The Pinot Noir from the fort

the interior of the fort

In the nature of Imperial Wines there aren’t nostalgic veins. Nor militaristic. On the contrary, we despise hatred ant the rhetoric of war. We reject nationalisms, and fanaticisms of any nature. Yet, the visit to a wine cellar, jealously preserved within the walls of a 19th Century’s Austro-Hungarian fort, is a jewel, a pearl that must be picked without second thoughts. Federico Simoni invited us to visit Maso Cantanghel winery, and we warmly accepted. The vines extend all around the homonymous restaurant (which we believe is an extremely reductive term, to define Lucia Gius’ renowned tavern), on the tagliata overlooking the road running between Cognola and Civezzano.

We show up early at the meeting point. Unsure whether Federico Simoni has already arrived, we knock at the outpost’s entrance door, with the only result of pealing skin off our knuckles and make ourselves look ridiculous. The wine, protected by some tons of iron, rests beyond the risk of thieving, to the enduring glory of the Habsburgs’s puissance.

Federico appears. He takes a look at us, amused, while we wander around the strong point. Before taking us inside, he goes for the vineyards: a little more than two hectares of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon. The vines are approximately twenty years old.

“It’s a sort of clos from Burgundy”, he says with a hint of pride, while pointing at the stone wall that seprates the plants from the country road.

Maso Cantanghel is the farm of the Simoni family, historic wine producers from Lavis under the label Casata Monfort. Acquired in the year 2006, the farm also includes 2,5 hectares of Traminer and Chardonnay in the Cembra Valley. Straight after the acquisition, the Simonis have turned the farm’s activities in the direction of sustainable agriculture, converting Maso Cantanghel to biological products.

“Results weren’t late in coming: before, there was great lack of homogeneity in terms of production between different areas of the vineyard. Today, we’ve reached a level of balance. On the fields, we are extremely careful to grow the exact grapes that allow us to produce wines exactly as we like.” Federico explains us that the net outcome per hectare is around 50q of Pinot Noir and 80q of Sauvignon. And still, what really matters, is the net outcome per log: “To produce out Pinot Noir, which we want to be durable and with strong tannin texture, we keep an average of 1 kilo per plant. Now we intend to thicken the plantation, that is still organized in accordance to the original structure, with a sesto d’impianto (spacing of the vines) that is a hint too wide.”

Federico strikes us for his calm and humility. He’s definitely not the last offspring of a family of entrepreneurs, much rather a half-way between a composed administrator and a curious countryside technician. He got his education at San Michele, and then accumulated field experience in Austria (Burgenland), New Zealand (Spy Valley), and France (Chateux Margaux… nothing less).

“What I’ve learned in Bordeaux was pragmatism: French don’t get lost in the midst of irrelevant details, they look straight at the final goal and then focus the most efficient way to get there. We do sometimes, for instance, lose our mind in the attempt of figuring out which pump is preferable to use in the cellar: they prefer to dedicate this time, and the consuming of energy that it implies, to high-quality work in the fields, to the activity of selecting the best soils, the best quality of grapes..”

Yet, when he talks abut Pinot Noir, Federico doesn’t look at the far France: he stops at the cru from Mazzon, about which he speaks with admiration, but no envy.

“I believe Maso Cantanghel is, in its own way, an ideal spot for growing Pinot Noir: altitude is 450 meters, limestone-rich soils, excellent ventilation, it looks towards the south.. these are all important features that keep me hopeful and from which I’ve already got some satisfaction.”

In occasion of the 2011 edition of Giornate del Pinot Nero (‘Days of the Pinot Noir’), Forte di Mezzo – notwithstanding its newcomer status – classified third. This year it only reached the tenth position, yet the context was extremely competitive.

Throughout his adventure, Federico relies on the support of Hartmann Dona (“his disposition is all but similar to my father Lorenzo’s”), with whom he shares the love for the Pinot variety. The winery’s oenologist is Maurizio Iachemet, who also works for Casata Monfort.

Vigneti di Maso Cantanghel

Upon leaving the vineyard, we head towards the fort. The entrance door opens, squeaking, on the fresh darkness of the rooms.

“The vinification, wine-making process… we moved it away from here in 2008, for practical reasons. In this place, we now concentrate only on the maturation of the metodo classico (Casata Monfort; its Riserva is expected to come out soon, by the way): yet, our dream is, one day, to be able to take advantage of these room for events such as tasting sessions, encounters, meetings.. It’s an extremely evocative environment, this fort, so full of history… it deserves to be exploited.”

As we find ourselves standing around the big wooden table in the main room, Federico invites us to a tasting of the four products of his winery (we will discuss about the metodo classico in another, occasion).

The Sauvignon Vigna Piccola 2010 is bright and lively, open to the nose, exotic and mature, it recalls a gentle Mediterranean wind. We find it surprising in its depth: fresh and savoury. Federico, a lover of white wines from the North, hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to somewhat anticipate this.

The Sotsas cuvée 2009 (80% Chardonnay, 15% Sauvignon, 5% Manzoni mix (a varietal that disappeared in the year 2010) spends its last 7-8 months of fermentation inside of small carati (‘barriques’). Since 2010, the Chardonnay grapes come from Lavis; to be precise from a vineyard Federico’s grandfather planted in the year 1963. 2009 was, therefore, the last year in which this wine was 100% Maso Cantanghel. The Sotsas cuvée shines, golden, from within the glass, filling it with creamy, vanilla flavoured notes: its softness is sustained by an expressive and tonic sapidity. It’s agile and quick, as much as on a first taste it almost felt too wooden.

The Vigna Caselle 2010 is a “well-fed” Traminer: a chubby, healthy toddler, perfumed like after a pleasant bath with aromas. The grapes used for its production are collected slightly beyond maturation point, and come from young vineyards of the Cembra Valley, next to the Avisio River, in the valley bottom. Its alcoholic strength isn’t too high (13,5%), which prevents Vigna Caselle from exceeding in richness, making it an enjoyable drink.

And here we come to the zenith point: the very recently bottled Pinot Noir Forte di Mezzo 2009: half fermentation happens inside of wooden vats, half in steel; then, over at least one year, two passages in barriques. Every day, outside my house, those aromatic herbs that grow in the garden (thyme, rosemary, marjoram) benefit from the shadow of a sour cherry tree for some hours; a tree that, mainly because of the laziness of my family, almost keeps its fruits throughout the entire season. It is only when they’re unquestionably ripe that someone finally finds the resolution to collect them. Here’s an image that could, perhaps, metaphorically explain the complexity of aromas that this Pinot Noir offers. Savoury and spiced; its tannin (gentle), still defining, may become the key of its endurance of time. Forte di Mezzo is no Mazzon, nor it’s trying to become it: it’s Maso Cantanghel, let’s wait for another year or two before fully celebrating it. Federico is young and positive: we have every reason to be optimistic.