It seems like everytime I go to Montelulciano it's a dark and rainy night. All two of the times! Actually, it wasn't too late when I arrived, but the sun set and the Agritourismo I thought it was staying at was completely dark. I wandered around for a bit and knocked on the door of another house which was completely unhelpful. Then it started to rain. I resorted to calling Dora Forsoni on the phone and I was shocked that she picked up. Turns out there's this other dumb winery/agritourismo with the name Sanguineto that's just up the street. I went the wrong way and Dora had to come retrieve me, but she was laughing the whole time and I never got the hint that she thought I was a helpless American (which at that moment I was). Once I made it to the real Sanguinetto Dora and Patrizia welcomed me and we had a fantastic traditional Tuscan meal with pigeons that Dora had shot, a pork roast, various bruschetta, guanciale they had made, and sausage from wild boar Dora had shot.
In the first few minutes of meeting Dora I noticed her hands. She's such a small delicate looking woman, but her hands show the scars and proud story of all the work she's done for...I don't know...40 years in the vineyard? She told me she was 79 but I think it was a language barrier mis-understanding, I'm pretty sure she's 69 years old. It was shocking and humbling how happy and honest she was. In no way was she trying to consciously project an image: she was just so happy to be alive and there in Tuscany and to be able to tell me stories. It was amazing.
The next morning I got up earlyish and spent an hour running to Aquaviva and back. Dora was out in the yard feeding the chickens and as I ran up the driveway asked if I wanted breakfast. When I said yes, without pausing she waved for me to follow and got into her old diesel Mitsubishi truck. We drove back in to Aquaviva to a Cafe in the gas station that was obviously the spot where everybody in town came to get the local gossip. I was sweaty and in short shorts and mildly amused by what the bundled up Italians must have thought of me but Dora didn't even seem to be aware of it, until I mentioned that they must think I was crazy and we both laughed. Dora goes there most mornings and lots of people said hi to her. I got the feeling that is sort of a of local institution and legend.
Looking up the hill at the winery
The view from my room of the gently sloping hillside vineyard
We drove back to the winery in her bouncy old truck that smelled and felt exactly like the old Toyotas I grew up with on Cranberry Island. I changed and then we went and did a vineyard walk. Different parts of the vineyard had been planted in 1935, some in I think 58, and some in the 70s. I wish I could have understood more about the mammolo, Canaiolo, trebbiano, malvasia, and Grechetto that she had, but of course most of her vines were Sangiovese. She was adamant that all the Sangiovese on the estate was Prugnolo Gentile variety and not some other clone of Sangiovese. I asked what she did when she had to replace a vine that was dead and she said that it was possible to buy vines that were certified as Prugnolo Gentile from the Montepulciano Consortium. She got up in arms at the idea of people planting non Prugnolo Gentile and was sure some wine makers did. She prunes aggressively in January when the vine is really asleep. She tries to really limit the production of each plant so that the wine is more powerful. All her Sangiovese is on Terra Rosa. It's noticeably red soil that has volcanic matter in it because long long long ago Montepulciano was a volcano. That blood colored soil is part of where the name sanguineto comes from and it gives the wines more power and minerality. It's a building block of what makes Sanguineto Sanguineto.
Here's a shot of both Terra Rossa in the background and Terra Bianca in the foreground
Also, all of her Vines were trained in Guyot so that they'd only have 1 or 2 fruit bearing branches.
Then I went for another quick run while she did some other work. After that Dora, Patrizia, and I went into Aquaviva for lunch. We had another series of Bruschetta (i), some fantastic very peppery pasta, and then thinly sliced fantastic rare grilled beef. The meal was rounded out with Pecorino. We polished off two bottles of her Rosso di Montepulciano. Very Tuscan.
Some of the scenery running
After lunch Dora took a nap and I ran the hills into Montepulciano and back. It's an amazing medieval Hilltop Town built on top of itself at a peak of 650 m. When I got back Dora showed me her cantina.
It was very small and we'd already tasted her wines at dinner and again at lunch. I tasted the 2018 vintages of Rosato and Bianco from the tanks and then also the 2017 Rosso which was basically done but she had to have an analysis done first and then she wouldn't have permission from the Consortium until sometime in April. 2017 was hot and very dry but the wine was still obviously classic Sanguineto, it was just a bit juicier and more forward. The 2018 Rosato and Bianco were fantastic! Bright and really tasty, vivid, and energetic. I don't usually go in for Sangiovese Rosato, I guess I'm just a traditionalist, but it was very good and Dora was excited about it.
