If Bramante’s initial plans had been carried through to completion, St Peter’s in Rome would have been a larger version of the beautiful Tempio di San Biagio situated on the south side of the town of Montepulciano, just outside of the centro storico. Built for the most part between 1518 and 1540, this Renaissance masterpiece was designed by Anthony Sangallo the elder, one of a family of Tuscan architects. The design is based on the Greek cross, where all the arms are the same length. The symmetrical beauty of this plan was particularly appealing in the Renaissance, so much so that Bramante adopted it for his original design for the new basilica in Rome. Over the long years of construction of St Peter’s, various revisions were considered but it was not until 1607 that the decision was taken to extend one arm to make the nave that we currently see and, in so doing, obscure the view of Michelangelo’s dome. All of this, unfortunately, distracts us from the peace and sublime beauty of this architectural gem in Tuscany.
But Vinnie was bored and it was time to explore the surrounding countryside and its great wines. Amidst the pastoral glory of the beautiful valley on the south side of Montepulciano it was hard to imagine that we were so close to the town and there, hidden away down a strada bianca – the Italians’ romantic term for an unpaved road – was the winery, Le Bertille.
Originally chosen in 2001 as a country escape for a couple where one partner was from Milan and the other from Rome, the project has, over the years, grown so that it now occupies a total of twenty two hectares, with fifteen being devoted to vines, and an annual production around sixty five thousand bottles. It is now run by the three Roberti sisters, daughters of the original owners. They, in turn, have four daughters between them so hopefully the tradition of women winemakers will continue here.
We were welcomed by Oretta and joined by Olimpia, who abandoned a career as a lawyer to dedicate herself to viticulture. The sisters make a number of quality wines but I will concentrate on the three Montepulciano ones, namely the Rosso di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva. These wines are a great example of sophistication blended with tradition.
The Rosso is fermented in steel as it is intended to be drunk while relatively young, spending eight months in small barrels of Slovenian oak and four in bottle. It is a fresh and vibrant blend of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo and Canaiolo full of red berry flavour and almost floral. Bright with acidity and light on tannin, it is a perfect accompaniment to pasta.
Many modern wineries use steel for fermentation for its convenience and ease of control but here the two Vino Nobile are fermented in trini made of oak. This is far more expensive and labour intensive but adds structure and quality to the final result. They are both blends of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo grapes. The ‘ordinary’ Vino Nobile is aged in wood for two years before spending another year in bottle and the 2015 that I tried was sensational. The colour was typically Sangiovese, garnet with the hint of the brick orange that it develops with age. On the nose it was rich with cherries with an undertone of what I can only describe as grilled steak. The taste has hints of dark chocolate with soft tannins and nice acidity and a long finish. Truly sensational and perfect with the robust flavours of wild boar or bistecca fiorentina.
The Riserva is only produced in the best years and spends two and a half years in Slovenian oak and at least another twelve in the bottle. The result is right up there with some of the great wines, full-bodied, wonderfully rich perfumes of cherries and a great balance and finish mean that this can be enjoyed as a pleasure by itself, a veritable vino di meditazione.
To make your enjoyment of these great wines even easier there is an agriturismo on site in this beautifully tranquil setting so you can relax and drink in the views of the vineyards while you enjoy their produce. The accommodation is very comfortable and there is a beautiful swimming pool on site. The views over the Tuscan countryside are nothing short of spectacular. It is a little piece of heaven that really should not be missed.