When Hamlet utters these words to Ophelia in the eponymous Shakespearean tragedy, it is interpreted as an expression of his conflicted state, an inner turmoil over a father slain, a revenge plotted and a love uncertain. (Nunneries were once known to operate as both convents and brothels, believe it or not! How’s that for dramatic irony?)
Please rest assured, the intent of my allusion is neither to baffle nor to signal impending doom. There are a few reasons why evoking Shakespeare works to preface this post. Most literally, we’re going to be talking about nuns. And figuratively, like most brilliant works of classical art, this English Master’s plays have stood the test of time, only to grow stronger with age. Especially their power to transport us to the romantic old world of the past in which they are set. Of lords and serfs. Nobles and peasants. Where castles aren’t just relics of a forgotten time to which your travel agent coordinates a visit. It’s where the history of religious orders and their tradition of winemaking first began. And when the vines were first planted. It is in this mindset that I’d like to share what I learned about the Monastero Suore Cistercensi della Carita.
Relatively new to the game, considering the Catholic religion dates back nearly 2,000 years, the Monastero was founded in Vitorchiano just north of Rome in 1709, 93 years after Shakespeare’s death, during the period immediately following the Italian Renaissance, or Rinascimiento. Translated from the convent’s website – yes, they have a website, which put my waning Italian to the test – “Mother Claudia De Angelis saw the human and spiritual poverty in her city and thought to create a ‘pious place of charity,’ founding the basis for an extraordinary spiritual adventure that lasts until today, with new means and new possibilities, but with a substantial and resolute faith to the past.”
It figures that for Importer Rosenthal Wine Merchant, it has also always been about preserving the time-honored traditions of their suppliers. I spoke on the phone Thursday with Blake Johnson, who has been with Company Founder Neal Rosenthal for 15 years, about the sisters’ wine and how it came to be marketed state side with the help of Area Vintner Giampiero Bea. He also touched on the Importer’s philosophy, of which you can read more in Rosenthal’s new book, Reflections of a Wine Merchant (Amazon, $16.32 when I last checked.) Having read the reviews, I think it would be an excellent read, especially while traveling to the terroir itself – or just dreaming of it while enjoying a glass of one of the nuns’ new releases, now available locally at Sunset Corners.
2007 Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium ($29.99 a bottle at Sunset Corners)
Grapes: Verdicchio, Grecchetto, Malvasia and Trebbiano
Characteristics: Bright with crisp acidity; dry wine and driven by its minerality; light in color with a pale yellow tint; sturdy and full-bodied, with hints of chamomile and lime blossom.
2007 Monastero Suoro Cistercensi Rusticum 2007 ($39.99 a bottle at Sunset Corners)
Grapes: Blend of 55% Trebbiano, 20% Malvasia, 15% Verdicchio, and 10% Grecchetto
Characteristics: Powerful with lots of character; deep golden color, carries 13.5% alcohol; haunting combination of honey and walnut flavors.
Helpful descriptions courtesy of Michael Bittel of Sunset Corners. Email Michael at email@example.com for more information on the wines and what foods to pair with them, and he will be happy to help you.