At the end of every visit that we make to a winery in Italy, when the time comes to buy their wine for the purpose of writing these articles I always find it instructive to compare the cellar door price list with the prices charged by Italian on-line retailers for the same wines. I’m never quite sure what to expect because there have been occasions when a winery’s prices have actually been considerably higher than retail even though there is no middleman involved and no transportation costs.
So I take my hat off to Daniele and Andrea Dzieduszycki at Fattoria di Sammontana for rewarding their visitors with some excellent discounts for on-site purchases, which puts Sammontana among the very best wineries we have visited in this regard. These are the type of places we return to when we need to buy wine for our own consumption. Furthermore, I commented in a recent article that our opinion of ‘natural wines’ was colored somewhat by the fact that they always seem to be significantly more expensive than similar conventionally made wines. Not the Sammontana wines I’m happy to report, which we think represent very good value wherever you happen to buy them.
When you live in the U.S. you quickly realize that there is no such thing as a typical American last name. Not so in Italy where last names often define the part of the country that you come from, so it’s unusual to come across an Italian winery that has been passed down through five generations of the same family with the last name Dzieduszycki.
The story starts in 1867 when a Polish nobleman, Michele Dzieduszycki, purchased the estate and surrounding farm land. It had previously been a church possession inhabited by monks and before that it belonged to the Medici family dynasty. Michele was essentially a tourist buying a holiday home at a time just after Italian unification when Florence was becoming a popular destination for well-heeled visitors from many countries.
Michele’s son Maurizio made Sammontana his full time home, married an Italian and their son, Massimo, was the one who first focused his full attention on improving the quality of the wine and olive oil. The fourth generation is represented by Andrea, who had a career outside the family winery, first in Milan and then nearby in Florence. Andrea is now retired from the day to day operations of the estate and so it was he who gave us a tour of the fattoria. The management of the winery and the actual winemaking duties are now in the capable hands of Daniele, the fifth generation to carry the Dzieduszycki name.
Like most Italian winemakers, even those with production of 50,000 bottles per annum, Daniele’s responsibilities also include all of the unglamorous work behind the scenes. When we visited Sammontana in early April he was fully occupied bottling and labeling his wines (below left) so when you read the fine print on one of the bottles and see the line ‘Imbottigliato all’origine da Daniele Dzieduszycki’ you can be sure that it is true in a very literal sense. But before you get to the fine print you can admire the labels on the Primo Fuoco wines as they were designed by Daniele’s brother, Lorenzo, who spent many years in London as a professional designer and art director.
Fattoria di Sammontana is not in the typical location that most people expect when they see the word Chianti on a label but it is more accessible than most, being only about 12 miles from Florence and close to the main road to Pisa, just south of the river Arno. The estate comprises 32 acres of vines and more than 3,000 olive trees on mostly alluvial soil interspersed with gravel and stones.
The property has been certified organic for ten years and Daniele has also adopted biodynamic practices, something we are seeing more and more in Italy. In addition to the quite common sovescio (green manuring) method of fertilizing the vines after their late winter pruning, the biodynamic protocols consist of many natural applications in addition to the famous cow horn preparation 500, all employed according to the lunar cycle. In addition they perform a rigorous thinning of the grapes before the summer heat, known as ‘green harvesting, which serves to elevate the quality of the remaining grapes.
The vendemmia, like most of the vineyard activities, is completely manual and can last for a full month as there are a wide range of grapes grown on the estate. They include traditional Tuscan red varietals like Sangiovese for the Chianti DOCG wines as well as Colorino and Canaiolo in small quantities as blending grapes. The white grape Trebbiano Toscano has a role in three of the wines and there is also a place for Sauvignon and Malvasia Bianca in one of the blends.
In addition, the Primo Fuoco line consists of a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon red wine, a 100% Merlot rosato as well as a 100% Trebbiano Toscano white wine, all three of which are matured in terracotta amphora and produced in very small quantities of no more than 1,200 bottles each.
In the cellar everything proceeds as one would expect in an organic and biodynamic environment. Daniele uses stainless steel for his white wine fermentation and large concrete tanks for the reds and in both cases the fermentation happens spontaneously with only the natural yeasts on the grape skins precipitating the process. Daniele works hard with the fermenting must of his red wines, employing délestage and frequent pump overs and punch downs, followed by open air racking to add oxygen to the process. This allows him to safely avoid any filtration or clarification of the wine prior to bottling.