The big thing Dora kept repeating was that she only made 1 wine. The difference between the Rosso di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile, and Vino Nobile Riserva is strictly the aging. I asked whether she made some kind of choice in the vineyard to decide which grapes would be used for which wine and she emphatically said no. She said that her father had taught her to only make one wine. That way everything is of the best possible quality and it simplifies things as well; making one wine allows better focus. So the Rosso is aged 1 year, the Vino Nobile for 2, and the Riserva for 3 years. Dora also said it would be ridiculous to make a determination in the vineyards because Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Mammolo all ripen at slightly different times. And you have to declare in advance what wine you will make from a given piece of vineyard so in Dora's case it would be too complicated to decide a year or more in advance what wine she will make from a given vineyard, so effectively all three reds are made to the same level as the Riserva.
At dinner that night we had another fantastic humble meal around their kitchen table with more pork roast, pasta carbonara that Dora was emphatic about only using egg yokes, no whites in the sauce. We had jarred wild boar head cheese and then for dessert some of her olives that she had thrown in a jar with fresh olive oil and minced bits of orange peel and then frozen. The olives were too oily to actually freeze solid so they had this soft grainy meaty texture and slowly melted in your mouth alongside the fresh bite of the orange.
Dora told me about how hot and dry 2017 had been and that she had therefore made big powerful wines. We were tasting 2015, a maybe even hotter vintage, but she said it wasn't worth drastically altering the way she worked. The wine had a lot of alcohol but it wasn't very apparent tasting it because it was balanced with classic Sangiovese fruit (not too ripe!), salt, a bit of smoke, tannic structure, and dry earth. This prompted her to tell me that she knew some wine makers added water to their 2017s in order to keep the alcohol down. I imagine that is something you'd have to do if the grapes had ripe levels of sugar but you had harvested a little too early and didn't have proper fruit and aromatic ripeness. Or you could just be a snake and decide that since the wine only has to be 13 percent but yours is 14, you could add some water and still have wine that shows 13.5 % and you'll have a significant bit more wine to sell and make more money. Dora said you could get an idea of whether there was water added to the wine by dabbing a bit on a white paper napkin and observing how it diffuses. She demonstrated and you could see the pigment along with all the tannin etc spread out but the color got a teeny bit lighter further out until at the very edge there was just a thin clear ring of liquid: that was water. Wine is a heterogeneous fluid (wine 101) meaning it's a non uniform mix of all the stuff in it and over time the fluid can separate into its component parts. The tannin, pigment, minerality, etc gets stuck as the wine spreads out through the paper napkin because on a molecular level it's larger and stickier than the water. That's why at the outer edge there should be that thin ring of water that was able to make it further through the napkin than the pigment. There should only be this very thin bit of water. I suppose it's slightly different for different types of wine so you'd have to make some experiments. But once you have a baseline of what for example a Rosso di Montepulciano should look like you would be able to spot one that had a larger thicker ring of water around it's napkin splotch. Pretty smart!
The next morning I did more running and we went to the bar and had another espresso for breakfast. After that we talked some more about work and life. I took a picture of her very impressive hands which she was proud to oblige with. She showed me her hunting trophies and various tractors. We were talking a bit about how I like cars and the new Alfa Romeo I was driving. Then her face lit up (hard to imagine more lit up but it did) and she led me into one of the little out buildings. Behind a tractor she had a sweet old Alfa Romeo 2.0 GTV from the mid 70s. It had obviously been sitting but was in good clean shape and the interior was really good. She said it was her old car from decades ago and she used to blow the doors off BMWs with it. She hopped in and it actually fired up! It was rough at first but it smoothed out. God knows how old the gas and battery were and it must have some crazy old mechanical Spiega fuel injection system but it was bad ass.
A bunch of the other wine makers I visited knew her and were concerned for her health. She seemed very active and spry but she can't weigh even 120 lbs. I heard she had broken a leg a year or 2 ago but she seemed to be moving around fine. Even with my shitty Italian meeting her was amazing. People describe her as a force of nature and now I get it.
Sunset at Sanguineto