Marching to his own drum – Az. Agr. Uccelliera, Part II

Agnes asks which wine I’d like to begin with. As I’m not in the habit of making such requests, I let her know any is just fine; I’m all too happy just to be here. Using the Coravin (it’s a slow-er season for visitors), she pours some of the 2014 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino. I spend a few moments swirling it in the glass before finally tasting it – the taste confirms the nose, this is rather limited in its expressive possibilities. However, with just a few more minutes, the wine’s changed – perhaps to the extent that it can, or maybe just to the extent that it can on this day – and some more savory nuances appear. I remark to Agnes that the wine does not have typicity of most Rosso di Montalcino, it shows influences of grapes coming from much older vines. She informs me that in fact, the rosso wines received grapes from some of the older vines, too, as there was no Riserva wine for 2014.

{my tasting note} Light brick-red, vibrant attack on a nearly medium-bodied frame. Lots of acid despite the challenging vintage. Grainy tannins and good length. A simple wine, but also a good partner to food and one to drink whilst your more superior wines are resting. 13,5% abv. (fully resolved). I like it, it’s fresh and as structured as you’ll find in the rosso wines from 2014.  recommended

There is no rusticity to this rosso wine (as happens in many that are from very difficult vintages – I’ve heard the word disaster more than once in these weeks that I’ve been in Tuscany), the wine is honest to its vintage, variety and place, but there’s something careful, something measured too, that gives the wine really nice lines and as much structure as one could hope for given 2014’s limitations in Montalcino zone.

Speaking of Montalcino zone, and zones/regions in general, I don’t think it’s fair to lump the wines of Montalcino into one group with respect to the vintage. Authors and critics love to do this, it makes it easy for the reader/consumer, but it’s actually a real disservice to both; there are many distinct micro climates in this zone, and what happens up near Altesino’s vineyards, for example, and what happens down near Castelnuovo dell’Abate can be two quite different things. In fact, Uccelliera’s southern position in Montalcino zone worked to its advantage during 2014’s Sangiovese growing season, sparing it much of the extreme and unforgiving aspects that mother nature generously doled out that year.

(below: Northern, Central and Southern zones, sub-zones if you will, of Montalcino)

montalcino-wine-zone-map

The next wine of the tasting is the 2011 Uccelliera Rapace Toscana IGT. This wine, labeled as IGT Super Tuscan, is typically 70% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from the vineyards in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, and the wine is raised in small French oak barrels. This is an affordable (~ $35 USD) Super Tuscan, but it’s not something I personally gravitate toward, as I prefer Sangiovese – if it must be blended at all – to share the company of more indigenous, i.e. non-International, varieties. But that’s me, and no doubt, I’m probably in the minority.

Full and fresh on the nose and palate. Good length with a mixture of fruits and textures. The finish is long, and there’s a fair amount of structure, but ultimately this is probably best now and over the short term. 14,5% abv. (fully resolved)“,  recommended

If you’re asking yourself why I’m recommending something I don’t prefer or gravitate towards, the answer is simple, it’s a well-grown wine.

Next up is the 2011 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino. This is 100% Sangiovese, but it bucks tradition with the use of some smaller, French barrique in addition to the much larger, and more traditional Slavonian botti from between 24 and 36 months depending on the vintage (i.e. Andrea’s call as to how long).

Long finish, with solid structure despite 2011’s heat and severe dryness. Fresh acidity easily lifts the flavors of strawberry jam. Really fine tannins lend good support and help to add to the length. I like it, especially considering the so-so vintage. 15,0% abv. (fully resolved)“,  recommended

Between pours, Agnes begins to share with me some of her personal journey (she’s not from Italy, though the village of Montalcino has been her home for many years), as well as some background details on Andrea, specifically how poor everything was just a few generations ago, and how hard life was, in Montalcino area.

(below: Agnes Koch, likely your host if you should visit Uccelliera. She likes Austrian Gruner and Rielsings…hint, hint)

uccelliera-agnes

It’s not too hard to imagine just how poor the area was, just drive outside of Montalcino twenty minutes and everything, including the dramatic landscape, changes; life is simpler there, the homes are modest, very old, and life is rather spartan. The wealth of Montalcino has not really traveled outside the winegrowing zone, there it’s more about simple gardens and tiny, ageing villages.

Our next wine is the 2010 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, and it’s a stunner. The details are basically the same as the normale, but this can see between 36 and 42 months on wood. The vineyards for the Riserva’s grapes range in altitude between 220-350 meters (~ 820ft-1150ft). Andrea’s very careful in declaring a Riserva vintage, only the best will do; this always translates when I taste these wines, I’m always very thankful for his discipline and wisdom. And I’m not just saying this, I’ve had these as parts of line-ups in blind tastings, side by side with normale wines from Uccelliera, and the difference is plain. That said, as you’ll see from my note, it’s not to say it’s necessarily a better wine – it may be – because Riserva wines need much more time, generally speaking, to reveal themselves more fully.

Very good now, excellent in 5-8 years. This is so in my wheelhouse, with great structure and a deft blend of fruits, acids and fine, sweet tannins. This one is really keeping the cards close to the vest right now, so best to HOLD. 15,0% abv. (fully resolved)“,   highly recommended

Agnes continues to describe the conditions of Andrea’s youth, with basic needs – heating, enough food, etc. – seen more as luxuries than daily conveniences. As a child, Andrea would often have to sleep in the barn, where there was hay for added warmth. The following day, when he’d go to elementary school, he’d often have some of this hay (and the barn smells in general ) was still on his clothing. Some of the children saw this as something to make fun of; how mean children can be sometimes. Most children only had one or two sets of clothes, too, further compounding the aforementioned.

Next is the more approachable 2010 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino. “Everything you want, and nothing you don’t. Some fine notes here already, buy all you can find. Drink now with some air, or even better, wait a few years from some added complexity to take hold. Excellent, and really well structured. The 15,0% abv is already resolved. Tasted side-by-side with the 2010 Riserva, I actually preferred this one.”  highly recommended

Before Andrea came to own his farm, he worked and developed his talents and understanding of the lands with established wineries. One of them was Mastrojanni, a winery started in 1975, and one that’s been quite respected ever since.

I’ll conclude my visit and tasting notes in the next blog post.

(below: a capture of the land on the Uccelliera property, giving one a sense of the soil’s composition; black topsoil it is not.)

uccelliera-construction-1

(header photo: an old Vespa inside the cantina of Giacomo Fenocchio)

 

 

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