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Purveyor of uncommon wine, spirits & beer.

Filtering by Tag: Tuscany

Toad Prince


The dynamism of the wine world never ceases to amaze me. We often talk about "old vines" and "traditional methods" of farming and making wine, and maybe too easily forget that even in the harkening back to simpler agriculture it is the modern exchange of ideas that allows so much to change for the better in so little time. In today's global wine economy, American importers have a huge role to play in the shaping of trends and methods. How they play that role largely is a question of conscience. Many of the very large companies squeeze their producers into making wines that fit a projected market. Others push their producers to be as original as possible, and let the market come to them.

Enter Azienda Agricola Montesecondo, the small Tuscan winery owned by Silvio Messana, where innovation comes in spades. Silvio owns 8 hectares of vines that were once his parents'. He took over the vines after moving his family back to Italy from Manhattan. At first, Silvio did things the way he saw others doing them, letting the grapes get very ripe, aging them in wood for a very long time, and generally overdoing it. In 2005 he had a watershed year. It was a difficult vintage in which he was forced to harvest early. What he discovered was a knack for experimentation and a penchant for wines with more acidity and greater freshness.


His relationship with Kevin McKenna of Louis/Dressner (importers of highly principled wines) flourished from then on. Silvio had already converted to biodynamic farming—a decision made at the behest of his wife who was concerned for the safety of her children—and now he had a taste for un-manipulated juice. McKenna encouraged Silvio to find his own personal expression of the land, and garnered enough US sales of Montesecondo to give Silvio the confidence to continue. The wines have gotten better every year, and amazingly, he continues pushing forward with innovations.

Being a fan of Elisbatta Foradori (another Louis/Dressner producer), Silvio has begun experimenting with the same amphora containers that she uses, creating anomalous Beaujolais-like wines that dazzle in their lightness. And where he saw his grapes not thriving, he has replanted new vines in a style not otherwise seen in Chianti. It is his relationship with his importer that has allowed these risks, and allowed Silvio to come into his own as a winemaker. And man, has he ever. In the shop yesterday we tasted Montesecondo beside some heavy-hitters, and it stood out as one of the best in show.

Now if we can only get to the bottom of this whole crowned toad thing. . . I'm going with the changeling nature of his once-forsaken vines.

Montesecondo Rosso Toscano ($20) Younger vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Fresh, rustic tannins, gorgeous red fruit, lush finish.

Montesecondo DOCG Chianti Classico ($25) Older vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Deep fruit profile with firm backbone of acidity and lingering savoriness.

Montesecondo: 21st Century Renaissance Man


Montesecondo IGT Toscano Rosso 2011 — $18

The story of Silvio & Catalina Messana is a tall tale of the sort to make you ponder: at what point did my life suddenly begin to stand all but still? Theirs is a tale with a buxom arc.

Silvio was a wine salesman in Manhattan. The couple's three boys were coming into school age and with rising rents and extortion-level school costs, they decided to pack in and move to Tuscany to help nurse Silvio's ailing mother. His father had bought 49 acres in the Chianti Classico region back in 1969 and she had been selling off the fruit to cooperatives since his death. In 1999 she passed away; with both parents now gone, the time had come for Silvio and Catalina to commit full time to the family business.

Silvio took on the vines himself. And in the years since his first vintage, 2000, he's built himself (by hand) a sizeable production facility. He does it all. And he's had strong opinions all the way about spraying and mutilating the traditional practices of the area, but was at first timid about cutting orthogonally against the governing DOCG body. The grand irony of course is that Silvio has since begun making tank-aged (instead of oak barrels) Sangiovese and Canaiolo, the grapes significant to Tuscan heritage, and in the traditional style. It's complicated. But what I mean is that for a decade now he's been making wines that speak directly to the historical Chianti name. Traditional wines. Meanwhile, the Chianti consortium has been slowly turning their collective back on tradition and manipulating their wines to taste more like the streamlined products that are so endlessly hyped in the press. It's a case of monoculture on the rise. Exhibit A is the introduction of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and the use of small, new oak barrels.

So as a biodynamic vignaiolo Silvio bumps up against some pretty hefty risks, not only in terms of the hard work it takes to farm without a chemo-industrial crutch, but with the differing opinions about what Chianti and Tuscan wines should be. Especially since his ideas don't match with the current trends. Needless to say, I'm with Silvio.

This Tuscan Rosso is 95% Sangiovese with 5% Canaiolo. It's rustic on the nose and juicily quaffable going down. With an edge of freshness, this is natural wine that needs no footnote—just pure delight. Enjoy young with salty cured meats and firm cheeses, or to wash down a spicy pizza.