Windmills of Your Mind: Molino di Grace, Panzano, Chianti
Lockdowns, travel bans, R numbers, partial deconfinement, vaccine passports. Time to let the windmills of your mind turn and take your thoughts elsewhere, somewhere happier, sunnier and altogether more upbeat.
Panzano. It’s one of the communes of Chianti: old fortress, rolling slopes of serried vines framed by the spear-shaped leaves of olive trees flickering silver-green in the breeze. Atop sharp ridges regimented lines of cypress trees stand guard. The smell of baked earth in the Tuscan sunshine, the ancient churches and hilltop villages, the crazed locals driving round blind bends in their would-be Ferraris. And then, and then, the food and, of course, il vino.
Funnily enough my first real encounter with Panzano was with its most famed son and had nothing to do with wine. The Antica Macelleria Cecchini. We were staying at the lovely Il Barone (usual thing here: someone’s ancient mansion converted to charming boutique hotel, elegance and style, and a baronial owner dressed like a far more chic version of a British aristocrat, speaking at least three languages, maybe more). We asked where we should eat for a special birthday dinner. In the village at the meat restaurant came the response, and you needed to book weeks in advance.
Ok, so we booked it and we pitched up. I am not sure what I expected, some sort of steak house. But no. Dario Cecchini is the local celebrity and a tv star butcher. He seems to own half the village. We were ushered into a plain room with long tables and benches, and a no-choice menu of something like 6 courses of meat. My wife and her mother looked askance and suggested that perhaps we go elsewhere, until I realised that we had stumbled into the high palace of beef and that our neighbours had just driven all the way from Milan to eat dinner here.
I then saw the jugs of wine on the table. Now call me a wine snob, but in Chianti, well, this was almost a crime. The wine was as bad as the beef was good, terribly disappointing when you consider the number of vineyards within a stone’s throw. Our suave Milanese of course knew this and had arrived with a bottle of Brunello as a suitable partner to the suite of carnal indulgence. Ironically, I had popped into the enoteca right next door as we’d arrived five minutes early and browsed the wines on sale. Rows and rows of decently priced Chianti. It was now, of course, shut. About five minutes ago.
Ah well, you learn the hard way. Returning last summer, I popped into the butcher, reserved a huge chunk of Bistecca Fiorentina and we barbequed it the next night, al fresco watching the sunset over the Appenines, the lights of Florence twinkling in the far distance. Fabulous. The real thing (the Bistecca) comes with a price tag but it’s delicious, and the sausages cost nothing and are great also. Oh, and Dario seems to speak at least 3 languages too.
But you’re probably thinking that this blog is not really meant to be about meat, even if it’s the best butcher in Italy. Well, fair comment. I guess the most known wine estate in Panzano is Fontodi, but their wines fetch a price as elevated as their scores, especially the coveted Flacianello della pieve. Still, just down the road we’d passed a huge, rather odd, statue of two huge, dark and primitive figures with Martian eyes lugging a six-foot bunch of grapes. Seemed a promising sign. Molino di Grace, chiantis that had just received rave reviews in Decanter magazine. The car had no choice but to make a tiny detour. I had mentally noted it down to visit and here we were, without even meaning to be.
They’ve been making wines here since the monks 350 years ago, but the Mill of Grace is in fact named after Frank Grace who set up the current winery 30 plus years ago, (and a nineteenth century windmill). Certified organic and focussed on chianti and indigenous grape varieties. No fancy tasting room, no fancy prices, just a warm welcome and a blend of Tuscan wine and art (and vinegar, oil…).
We had tried half bottles of the 2007 and 2009 Chianti Riserva, and they were fairly fruit forward. As you may have gathered, I don’t really appreciate the more full-on ‘international’ style of Tuscan wine with its slathering of oak and heavily extracted, chocolatey fruit. We needed to taste a full bottle to see what the fuss was about. Gratius, a level up from the riserva, also 2007.
It cost 30 euros in 2015, not exactly a king’s ransom, and I believe scored 93 from the Wine Spectator, though in my book I am not always sure whether that is a good thing or not. An IGT classification and mix of sangiovese, canaiolo and colorino.
The colour was rather dark, the edge showing garnet, a bit strange for a 14 year old wine from the winery and well stored. The nose was oaky, then dense brambly dark berry fruit. It was soft, smoky (oak again?) with a slightly clove-like bitter finish. To be honest, we were disappointed. I don’t score wines, but if I did, it would not be 93. I guess one of the problems of being a wine snob of a certain age is that you expect wines to taste of a tradition, a place, a history. This tasted of money, effort and (good) modern winemaking. It was more international than Panzanese.
It’s funny – I have muttered about some of the US wine critics whose tastes are definitely not mine, but here we had Decanter, the doyen of English wine magazines joining the rousing applause. I suspect it just shows how pointless these mass tastings are that are so beloved of wine magazines and internet critics. Apart from the palate fatigue, can you mentally really appreciate the 50th Chianti of the day with the same energy and interest as the first? And judging often very young, just released wines after a couple of slurps is like trying to judge an adult by a two-minute interview with a child.
Back to that windmill, maybe more of a Don Quixote moment than la dolce vita.