40 years earlier folks in these parts were battling a swollen Arno, in some of the worst flooding to ever hit Italy. It was Italy’s Cultural Revolution. Students came from all over the world to help reclaim damaged or lost works of art. Mud Angels . Historic times.
This was a different crisis from the time of Dante and his Beatrice.
On approach to Capezzana something was reminding me of this place. There’s something about the way the light bounces off the Montalbano hills. Is it the memory of an autumn spent there in 1977? Or a summer on the Greek Island of Paros? Was it some memory from a recessed gene that held an ancestors impression from a day working in the fields? Or perhaps painting? It was something, for when I arrived at the Capezzana estate it was like going home.
Deep in the past there are some references to Tuscan ancestors, from the Etruscan era. In any event, the day I spent with the Bonacossi family, Beatrice and her father Ugo, was vaguely familiar. And reassuring, not only on in regards to the business of wine, but also on a philosophical level, something deeper.
Some of my favorite wines comes from this estate. Do you ever have a taste that when it hits your palate, it’s like a seamless experience? Sangiovese, Carmignano, Cabernet, darn! This place nailed my palate preferences. Bull’s-eye, I am totally nuts about these wines! So what is it? Is it the Cabernet? Is it the Sangiovese? Is it the soil? The light? It's the mystery of something so familiar that it seems always to be a revelation. Imagine the thrill of a first love, day upon day. Something so familiar that it's never the same but always recognizable.
The Count, Ugo, is a person who has seen something of the world. He has a look of a person who has been told a great secret and his joy is to prepare the sauce in which to put it. He seems to be a person who really likes what has become of his life. When asked if, when he was young, he knew he was going to run the winery, his answer was no. Like a lot of young men and women, he wanted to step away from the large tree that was his father, and move into the sun. And he did. There was some engineering to be done in his life, human and otherwise.
To be fair, I only met him that one time. And Beatrice, really once or twice in a meeting, at Vinitaly, that sort of encounter. So my interaction was with father and daughter, albeit on a very limited and basic level. Thank God the wine can be approached over years and one can begin to get an idea of what these folks have to work with. Christopher Kimball, of Cook's Illustrated put it so well, when he said that it was better to be needed than it was to need things. This land needed people. These people were needed.
The wines? They day we were there, we tasted five wines, the Barco Reale 2004, Carmignano 2004, Carmignano 1985, Trefiano 2000 and Vin Santo 99.
The 1985 was a gift. My colleague produced a key in the form of a question; “Does Carmignano age well?”
Beatrice disappeared with a nephew and returned with the wine. My notes only have three words, “A Perfect wine.”
Years ago a buddy of mine, now a Master Sommelier, and I went to Italy. My friend, Guy Noel, fell in love with Carmignano from Capezzana. In fact the wine led him to love. For him, memories of the wine remain long after the flame of love burned out.
Up in the VinSanteria mats were lovingly placed for the grapes to dry. One of the most traditional methods of making of the holy wine. Drier in style than some, able to age for decades. One of the great sipping wines of Italy. We tried the 1999 that day, I managed six words this time, “rich, unctuous, spicy, almost Orient-al, lovely”. Whatever that meant. I am missing that wine right now.
“She was the oriental In Italy-her eyes told the story – shutters closed tightly against the northern winds, lips that concealed nothing, nothing but burning desire, unfulfilled passion. Her face was pushing out from within, trying to escape the bonds of her predicament.”
Words written years ago. Gone is the black rooster. Gone are the candles.
All that remains is to unlock the door and head back down into the cellar for more Carmignano. Grazie signore Ugo, grazie Beatrice.
more on the Mud Angels:
more about the flood of 1966 :