Montalcino. Harmony and Unesco Heritage Centre of a surface area totalling 31,200 hectares, 3,660 of which are vineyards planted predominately to sangiovese. An accord of 2,100 to Brunello di Montalcino and 510 for Rosso di Montalcino, delineated and defined in consensus by the late 1990s, set into the Galestro, Arenaria and Calcare soils on hills and over valleys in surround of its medieval village. The merits of change, alteration or expansion have been debated, voted upon and ultimately dismissed every three years and so there has yet to pass any thought of increase or reconfiguration. Neither for Rosso nor for Brunello. What was learned on this particular October visit? For one thing the idea that patience, exactitude and static sobriety are assumed of a confident Montalcino. That and the new discourse concerning both a conceptual and an aesthetic Brunello di Montalcino.
Montalcino. Typically a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cold winters, 700 millimetres of annual precipitation and a moltitude of soils; alluvial fluvio-lacustrine, clay, clayey-marine, sandy-marine, limestone, sandstone, shale, siltstone, magmatic rock. Argille, Calcare, Sabioso, Galestro, Alberese, Macigno, Arenaria. In every permutation, inculcation and combination, though the understanding in Montalcino is perhaps more readily defined because the pockets of specific soils are large and often uniform. This means that diversity and complexity can be distilled into a deeper and knowable comprensione. The confidence of Montalcino.
I’m not a clairvoyant. If nothing out of the ordinary happened or presented itself I’d still see things the way everyone else does, or sees. In that sense I am the epitome of the boring writer. But I am a most fortunate writer because I travel a considerable amount and during a most recent visit to Montalcino extraordinary things were in fact presented to me. My game can’t help but to be elevated with the knowledge that a confident Montalcino is once again passing through a portal into a time of re-invention. In due course I will explain.
Montalcino. Village at 564 metres above sea level and many vineyards reside at a similar altitude. Plots, blocks and Italy’s most famous village overlooking great swaths of rolling valleys; Asso, Orcia, Arbia, Ombrone. The first known wine label dates back to the 1800s and the DOC was recognized in 1966. Brunello was afforded DOCG status in 1980, Italy’s first, followed by Rosso as a DOC in 1984.
The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino was formed in 1967 as a coalition of 25 original members. There were 15 producers who signed the page on this accord kept at Bellaria Estate: Assunto Pieri, Ivo Buffi, Loffredo Gaetani Lovatelli, Giuseppe Cencioni, Bramante Martini, Pierluigi Fiovaranti, Silvano Lambardi, Annunziato Franci, Ferruccio Ferretti, Giovanni Colombini, Dr. Leopoldo Franceschi, Silvio Nardi, Gino Zannini, Lucia Perina and Elina Lisini. The other nine original members were Nello Baricci, Siro Pacenti, Milena Perina, Orazio Machetti, Dino Ciacci, Guglielmo Martini, Emilio Costanti, Sabatino Gorelli and Rev. don Leopoldo Bianchi.
Brunello’s maximum yields are eight tonnes per hectare (approximately 52 hl/ha of wine) and the aging requirement is five years (six for Riserva), of which two must be in oak barrels, followed by four months in bottle. It may be introduced to market on January 1st of the 5th year after harvest (January 1st of the 6th year for Riserva). Rosso’s maximum yields are nine tonnes per hectare and it may be introduced to market on September 1st of the year after harvest. There are nine million bottles of Brunello and half that of Rosso produced on average each year. More than a quarter are certified organic and/or biodynamic and that is double as compared to just five years ago. Seventy per cent of the wines are exported. Current vintages on the market are 2014 for Brunello, 2017 for Rosso.
Related – Awash in Brunello di Montalcino
Most of the October visits were arranged and facilitated through the auspices and generosity of the Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino. President Fabrizio Bindocci, Vice-Presidents Giacomo Bartolommei, Stefano Cinelli Colombini and Riccardo Talenti. Director Giacomo Pondini and Consorzio facilitator Martina Iannotta. One month after returning from Italy the Consorzio paid us a visit here in Toronto for a gala event and 2015 vintage preview at Alfonso Iaccarino’s two Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890.
We traversed the roads and landscape in covering much of the parts that make up the whole of Montalcino. We being a group of four, two Canadians and two Americans; Christopher Sealy, graduate of French Language and Literature Degree from University of Toronto, Sommelier and Wine Director of Toronto’s Alo Restaurant Group. Cathrine Todd, a.k.a Dame Wine, New York, WSET Diploma graduate, Freelance Wine Writer, Forbes Contributor and the Wine Columnist for La VOCE di New York. Jeffrey Porter, Sommelier, Consultant, Educator, NYC-based beverage professional with over 18 years experience in retail and restaurants. Now starring in his video series creation, SipTrip Italy, an exploration of many of Italy’s best wineries and wine regions: the ultimate Italian wine adventure.
