Sub Camerata generosa vites optimis vinis: Feudo Montoni

Myriad wine bloggers erroneously report that sixteenth-century Italian philosopher, doctor, and naturalist Andrea Bacci mentions Feudo Montoni in his landmark De naturali vinorum historia (On the Natural History of Wines, 1595).

Many also wrongly call Bacci “the pope’s sommelier.”

In fact, Bacci lavishes praise not on Feudo Montoni but on the wines raised in (the modern township of) Cammarata, where Feudo Montoni grows its grapes today (though the winery did not exist in Bacci’s time).

In fact, Bacci was Pope Sixtus V’s archiater (i.e., his personal physician).

After I tasted Feudo Montoni’s superb 2008 Nero d’Avola Vrucara this week, I couldn’t resist the urge to look up the reference and report it here.

Bacci does laud the wines of Cammarata with high tones, noting that in the province of Cammarata “noble vines” deliver wines superior in quality. They are powerful, he observes, and rich in red color, two indices that seem insignificant to us today but remarkable in an era when it was difficult to obtain high alcohol content and deep color in wine. He also takes note of their excellent aromas and their ability to age.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed by the 2008 by Feudo Montoni. This, to me, is classic Nero d’Avola and it stands apart from the crowd of wines, often thin and without much backbone, shipped by younger wineries who want to exploit American’s blind love of anything labeled indigenous.

I loved the meatiness of this nuanced expression of Nero d’Avola and the way it played with the dark fruit and life-giving acidic vein in the wine. Truly gorgeous and such a great value.

It was a great excuse to revisit Bacci and the time I spent this morning with his wondrous book delivered an observation on the application of word natural.

In a time before Pasteur, grape growing and winemaking belonged to the realm of nature — not to science. By the end of the nineteenth century, European writers readily spoke of the “science” of winemaking. But in Bacci’s day, wine was described as a purely natural element. The title of his book is, after all, De naturali vinorum historia.

As we continue to grapple with epistemological and ontological implications of the term natural and how it applies to wine and winemaking, it’s important to keep in mind that there was a time — before the modern era — when all wine was natural. By natural I don’t mean the loosely codified aesthetic of the current Natural wine trend. I mean simply that wine belonged to the natural (as opposed to technical) world in the pre-industrial age.

Wine for thought…

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