Just up the road endures the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. The eyes can’t help but peer that way, from the red carpet on the Via della Conciliazione sidewalk and out through the windows of the Chorus Cafè inside the Auditorium della Conciliazione. It is the morning of October 15th, 2021, first of a three day festeggiamento for the top wines of Italy, special awards ceremonies, Guida Vini d’Italia 2022, grande degustazione Tre Bicchieri weekend. The first of three intimate vertical tastings takes place as Gambero Rosso welcomes Argiano CEO and Oenologist Bernardino Sani for a rear-view mirror guardare indietro at the Montalcino estate’s optimum soli affectionately referred to as Vigna del Suolo. In the whole of Italy Argiano Brunello di Montalcico DOCG Vigna del Suolo 2016 is the Gambero Rosso Red Wine of the Year for 2022.
Exactly. A functional wine cellar dating back to the later 1500s. With five centuries in place and 130 years of Brunello making history on side Argiano is the model of Montalcino consistency. The name is thought to derive from the first settlements in Roman times – ‘Ara Janus’, referring to the god Janus. Another potential origin could be ‘the land of the River Orcia’ – known in ancient times as ‘Orgia’ and therefore Argiano. The estate vineyards benefit from a micro-climate situated between Poggio alla Mura and Sant Angelo in Colle on a plateau at 300m.
In 1992 the estate resettles into the hands of Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano and the wines under the peerless oenological tutelage of Giacomo Tachis. Fast forward to the present, a transfer of ownership and also company direction in 2013 into the hands of Bernardino Sani, who from 2015 is also responsible for making the wines. Argiano practices an organic and sustainable method of agriculture. Since 2019 Argiano is the first company in Montalcino to become plastic-free. All single-use plastics have been eliminated. The team consists of CEO & Winemaker Bernardino Sani; Agronomist & COO Francesco Monari; Cellar master Adriano Bambagioni; Winemaking assistant Roberto Caporossi; and Sales Manager Riccardo Bogi.
When I think of Brunello di Montalcino there are two things that come to mind: Sangiovese and time. Longevità e tempo. Contrasts and comparisons are unnecessary, neither to other grape varieties nor to wine regions that also fashion structured red wines. The sangiovese of Montalcino are like the eponymous medieval hilltop village, an island in a sea of vast varietal openness. They share the impossibility of undergoing the slightest shift in meaning or change, that is, without the assistance of time. They are incomparable, generous and durable but also part of a great community, finding permanence and always seeking to endure. As do their makers and protectors.
The Argiano 1580 vertical tasting includes 1971, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2006, 2015 and the Red Wine of the Year Brunello di Montalcino Vigna del Suolo 2016. Gambero Rosso’s tasting lead and renaissance man of three decades Marco Sabellico opens the dialogue. “These are wines that give us special emotion,” he submits and then parleys to Bernardino Sani who declares “we look to make a wine that is terroir-driven, very respectful of the vines, the environment and this amazing, beautiful place.” Vigna del Suolo is the finest parcel, rich in limestone. Though Sani wants to make a wine almost Piedmontese or Bourguignons he ultimately creates one that is local, parochial, Montalcinese.
Gambero Rosso is more than just a leading platform for content, training, promotion and consultancy in the Italian Wine Travel Food sector. It offers a complete range of integrated services to reach potential success in agricultural, agri-food, catering and Italian hospitality sectors, with a significant contribution to the constant growth of the economy. Gambero Rosso organizes international events such as the Tre Bicchieri World Tour, the most prestigious cycle of events dedicated to the excellence of Italian wine in the world, the Top Italian Wines Roadshow or Vini d’Italia Tour.
The sentiment can never be overstressed, to bear witness and to participate in exclusive if once in a lifetime vertical sessions. To be gifted not just tasting opportunities but to be privy to ever evolving history, connectivity to tracts of land and to the people who’s hands shape the vines and wines. Grazie tantissimo for this opportunity Luigi (Gigi) Salerno (CEO/GM), Paolo Cuccia (President), Marco Sabellico and Gianni Fabrizio (Authors, Editors and Curators of Vini d’Italia guide), Tiina Eriksson (International Business & Event Manager), Lorenzo Ruggeri (Author and International Editor), Michela Ricotta, Giuseppe Carrus (Author and co-editor of the Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia guide) and Crystel Barkany. My notes cover the seven wines.