Related – Diversity in Brunello di Montalcino
Conceptual versus aesthetic function
Consider this phrase. “Discontinuity attains a level of aesthetic creation.” If we look at this through the lens of conceptual versus aesthetic truth and apply it to the Rosso and Brunello of Montalcino then we are on to something. Examples of both are what define the appellations in southern Tuscany. A tradition exists in which making wines is ensconced in rational truth but these last two decades have seen a wave of aestheticism rival, take over and even surpass that of rational winemaking behaviour. The wave of richness, ripeness and over-oaking the local sangiovese is not over and there still persists many pockets and factions of IGTism. To each his own and yet the pendulum has begun to swing with more producers coming back to basics. The neo-conceptualization of Montalcino sangiovese has returned a freshness to Brunello and the gleaning is real because a greater void has opened up for all to share. It’s a mathematical game of philosophical implication.
“Continuous functions are of utmost importance in mathematics, functions and applications. However, not all functions are continuous. If a function is not continuous at a point in its domain, one says that it has a discontinuity there.” Sangiovese and even more so grape varieties like merlot and cabernet sauvignon grown in the Montalcino hills form a discrete set, a dense set, or even the entire domain of the territory’s function. They are examples of appellative discontinuities “in the simplest case of functions of a single real variable taking real values.” They are wines that represent the aesthetic function.
Sangiovese of purity, honesty, transparency and a sense of place are those that hold court for the conceptual truth of Montalcino. They are neither better or worse than their aesthetic brethren and sistren but they are making themselves open for discovery in 2019, 2020 and beyond. If you travel to the region at this time you will collide with them and their makers because they are crying to be heard. In October of 2019 I heard from both sides and their stories were expressed in understated forms of beauty, at times in the varietal austerity of the times and at others quite spiritual. In all cases we are taught that we are nothing and that we are all deserving of life. And to taste the wines from Montalcino. Wabi, if you will.
Le Ragnaie Winery was established in 2003 by the Campinoti Family. The estate follows the guidelines for organic agriculture and the vineyards are divided into three distinct parcels throughout Montalcino which allows the production of three diverse Brunello terroir. There is no usage of fertilizer but instead cover crops are planted of legumes, clovers and grasses. This helps to regenerate the land after a long summer season of work and aids in enriching the organic substance of the land all the while penetrating deeply the roots of the various planted species. The diversity of plants in the vineyard prevents superficial erosion and instead favours the absorption of water and creates an important habitat for many species of animals and insects. This process guarantees the formation of an ecosystem full of life which is essential to the health of the vines.
Riccardo Campinoti at Le Ragnaie poured so many instructive sangiovese that work their conceptual way into his poignant, powerfully restrained and profound Rosso and Brunello. He also afforded a glimpse into two new aesthetic behavioural wines, the Vino Bianco and Fiano. Both are seven day skin-contact Montalcino whites, the first made from estate grown malvasia and trebbiano. They are fashioned like reds, with punch downs and very traditional styles in a Tuscan white vein. The Bianco is all orange skin and lemon arid as it gets but also gelid, surging, textured. The fiano is made for fun, tastes salty and acts so fine. So delicious and only 600 bottles made.
At Terralsole Mario Bollag and Athena Tergis Bollag reside on a hilltop peninsula plateau that is surely one of Montalcino’s most beautiful locations. They embrace aesthetic function like no others, in the food they cook, the music they play and the wide array of wines they make. Philanthropy, art, whimsy, generosity, warmth, sangiovese and the only cabernet franc in Montalcino.
Trio is a real “Super Tuscan” because it’s made from international varietals; cabernet franc, merlot and syrah. Takes 18 months in barrel and seven more years in bottle give or take, to be ready. Super fruit forward, super heady and super structured. Now integrated and singing smoothly, silken and fine. Coldoro, Solista and Pasticcio round out the symphony. Their first vintage for Brunello was 2000, 2001 for the Rosso.
Podere Salicutti is in a south-eastern Montalcino location, on route SP 55 towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Now in the altruistic stewardship of owners Sabine and Felix Eichbauer who heed the tradition and ideology created by its previous owner, Francesco Leanza. The agriculture and winemaking team remain to keep the promise and the faith for all of the estate lands and and inner workings. They do so as custodians of three essential vineyards, Piaggione, Teatro and Sorgente. We should all look forward to what this power couple and team will bring to the community, wines and landscape of Montalcino.
Your next trip to Montalcino must include a stop at La Mannella to discover the conceptual present and future of the area. Tommaso Cortonesi is a young superstar full of spirit who knows and understands the beauty and enchantment of wine. Sangiovese that gives you the feeling of having come through a storm because of simple wines that make you happy with the present moment. Also complex wines of great functionality, pragmatism and all due to great work ethic. Watch Tommaso’s father pumping juice at dusk and you will understand. The future is here, in these hands, with great humility, ethos and promise.
The Bellaria Estate first came into being in September 1963, when Assunto Pieri and Bruna Tempori purchased a farmhouse and land in one of the finest and most characteristic Montalcino winegrowing areas. Bellaria’s position just a stone’s throw from the village speaks to its founders’ connection and who else but Gianni Bernazzi could carry forth what his grandfather “Sunto” had set out to accomplish. In ode to his grandfather who passed away in 2018 at the age of 97, a man who in 2017 was one of two remaining original members from the original coalition at the 1967 signing of the Brunello community’s accord. Now Gianni is blessed with extraordinary terroir filled with Galestro schisty clay, iron, Alberese limestone and Arenaria sandstone.
