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Podere Le Berne, Montepulciano, Tuscany (24/9/2011)

The medieval hill town of Montepulciano has a problem, namely that is shares its name with a red grape variety grown extensively on the other side of Italy in Abruzzo.  The town of Montepulciano and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are entirely unrelated of course, yet confusion reigns; sometimes I wonder whether the Italians do it deliberately… So, the town is Montepulciano, the grape is Sangiovese (mostly) and the people are the Natalini family who own Podere Le Berne, a farm which occupies about 21 hectares of which 10 are planted with vines.
We found Andrea Natalini
with his pickers in the vineyard.
We had to search for Andrea amongst the vineyards for the harvest was in full swing and he was out with the pickers.  Greeted with confident handshakes and beaming smiles we were handed the secateurs and encouraged to join in. 
Picking Sangiovese in the Le Berne vineyards near Montepulciano.
The small trailer was soon full and on its way back to the winery, we watched the grapes unloaded, crushed and the juice pumped to the fermentation tank.  Within 30 minutes of picking the grapes we were tasting the resulting juice. 
The grapes are crushed.
Andrea grabbed his hydrometer and took a reading of the sugar content.  It read 22 something-in Italian-that-I-didn’t-quite-catch which Andrea said was high and would equate to about 15% alcohol in the finished wine.  This too is high, though not unusual for such a hot vintage as 2011 (his 2008 is also 15%). 
Andrea checks the sugar content of the
juice from the freshly crushed grapes.
Some people may be put off by a wine whose label reads 15% abv but it’s foolish to judge a wine solely on its alcoholic content.  Wine is all about balance and lots of booze is ok so long as there’s lots of everything else to maintain that balance.  Besides, what’s the alternative?  Pick the grapes before they are fully ripe to control the sugar and thereby the potential alcohol?  That means mean, green stalky wines that are not enjoyable.  Or you could just add water I suppose?  It might lower the alcohol but also dilutes the flavour that the winemaker has worked so hard to achieve. 
It is possible resort to all sorts of modern trickery to lower the alcoholic content (as many supermarkets are now insisting their producers do in response to customer demand) by techniques such as reverse osmosis (look it up...) but just how much do you think we should bugger about with that which nature has seen fit to provide?  The time has come to stop bickering about a few degrees of booze and have a glass of water with your wine and, if you have to resort to such desperate measures, just drink fewer glasses; it’s meant to be shared after all!  OK,  that’s the rant out of the way and you need to buy a bottle of Le Berne’s 2008 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano too see what I mean about 15% abv wine and balance.
Andrea has vines ranging from 60 years old to those which he only planted this year.  In the best years he makes a Riserva, the juice for which tends to come from his oldest vines.  Generally speaking only vines over 10 years of age make his Vino Nobile, anything younger will tend to become Rosso di Montepulciano.  It will be several years before he uses the fruit from the vine he planted this year for anything other than green manure!
Tasting the Le Berne wines.
The 2010 Rosso di Montepulciano (13.5% abv since you ask) has a fresh cherry nose and shows evident youth.  It’s attractive enough now, but will mellow and soften with a couple more years in bottle and will drink beautifully for another 3-5 after that.
The 2008 Vino Nobile di  Montepulciano (15% abv if you recall) has a super ripe nose of red fruit with real depth and intensity.  The palate is concentrated ripe cherry with a hint of vanilla from the oak.  It’s very big in the mouth and the alcohol, pleasingly, doesn’t dominate at all.  My scribbled tasting note at the time ends with the words “Bloody brilliant!”
The 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva is much darker in colour and is even more complex with the characteristic red fruit but just a hint of liquorice.  There is more obvious oak here which follows through onto the palate which is full and fleshy with great length.
Andrea drizzles some of his olive oil onto some bread for us to taste and then mysteriously vanishes to return a few minutes later with an unlabelled bottle asking if we’d like to taste something else.  It was impossible to resist.  The wine we taste is, we understand, something of an experiment.  So much so that it does not yet have a name.  It is 75% Colorino and 25% Marmolo (no, I don’t know either).  It is simply enormous, with a nose reminiscent of Priorat or at least a similar Grenache/Carignan mix from a warm climate.  It’s young, vibrant, rich and chocolatey and quite unlike anything else we’ve tasted from Tuscany.  Andrea is clearly a chap who's not afraid to try new things in the quest for better and better wines.  He certainly got my vote anyway!
The Vin Santo is the nuttiest we’ve tasted so far.  Almost sherry-like on the nose yet with a sweet delicacy in the mouth with raisin and dried citrus notes.

Grapes for Vin Santo drying on raised mats

We can obtain the following wines from Podere Le Berne should you be interested – please contact us for details:

2009 Rosso di Montepulciano  £14.50
2008  Vino Nobile de Montepulciano  £22.50 (in stock now - yes, you can buy this today)!
2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva  £29.50
Vintages and prices correct as at 11th October 2011 


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