There is a young animal roasting over an open fire. There is fat dripping into the flames. There are stews in clay pots steaming divine mystery and heavy knives dropping through the flesh of wild game. There is a cold wind hitting the rusted window and hunger like a heady perfume finds increase in the air. There is something cooking in the kitchen, you see, and it begs for its ballroom partner, it begs to be paired with that most ancient of dinner drinks, it begs to be chaperoned by a rich and delicious wine.
And not rich in the over-oaked, over-extracted, over-the-top, over-alcoholed, (yes! alcoholed: the noted effort by too many winemakers to punch up alcohol levels to please the ill-informed consumers who think more alcohol means more flavour and thus end up bottling something with an unholy amount of unnecessary alcohol, hence alco ‘hole’ d) over-muscled, over-made style of wine from the late 1990’s ‘thanks’ but also 'no thanks very much Mr Parker, don’t let the bodega door hit you in the ass on the way out!’ I mean rich in the right way; restrained, elegant, unhurried, classic. The early bars of a symphony that build to something only just short of sublime, the glistening figure of a new lover climbing salt-kissed from the sea, the dark chocolate dripping carcass of an orange fed wild boar laid across pappardelle bed linens, the spice-dried fruit and rustic husk of an almost blood-like farmyard wine served in pewter goblets over Florentine afternoons; rich in the right way. And enter stage right Michele Satta, brushing Bolgheri sands from his boots and clasping an open bottle of his 2016 ‘Cavaliere’. The crowd stands. The crowd applauds. ‘Bravo! Bravissimo! Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca. Bravo!’
(That roughly translates as ‘You can’t have a full barrel and a drunken wife’. In the anglicised proverb we speak of having cakes and eating them. I dare say that the appropriation from vino to torta is more a commentary on the British Isles’ former inability to make good wine and less on her ability to keep inebriated spouses and full cellars in tandem or her propensity to guzzle cake. Though England does do good cake.)
A self-professed outsider in Bolgheri, the almost birthplace of Super Tuscan reds made in deliberate mimicry of Bordeaux blends favouring borrowed varietals like Cab Sauv and Merlot over the regional staple of Sangiovese, Satta does both the old new and the new new and a bit of the old old. Founded in 1984, the oldest winery that belongs to a winemaker and going bio in 2015 with certification following in 2018, he works with Cab Sauv dominant blends in his I Castagni and Piastraia wines, as do his neighbours at Tenuta San Guido with the ever-popular Sassicaia. He experiments with Syrah, Sauvignon and Viognier. And he makes a rare (for its DOC) 100% Sangiovese: the named knight in shining armour at my dinner table, the Cavaliere.
It tastes of the long velvet train of a Roman supermodel as she climbs the stairs of a restored cathedral and with each step throws fistfuls of dirt to paparazzi. There is the expected grit or grain of Sangiovese tannin that meets dates, prunes and dark chocolate. Nosing the glass is like looking through the window of a deli counter. It conjures my cherubin years when I would grocery shop with my mother and press my freckled nose against the shop glass, hungrily eyeing the wonderland of the Salumeria; the display of pastas, the many coloured jars, drying garlic, jellied fruits, the cured innards of fattened pigs and odd looking vegetables swimming in oil and hanging above it all the white powdered sausages almost jumping off the ceiling as if begging to be consumed. The old guy behind the counter with the incredible black moustache offset against his pale face would wave my mother in and shout "Benvenuta, capelli rossi" (on account of her fiery red hair and perhaps also on account of his proclivity to flirt with all the Mums; shamelessly, perfectly, profoundly). He would lean down low to me with a square or slice of something strange between his outstretched fat fingers and thrust it into my mouth, repeating "Taste it, taste it… Mangiare!" Whatever it was on that particular day lingered on my mouth and mind for hours after and was to me like the getting of wisdom when all the worlds dangers give way to delight.
The Cavaliere also shows blood orange tea cakes and white pepper on the palette with mashed maraschino cherries that you’d expect to go straight into a fancy cocktail. It smells like xmas and balances both red and black fruit from a single varietal. I almost thought, on first sip, that I had bit my lip because there was a pleasant metallic lick across the tongue, the sandy tannins grinding up to the teeth and the chew of dried fruits meeting the back palette pushing spice to the nose. A subtle salinity (thanks to the Bolgheris’ closeness to the Tyrrhenian sea) pervades the long-long finish, but all with an elegant undercurrent. This is beauty with restraint. This is muscle in tender hands. This is a breastfeeding mother in a butchers shop.
Satta manages also to acquire an element of smoke, of tobacco (that we so often associate with oak ageing) without the use of oak. How? I almost don’t want to know. Not that I expect a sinister response but we should leave some mystery in the glass. Good mystery. Like an Agatha Christie. Good mystery. Like the bitter kiss after a romantic dispute that gives over to bliss. Good mystery. After all, could you ever truly enjoy a wine that you understood completely? Mystery is what draws me to wine in the first place. What draws me to drink it, to think on it. Mystery is what drew me to the Salumeria, what drew me to Satta.
In the 1991 film adaptation of the 1988 book ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter, part-time psychiatrist and full-time cannibal famously jests when speaking about a victim: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti". To my ears, it’ll now forever be ‘...liver, fava beans... and a nice Cavaliere.’
God bless Michele Satta.
tasted January 2021