Conversely at Canalicchio di Sopra with Francesco Ripaccioli a Rosso di Montalcino 2018 barrel sample instructs that sangiovese is built on dry extract. It is silky, sensual, full of acidity and fine chiseled tannins. Very giving and also serious but in a nurturing way. The Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 50th Harvest “Canalicchio di Sopra” 2015 barrel sample is a fist full or armistice, liquid cocoa limestone gold, in a desperate state and full of mineral of potential explosive nature and ready to spew graphite and chalk all over the place. It currently sits at 15.6 alcohol and 6.5 acidity. Crazy talk.
At Le Chiuse it was Lorenzo Magnelli who introduced us to a Montalcino speciality, the sparkling Stellare Rosé from the most recently planted vineyard (Pullera) at Il Greppo. This vineyard is destined for Le Chiuse Riserva when Lorenzo’s daughters will be making these wines. For now it’s a no dosage, picked three weeks early, two to three years on lees Rosé made from 100 per cent sangiovese. Quite a lot of sangiovese fruit with high acidity taking this into tart currant territory. An eight hour maceration and healthy hue extraction. Named for Lorenzo’s wife, Stella Renzetti. A wine that says “you can’t have a full barrel and a drunk wife at the same time.” All about happiness, in marriage and making sparkling wine.
The sangiovese made by Lorenzo Magnelli are not merely genetic ties to Biondi-Santi. They are without argument some of the most important and expressive Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino in the territory. And they are produced for reasons so intrinsically correct the results perfectly fit the methods. Learning from Lorenzo is the best two hours you could ever hope to spend in Montalcino.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona estate is located on the South East hillside of Montalcino, close to the medieval village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate and to the famous Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona is more than a storied estate and in fact lies in the heart of the Val d’Orcia Park, UNESCO World Heritage. In 1985, after the end of the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona family, Giuseppe Bianchini took control of the winery that is managed today by his sons and nephews. That includes pro cyclist Paolo Bianchini who moved giros to switch paths en route to becoming one of Montalcino’s most important winemakers.
Luigina Villadei led us through Poggio di Sotto’s certified organic portfolio. The estate was founded in 1989 on the south-eastern side of Montalcino and in 2011 became part of the ColleMassari family. Monte Amiata looms and protects while sea breezes blow in for a property that enjoys a unique microclimate immediately southeast of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The same winemaking team of nearly three decades continue to produce sangiovese of great traditional and authentic construct. The sangiovese are timeless, unparalleled for this special part of Castelnuovo dell’Abate and the rising of San Giorgio. Perpetual upholding for decades of generational standards.
It would have been a great pleasure to spend another visit with Elisabetta Gnudi nevertheless at Altesino we sipped on aesthetic Palazzo Altesi, made from 100 per cent sangiovese. The barriques used to aged this Altesino IGT for 12-14 months change everything about the way the grape is expressed from Montalcino vineyards. Younger, less experienced fruit succumbs to the silky beauty and vanilla lushness for an elixir that’s just different than the local Rosso and Brunello, Call it international or what you will.
Thankful to Leonardo Bellaccini for driving down from Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti Classico to Campogiovanni in Montalcino to walk the San Felice vineyards and pour for us the Brunello only he can make. At San Felice’s Campogiovanni property we walked the vineyards with Leonardo Bellaccini and tasted Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Il Quercione out of the barrel. There is lift and bright character in 2017 despite the desiccation, concentration and aridity but this was well judged, especially in picking time so poly-phenolic ripeness matches the sugars. It’s big and brawny but curiously, magically and mysteriously carries ripe and ripping if round acids. It keeps everything buoyant and alive. There is 2016, a vintage with excess everything, namely fruit and tannin. This is the year where balsamico and vineyard notes speak louder, of Galestro, clay and calcari. There is more balance between all the parts even while the fruit acts deeper, broods more and talks with more barrel adjunct. Big vintage to be sure and will be long lived.
Then there is Filippo Chia. Filippo’s father is painter and sculptor Sandro, considered the leading member (along with Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi) of the Italian Neo-Expressionist movement, baptized as Transavanguardia by Achille Bonito Oliva. Sandro Chia bought Castello di Romitorio in 1984, producing his first vintage in 1987 from neighbours’ grapes, now the Loacker property. The Martinis, father and son, have been cellar masters at Romitorio for six generations. Said Sandro, “sangiovese aged for five years is the most extreme and also the most naive. It’s sweet and kind and are wines made by dreamers.” Surely one of Italy’s first expressionistic ideas after the unification of 1861, in 1868 it began with Biondi-Santi. Said Filippo. “Inexplicably and inescapably you can recognize sangiovese from Montalcino. I like a Brunello you can drink six months after release, after it’s five years of aging.”
I had been tasting Filippo Chia’s Castello Romitorio wines for a few years and so now it is this discourse, tasting and northwest Montalcino experience that brings it all together. Another sangiovese epiphany. Thanks for your time Filippo. Of dramatic note is the new vineyard Filippo has cleared for Romitorio’s future. You must stand on this rocky, deeply ferric red soil to understand the estate’s position and its future in Montalcino.
