Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fattoria Montagliari

Tasting wine in Tuscany is great. You get on the main highway through the area, the 222, and start driving. The area is so beautiful, it's almost indescribable, although countless people have tried. Every so often, you see a sign pointing you toward a tasting room with the tell-tale black rooster. You pull in. Sometimes they're open, sometimes not. If so, you drink wine. That's that. No crowds, no fees, no disneyland air about it. And the best thing about venturing into smaller vineyards, is that sometime it literally is the owner pouring the wines.

Such was the case with David.

The story starts a couple of years ago on our last trip to Tuscany. Jason, Nancy and I had taken off one day to do some exploring. It was October. The weather was beautiful, warm during the day, but not too hot, cool in the evenings, but not too cold.

We're driving the main road pulling into any vineyard that catches our fancy. We are passing through the town of Panzano, turn a corner and there we see Fattoria di Montagliari. Great name, huh? It looks charming, we're thirsty, so we go in.

We enter their tasting room. A great wooden room with shelves full of bottles and pictures and a couple of benches for sitting. I would love to have a library in my house that was like this room, perhaps with some comfier chairs. We start talking to the man behind the counter. His English is good, and from his accent, we determine that he is not Italian, but German. He looks tired. But not as tired as the man sitting on the bench in the corner. Messy hair, rumpled clothing and wine stained teeth. This guy, however, is Italian. We're not really sure what's going on.

So the German pulls out a few glasses and he and the gentleman in the corner start discussing which one of them should do the pouring and explaining of the wines. After a few minutes of arguing over whose English is better and back and forth the German starts pouring us wine, but we can see that the Italian isn't going to keep quiet. He starts talking, and talking. And as he talks, it dawns on us that it is his name on the bottles of wine that we are drinking.

David Migliorini. His family had purchased the Montagliari estate within the last 50 years.

This guy was a nut. Seriously. And to top it off they had just finished the harvest. So he hadn't slept in two days. It turns out that the German is a good friend of his who comes every year to help with the harvest. We realize that there is a picture of he, David and another man in a frame on a shelf, looking slightly toasted. David tells us that was from a harvest years before, back when they were younger and crazier.

So we sat, and we drank, and we talked, and we talked and we talked.

We start talking about the business of importing wines and the difficulties involved for smaller wineries like Montagliari to get their wines distributed outside of the country, and especially in the US. FedEx requires you to purchase giant shipping crates, much bigger and more expensive than one small winery could afford. There are apparently also hurdles and roadblocks in place preventing groups of wineries from banding together. And don't even get David started on the distributors in the US.

"The distributor business in the US is controlled by the Mafia in the United States. It is crazy. I go online, I can order a gun from the US and pick it up at the post office in 7 days. You? you want to buy my wine when you go back home, you cannot. You need to write to your senators about this problem. Write to your senators!"

At the mention of the Mafia, Jason gets nervous and starts looking over his shoulder, as if men in vests with machine guns might jump out from around the corner at any second. David notes his discomfort and reassures him that we are too far north to have to worry about it. In the south, people would never talk about the Mafia, the Camorra or 'Ndrangheta. Apparently in the north it is safe!

Needless to say, this visit was the highlight of our day in the countryside. Also needless to say, we bought wine. Jason and I drank the 1997 (or was it 1999?) Chianti Riserve on New Years Eve. Laurie was in town with us, but she was pregnant, so Jason and I drank it all.

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