“The republic of Montoni” as it is called because the wines here come from and represent all the small surrounding villages, where unemployment can be 70-80 per cent. Towns where more and more of the population is aging as all the young go away. Montoni as custodian of heritage, 550 years of grape-growing tradition, located 80 kilometres southeast of Palermo in Contrada Montoni Vecchi, Cammarata, Agrigento.
Related – Notes from 2019 Sicilia en Primeur
“Today there is nothing you can think of as six centuries ago,” is how Fabio Sireci begins a narration on the history of family and land. After the fall of the local aristocracy is when his grandfather took over this farm. Today the surrounding fields of durum wheat are gone and resemblance is but a thing of mythology and tales set to memory. “If you see some it’s as if they were genetically born in a laboratory.” Though Fabio Sireci has little interest in wheat, he does have a master plan for grapes.
Vrucara is Fabio’s pre-phylloxera plot perpetuated to nero d’avola vines, some as old as 120 years. There they sit in their sandy soils, fit, stoic and regal. Their youngest children are already mature at 40 years. The babies are not yet plants of true concern, children of propaginato, propogated by the bending down of older canes buried into the sand from parents on either side of a missing vine. They will carry the torch one day and keep this storied vineyard alive. Sicily’s future depends upon it.
A turning point in the Feudo Montoni timeline involved a meeting with the oenologist Giacomo Tachis. The legend of Italian winemaking was most famous for bringing Bordeaux to Tuscany but he was also instrumental in helping Sireci understand the purest relationship between varietal and place. There was a clear idea of needing to meet him even while affording the consultant costs was still in question. But Montoni’s vines were known going five to six centuries back in time and in fact it was agronomist Andrea Bacci’s 15th century book published in Chianti Classico’s San Casciano in Val di Pesa that mentions the vines of this Sicilian place. “Vines large enough that you could wrap your arms around the trunk,” he wrote. Old vines, noted Tachis, as opposed to those in vineyards where humans do all they can to keep the vines short. “They are almost never trees.” And so he convinced Fabio to do as his father and his grandfather did. Propaginato.
“The most important thing that makes our wines different or better than others is the richness of heritage,” explains Sireci. Genetics and altitude plus “we have 350 days of light.” It can be extremely hot but with the prevailing winds the days may be warm but the nights are cool, even in August. “Questi elementi,” he continues, “they stop the fermentation process. In Sicily the pH can be as high as 3.8 to 4.0 but in our hills it’s more like 2.8, giving us higher acidity, freshness but also longevity.”
The grapes catarratto, grillo and inzolia form the basis of the white Montoni masala. They are planted higher and grown with greater fervour. “Our catarratto is greener and fresher. The high acidity and saturation is felt on the palate,” with thanks to that low pH. “We are organic,” he admits but sometimes shies away from the discussion because “it has become a complicated word. I’m afraid of farms that look manicured and perfect.”
A walk through Fabio’s vineyards is all you need to know about organics. Perfectly groomed and tidy rows? Not so much. At Montoni the proper reaction to perfection is wild legumes, grasses, weeds, herbs and all the salad ingredients you could pick growing wild and free. Elegante e selvaggia. Fields blessed by the pazza luna, the crazy moon.
Masso is the cru, “conglomerate stone,” from the soil. Fermented in cement, locked in for and with freshness, sapid and ultra fresh. In 2018 it rained every 10 days, including during harvest so the aromatics are an about face from 2017, a vintage that saw no rain from March to October. What was a relative tropical 2017 is now an herbal, verdant 2018, with aromatics filled by wild finnocchio, fava, honeysuckle, chick pea and lentil. So to speak. Great freshness and so linear, with more age potential. More lime in ’18 and sapidity but only having tasted ’17 will you heed to that belief. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted May 2019.