All visits to Montalcino should conclude at La Fattoria dei Barbi. Barbi has been owned by the Cinellí Colombini family in Montalcino since 1352. The property extends over 350 hectares (865 acres) of fields and vineyards in southern Tuscany, in Montalcino, Scansano and Chianti. Production of Brunello dates to 1892 and Barbi were the first to export it to Europe, America and Asia. Fattoria dei Barbi is now run by Stefano Cinelli Colombini, educator, historian, keeper of tales, lore, mythology and chosen one who continues a story that has seen the Colombini family connected to these lands for more than six centuries.
Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s ability to relive and rejoice every iota of this territory’s history is the crux of everything Montalcino. His deeper understanding is what you need to know and is based in his family’s long time defence of the traditions and values of the culture of Montalcino, whose ultimate and most valuable fruit is the Brunello. A Montalcino education begins with Stefano Cinelli Colombini, in museums housed of edifice and in mind. What a visit.
The tasting notes
The following 56 tasting notes cover the Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino tasted at the 13 estates we visited in October 2019. Hundreds more will follow when I visit Montalcino again in February 2020 for the next edition of Benvenuto Brunello.
Generally aged right to 10 months is large Slavonian oak barrels. Takes off straight from where 2015 left us, that is to say from fruit and into more fruit, of sangiovese in wild berry form, expected and imagined. Exactitude from winemaker Alessandro Ciacci, polished, crunchy and then more tannic as a vintage. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (994095, $56.95)
From the vintage where agriculture, winemaking and now selling came and will come easy so you can expect the warm, fuzzy, generous and soft. Perhaps too straightforward to be what the powers that be call a five-star vintage but if Brunello is what you want or even what you think you need then begin or continue the journey right here. Very berry, ultra liquorice and über morbido. Soft, amenable and unencumbered. Positive but certainly not overbearing structure. A now and through mid-term years drinking Annata. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted October 2019
Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2014 (994095, $56.95)
Making the most of the vintage and a quantity 20-30 per cent down from the norm there is a stoic, classic Altesino benchmark quality about the knowing impression derived. It’s just the thing, the feeling, the absolute confidence and polish and precision, out of fields, through winemaking and into glass. Fruit arises out of savoury ashes and ultimately there’s a sense of inclusion, amenability and proper consciousness. Good acids and fine tannins come about without any overbearing qualities. Fine work to no surprise. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted October 2019
Expect more from Montsoli, open your mind and palate to the possibilities and 2015 will deliver more complex notions as it must and should. Always the savour, the rocks bleeding or rather in 2015 causing the fruit to bleed through acid structure and then tannins, ever-bearing and in charge. Not quite the power and ability of other vintages in this regard but still Montosoli generated. Also a mid-term prospect but clearly destined for a minimum 10 year run. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted October 2019
Montosli is so antithetical to the Annata, a Brunello cuvee that takes its fruit from a wide gamut of Montalcino sources. The northern Galestro-strewn hill brings brushy and bushy savour, a pinch of salt and plenty of site specific sapidity. The cherry aspect is replete with a charred sense of skins and a dusty, alloy bled feeling. Grippy, taut and structured. We’ll see about Montosoli from 2014 but you can bet on the house. The track record is undeniable. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted October 2019
Fattoria dei Barbi
Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2012 (928028, $54.95)
Barbi accomplishes an Annata Brunello just haste in 2012, taking expressly written sangiovese red fruit and pushing it to the limits of its natural tendencies, in hue and expression. I would have to say that consistency from this house is an absolute guarantee and that its style trumps vintage as much as any other. This is simply more Barbi than 2-12. That’s all there is to it. Tannins are firm, acidity is strong and fruit is up to the 15 year task. Nothing time sensitive about it and its timeless structure cements the absolution. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted February 2017 and October 2019
Barbi has also listened to the wind and vintage ear worms sung from their iconic, 16th century vineyard known as Vigna del Fiore. Red fruit of clarity and purity reigns while acidity is at its finest for the house. The rusticity of cherry, leather and roasted beets combine for full gastronomic effect and lead into a rather sumptuous and mouth coating texture for the palate. This scales the wall and retreats again to stay in the game in which you can play now (well, soon), then repeatedly, at consistent increments, later and later. VdeF from Barbi is a best of both worlds Brunello for both consumer and collector. Drink 2019-2031. Tasted February 2017 and October 2019
One year in Slavonian and French oak. In more than one way a deep and developed Rosso though when you look at the iron-rich Galestro vienayrds there’s little surprise. To many this would strike with Brunello immediacy and in fact many producers would make Brunello from this level of juice. There’s some VA though beneficial integration is the command and the order of its ways. Quite ferric and traditional with a salty, near volcanic-esque, certainly mineral vein. A tannic Rosso that will improve with two years time. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted October 2019
Remarkably alternative vintage for Gianni, fresher and more effusive to be clear and sure. Shows with great immediacy and tells a story of vintage variation, especially at altitudes like Bellaria (550-600m) and from soils so poor in organic materials. It’s luxe but also so perfumed, pretty and expressive. Just gorgeous Brunello with fine acidity and sweet tannins. The window will open wide sometime early in 2021 and stay that way for as much time as you need. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted October 2019
