As I dropped the last few pieces of eggplant into the oil, the doorbell rang, announcing Suzanne, Catilin, and our guest for the night, Ron Prashker, one of three partners who shares ownership of Salcheto, a winery in Montepulciano, Tuscany. Not to be confused with the grape variety of the same name, Montepulciano is a town in the DOCG region–Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, home to vineyards of Sangiovese, or as the locals termed its clone–Prugnolo Gentile.
Eggplant Caponata. I added pine nuts, raisins, capers, and olives into the pan, followed by a cup of tomato sauce, while Ron unpacked five bottles of wine. When the table was finally set, he uncorked a bottle of Rosato di Toscana 2008, a cuveé of Sangiovese and Canaiolo–a red grape that once played the staring role in Chianti. At 14% abv, this Rosato packs punch for a rosé wine–Salcheto’s second vintage, which is not yet available in the US. Fruit forward with notes of cherry and candied rose, it’s easy drinking and fruity on the finish.
Seeking an investment, Ron joined Salcheto in 2006, but the winery has existed in its modern form since 1984. With Michele Manelli as their winemaker and Paolo Vaggagni as their consulting winemaker, Salcheto practices sustainable farming, which I asked Ron to define. It’s “respecting the process of classical agriculture in the most natural way you can,” he began, then went on to explain how they use no herbicides and no pesticides, partake in no artificial grooming (weeds grow amidst vines), and even use their own honey-making bees to pollinate the vineyards. Currently, they’re in the process of constructing a “green, self-sustaining” winery, with solar panels, and geo-thermal heating and cooling; a place where they can practice gravitational wine making (a process I described in my piece on Stoutridge Vineyards for Edible Hudson Valley).
Next, we poured Salcheto’s Chianti Colli Senesi 2007, which is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Mammolo. In Tuscany, there are eight zones that can call their wines Chianti, and Colli Senesi is one. This wine initially weighs big on fruit in the mouth, but this sensation soon dissipates, revealing savory notes of herbs and black pepper. The coconut on the nose exhibits American oak, in which the wine is aged for three months, but the tannins are light, making it a drink-now wine.
Their Rosso di Montepulciano 2007, is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 8% Merlot that sees no oak, only stainless steel; it’s a wine that is often served chilled. Stylistically the Rosso is different from the Chianti, but the characteristics share similar notes. This, Ron suggested, speaks of the winemaker’s efforts to let the [Sangiovese] grapes be. There are herbaceous notes on the nose, including fennel and eucalyptus-like mint, and dark cherry fruit. It’s silky, and easy drinking, with tannins on the finish that come straight from the skins and seeds of grapes. With it’s higher acidity, the Rosso di Montepulciano paired quite well with the Eggplant Caponata.
The Vino Nobile de Montepulciano 2004 is a DOCG wine (one of the first four DOCGs established in 1980) that comes from the township of Montepulciano and is made from 100% Sangiovese. Of the approximately 80,000 bottles made, all were fermented and aged for a total of 24 months in Slovenian oak (30% of the wine sees five months in one-year-old oak before it’s blended back into larger, older oak vats), followed by one year in the bottle before the wine was released. Initially, I sensed butter on the nose, but this oak-note transformed as the wine aerated into aromas of vanilla, violet, dried cherry, licorice, and earth. Its silky texture is framed by a fine balance of acidity and tannins–all of which are quite nice.
Saving the best for last, we eyed the bottle of Salco Evoluzione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2003, its label an image of poppy fields in Afghanistan by the Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrini (each year sees a new artist, and a portion of proceeds are donated to the artist’s favorite cause). Made from 25-30 year old vines, fermented and aged for 24 months in oak–including three to six months in new French barrels–and aged for four more years in the bottle, the Salco Evoluzione reveals its age in its garnet rim. 2003 was a hot year in Europe, and so the 14% abv was no cause for alarm. What did surprise me was the undetectability of this alcohol and the wine’s lack of overbearingly ripe juicy fruit. Instead, I sensed perfumed wood on the nose–sandal and cedar woods, with dusty violets, dark cherry, leather, and cane sugar cola. The acidity is tempered by the wine’s tannic finish, and when paired with the Eggplant Caponata, the result was divine. The dish served to temper the tannins, but the dusty flavors remained, while the White Bean Dip acted like a black hole, absorbing all flavors, tannins, and light.
Thanks again to Ron and his wife Jill for joining our Wine Club this month! I’m doing my best to convince next month’s hostess to choose red wines from Loire as our October wine. Wish me luck and stay tuned!