Feudo Montoni Inzolia Dei Fornelli Sicilia DOC 2018, Sicily, Italy (539932, $22.95)
‘Tis a perfumed vintage for inzolia in Montoni’s world and while the length of time for its stay in stainless is not defined, it remains at service, ready when ready and different every year. If it’s floral so be it with thanks to the blooming heather or in this property’s case, the purple honeysuckle. Another indigenous wine extended from the pied de coup, wildly elegant and yet so simple. Will gain some honey and more flinty strike with a few years in bottle. “And we’ll all go together.” Drink 2019-2023. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Grillo Timpa Sicilia DOC 2018, Sicily, Italy ($22.95)
Like the cattaratto and the inzolia the aromatics have turned 180 degrees in ’18 from the wet year, with linearity and direct to the senses notes. Still the fresh squeeze of lemon gets you quick, with smiling spirit. A wholly soulful grillo that will keep you woke and alive. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Nerello Mascalese Rosé Di Adele Sicilia DOC 2018, Sicily, Italy ($22.95)
“For you Adele I will pull out all the thorns and put in roses.” This from Fabio Sereci’s father to his mother. Also symbolic for bringing a vineyard back to life. The only wine not named after a cru, but after mama, the mama, the only mama. The “roses of Adele.” The most sapid, herbal, linear and did I mention sapid Rosé in the these parts and any nearby and far away. Take nerello mascalese, grow it in the wilds of Feudo Montoni and this is the result, elegant, lengthy and certainly piu sale. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Nero D’avola Sicilia DOC Lagnusa 2018, Sicily, Italy (523738, $23.95)
The cru where the nero d’avola grows, the lazy one or better yet the smart one, intelligent one who is a late starter, but when he works he’s very good at what he does. Lagnusa. Also a grape gown in clay soils from which yields are low, once a negative now very positive in terms of quality. Some concrete aging and only a short contact with mostly (approximately 80 per cent) old barrels. Another factor of a vintage, herbal, dusty, so very fennel and aromatic enhancing legumes, non marmalata, far from dense, heavy or over the edge in any possible sense of reality. Just balanced in its slightly wild, feral, cured and elegant way. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara Sicilia DOC 2015, Sicily, Italy ($58.00)
The en primeur nero d’avola, finished but so far from even hinting at a readiness. Wild strawberry and the dreams of aromatics to come; carob, liquorice, salumi and all the herbs. Grasses and magical things that grow in a Montoni natural world. Top quality acidity for 2015, reeling, supportive and wild. A truly structured wine and one that will resist growing old despite the passage of time. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara 2010, IGT Sicilia, Sicily, Italy
From Fabio Sireci’s pre-phylloxera vineyard in which some heritage nero d’avola with unparalleled root structures find water six to eight metres below the sand and clay layers. Some are as old as 120 years and still others have been raised by the Sireci method of propaginato, the bending of a heritage vine cane into the earth and then brought up as a new vine. The savoury here is fed by so many surrounding native plants, aromatic oils and how they share the terroir with the Vrucara vines. It’s a great wine, singular, mature and mellowing but done with such confidence and lessons learned. One of Sicily’s greatest wines of confidence and humility. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Nero d’Avola Vrucara Sicilia DOC 2008, Sicily, Italy
Still just a baby, curative youthful, high acidity very much in charge with an uncanny at present aroma of wild strawberry. Impactful wild fennel and roses still in bloom. Just the first stages of secondary character are upon the aromatics but structure controls the rest, all of whom still lay in wait around the next decade. We visited the queen by pickup at night where she sits on her throne, as she has for 120 years, with her children born by propaginato, over the course of all that time. Like a cavallo indonato or, if you like, non manzito. Untrained, not wanting to be fenced in, needing time to civilize, habituate and domesticate. We’ll all be long gone. Last tasted May 2019
The answers are so simple and yet unanswered because magic is involved. You can understand the old vines and the way their fruit turns into wines that begin with ancient wisdom but move so little in the first seven years. What happens at 10 is the turning outward, to express the place and speak the dialect of the cru. The acidity is still high but is now in lift, with fruit at the height and en anergy that flows, really flows, moving across your palate with grace, grab and attention. A contiguous wine from start to finish, with intensity, impression and precision. The structure is come cavallo domato, like a trained horse. Dramatic nd’A but with no drama at all. Tamed and in respect of ancient vine, where it grows and what it wants to give. Ma zitto, a wine to keep you silent. Drink 2018-2029. Tasted May 2018
Feudo Montoni Perricone Sicilia DOC Core 2008, Sicily, Italy ($22.95)
The most interesting of grapes, known as guernaccia in this part of Sicily, “the grape of the farmer,” thick-skinned, disease resistant and perfect for making home made wine. Full phenolic perricone still has a green pit, picked late (in November), so Fabio cuts/crimps the vine very hard, blocking the flow of sap from the rootstock to the clusters, ostensibly creating an appassimento technique but in the vineyard, one week before harvest. Intriguing from bitter cocoa, through tobacco, carob, bokser and liquorice. You absolutely need lignification, brown stems, for whole bunch fermentation and add all this up, the grape, the techniques and the result is almost singular for any red wine in the world. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Passito Rosso IGT Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy
From nero d’avola and perricone. Upwards of 200 g/L of RS. That nero liquorice and carob is magnified, hyperbolized and liquified. The acidity brings stability and re-introduces the varietal centrifuge and microcosmic sense of place to the wine. This is like the place itself, centre of some people’s necessary universe, where everything goes on and on. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted May 2019
Feudo Montoni Passito Bianco IGT Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy
From grillo with some cattaratto to elevate and manage acidity in a passito that is upwards of 136 g/L of RS. So much fruit goings on; gelid orange, caramelized orange, burnt pineapple and apricot. Just faintly nutty, surely unctuous and fine. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted May 2019
Good to go!