Spent 28 months in Slavonian and French oak. An extension from the Rosso in every respect; colour, depth, volatility, tannin and the edge of ripeness. The 550-600m of altitude would have been a problem in the past and was indeed in 2014 so don’t come here in search of lush, fruit bomb Brunello. This is sangiovese in requiem for years of time. It’s as grippy, firm, traditional and prim as you are ever going to taste. That said a few minutes of air brings about a swelling of liquid chalky texture. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted October 2019
Stratified depth of vineyard layers are so controlling, the sangiovese classically styled, Gianni acting as messenger, custodian and shepherd for this place. It’s all here; Galestro, iron, Alberese, Arenaria, tradition, nonno Assunto and everyone else who made Brunello happen in Montalcino. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted October 2019
Selection of grapes from the oldest (30 year-old) vineyard, 30 months in French oak. First produced in 2006 and now an ode to Gianni’s grandfather who passed away in 2018 at the age of 97. An ode now to a man who in 2017 was one of two remaining original members from the original 16 at the 1967 signing of the Brunello community. Rich, luxurious, deeply traditional and long, with fine tannins and plenty of barrel feel. Old school, wood spiced and spread throughout the mouthfeel, though never cloying or misdirected. Drink 2022-2032. Tasted October 2019
A vintage with everything in place and though the barrel speaks with so much deeper resonance there’s a variegation of shadows, sweetness and intensity to watch over you, control you and let you know what’s happening in this place. It has become silky smooth, elongated, angles erased with beautiful curves and acidities everywhere. Fine, from another era and living longer than just about anyone else. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted October 2019
Canalicchio Di Sopra
Gets neither more ripe nor more effulgent than this Rosso from the vintage of extreme heat salvaged by late season rains. From plants that knew when to shut down and protect themselves before being saved by water re-introduced by nature just before harvest. Taut and near bursting so get at these 17s straight away. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
Quite fulsome and layered for 2014 with a push-pull sensation that charms while conversely creating tension between two vineyards, La Casaccia and Montosoli. More fruit than most from this vintage with thanks to six people making a prudent selection by hand, almost to the point of prejudice. Three passages in the vineyard also led to the clarity, purity and plain fruitiness of what came from these challenged grapes. Explains Francesco Ripaccioli: “What we harvested for Brunello was grapes from all blocks that only added up to a tank and a half as compared to the full 19 of potential out of 2015.” Luxurious sangiovese to be sure and so much better understood with six further months in bottle. Last tasted October 2019
There is a substantiating reality to this sangiovese, typical of the sourness that vintage will not allow to be hidden though with more concentration than many. Chewy really comes to mind when you attack and in turn allows the palate to wage battle on your buds. Things fall into place well enough in spite of what 2014 wants to do to distract from the truth. Clearly a set above the norm. Drink 2020-2025. Tasted February 2019
Riserva is a selection in the cellar though certain blocks from certain vintages are premeditated and in fact 2013 Riserva is solely selected from the Montosoli hill. The perfume stands apart, rising, haughty and full of fresh roses. The expression of rocks drawn into vines from the new age, climate-affected northern exposure are for perhaps the first time in the Cru’s history a brand new Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello. Salinity, sapidity, power and elegance. Truly. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted October 2019
A year previous to the ’13 Riserva (which will be made exclusively from Montosoli hill fruit) there is the depth of clay and controlled power out of Canalicchio cru vines. The absolute attention paid to patience and time is noted from a Brunello such as this, spoken out within the constructs of fruit extraction and wood usage. The tannins are red meaning they are ripe and request that you give this wine as much time as it gave before going to bottle and then to market. Lush, consistent from start to finish and just hinting at notes not quite Balsamico but something other, something derived from sangiovese grown in the grey clay of La Casaccia. Drink 2021-2032. Tasted October 2019
Re-tasting the ’17 Rosso with Filippo Chia begins like this. “It’s Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill, like making wine in Montalcino. If you do it a day late you’re going to come up a dollar short.” Don’t miss out on selling Rosso from 2017. A good if hot year but this is a cool sector in Montalcino. Some second and third passage French tonneaux to gift a sweeter perfume, a development into pretty rich liqueur, an acidity that keeps on driving, the fruit, the energy and the point. Last tasted October 2019
A bigger and richer Rosso with fully extracted and rendered red fruit, somewhat sour and ripping, grippy acids and totally present tannins. Needs a year or two to be itself and then drink respectfully of the appellation for five more. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted February 2019
Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (236356, $63.95)
