Tenuta Monolo is a winery in the Bramaterra DOC that no longer exists. Bramaterra is in the Alto Piemonte – an area dear to our hearts, with its wild volcanic and marine soils. It’s well north of Barolo and the Langhe; here Nebbiolo is more harpsichord than cello-Barolo in tone, with spicy notes from the additional varieties of Vespolina, Croatina, and Uva Rara.
The Tenuta Monolo cantina was once part of a villa that contained over 40,000 volumes of manuscripts and books on philosophy, classical music (especially Baroque and Renaissance), and art. Surrounded by three-quarters of a hectare of vineyards, the villa was home to the eccentric musician Umberto Gilodi and his life-long friend, cellar-master, painter and engraver Orlando Cremonini.*
The two men lived a simple life. All farming was organic; Umberto Gilodi was a meticulous note-taker, and we have his documents that attest to not using pesticides or herbicides in a time when most in that area were. Fermentation was in large wooden botti with native yeasts. The vineyards, and so too probably the wines, were 60% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina, 10% Vespolina, and 10% Uva Rara. The vineyard and cellar were followed by the famous Italian wine professor from Torino’s Enology School, Professor Italo Eynard.
Umberto Gilodi was known as the Padre di Bramaterra, as he initiated the effort to create a Bramaterra DOC and brought it to completion in 1979. Since he was the impetus and main voice in creating the DOC, he decided never to sell his wine so that he wouldn’t create a conflict of interest with the other producers in the area. Thus, we have multiple bottles of most vintages from 1982 until 2004 of Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva, directly from the cellar. (Bramaterra can be labeled Riserva when it’s aged for at least 24 months in barrel and at least 34 months total before release.)
We’ve committed to purchasing the whole cellar, as a way to pay homage to these men and also to fill in a missing piece of Bramaterra’s enological history – no other winery in Bramaterra has such a large stock of back vintages. The wines differ wildly from year to year, and they can be a bit (charmingly, I think) rustic. I would like to think that there’s something that comes through of these two men, drinking the same wine themselves, reading together, and listening to ancient music; something of the charmed surprise one hears when listening to older instruments.
[I’ve been tasting through bottles of multiple vintages to offer an idea of how they are showing. I’ll update this as we dig deeper into the cellar. – Ernest.]
Az. Ag. Umberto Gilodi / Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva 1985, 12.5%
Clean nose; shy, lighter-bodied Bramaterra. Rooibos tea, resolved dusty tannins, a bit of anise retrogusto. It goes down easy, and I drank quite a bit of this over three days, along with the fresh 1996. Carne cruda, bagna caoda. Or, a bowl of lentils.
Az. Ag. Umberto Gilodi / Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva 1989, 12.5%
I usually enjoy the cool 1989 in Langa, but this is a year where the rule applies that if it’s cold in Langa, it’s a bit cooler and greener in Alto Piemonte. This ’89 is a rustic thang; not fully matured, karate chopping tannins, and a punching red fruit acidity. Bring wild friends that are are protein hunters.
Az. Ag. Umberto Gilodi / Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva 1990, 13%
A very macho roast beef nose; with an hour decant, salted plums, meaty, and sour cherry fruit. Chewy tannins, a bit dried, decent length. Rustic, but bonus points for salty-macho aspect. Stew with hunks of bread and butter.
Az. Ag. Umberto Gilodi / Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva Bramaterra 1996, 14%
Precise and clean aromatics: haberdashery wood drawers (blows off in a few hours), spicy, nutmeg, cinnamon, classic Bramaterra white pepper; salty, chalky; all this, with a punchy, unripe white cherry acidity. Lightweight, with a good length and resolved tannins. I really enjoyed this sprightly-giocoso! Lentils, risotto, truffles. Or, just handmade pasta and butter. Excellent.
Az. Ag. Umberto Gilodi / Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva 1997, 15.5%
Smoky, celery salt, white grapefruit pith. A deep, chunky Bramaterra saltiness. The palate has some agility; the tannins are not fine-grained; the alcohol – surprise! – is balanced with the fruit. This was a really hot vintage in the Langhe and also in Alto Piemonte. If the wine had been picked a little earlier, it probably would have been stellar, but no more authentic. Rarely do I appreciate the alcoholic warmth of wine, but this alcohol was spicy and ethereally fluid – as if the alcohol aged. Fire-roasted chestnuts and Toma.
Az. Ag. Umberto Gilodi / Tenuta Monolo Bramaterra Riserva 2001, 13%
Meaty, spicy, dried fruits, rosa canina (rose hips) distilled, pomegranate molasses; good length and structure. Probably the most buttoned-up and composed of all the wines I tasted today (1985, 1989, 1990, 1996, 1997). Lives up to the quality of the vintage in the Langhe, and good right out of the gate. Sunday roast with wine and non-wine friends.
* Orlando Cremonini passed away in 2011. There was a fire in the manuscript part of the villa in 2012. Umberto Gilodi passed away in 2014, and the cellar was moved by the niece and her husband to a temperature-controlled cellar outside of Rome in 2013.