Massa Vecchia Ariento


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The wines are as original and uncompromising as everything else about this exercise in purist winegrowing. Take, for example, the Massa Vecchia Ariento which is 100% Vermentino. The wine is fermented with the skins. The grapes are pressed by foot twice a day for five days then the wine spends three weeks on the skins, with a daily punch down. Aged in small chestnut casks, the resulting dry white wine is nothing short of thrilling, with a bright golden colour and a powerful scent of wild garrigue herbs amongst the notes of lemon oil and orange and just the slightest astringency (from the skins) in the finish. It reminds us of the wines of Princic and even the nonpareil Trebbiano of Valentini. Try with stuffed sardines (an Elba speciality) or cacciucco (fish stew) a variation on the famous dish from Livorno and most loved by Napoleon during his stay on the island.

Fabrizio Niccolaini’s wine vision is, if not unique, then original and of another era. His farm, which he inherited from his father and grandfather, is a mere 6 hectares (3.5 planted with vines). And within that tiny plot are such white grapes as Vermentino, Ansonica, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano, and Malvasia di Candia, and red varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aleatico, Sangiovese, Alicante, and Malvasia Nera. All are at least 35 years old, including the Cabernet and Merlot, which is unusual as these two varieties are generally only newly planted in Tuscany. He has also recently planted another vineyard with only Sangiovese.

Fabrizio subscribes to the deceptively simple sustainable agriculture theories of the Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, detailed in his 1975 book, “The One-Straw Revolution.” “We use no chemicals, no herbicides, really not even much in the way of machines,” What little ploughing is done, usually to “rip” the soil between the vine rows to turn over the crop cover, is performed by one of two white, long-horned oxen kept by Fabrizio for this purpose.

Francesca Sfrodrini has taken up the reins with several partners and continues to work the farm with respect for nature and the cycles it imposes.