Vinnie and I were driving in the Marche and heading towards Monte Cònero. This high peak, behind the regional capital, Ancona, has for thousands of years served as a navigational landmark for ancient sailors. “So what is the national tree of Italy?” I asked my ancient and cranky French companion. My slightly confused corkscrew confessed that he had no idea that Italy had an arboreal emblem. “Well, it does” I said, and I went on to explain that it is the strawberry tree. It has green leaves, white flowers and red fruit, the colours of the Italian national flag, and it grows on the mountain. Furthermore, the Greek word for this tree is Kómaros and that is how Monte Cònero got its name. Today, its environmental diversity is preserved as a national park and nearby lies the organic vineyard and winery called La Calcinara. Here, we met Eleonora who, together with her brother, Paolo, founded the business.
There is a family background in wine, their grandfather, Gualtiero, having moved here in the 1970s but he was producing bulk wines sold unbottled or sfuso as the Italians term it. After obtaining degrees in viticulture and oenology, the siblings decided to join forces and to move the vineyard in a different direction. The first vines for the new project were planted in 2000 and the first harvest was in 2007. Their main concerns are sustainability and respect for the environment and, above all, exploring what the vines of Monte Cònero with its particular soil and climate can give to us in wines. Theirs is a small-scale operation and distinctly artisan with eleven and a half hectares of certified organic vines from which they produce around 42,000 bottles of wine per annum. The red wines from the area around the mountain were granted DOC status in 1967 and in 2004 the Riserva achieved DOCG recognition and it was these wines that we were anxious to try.
The first wine we sampled, Cacciatore di Sogni or Dream Hunter, was from from 2019. This is made from 100% Montepulciano grapes and fermented in steel, using naturally occurring yeasts, spending five days on the skins. The wine then matures for around 12 months, half in botti and half in steel. The colour was an almost impenetrable dark ruby with a fruity bouquet full of raspberries and blackberries. On the palate there was good acidity with moderate tannins and a definite freshness. This would make this a great accompaniment to roast red meat.
We next tried a 2018 named Terra Calcinara Riserva, a DOCG wine. Produced using spontaneous fermentation in open vessels, it remains on the skins for 10 to 12 days with a gentle ‘punching down’ of the floating cap undertaken by hand. It then matures on the lees for two years in oak botti. This is a wine with a lighter colour than the Cacciatore due to the presence of 10% Sangiovese. On the nose there is bitter cherry with a hint of vanilla. In the mouth it is more severe with extra tannins due to the presence of the Sangiovese and the length of time it has spent in oak; however, these are soft and speak of a wine that has at least 15 years of life and it will become more complex with time. The strong flavour on display here will complement barbecued red meat or dishes with truffle – try it also with mature cheese.
The final wine we tasted was again a DOCG Riserva from 2018 but this is made from 100% Montepulciano grapes. They have christened this wine Folle, which translates as crazy and when we explain how it is produced the aptness of the name will become apparent. After fermentation, using indigenous yeast, the wine remains on the skins for up to 7 weeks. It then spends from 12 to 18 months in barrique of French oak where the wine is left on the lees and is periodically stirred, a technique known by the French term, batonnage. Finally, the wine is decanted into large cement vessels where it remains for one to two years before being bottled.The result of this insane degree of effort is a colour that is deep ruby. The bouquet is rich and complex with cloves and warm peppery spices as well as coffee and chocolate. On the palate it is full and well-structured with the strong tannins that come from the oak. The ageing potential for this wine has yet to be fully explored but is at least 15 years. With its strong and complex flavours, this is a wine that will accompany wild game or strong mature cheeses or could even be enjoyed on its own as a vino di meditazione.
Eleonora and Paolo have a strong affinity to Monte Cònero and the flavours that can be coaxed from the Montepulciano vines growing there. However, they are not shackled by tradition as is immediately apparent when you enter the winery with its range of equipment allowing them to constantly experiment. We look forward to tasting more results of their efforts.