At Santa Maria Refugio, along a “white road” that is off of a “white road” between Montalcino and Poggio alle Mura (Banfi) in Tuscany, we searched for Mate Winery.
The famous “white roads” of Tuscany are those shown as a double black line without color between the lines, almost always unpaved, and often requiring extreme driving!. For those of you who live in the Rocky Mountains, consider them to just be a normal daily routine, and a barrier to the casual, unwanted tourist.
In those days before formal tastings and visits, before a website with excellent directions for arrival ( www.matewine.com ), we had an e-mail invitation from Candace Mate to visit on one day or another in late September a while ago – just call ahead by cell phone when date and time could be confirmed! As we approached (with enough pre-journey web-based geographical research to conclude only “somewhere around here”), contact could not be made, but we determined to persevere! Once up the “this must be it” road brought us in a cloud of dust into a villa compound where two distinguished gentlemen were in earnest discussion. The place and the people did not fit the images, so back down the road we went and off to nearby Montalcino for pranza.
Since a visit to nearby Banfi Vineyards is always a special event, back down and up the same roads we went, again into the same concluding courtyard. The two men were still talking!
Dolce far niente!
…yet such discussions may resolve the mysteries of life and the universe, so do not interrupt them!
Skulking back down the road (can cars “skulk”?), we noted one quiet driveway marked by two cobblestone columns, without signs — the last unexplored possibility. Up we went into vineyards. What was the worst that could happen – they could shoot us (well…)? Near the top of the steep, rocky drive, past vineyards ripe for harvest (in fact, harvest was underway), we saw a tall, distinguished man standing even further up the hill. He was waving his arms at us in either warning or welcome…
At least, no shotgun was evident!
Learning from Timeless Tuscany
The best method of learning about this special place and the people who have brought it back to usefulness – and in a spectacular way – is to read Ferenc Mate’s books about the family’s life as expatriates in Tuscany. How did the hardy yachtsman and fine yacht expert (and author of great books and photography of extraordinary yachts and anchorages world-wide – see their website) and his extremely talented watercolor artist wife Candace end up on this hill, planting, picking, hauling and crushing grapes – and making truly wonderful wine?
Begin with The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land, then follow the story of reclaiming their land for viticulture and home in A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover’s Dream, and segue into The Wisdom of Tuscany: Simplicity, Security, and the Good Life for insights into their life in Tuscany, lessons learned, and parallels to your life wherever and however you may live or dream to live (The three volumes were republished in 2011 as “Tuscan Trilogy”, Albatross Press at W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, but are available individually).
Red Wines! (Oh, The Wines!)
These rugged hills hide 2000 year old Roman vineyard terraces reclaimed and replanted after centuries of neglect, nurtured, coddled, and challenged, were brought back to produce extraordinary world-class wines with expert help – Fabrizio Moltard, agronomist to Angelo Gaja, and clone selections by Pierre Guillaume.
We were extremely blessed to be hosted by talented artist (the labels on Mate wines are her work) and winemaker Candace Mate, who pulled away from the hard and immediate work of prime harvest time to join us in their modern winery – the Cantina. She led us through a tasting of their most recent releases. We learned more in an hour than we had during many, many winery visits elsewhere over the years. And, of course, the wines were far more than remarkable, they were (and remain) extraordinary!
Current releases of what we tasted then include:
Brunello di Montalcino 2005 – a “Top 100 Italian Wines 2010” (Golosaria), and a Finalist – 3 Glasses – Gambero Rosso (Vini d’Italia);
Brunello di Montalcino 2006 – 95 points – Wine Spectator and James Suckling;
Banditone – Syrah – 92 points – Wine Spectator;
Cabernet Sauvignon – 92 points – Wine Enthusiast;
Merlot / Mantus – 90 points – Wine Enthusiast (perhaps our favorite, but what a difficult choice!);
Albatro – Sangiovese/ Merlot – 90 points – Wine Spectator;
…and a wonderful Rosso di Montalcino.
If you are not familiar with where “Rosso” fits in the Tuscan wine hierarchy, look up Brunello di Montalcino (the Montalcino premium wine) or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (the Montepulciano premium wine) to read and learn the history, culture and necessity (!) of wine in earlier history. Both of those wines are made from different sangiovese clones with long lineages, and are related to the sangiovese of the Chianti Classico wine region.
If you acquire some of this extraordinary wine, since we receive no compensation or gratuity for bringing it to your attention or your purchase, think of a truly Renaissance couple, Ferenc and Candace, remember us kindly and…
Save a bottle for us — Please!