After dropping my son at school one Friday morning, I drove to Radda in Chianti, a 45-minute-or-so trip from Siena. I carried on listening to his fairytale audiobooks. Aptly, as I approached the Monteraponi village, the estate of Chianti Classico producers Michele Braganti and Alessandra Deiana, Sleeping Beauty was playing.
Much like the castle in the mythical kingdom, Monteraponi is surrounded by forest – dark green oak and silver olive trees circle this 200-hectare medieval hamlet, once home to Baron Ugo, the Marquis of Tuscany in the tenth century. The eye rests on the lighter green squares of vineyards embedded in the encircling hills, the first at 420m above sea level, known as “Il Campitello”, and another even higher at 570m, named “Baron Ugo”.
Braganti drives us to visit the vineyards (in his 4×4, fortunately, and not my Renault Kangoo with an earful of huffing and puffing wolves) and it’s exhilarating. The terraces are steep, and vineyards must be taken care of by hand; there is no way a machine could manage such an incline.
He points out the alberese and galestro soils in which his vines thrive – a muddle of dense, white limestone and bluey, friable clay schist. These soils are one of the features that link many of the finest plots in Chianti Classico. Lifting my gaze I see, under the outline of Monte Amiata, the hilltop town of Montalcino, 70 miles South of Radda. I get the impression that this view inspires Braganti on a regular basis – not to compete with the Brunello made in Montalcino, but to prove that his own exceptional site can be worthy of similar reverence.
The 12 hectares of vineyards at Monteraponi are planted predominantly with Sangiovese, and two other native red varieties, Canaiolo and Colorino, plus a small percentage of the white grape Trebbiano. Braganti is very committed to the indigenous grapes he has planted; he enthuses over Canaiolo as the most beautiful blending partner for Sangiovese, agreeing with the words of Ian d’Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy that, “Canaiolo Nero blends with Sangiovese in an absolutely magical way… there is simply no better partner for Sangiovese in the world”. He uses a small percentage of Canaiolo and Colorino in his Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva “Il Campitello”.
But though he may speak highly of these supporting grapes, it is Sangiovese and Sangiovese “in purezza” – one-hundred-percent Sangiovese wines – that Braganti loves. The Baron Ugo is pure Sangiovese. It is no surprise, therefore, to enter the winery and find no barriques and only large old oak casks – at Monteraponi they choose not to mask any of the fruit aromas with that of wood. There is no stainless steel either for fermentation, which happens spontaneously in more traditional cement tanks. And maceration in those tanks is long, between 25 days for the Chianti Classico and 45 days for the Baron Ugo and Il Campitello.
Maturation takes place in large oak with a capacity of 3,000 litres – 16 months for the Chianti Classico, 26 months for the Il Campitello, and for the fruit from the highest and oldest vineyard, Baron Ugo, three years.
I push Braganti to tell me of his favourites in Chianti Classico and he smiles as he mentions Montevertine, the wines of Martino Manetti, a great friend of his and closest neighbour in Radda. He likes the wines of Angela Fronti at Istine, also in Radda, confirming a hunch I already had about this region – there is a sense of community and a respect between winemakers here, who are always collaborating and communicating. Braganti tells me they have created a union of the 24 Radda producers, the “Vignaioli di Radda”, whose principle objective is to “communicate the wine growing culture of Radda through initiatives supporting viticulture and in particular the production of quality wine – and to reduce the agricultural impact on the environment in Radda in Chianti and the surrounding area.”
Such mutual respect for the environment and the fruit grown here has resulted in wines that are striking, tuneful and untrammeled by preferences of the past that demanded deeply concentrated, viscous reds. Wines in Radda seem to celebrate vibrant fruit, playful acidity and resolute tannins – and Monteraponi is no exception.
Upstairs in the tasting room, we sample the current vintages. The wines appear modest and humble, not dense and opaque, robed in purple and weighty, stomping the palace grounds. Their colour is delicate, the nose fragrant and perfumed, fine and aromatic. The Baron Ugo 2016 is further proof that Sangiovese, intricate and complex, expressive of site, capable of long-term ageing, is indeed a noble variety.
Before leaving, I taste a Sangiovese from cask, a wine yet to be named, one-hundred-percent Sangiovese and matured in a similar mode to that of Brunello. Two years in, it is extremely exciting. I would drink it now. However, Braganti believes there is more this wine can deliver – we will need to wait three more years, five in total, until we can know it better. Could this be Monteraponi’s own sleeping beauty?