Wine as Artistic Medium: The Chianti Classico of Molino di Grace
Filed under: Food Pairing, Journal, Travel - Italy, Wine - Red, Wine Reviews
Join me for a moment in fantasy: Imagine that you have just purchased a small plot of land deep in the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany, with a few acres of Sangiovese vineyards and a glorious medieval-era villa ready for restoration. The rich scent of ripe red fruits and oak emanate from the botte and barrique that rest quietly in the cantina. Before you lies a canvas where you can vividly express your passions, your true essence, in the form of luscious red wines. You are now free to play.
If you’re like me, you may find yourself drifting gently through wine fantasies like this from time to time. But Frank Grace and Gerhard Hirmer found their Chianti canvas in the form of Il Molino di Grace and continue to release four dazzling reds that clearly express the artistic hand of their maker. I am excited to be able to bring in these superb Chianti and Super Tuscan wines and share them with you. And what better way is there to experience art than through a wine glass?
Fantasy in tandem
Frank Grace had visions of buying a charming villa in Tuscany as a retirement base where he could relax and indulge his passion for sculpture, art and the cultivation of emerging artists. As the CEO of an international relocation firm and an avid art collector who divides his time between San Francisco and London, Frank was blessed with the opportunity to buy Villa Castagnoli, a 1000-year old property with a distinguished history as a medieval watchtower located just outside of Panzano deep in the heart of Chianti. With the villa came 60 acres of land, including two vineyards planted with vibrant and productive vines. Frank pondered what to do with the grapes — sell them to other producers, or create his own wine. With the characteristic luck of a charmed life, Frank was introduced to Gerhard Hirmer by the former owner of Villa Castagnoli, and so began an enchanted journey creating some of Chianti’s most exciting wines.
Sharing a common passion for contemporary art, excellence and beauty, Frank and Gerhard immediately hit it off. "Frank and I agreed from the start that the wines must be of extraordinary quality and richly express the individuality of the soil and superb exposure of the vineyards," says Gerhard. Having retired in Tuscany with his family and children after traveling the world as an international banker, Gerhard is intimately familiar with how the Panzano terroir elegantly influences a wine, having produced his own wines there for 17 years. To complete the team, the pair were joined by Franco Bernabei, a close friend and master oenologist with superb 3 bicchieri (The 1-2-3 glass ranking system of Gambero Rosso) successes at Felsina, Fontodi and Fazi Battaglia, and notable 2 bicchieri wines at Selvapiana. With total dedication to beauty, excellence and the art of winemaking, Il Molino di Grace was born.
While Frank and Judy Grace led the renovation of the 10th century villa and Franco was busy working his magic in the cantina, Gerhard managed the new venture. It was his dream job, one where he could savor the day-to-day challenges. "Back when I was in banking, it was incredibly stressful and lacking in challenge," recalls Gerhard. "I asked myself, ‘is that all there is?’ I felt a great deal of unrest, like I needed a change. In big business you sometimes give up a part of your self, a part of your soul. The stress and toughness ended up dominating my professional and personal life." Gerhard now greets each day’s challenges with enthusiasm as he works with kindred souls under a common cause: creating the most elegant wines in Chianti.
Tasting Notes: Molino di Grace
Molino di Grace offered its first Chianti Classico with the modest production year of 1998. With total production potential of 130,000 bottles (about 11,000 cases), the team chose to limit their offering to just a few wines that best show the potential of the terroir and the winemaking team. The 2005 Chianti Classico (1 bicchiere on the Gambero Rosso scale) is their baseline normale with pleasant aromas of dark fruits like plums and blackberries, and mineral notes of flint on the palate. There’s a game and leather undertone on the nose that’s quite pleasant, and on the palate the classic dark cherry and tannins of Sangiovese come through clearly. The superb 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva (1 bicchiere) is more evolved and exhibits spicy notes with a rich scent of wild fennel. Completing their trio of Chiantis is the very limited production 2005 Chianti Classico Il Margone (3 bicchieri), a richly concentrated wine with notes of ripe black cherry and a touch of pencil lead, exhibiting balanced tannins and just the right amount of acidity. The 2005 is rare and not available in the US as of this writing, but the 2001 Il Margone (a 2 bicchieri wine) is excellent and its peak right now. At the pinnacle of their creativity is the stunning 2004 Gratius (3 bicchieri), a Sangiovese in purezza (pure Sangiovese) Super Tuscan that is garnering rave reviews. You’ll find an elegant bouquet of ripe red and dark fruits like black cherry, coffee and a touch of cocoa powder, with firm tannins and a finish that keeps going on and on. Gratius is one of my favorites in the region and reflects the brilliance of this wine making team.
