Day 79 - Gian Poalo Motta

1 March 2022

We did a lot today. Drove windy roads through amazing scenery. Tried the wines of Castello di Radda. Visited the beautiful villages of Volpaia and Castellina. Lunch at Castellina was fantastic. Chingale, of course.

A lot happened today. After multiple calls, it would seem the insurance company has approved Shell’s surgery for tomorrow. Good news. My third vaccination certificate has come through. Good news. Sadly, Shell’s bad luck continues. Her certificate could not be produced because when she was initially entered into the Italian Health System, they used the name, Rachele. Now she needs to have that changed before the vaccination certificate can be issued. Negative COVID tests for both of us are ready for tomorrow's surgery.

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” ― Henry David Thoreau

Normally, this would be an entire blog post. Not today.

Our accommodation sits at the end of a long downhill dirt road. It winds through vineyards and olive groves. Every day we drive past this magnificent building. Every day we argue about what it is. I maintain it is a cellar door. Shell believes it is a house. It never seems occupied. There is a large villa across the road.

To settle the discussion, we stop today. Shell jumps out to find out what the deal is. She will take a peek in the windows. As she walks toward the building, three men appear on the other side. I try to warn her. Too late. She quickly explains the situation. We all have a laugh. It is, in fact, a cellar door. Underneath sits a winery.

Not just any cellar door.

There are no signs here. The man we meet is Gian Paolo Motta; owner and winemaker. His two colleagues are cellar hands. The winery is Tenuta Le Massa. In the middle of Chianti, surrounded by vineyards, we are talking to the winemaker described by US wine pundits as ‘the man who says fuck you to the Italian wine establishment’.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  ― Pablo Picasso

The symbol for Chianti is the rooster. Proudly displayed by Tenuta’s and Castillo’s everywhere. Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, DOCG and the rooster. Your guarantee of quality and authenticity. Gian Paolo does not want the rooster or the DOCG, he wants the freedom to make great wines in the way he feels they should be made. To make the point, his labels sport an upside-down rooster. Fuck the establishment indeed.

The cellar door is not open, you get the feeling he is never open to the public. The vineyard and cellar have no signage on the main road and is literally in the middle of nowhere. The middle of Chianti Classico to be precise, but there is not much else around here. He has been here all afternoon tasting and blending the 2019 vintage.

He is about to lock up for the day but kindly invites us in, we half-heartedly pretend we don’t want to put him out. He insists. Arms twisted he takes us in. Details. This place is about details. The building is made from stones gathered in the vineyards. The windows are framed by local granite. He takes us downstairs to the winery. Pristine. Surgical. A proper basket press. Old school where it counts, modern where it counts. The barrel room is French barrels. They are everywhere. New French oak. Everywhere.

Gian Paolo shows us the vintage charts of the last twenty years. Rainfall, temperature variation, graphed and documented. He has comprehensive soil profiles of all his vineyards. Shale and clay for the Sangiovese. Granite and limestone sit on the lower hillside for the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot, perched at the top, with better drainage. A new vineyard of granite, limestone, and clay is ready for the Cabernet Franc. Details matter. I love this stuff.

“Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” ― Michelangelo Buonarroti

He loves what he does. When you encounter people like Gian Paolo you can hear the passion in what they do. When you throw in the rock star attitude to the establishment you get the feeling he could start a cult. Sign me up.

Back upstairs and he asks us to taste the wines. You can't refuse. We start with the Toscana blend. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Shell sums it up immediately, a delicious wine you could drink all day. No argument here.

“You are the Anthony Bourdain of winemakers” - Rachelle Griffin

Next up is the Carla 6. Sangiovese, nothing else. Consider we are in Chianti Classico and the wine is from a single vineyard. At any other winery, this would be a Chianti Classico Gran Silezione. If it was, it is one of the best Chianti Classico’s I have tried. But the rooster is upside down. A stunning wine.

Finally, the Giorgio Primo. Here is the expression of freedom. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This is a Bordeaux blend. Two years in new oak. Despite how much I like Gian Paolo, I am ready to not like this wine. I am not a fan of Bordeaux. I doubt a Bordeaux grown in the middle of Chianti will change my mind. I was wrong. This is a powerful, elegant wine that is all class.

The Toscana, around 30 euros. Ouch, a bit out of our budget. The Carla 6, around 80 euros. OK… The Giorgio Primo? Depends on the vintage, between 100 and 200 euros. I play it cool. On the inside I am stunned, on the outside I say ‘GEEEEZZZZ, Seriously!’. Very cool.

He wraps up our tasting. It is late. We thank him and grab a photo. He is a bit of a celebrity in the wine circles. As we depart, he hands us the three bottles to take with us. ‘Drink these, have a good night tonight. Make sure you come back and visit. If I am not here, I live across the road’.

“I'll pour you the first one and after that, if you don't have one, it's your own fucking fault. You know where it is.” ― Kingsley Amis

We leave. Shell is carrying three bottles. A lazy 250 euros worth of wine. The stress of vaccinations and insurance companies and surgery forgotten.

I am writing this in our room. The windows are open and the sun is setting on another cloudless day. It is the first day of Spring. The temperature has dropped to zero. Shell does not feel like drinking. I have finished the Toscana. I have finished the Carla 6. I am about to start the Giorgio Primo. If this post is incoherent, I make no apologies.

Rome tomorrow. Surgery. As for wine, I don’t drink bottles that are less than 100 euros these days.


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