Dad (Sandro Chia) bought the estate in 1984, the first vintage being 1987 from neighbours’ grapes, now the Loacker property. Martini father and son, as in cellar master, have been here for six generations. Sandro is known to say this. “Sangiovese aged for five years is the most extreme and also the most naive. It’s sweet and kind and wines made by dreamers.” Son (Filippo) will remind that it’s one of Italy’s first ideas in 1868, after the unification of 1861. Begins with Biondi-Santi. “Inexplicably and inescapably you can recognize sangiovese from Montalcino. I like a Brunello you can drink six months after release, after it’s five years of aging.” This 2015 was bottled, is finished and now as is for three and a half months in. Pretty like the previous declared Annata from Sandro and Filippo Chia but truth be told the level of richness and power is raised up, albeit without any compromise to construct and yes, elegance. The E word applies here, like it or not because this place demands it and you would absolutely know were this messed with, made up or polished by wood, pomp and circumstance. These are some stretched, elastic and elongated tannins. Will extend for hours, days, months and years, open forever, long before it thinks about bouncing back. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted October 2019
Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2013 (236356, $63.95)
Upward push, rising perfume, no bass or very little. Red fruit, clean and fresh as there needs, wants and must be on this ridge at heights above the warmer valleys, from variegated soils, lots of red earth, tons of fine mineral expediency. This is what you want to drink in 2013 Brunello. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona
The Rosso that has been produced since 1987, now approximately 30,000-35,000 bottles per year. Six months each in Slavonian oak and in bottle. From the third warmest vintage of the last 100 years. A spicy and well-spiced Rosso from humidity, baked grapes and concentrated fruit at the height of Rosso while finding freshness and accepting being quite high-toned. Speaks resolutely of an accumulated expression for the southern vineyards of the place. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
A cru selection from four blocks at Brunello yields (six tonnes per hectare) and unique for Rosso. Surely no other Rosso di Montalcino noses this way or speaks with such elevated discourse. Quite aristocratic as such, stubborn of acidity and strong in tannin. Not an everyday wine but one with identity, grip and circumstance. Try to understand that this is Rosso from micro activities; vineyards, climate, selection and production. Which means don’t rush though tasting or thinking about this one. Drink 2020-2025. Tasted October 2019
You can’t help but note the southern Montalcino tone of this fruit first Brunello because there’s just something stingingly distinct about the aromatic tones. It’s a specific savour, direct, grippy and intense. Ages in Grandi Botti, 60-70 hL making for a breadth of fruit, acids and tannins that span a great horizon. Comes from the lighter grey-yellow sand, clay and Galestro soils and it shows in the language of this broad shouldered sangiovese. Lush and perfectly clean. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted October 2019
The only label representing the winery in 2014 is this Annata, inclusive of all the grapes brought forth by Pian Rosso. A highly savoury, sandy Galestro spiced sangiovese that just has to stand of its own accord. Firm, linear and taut. Will age without question or equivocation. Last tasted October 2019
Ciacci e buono, from the beginning, instilled with confidence, finesse and grace. The fruit is beguiling Brunello sangiovese, sour cherry sweetening and flashing as it sits and you taste. Gathers all the necessary attributes along the forest path, through the well-attended vines and into a cellar ready to make things happen. That they do, with charm and structure. Drink 2022-2028. Tasted February 2019
Unheralded perhaps and should never be considered as such because 2013 is wonderfully expressive, effusive, very much alive. Showing its colours in truth and clarity today. Needed exactly this amount of time. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted October 2019
There was no Pianrosso made in 2014 and so Pianrosso the cru returns from the warm, easy and generous 2015. A large cru with red Galestro soils, deeper in mineral content and so imagine everything magnified, magnetized and hyperbolized. The fruit carries some dried character, surely dark berry flavours and a sweetness of salty sapidity. It’s grippy and tannic but also a touch toasty, sun-dried and roasted. Magnanimous whelp of a Brunello, big-boned, structured and surely capable of developing balsamic, porcini and tartufo character. Drink 2020-2025. Tasted October 2019
Similar to 2015, Pianrosso is baked and toasty, fruit very much in the dusty, plum, sun-dried dark berry, frutta di bosco and fragola realm. Liquorice leathery and red soil crusted for quite the structural, stylistic and textural variegation. Last tasted October 2019
Striking aromatics emanate from Ciaaci’s 2013 Pianrosso and you know immediately where it stands and where you will be taken. The level of excellence is noted without hesitation and the launch into taking it all in is done without trepidation. A beautifully lit sangiovese, flitting and twirling, “like a flame dancing in a candle, lighting up your living room.” Great presence and finesse, a tight little strummed set of chords and soulful if traditional harmonies. So beautiful and refined. Drink 2021-2032. Tasted February 2019
Not simply freshness but unction, fruit culpability and basic perfection. The young vines of five years are just now coming into their speciality, that being quality fruit meeting and melting into more than a modicum of grip and structure. You could pour this Rosso for young Brunello seekers and old Rosso knowers. It will solicit and win over their collective hearts. Last tasted October 2019
Lovely effulgent fruit in this Cortonesi family Rosso radiates to extrapolate for a 2016 Brunello future, in many ways. First it is this Rosso that benefits from the particular handling, showing in an immediately gratifying plus available sangiovese that drinks with fast-forward Rosso promise and does so on its own terms, for the right Montalcino reasons. Second, even though the producer’s approach to Brunello is another matter in which generally speaking it deals only with older vines, it is this youthful exuberance and wealth of amenability meeting attack that bodes well for the impending grandi vini. It is here that we see the present and the future of Rosso di Montalcino and the respect it is both given and deserved. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2018
