It’s lunchtime, the shutters are closed on the front of the shop and we enter through the back door. This is one of the most respected wine shops in Florence, Cantina Bonatti. There are four members in the Cantina: Luca and Selvaggio, along with Roberto and Stefano, the grandsons of Pasquale Bonatti who founded the cellar in 1934.
They do tastings in May and Autumn, when the climate is more mild, and always with all of them together. Indeed they’re all here today. As well as Mario Righi, the father of Stefano and Roberto who in the 1960s took over from the founder and then passed his passion on to his sons. Everything is ready: we have bottles, glasses and a lively atmosphere!
They have chosen three recently-bottled wines:
- A Montalcino red from 2011; a preview not yet on the market, a classic wine that is produced according to very precise methods.
- A Brunello from Montalcino from 2014; also a preview, the same grape as the red but with different aging, same specification.
- A Tuscan red from 2013, from Casentino, which goes outside normal specification, aged in small barrels and produced like a Cabernet and Sangiovese.
And so the tasting begins…
And all our senses come into play, because as Mario Righi tells us: “There are many factors in evaluating a wine. The colour must be perfect, your sense of smell is key for catching any strange odours, and then there’s the taste: if all three of these are in harmony then the wine is good”. And then he reveals a secret: “wine from the South knows the sun, Chianti knows the violet, and Piedmont wine knows the undergrowth”.
We try the Montalcino red. The first thing to do is to look at it and indeed this wine has a lovely red colour, which tells you: “this is a very fresh wine but still very young, the fragances are elegant, it doesn’t have an aggressive tannin even though it’s young, it’s fresh. It is an elegant, fragrant wine, with lovely scents. It has a lot of potential”.
What I find interesting is that this tasting is being done in perspective and we can see the sense in tasting a wine, knowing already how it will evolve over a period of between 12 months and 5 years. These wines will not be served at table before they’ve spent at least a year in a bottle.
I am slowly entering a world that is unknown to me, I don’t drink wine at all but I can tell if a wine is good or bad. But I have never really stopped to focus on the many nuances that can be found in the flavour, the colours, scents and stories of a particular wine.
When you change the type, the terroir, everything changes. Now we’re on to the Tuscan Red. When a producer doesn’t have to adhere to a specification, not having to make a DOC, he can make any wine he likes. The colour of this is much darker, almost brown, and to the nose it feels like a Cabernet. It’s a well-made wine. For a Tuscan wine it doesn’t really reflect the area, it is a more international wine. You can taste the wood, feel the spicy notes and the pepperiness of Cabernet, while the Sangiovese is a bit less even though it’s a gentler wine. You palate can feel a bit of heat. “This is a wholesome wine, you can smell it. Your nose feels it more than your palate”.
“The best time to taste a wine is at 10 in the morning”, says Mario Righi, “that’s when your body is more discerning, more so than in the evening”. He continues, “this is a good wine, it has a good structure but I wouldn’t ask for a second glass, the Cabernet is too much and it needs to age more”. This wine isn’t ready, it’s a good wine but unfortunately it’s not ready… it will need another 12 months of aging and then maybe it will amaze us.
Stefano says: “This is one of those times when we hold off on a decision, we’ll come back to evaluating it later. It’s difficult for us to choose because we work with producers who all show such passion in their work, and it’s tricky to have to give them a negative opinion. We usually make a rule not to commit too much to our opinions, to hold back a little so we don’t influence each other and sometimes we find we do differ in our opinions and in those situations… well, the majority wins out”.
Now it’s the turn of the final wine, the Brunello di Montalcino with its little black bean. “This is a wine we’ll be selling during the winter of 2016/2017 and is a wine best read in perspective”. To the nose it feels like a classic Brunello, retaining its elegance, the aftertaste is long and gentle. “This is a good, wholesome wine without strong tannins and it can be kept for another 5 years under good conditions”.
“We visit most of the wineries and producers and once we see one we can tell how the wine will be: we look at the vines, the cellars, everything influences the final result”, says Selvaggio. “Each of us has a notebook where we write down the main characteristics of each wine we taste, so we don’t forget any detail”.
This accurate and fascinating process we’ve just been through, the discussions and patient analysis of all the nuances of a wine and all the affecting factors – this is a process that the owners at Bonatti do for every wine in the shop, and I mean every wine. I love going to Bonatti’s because I know I’ll get the right advice, they’re kind and helpful, not so concerned with price, never rushed but at the pace you need to be sure you understand what you’re getting, and can leave knowing all about the fragrances, tastes and possible pairings. This passion is contagious and it comes to life again once you open the bottle at home to taste the wine. You can close your eyes and remember the story of the wine, of a place and the people who work with the same goals, because different passions meet and recognise each other, and come together in a very real way.
For us at Pandiramerino it was a privilege to dip our toes in the huge world of the sommelier and wine-tasting, and we are most grateful to signor Righi, Stefano, Roberto, Selvaggio and Luca for hosting us and sharing their – I’ll say it again –grand passion!
Thanks to Emma Prunty of wash your language for the translation