Where does it come from:
The origin of Altesse has been the subject of some debate. It has been suggested that it's identical to Furmint, the noble Hungarian variety used to make the great sweet wine Tokaij. However others suspect that it is indigenous to the hills of Savoie. Today there are fewer than 1,000 acres under cultivation, mostly in France, though there is a small quantity in Switzerland.
What's it like for the farmer:
Altesse needs gentle care, as it is quite to susceptible to the most common forms of grape rot.
Monte Bernardi, "Sangio," Rosso Toscano, Italy, 2012
Distributor: T. Edward Wines, 66 West Broadway, Suite 406, New York, NY, 10007
Blue Ribbon Brasserie
Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn
Winemakers are in a risky business. They face huge overhead, climate change, bad weather, drought and rising gas prices, all before a single berry has been picked. After harvest they are faced to contend with a product that is inherently unstable and prone to any number of bacterial problems. And when that's finished they still need to sell the wine! Why anybody would get in to this business when forced to confront all this is a mystery. But these same challenges render us impressed when someone is willing to take the plunge. Michael Shmelzer is one such character.
Michael is the owner and operator of Monte Bernardi in Panzano, the heart of Chianti Classico. He and his entire family (wife, parents, sister, dogs) purchased this estate in 2003 and set about the hard work of producing classic, elegant Tuscan wines. Today they make half a dozen cuvées, including Chianti Classico and Classico Riserva, a delicious rosé and a SuperTuscan from Bordeaux varieties. But the wine we are excited about this week is their little Rosso Toscano, called "Sangio."
"Sangio" is produced from the highest-altitude vineyard in Panzano, 510 meters above sea level. Though planted primarily with Sangiovese (as the name would indicate) there are also some white-grape vines interspersed among the red and this is one of two reasons this fruit doesn't get labelled Chianti. Virtually all the major wine regions of Europe have certain requirement that a grower must meet to label their wines with an appellation, such limits on grape varieties, minimum oak-aging time and minimum alcohol levels. Michael likes to include the white plantings in the final blend and so falls outside the DOCG regulations for Chianti and Chianti Classico. In addition, at such high elevation the cool temperatures sometimes prevent the vines from reaching the minimum required-alcohol level for those labels.
But where the Italian wine authorities frown, we smile. We are huge fans of this wine, with its textbook Tuscan profile. It's redolent with red fruit, dried herbs and almost bloody, iron-rich minerality. Michael has put his oenology degree to good use, smoothing the most rustic edges while never hiding the wine's country character.
Growing grapes from vine to bottle takes guts and that is a thing we admire. Michael and his family have them in spades. They bought the vines, they did the work and the proof is in the bottle. We tip our hats and raise our glasses to them. Why don't you come around this week and do the same?
Wine Director, Blue Ribbon Restaurants