Pairing Molino di Grace Wines with Food.
Beyond a doubt, you’ll want to pair Molino di Grace’s 3 Chianti Classico wines with rich red meat dishes like the succulent Bistecca Fiorentina, a 2+ pound T-bone grilled over hardwood and served rare — the quintessential Tuscan dish found at osterie and ristoranti throughout the region. One of my favorite pairings of Chianti is with beef steak served tagliata style. Simply grill your favorite cut rare (like flank or top sirloin) then slice it on the bias into thin strips and briefly sauté them in a bit of olive oil, whole black pepper corns, fresh rosemary and salt to taste. For rabbit fans, the Chianti Classico 2005 normale would go well with rabbit in a cacciatore style. And for the elegant Gratius 2004, look no further than a savory lamb dish. Pair it with a boneless leg roasted Abruzzi-style, or with chops grilled over hardwood and rosemary wands.
Visiting Molino di Grace.
Located just off the strada Chiantigiana (state route 222) that winds its way through the heart of Chianti from Florence to Siena, you’ll find Molino di Grace a few kilometers from Panzano on the road leading to Radda. From Panzano just follow the signs to the hamlet of Il Volano – Lucarelli and you’ll find the molino (windmill) clearly visible from the road. Be sure to contact Gerhard Hirmer in advance to schedule a time to visit; you can reach him via email, or call him at +39 055.856.1010. You will find more information about Molino di Grace on their website. Need a place to use as your home base while exploring nearby Chianti wineries? Check out Vescine Il Relais del Chianti, a lovely 4 star hotel in a medieval borgo just outside Radda in Chianti (tele: +39.0577.741.144).
So, where can I buy these wines from Il Molino de Grace? And what do they usually cost?
Hi Jim – Molino di Grace’s wines are pretty well distributed here in the States, although sometimes they can be difficult to find in retail shops depending upon where you live. I recommend that you buy Molino di Grace wines online and have them shipped to your home or business. Make sure you have someone aged 21 or older sign for the shipment, as all wine & spirit shippers require the signature of an adult on delivery. If you can ship to a business address, the shipping charges are often lower.
As of this writing, you’ll find some of the Grace wines listed in my post at Mad Wine in Seattle. Prices are fair, coming in around $22/bottle for the 2005 Chianti Classico normale and $36/bottle for the 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva. They have a few older Grace wines including the 2001 Chianti Classico Il Margone at $48/bottle. Ground shipping is very reasonable, about $3/bottle to the West Coast, and $4/bottle to the East Coast.
If you’re looking for vintages older than those listed in my posting, you can often find great deals online by searching on wine-searcher.com and comparing prices. As of this writing, for example, All Star Wine and Spirits out of New York is offering the 2003 Gratius for $35/bottle – an excellent price for this pure Sangiovese gem. Ground shipping will run you another $4/bottle or less to most places in the US.
Out of New York the online wine merchant Saratoga Wine Exchange has a nice selection of older vintage Molino di Grace wines, particularly Il Margone and Gratius, at fair prices.
If you find you like Frank Grace’s wines, you can ask your favorite wine shop to bring the wines in; many can arrange it, but you’ll need to give them some lead time. You may find that buying online is the easiest and most reliable method, and often with the best prices even with shipping costs included.