My much-anticipated month of biking and wine tasting in Italy finally began last week. Five of my closest wine-loving friends joined me for a ride through the Veneto, which includes Lake Garda and the beautiful valleys of the river Adige, surrounded by the towering and dramatic Dolomites. Of course along the way we had to visit plenty of Amarone and Alto-Adige producers … When I lead a tour the wine is as important as the biking!
On Friday, our visit was to Tenuta San Leonardo outside of Trento, where they make a fabulous and world-reknown Bordeaux blend. A while back I heard of a story where a well-known wine collector from Beverly Hills, who claims to hate all Italian wines, was poured a glass of the San Leonardo and proclaimed it to be a great Graves.
I know my friends at Do Bianchi and MondoSapore are disapointed in me for liking a Bordeaux blend made in Trentino, but San Leonardo has been growing these varieties for over 100 (pre-pheloxera!) years. Insult to injury: the cute doggie in the picture is named Barique.
So we arrive at the estate, which includes the magnificent villa of the proprietor, the Marchese de Gonzaga (if you know your Mantuan history, you’re impressed). It sits among 700 acres of immaculately maintained vineyards, gardens and the forest that extends up to the surrounding mountains. The director of marketing, Fulvio is taking us through the vineyard when a Renault pulls up and out steps the Marchese himself. We chit-chat about biking in the region, the great weather, blah blah blah, but within a couple of minutes, in my broken Italian, I start sharing the story about the BH wine collector.
So next thing we know, instead of the one-hour “tourist tasting” we now have the Marchese himself personally taking us around. The guy is magnificent. He’s in his 70’s but seems 20 years younger and still involved in every aspect of this first-class and high-tech operation. We spent the rest of the day with him touring the grounds and the villa, and drinking multiple vintages, as you can see from the “fallen soldiers” in the picture. In addition to the reasonably priced, and very enjoyable Villa Gresti, he pulled out the San Leanardo ’95, ’99, ’00, ’01 and ’04, which were all fantastic. The San Leanardo is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and supposedly Cab Franc, but it turns out that the root stock they bought (many many generations ago) is really Carmenere. This may be one of the best regions in the world for this seldom-seen variety. You can see from the pic that (as with all great visits in Italy) it ended with healthy dosages of grappa to send us on our way.
The topper was that he received his notice of “Tre Bicchieri” for the current vintage from Gambero Rosso (the Wine Spectator of Italy … but much more respected) while we were there. Not surprising, as they have won it over 10 times. But Complimenti all the less!!!
And Grazie Mille to my friend in BH. May he enjoy many bottiglie of San Leonardo in the future!
We were munching on some of the yummiest Merlot grapes I have ever tasted when the Marchese drove up! Notice how the grapes are trained on pergolas, the traditional method in the Aldo Adige. The pergolas make for breathtakingly beautiful vineyards, but many wineries are finding that they get better results using the more common Guyot vine training method. Time to go biking through the vineyards of the Alto Adige before they all switch!