For those wines not bottled immediately, aging takes place in variety of containers depending on the wine. Oak barrels are used for the Chianti Superiore and the Tinaio and large terracotta amphora for the three Primo Fuoco wines. Interestingly, the regular Chianti DOC wine is aged in steel and concrete and yet, as we note below, it has surprisingly soft tannins and an easy approachability despite its youth; a testament perhaps to all the daily work on the fermenting must that we described above.
With 3,000 olive trees, the production of olive oil remains an important part of the family business and there is a long history of olive oil here. Terracotta amphora are also used for storing the new oil and they still have the old grinding stones from when the storage room in the photograph above was actually the frantoio and the stones were pulled by a donkey.
Alberese 2021 - Rosso Toscano IGT (12.5% alcohol)
(Sangiovese and Trebbiano Toscano)
Not quite a rosso but more substantial than a rosato, this is a bit like a dry Lambrusco without the fizz or possibly a Cerasuolo from Abruzzo. Whatever comparison you care to make, this is a lovely summer wine best served at cellar temperature. Fruity, refreshing and light in alcohol it will go well with an array of simple dishes. 10,000 bottles produced. Priced at 10 euros in retail outlets in Italy but only 4 euros at the cellar door so you can begin to understand why we started this article with a tip of the hat to Daniele for treating visitors to his winery so generously. We will be back there soon to stock up for the summer.
Prunecchio 2021 - Bianco Toscano IGT (12.5% alcohol)
(Sauvignon, Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia bianca)
An interesting grape combination that we've not seen before. There's a lemony sourness here that I like which makes it a summer thirst-quenching type of wine and there's always a place for that in an Italian heat wave. Very refreshing and at 12.5% alcohol it's perfect as an aperitivo. Another great bargain priced at 5 euros at the cellar door. 6,000 bottles produced.
Chianti 2020 - DOCG (13% alcohol)
(90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, aged in concrete and stainless steel)
20,000 bottles produced, including 1 or 1.5 liter sizes in the traditional straw wrapped fiasco, which I will definitely buy on our return visit because the fiasco represents pure 1970s London pizza restaurant nostalgia for me.
Surprisingly expressive nose of blueberry, nutmeg and cardamom. On the palate it's a medium weight wine with immediate appeal and drinkability. Good, honest Chianti made to be drunk and enjoyed on a daily basis but still very recognizable as a Chianti. Another remarkably low cellar door price of 4.50 euros per 75 cl. What more could you ask for?
Tinaio 2018 - Rosso Toscano IGT (13.5% alcohol)
(Sangiovese, Colorino and Syrah; aged in small oak casks for 2-3 years)
The Syrah jumps out of the glass here with its signature perfume. Dark flowers, mature red fruits and plum all are present with some notes of cherries soaked in alcohol. Invisible tannins after its long maturation in oak but still with good acidity, this is a very smooth and balanced wine. One of our favorites this year. 2,500 bottles produced and priced invitingly at 7 euros at the cellar door.
Primo Fuoco 2021 - Bianco Toscano IGT (13.5% alcohol)
(100% Trebbiano Toscano, fermented and aged in large terracotta amphora with 3 month extended skin maceration)
This is definitely an 'orange wine' as a result of the extended skin maceration and it's actually a gorgeous burnt amber color in the glass. On the nose there is a powerful aroma of fresh golden delicious apples and yellow peaches and on the palate it actually stirs memories for me of a hand crafted still English cider. Very savory notes but at the same time very refreshing. 1,200 bottles produced and very reasonably priced at 10 euros at the cellar door.
Primo Fuoco 2021 - Rosato Toscano IGT (13.5% alcohol)
(100% Merlot, aged for 6 months in large terracotta amphora)
What a fabulous wine! I have often been a little circumspect in my tasting notes on 'natural wines' so it is especially pleasing for me to be able to give a full-throated endorsement of this delicious rosato. In the glass it's a delicate shade of raspberry with a scent of geranium. The flavor is somewhere between pomegranate and persimmon in the sense that it has all the lovely bitterness of those two fruits while hinting at sweetness that never quite materializes. This is a well-crafted wine that is interesting and very different to the average rosato; simply delicious. The bad news is that only 1,200 bottles are produced but the good news is that you can visit Andrea and Daniele at their winery in Montelupo Fiorentino and buy it for only 8.50 euros if there is any left. What a bargain!