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…

08 Cos Nero di Lupo: o my UNBELIEVABLE Nero d’Avola! (no one night stand)

In Los Angeles this week for a series of business meetings for a new and thrilling restaurant project (more on that later) and a working dinner with one of NN+’s (my band’s) agents… and NO trip to LA is complete without a visit to the BEST WINE BAR on the planet (IMHO): Lou on Vine (with AW, of course).

As always, Lou poured an incredible flight of wines for our tavolata… but the wine that simply annihilated me with its goodness was the 2008 Nero d’Avola “Nero di Lupo” (a toponymic designation), vinified in amphora and cement… and, in this case, open from the day before !!!… think blood sausage and sour cherries and volcanic rock in a glass… unbelievable wine… So fresh, so focused, and so beautiful in the glass… Highly, highly recommended and even better, Lou said, the day after… This is definitely a wine that “you call the next day, no one night stand…”

Lou is predominantly Francophile but Italy — and southern Italy in particular — is his mistress… We also drank…

So young but showing so gorgeously right now…

Can you hear the Stevie Wonder in your head?

And though you don’t believe that they do
They do come true
For did my dreams
Come true when I looked at you
And maybe too, if you would believe
You too might be
Overnoyed, over loved, over me

(How’s that for a pun, Thor?)

Lou called it “a little farty” at first and didn’t pour it until it had aerated for about an hour. It’s so hard to find Overnoy in this country and I was thrilled to get to taste the 07 (which we drank at the end of flight… a perfect closer…). I love the mouthfeel of these wines (at once light and heavy), with that nutty oxidative note balanced by apricot and honey… utterly delicious…

Rebbe Lou presides over what is IMHO the best wine program in the country. Perhaps a little radical for some but always right for me: thrilling, delicious, and always something I haven’t tried yet… If only we could clone Lou and have him open a Lou on Vine in every major American city… we’d have a brighter and stronger next generation of young wine professionals…

White Nero d’Avola? Come again?

From the “life could be worse” department…

Last night found me off duty after an afternoon of appointments in Houston. So I met up with cousins Marty and Joanne and Aunt Lillian at Marty’s favorite restaurant Tony’s. Marty and Joanne are regulars there and are close with owner Tony Vallone, who always sends something special over to their table. Last night’s special treat was sautéed sea urchin tossed with mushrooms, tomatoes, and long noodles.

Sommelier Jonathan Hoenefenger paired the dish with Tony’s house white: a Nero d’Avola vinified as a white wine (Tony is Siculo-American). Frankly, I had never heard of such a thing (and neither had Italian Wine Guy when I asked him about this morning on my way back from Houston). In my experience, vanity bottlings like this rarely deliver more than novelty, but this wine was fresh, with bright acidity and minerality, and a surprising tannic note that found a worthy dance partner in the tender, meaty bits of urchin.

With our main course, we opened Quintarelli’s 1999 Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (an IGT for you DOC/DOCG/PDO/PGI buffs and a great example of how some of Italy’s greatest wines are not DOCGs). Man, this wine was killer: still a baby in the bottle, tannic and rich, with a seductive chewy mouthfeel, excellent with my Brooklyn-style thick cut pork chop. And the price was unexpectedly reasonable.

We took Aunt Lillian home (she’s 94) and retired to Marty and Joanne’s place, where we discussed Parzens and Levys, bubbies and zaidis, and even indulged in a little talmudic banter (Marty’s a law professor, after all).

Thanks, again, Joanne and Marty, for a wonderful evening!

Life could be worse, couldn’t it?