Wine column for week of Nov 19

Tenuta Mara is the only vineyard in Italy making wine solely with sangiovese grapes using biodynamic principles.

These principles are based on a conscious blending of the forces of nature and an absolute respect for organic growing.

To that end, the owners left the soil fallow for five years before they started planting the vines, to ensure the soil was free of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers that were not natural.

Biodynamic viticulture stems from the ideas of Rudolph Steiner. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on his combination of spiritual and practical philosophies called anthroposophy.

The ideas of anthroposophy have been applied practically in many areas including education, medicine, ethical banking and the arts, as well as agriculture and wine-making. Perhaps 500 vineyards around the world use biodynamic principles.

For a wine to be labelled “biodynamic” it must meet stringent standards laid down by the Demeter Association, an internationally recognised certifying body.

The Tenuta Mara vineyard is based near the town of San Clemente, 250 metres above sea level in the province of Rimini in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.

The name of the sangiovese grape comes from the phrase “sangue di Jove” or “blood of Jove”. Jove was another name for Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods. Sangiovese is believed to have originated around Mount Jovis, which is only 30 km from Tenuta Mara.

Images of the estate shown on the vineyard’s web site show a beautiful location: http://www.tenutamara.com/tenuta-biodinamica.html

All harvesting is done by hand and winemaking is natural in the sense that only yeasts on the skin of the grapes are used, rather than introducing yeasts from elsewhere to start the fermentation process.

The grape juice, or must, is not filtered and the marc – the leftovers after the grapes have been pressed – is not pressed further to extract more juice. This is a common practice in some vineyards but produces lesser quality wine.

Classical music is played to the vines as they grow, and Gregorian chants echo through the cellars as the wines mature.

Even though the vineyard only grows sangiovese grapes, Tenuta Mara makes four wines, distinguished by different coloured labels.

The dark green label signifies wines made without added sulphites – that is, no sulphur is added to the grapes to stop them from becoming brown from exposure to oxygen. This is a common practice around the world to ensure grapes are kept fresh, rather than going brown the way a banana or apple goes brown if left in the air after being cut open.

The olive label means the wine has been fermented with stems left on the grapes. This produces more tannin in the wine because stems contribute to tannic levels.

The light green label is called “tiny feet” and indicates that the grapes were crushed using the feet of the owners’ grand-daughter and her friends from nursery school, instead of a press.

The owners are Giordano Emendatori and his wife Mara, after whom the vineyard is named. They have invested heavily in a dream and should be applauded for their courage.

The final wine, with a white label, is a blend of the other three. A tasting of the 2011 vintage of these wines was a revelation. Flavours are intense, and the wines quite different – a result of the different production methods.

All wines had a similar garnet colour and aromas of sweet caramel combined with herbs like thyme and rosemary. Tannins were soft, which makes the wines easy to drink now despite their relative youth. My favourite was the “tiny feet”, though I would happily drink any of these wines.

* Published in China Post, 22 November 2012, page 10. Find a link here.

About squinn33

Writer and wine lover
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