The room is packed with wine lovers clutching oversized wine glasses. Behind each of the dozen or so tables covered with wine bottles stands an Italian winemaker busily pouring their wines into the mob of outstretched glasses in front of them and trying explain in their best English their vinous creations. Through the crowd darts the energetic and passionate Jens Schmidt, owner of Montecastelli Selections. Each of these producers are part of the Montecastelli portfolio - his selections. Jens seems to be at every table at once as he tries to convey his passion for these wines to each of the consumers attending.
The sold-out tasting is at Sam's Wine Warehouse in Chicago, one of the world's largest fine wine retailers. It is not easy for new importers to get their wines into such a high profile store, but almost the entire Montecastelli catalog is represented on the wine racks at Sam's - a tribute to their quality and the sharp palates of Sam's Wine Director Todd Hess and Italian Buyer Greg Smolik. Hess and Smolik are looking over the crowd at the tasting with satisfaction as each guest departs with shopping carts laden with the delicious Montecastelli wines. Their customers are sure to return for more as these wines will taste even better at the dinner table.
Jens and Ruth Schmidt have come a long way in a very short time. Montecastelli was only founded in 1997 and their American importing company was born in 2002, yet they have established themselves with some of America's most demanding retail buyers and are distributed in 22 states. They have accomplished this with only two tools: a dedication to quality and old-fashioned hard work. Montecastelli is the name of their home and farm in Tuscany where they have restored an 11th century monastery. Here they produce their excellent olive oil and have also established a lovely agriturismo. They are living in reality what so many thousands only dream about.
One thing that is certain when tasting through this portfolio is that all of the wines are absolutely delicious to drink. They are modern wines, yet they pay homage to traditional winemaking and never let modern methods overwhelm the integrity of the vineyard. Jens describes his palate in this way, "Technically speaking I value cleanliness, fruit and natural balance of acidity. I disapprove of even only small amounts of Bret (brettanomyces-a winemaking fault that is sometimes considered acceptable in small amounts), oxidization and lack of acidity. However in our wines I am looking for more: To make things unique I always look for character and integrity. Integrity is the combination of the vintners approach and individuality confronted with the things in nature he cannot change: history, climate and soil type. Character is emerging as a unique expression of the vintner findings over time and his ability to listen and taste."
Indeed each wine in the Montecastelli portfolio is a wine of character.
Recently tasted wines all of which are highly recommended:
Cesani, Toscana (2002 Chianti Colli Senesi, 2001 Ireos, 2000 Luenzo, 2002 Sanice); Cima, Toscana (2001 Montervo, 2001 Romalbo); Col Vetoraz, Veneto (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - Brut, Extra-Dry, Cartizze, 2001 Millesimato); Collelceto, Toscana (2001 Rosso di Montalcino); Destefanis, Piemonte (2000 Nebbiolo d'Alba); La Rasina, Toscana (1999 Brunello di Montalcino, 2001 Rosso di Montalcino); La Tenaglia, Piemonte (1999 Barbera del Monferrato Tenaglia e', 2000 Barbera d'Asti Giorgio Tenaglia); Le Fonti, Toscana (2001 Chianti Classico, 2000 Vito Arturo); Novaia, Veneto (2000 Amarone della Valpolicella, 2001 Valpolicella Cantoni); Palazzo Bandino, Toscana (2002 Chianti Colli Senesi, 2000 Bandinello); Perticaia, Umbria (2000 Sagrantino di Montefalco); Pira, Piemonte (2001 Dolcetto d'Dogliani -Bricco Botti and Landis, 2001 Barbera - Fornaci and Briccobotti, 2000 Nebbiolo d'Alba Bricco dell'Asino); Ronchi, Piemonte (2000 Barbaresco, 2001 Barbera d'Alba, 2001 Dolcetto d'Alba); Terre del Sillabo, Toscana (2001 Sauvignon, 2001 Gana); Torre Quarto, Puglia (2001 Guappo Rose, Bottaccia Uva di Troia, Quarto Ducale and Tarabuso Primitivo)
Retailers with extensive selections of Montecastelli wines:
North Berkeley Wine Merchants (Berkeley, CA); Sam's Wine Warehouse (Chicago); Italian Wine Merchant (NY); E and R Wines (Portland); Hi Time Cellars (LA); PJ Wine (NY); The Wine Merchant (St. Louis) and Whole Foods Markets in New York, San Francisco, Portland, Santa Fe, Seattle, Cary NC, and Atlanta.