Immediately showing an increased freshness, purity, lift and while only a year removed from 2015 the change in understanding of how to work with Vigna del Suolo is so readily apparent. Cherry as a solo artist, perfect, ripeness of idealism through phenolic development. Quality like the previous vintage but an easier vintage to manage with ample quantity. Low nighttime temperatures allowed for late October picking because sangiovese can go on forever when the autumn lingers such as it did. The barrels were by now a year (literately) older and (figuratively) later, inserting less oxidation and the freshness is truly a super scintillant matter, perfumed and of utter clarity radiating through. Sapidity, equilibrium and pitch perfect acidity will conspire to take this long and deep. 5,000 bottles produced. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted October 2021
It begins with Bernardino Sani. “We wanted to make a wine representative of Argiano, of five centuries, it’s history and this oldest Montalcino vintage.” The clones are now being studied because tells Sani “we want to copyright them.” Not the most powerful Brunello and one to mimic or imaginatively replicate the 1580 castle tower in the emotion of those in Firenze and Roma. Chilean geologist Pedro Parra is helping with the soil analysis, looking to directives for finest parcels and positional planting. This led to splitting Argiano’s terroir into five distinct parcels, with 2014 being the first, even if it was not the finest vintage to do so. And so ’15 marks the true beginning of Vigna del Suolo’s new era. Not the vintage of the century but challenging, dry and warm, resulting in elegance, purity of perfume, complexity of citrus spice and specifically the dried and candied peel of an orange. Salty too, so proper for sangiovese, warming, chocolate shavings on the finish. Aged in newly employed 50 hL Garbellotto casks, albeit relatively neutral. Last tasted October 2021
The vineyard down below is appositely named in apropos significance because the sentiment is high, lightning struck and quick as a whip. Crunchy and earthy fruit is ripe and near delirious, tripping the lights and adding fantasy to an already heady if effusive substance fantastic. So much going on in complex waves, severities and notions. Will transfer and oscillate, groove and titillate for a decade to come. Drink 2022-2031. Tasted February 2020
The Argiano change in ownership happened in the 1990s and the ’06 was made in the ’90s and early 2000s footsteps ways of winemaker Giacomo Tachis who was chiefly responsible for the change in the making of the wines of the time. The introduction of barriques was the main alteration, looking for concentration, oak flavours and power. Considered a five-star vintage at the time and while others may have been moving away from the style, Argiano was still in the throes. Plenty of fruit here 15 years on, berries, plum and orange but also balsamico and a truly luxe and lush feeling sweeping across the palate. Chewy, like fruit leather, lingering oak flavours in and out of every crevice, crease and corner. A wine as a sign of the times in really fine shape. No Riserva or single vineyard wines were made at this time. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021
The beginning of shorter maceration times and fruit taken from what is today Vigna del Suolo and its surroundings. Three years in Grandi Botti, the beginning of what would become the modern era of Brunello elévage. More development than 1979, a concentration of fruit in all iterations; mainly bosco but also noci secche (dried nuts). Not so much a fungi vintage but more perhaps a salumi or charcuterie one, with a woolly note of pecorino. This is surely a result of the maceration intendment and style therefore the development on the nose outpaces the palate. Quite tannic, present, a structured wine, still able to age. Drink 2021-2028. Tasted October 2021
A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted October 2021
Considered a great vintage, cold winter, wet spring and warm summer. Wine production had recently been updated and modernized for the time and the harvest took place in the second week of October. Thirty days of fermentation in cement tanks. Youthful aromatics, perfumed, definite frutta di bosco, apricot and dried orange. Lovely developed spice in a wine showing as well as it can possibly be. Pitch perfect dual, duelling acidities for your palate and emotion. Drink 2021-2024. Tasted October 2021
The back label sports a phrase from Italian poet Carducci who after having a bad experience at home drank a glass of Argiano to lift his spirits. A warmer, classic Montalcino vintage. From a time when aging would have been done in Grandi Botti (likely 5000L) and even some chestnut oak. Piedmontese style fermentation and set up for long aging. High acidity, elevated volatility and notable rustic. Also some TCA in this bottle but somehow a mouthfeel prevalent with energy and verve. Fun, curious and thankful for the opportunity. Drink 2021. Tasted October 2021
Good to go!