There has always been a philosophical strain amongst the best winemakers. Something about the metamorphosis of grapes in a vineyard into sublime alcohol in the bottle invites speculation about our place and our role in the universe.
Whenever we are enjoying the Italian wines which Enrico Fantasia discovers on his travels through Italy, and which he imports through his company, Grape Circus, we find ourselves thinking as much about the philosophy of the winemakers he chooses, as about the grapes they select or their attitude towards sulphites.
Mr Fantasia is a musician by training, and the Grape Circus wines always seem to be straining after the effect of music: balance; harmony; counterpoint; melody; synthesis; pleasure.
Take the Monteraponi Chianti Classico, for instance. It’s made by Michele Braganti with organically grown grapes – Sangiovese; Canaiolo and Colorino. Fermentation is spontaneous, ageing is in Slavonian oak casks after a long maceration. Mr Fantasia describes the wine as “utterly traditional and incredibly elegant.”
Indeed, but what strikes you most about the Monteraponi is that it is so alive: in the glass, it’s like a wine with a heartbeat. Yes, it tastes like traditional Chianti, and yes it is gorgeously silky. But, above all, it seems transcendent: it is both wine, and the culture of viniculture.
This depth runs right through the list of Grape Circus wines, and the wines are full of surprises: the Lamie delle Vigne Primitivo, made by Cristiano Guttarolo, is astonishing, and when Mr Fantasia declares him to be “the genius of Primitivo”, you simply nod in agreement.
You will find the wines in Piglet Wine Bar, on Cow’s Lane in Temple Bar, on good wine lists, and in particular you will find them in Sheridan’s Wine Bar, in Galway, and in Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, on Dublin’s South Anne Street and at their headquarters at Carnaross, County Meath. These wines are special: they are the culture of viticulture.