Emerging from the Dark – and Drinking Montevetrano

I may never again find candlelight charming. Nor do I appreciate going to bed at sunset because there is nothing else you can do, and rising at dawn because you can’t afford to lose a moment of light. It makes me wonder how humanity made any progress at all before Edison, with so little time to do any work.

That lucubration, you have probably rightly surmised, was inspired by Hurricane Sandy’s killing the power in downtown Manhattan and thus putting Diane and me – and countless others – into a dark at least as profound as that in Plato’s cave. When we finally got power back late last week and were able to return home from the uptown friends who had taken us in when we couldn’t stand any longer the absence of light, heat, and water, we were torn between relief and emotional exhaustion, gratitude that we had escaped so lightly when so many others lost everything, and irritation that our tidy little world had however briefly been deranged.

In times of stress, I naturally turn to wine the way some people turn to prayer. The advantage, I think, is with me: wine is always available. In this case, since Diane was cobbling together an elegant little remnants-of-Sandy repast with a Frenchish flavor, I opted for the most Bordeaux-like of all the great Italian wines, Silvia Imparato’s Montevetrano.

Silvia Imparato was already a very successful photographer 20 years ago when she took over her family’s lands in the Colli Picentini, the high hills east of Salerno in Campania. This isn’t a zone renowned for great red wines, but Signora Imparato is as determined as she is elegant, and she loved the wines of Bordeaux. So with the help of Riccardo Cotarella, she planted and vinified Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the native Aglianico – and from the beginning, she took the Italian wine world by storm. Montevetrano has won Tre Bicchieri every year since 1995.

Bibenda Wine 2012, the publication of the Italian Sommeliers Association, awarded the most recent release (2009) five grappoli – its top rating – and raved about the wine. Listen to this:

One of the best vintages of recent years. Spellbinding ruby red, thick, with shining trickles that stain the glass. A rare, elegant bouquet, which eight months in Allier, Nevers and Tronçais oak have wrought to perfection. Sweeping, cohesive and complex olfactory array that is at first elegantly balsamic, then juicy with notes of black berries, followed by lavender and aloe, berries, arbutus, rosemary, sage, sandalwood and soil. The palate is pleasingly cleansed by refined tannins and tempered by a rich charge of smoothness, then perfectly supported by stunning freshness. A flawless finish, long and clean with aftertastes of dried plums and roots.

I guess they liked it.

When Diane and I visited Signora Imparato, ten years ago, we were struck by the comparative tininess of the vineyards – not quite six hectares in all – and their impeccable tidiness.

At that time, we tasted the 2000, 1999, 1998, and 1997 vintages, and we were struck by the unmistakably Bordelais character of the wine. My notes and my memory agree that as Montevetrano ages, it comes to resemble Château Lafite in fruit and structure – and that is no mean praise for a wine produced in what is virtually a vinous nowhere.

What Diane and I drank with our post-hurricane meal was the 2006 Montevetrano, an absolutely lovely and composed wine even though partially in eclipse. I should have waited a few more years to drink it – but time and tide (the latter all too literal in this case) and all that. Fortunately I still have a few more bottles, which I will squirrel away for a fitting occasion: hopefully not another hurricane.

4 Responses to “Emerging from the Dark – and Drinking Montevetrano”

  1. Eric Kroes Says:

    Silvia makes fantastic, very elegant wines. And yes, they are expensive, but aren’t all great wines expensive? I think Montevetrano is worth every euro I pay for it (45 per bottle). And the best way to taste it is in my opinion by having it with a meal at La Vecchia Quercia, cooked by Anna who is Silvia’s sister. Anna runs a very nice agriturismo next to the vineyard. And by the way: the prices of rooms and meals are very reasonable.

  2. Joe Calandrino Says:

    Tom: If you don’t mind the lucubrations of a fellow lucubrator, allow me to opine that the wines of Campania remind me of better days when Taurasi was a ‘deal’ and rose-fingered dawn danced on the wine-dark sea.

    I’m glad that Sandy does not have you wringing your hand (singular, because you must have lost the other one when you paid that arm and a leg for the Montevetrano). I hope lower Manhattan makes a quick recovery.

    But back to the wine: I have never loved Montevetrano, not just because it is always overpriced, but I suppose I have never had one properly aged. At 5-7 years the wine is still ‘harsh’ and I always wonder where it can all be going anyway. Is there really enough fruit to outlast all that tannin?

    Give me anything from Mastroberardino and I’m a happy camper, and at a fraction of the cost.

    Best regards always.

    Joe

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Joe:

      I can hardly argue with you about Mastroberardino, which has long been one of my favorite producers. Their wines, as you point out, are always reasonably priced, and Montevetrano is expensive — the California syndrome, I think: huge initial investment in vineyards and cellar in an almost virgin wine territory and a consequent need to generate cash flow pdq. But the wine does age beautifully, and it is different — more Bordelais, more international in style — from other Campanian wines. Whether you consider that praise or dispraise really depends on your palate. For myself, I like it, though I do hate the cost. But of course I could say the same about many, many wines, from California and France and Spain and Italy — alas.

  3. gitapiedinewyork Says:

    Good to have your blog posts back!

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