidoli was impacted greatly by the Ligurian Sea which extended into much of what is now Tuscany millions of years ago. You can still often find large prehistoric oyster fossils in the soil, many of which are on display in the winery. On the higher elevation parcels of their property, you find a deep, red, mineral-rich soil where they source their top reds, the Triassico and the Sono Montenidoli.
Elisabetta’s winemaking has not changed much over the years. Regarding her debut 1971 vintage she said, “I made the wine in the simplest way. I had nothing.” Elisabetta describes Vernaccia as “a white grape with the body of a red”. Partly because of this, all her whites see some skin contact during fermentation.
She also was influenced at a young age by a French uncle who used to visit her family and would always bring White Burgundy with him. This left an early imprint on her about the art of making fine white wine. Her Vernaccia “Carato” is inspired by those memories and is fermented and aged in new and used barriques, creating somewhat akin to a fine White Burgundy. Her most known whites, however, the Vernaccio di San Gimignano “Tradizionale” and “Fiore” bottlings are vinified in stainless steel with skin contact. Both wines see extended time in the bottle for release as well.
The Vernaccia grape has been documented in San Gimignano since 1276, while the Montenidoli estate appeared in a 1404 will. Elisabetta Fagiuoli and her late husband, Sergio Muratori planted the then abandoned Montenidoli with vines from 1965. Red grapes are grown on Triassic clays (very rare in Tuscany), the Vernaccia on younger, well-drained calcareous ground. The Vernaccia is made like a red, a waning local tradition, with short skin contact before pressing and fermenting leaving deeply textured yellow fruit with staying power and an unmistakable tang.
Tradizionale, 90 points, Vinous: This viscous white is marked by bread dough, peach, beeswax and almond aromas and flavors. More savory than fruity, with lingering notes of grapefruit and saline.
IGT Toscano Rosso bottling is 100% Sangiovese. Elisabetta’s Sangiovese grows naturally (only a little copper or sulfur as needed) in the poor red soils, ripening stunning cherry and strawberry fruit flavors while sucking up and sharing layer upon layer of iron ore minerality. Aging a year in neutral oak gives the wine some roundness, but the tannins here are still classically firm and mouthcoating – the kind of big mouthful of tannin that’s satisfying and mouthwatering, not hard or bitter. Vinified in glass-line concrete, aged in barrels, and then in bottles. A truthful example of pure young Sangiovese. For any kind of red meat, lamb, duck, pork. 92 points, Wine Spectator: This red delivers an attractive mix of cherry, leather, spice, Mediterranean scrub, and tobacco flavors, with a distinctive salty underpinning. Balanced and long, with a succulent feel and refined tannins.