Mostly from the youngest vineyard above the winery on the way up and on the northeast side of the Montalcino hill. No more than six months in big barrel in terms of elévage. Still quite fresh for Rosso and from the challenge of the vintage. Carries a texture too, almost like a dry candy melting, with liquorice and herbal undertone by summer savoury. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (279083, $66.00)
I’d like to say the tannins on 2015 Annata are sneaky but they are so much more than that. These are grippy, layered and nearly formidable tannins. Good thing the easy, generous and lush fruit is somehow capable of defending itself. Boom this is one of Tommaso Cortonesi’s most accomplished Annata and more capable of aging than even he would probably have guessed he was making. Power and beauty. This is that and more. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted October 2019
Like the same vintage Rosso the Brunello is showing with perked up freshness and almost no development. Slavonian oak and just the right amount of time has elevated the game and brought all the parts into line. There’s fresh porcini in this moment so no matter that Tommaso found none on a quick forage today. Good earth and crunch from in depth older vines construction and very impressive length. Fine quality for 2014 from a producer to look for when adversity tests your mettle. Last tasted October 2019
Cortonesi works through the challenge with a sangiovese in 2014 that finds critical mass and therefore celebrates la vita bella in Brunello. With no reason to choose a Vigna-designate nor a Riserva to produce, the best of the best therefore finds its way into this eponymous family Brunello. It’s equipped with notable vintage fruit, finer acids than many and a tannic structure that is not only correct but highly promising. Lengthiness is one of the best in the vintage. Drink 2023-2031. Tasted February 2019
Quite evolved, certainly a bottle specificity and now diving well into the funghi and the porcini. That said I sense and even think these to be classic 2005 acids still moving upwards while the fruit settles into an ulterior classic pool of liqueur. Just a moment’s amaro and plenty of languishing action, with or without anguish. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019
Now talking post-aggressive behaviour in Riserva not yet advanced ahead of time. There are secondary aromatic hints but the tannins remain in tact, charged and controlling. There’s a circular motion happening hear as fruit and acidity whirl around, outrunning the tannins or at least attempting to. All the sweet things that grow wild and are picked to accent your braises are swirled into the aromatic potpourri of this fine sangiovese of whispers, shadows and silhouettes. It’s a chiaroscuro of a Brunello, all in and we are in turn fully engaged. Last tasted October 2019
There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031. Tasted February 2017
Chosen from the bigger clusters aged in the youngest barrels for one year. “Rosso must reflect sangiovese’s character more than any other wine,” insists Lorenzo Magnelli. Balance is key and perhaps more of a challenge out of ’17 so expect more flint (soil) and spice (fruit and wood) in this vintage. “For our culture this is the most important wine, it’s what we drink daily.” Morbido, with spice and frankly just plain get me delicious. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
There is a perfume about 2015, a ripe cherry that stands apart for the vintage and even more specific to Le Chiuse. There are cherry trees planted by Tancredi Biondi-Santi here that mimic or rather the aromatics do so, especially in this wine. It’s all texture and a true sense of the land, a feeling of Galestro, rich clay in mouthfeel and Le Chiuse, the place where the dam closed the water off for irrigation. So much fruit and harmony, between acidity, alcohol and tannins. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted October 2019
Just eight thousand bottles made in this vintage with no Riserva in production. A completely different look at 2014 with this bottle, at the top of integrity, with Le Chiuse savour, throwback complexity and great brightness, surely blessed and pushed upwards for the future. Showing the way it was meant to. A reflection of the vintage and proof of time afforded the vineyard. Last tasted October 2019
Le Chiuse delivers one of the realer deals in 2014 Brunello, with admirably pleasing and concentrated fruit set against a traditional backdrop of ripe acidity, minor Brettanomyces and full-bodied tannins. As it’s not an overly perfumed sangiovese it bucks the vintage trend if only because it avoids botrytis-affected atypical aromas. It’s quite a rich 2014, certainly a bit volatile and capable of going longer than most. Finishes by leaving you a linger of its chewy mouthful. Drink 2022-2030. Tasted February 2019
“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035. Tasted October 2019
Top quality vintage, elegant and balanced, from the non disposto star of Montalcino, Riccardo Campinoti. His is a Rosso for Rosso sake, discriminant, linear, vertical and come up for the rising. If Rosso can be spiritual it would be like this, poignant and effen-solid good. These are the acids of Montalcino and the depth of earth which holds you firm in the face of a fluent perfume. It’s all in this bottle, fluid and affluent. What you need to know and what you want to drink. It can live for a dozen years. Drink 2019-2029. Tasted October 2019
The come and get me vintage but don’t be misled, distracted or misunderstood. The fraganza di Ragnaie is an intoxicant of the highest order from the highest elevations. This is tonality of verified airy exceptionality. There are fruit landings and destinations, from patches and orchards, without pith and with stone seeds. From only six hectares of the 15 total planted and the balanced one, with Montosoli fruit joining Petroso, Castelnuovo dell’Abate and the four vineyards at 600-plus metres around the winery. Still firm and shadowy so wait three more years. A redux of ’13 but in a wholly antithetical way and only in the ways of Le Ragnaie. Drink 2022-2033. Tasted October 2019
Forty days on skins from a vintage of beneficial balance acting out of cool weather. The content and concentration are from the long maceration, not from hard pressing or mechanization. Now eighteen months since last tasted it has come into elasticity and more length. It’s the real deal. Last tasted October 2019
Le Ragnaie farms four vineyards in the central zone of Montalcino; Vigna del Lago, Vigna Fonte, Vigna Cappuccini, Vigna Vecchia but also plots in Castelnuovo dell’Abate and Petroso close to the village. It is the gathering of contrastive and complimentary fruit that deals in defining an estate stylistic for the Classica Brunello. Le Ragnaie’s emits the most exotic perfume of almost any of the oft-stingy ‘13s, in fact this brings a level of fragranza that’s almost impossible for the vintage. I will admit to having waited the entire morning to come across such a floral sangiovese from a vintage that seems reluctant to give such aromatics away. The palate follows along, with smoky smoulder and spice, then turning wonderfully savoury, sapid, salty and herbal. This is the complexity we’ve come to covet from Montalcino, along with a fineness of acidity and lightness of touch. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted February 2018
From Castelnuovo dell’Abate at 400m of elevation, planted in the 1980s. A former lake bed, with clay and round sand stones. Strikes the Brunello accord between richness and balance with more fruit than 10 other houses combined. The transparency is the thing; smells like fruit, perfume and the land, like rocks and sandstone. The bleed of Pietraforte into the blood of sangiovese. There’s really no reason to find fault and in fact there is every reason to breath, exhale and smile. That is what happens when you taste a Brunello like this special single-vineyard wine from Le Ragnaie. Drink 2022-2037. Tasted October 2019
Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039. Tasted October 2019
Riccardo’s first vintage from the Galestro strewn soils at 220m next to Baricci on the northerly Montosoli hill is a completely different animal altogether. The tannic structure is so opposite to the southerly wines, here taut, twined laces pulled oh so tight. Not without the Ragnaie tonality mind you and the transparency, clear, distinct and honest. Not necessarily a terroir vintage and fermentation occurred in oak vats (as opposed to the concrete for the others) and yet it’s so bloody sangiovese. Blood of Montosoli. Drink 2022-2038. Tasted October 2019
Poggio di Sotto
From Poggio di Soto’s somewhat recent acquisition. Quite the rich expression of dark red fruit, early harvested, low yielding and carefully extracted. Attention to detail makes for a remarkably drinkable Rosso but one with a serious, tight and intense expression on its face. Very smooth and round. Vine age in the 15 year range, soils of tufo, with gravel and calcari. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
From Poggio di Soto’s somewhat recent acquisition. Ugolforte was a 12th century bandit who led a rebellion against Siena. Ugo the strong he was called. In a year when Poggio di Sotto is mitigated with extreme prejudice and no Riserva was made it is this San Giorgio that is allowed to sing and express the quality fruit separated from the chaff in this vintage. It’s a beautiful one, silky smooth and available for interaction right at the word go. Acids are fine not just for the vintage but for clarity and future understanding. Vine age in the 25 year range, soils of tufo, with gravel and calcari. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted October 2019
Very fine quality of tannins wind their way around the ripest fruit picked right in time to keep the acidity (6.3 tA) not just in line but up there in full regale with the gathered parts. The red fruit is so very specific to appellation and place, two interchangeable parts that make Rosso shine. Crispy and crunchy with juicy fruit in the savoury candy way that’s just what this ideal new deal has to be. Few Rosso will age like this from Poggio di Sotto. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted October 2019
Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015 (337774, $180.00)
The red fruit of this place and only this place is amplified or better still exemplified in appellative Brunello. There is a glycerin derived and in possession of balance, from soils, elements and climate that is unparalleled for this specific area of Montalcino just to the west and below Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The fine shift from earth to fruit and into tannin through mineral bleed and finally peppery savour all works on the palate. This ’15 is proof of how a team continues to uphold standards of these vineyards no matter the ownership or the hopes, dreams or wishes of those who support and also those who drink from the deep well of this project. Drink 2022-2033. Tasted October 2019
San Felice – Campogiovanni
The combinative adjunct of extract, barrel and soul are at the crux of the San Felice grasp and the very core of winemaker Leonardo Bellaccini’s life work. Never shy, always looking for density, in vineyard plantings, vintage and concentration of this Brunello. Leonardo is very happy with these results if questioning the balance between big fruit and even bigger tannins. What is amazing are the acids he finds, coaxes and extends to lift this from its depths. Done up in 100 per cent oak. Unparalleled for Montalcino. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted October 2019
The 2008 expresses a character or at least has transformed with one that smells so much of all the pretty bushes and herbs that grow so low to the vineyard’s ground. Here the true spirit of the Campogiovanni Azienda comes clean, speaking in pure vernacular tongue and expressing all that is this place. Don’t misunderstand that this Brunello is as its namesake suggests, a wine of big oak, but also bones and persisting fruit. The tannins are so fine, plush and still in control. So much texture, very precise actions and wholly deserving of a place at the table. A real style and a product of new oak blanketing the fruit of old vines. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted October 2019
A perfect sunny summer, like 2010, with some late August showers. Just before harvest there were two heat waves, spiking the sugars from 22 to 25 brix. The potential alcohol breached 16 per cent as a result. The Aussie shiraz vintage, of faux sugar and unusual for Brunello. Glycerin persists just as it showed so early in fermentation, ripe to the edge but did it cross over? To be honest, no. But there is a reduction of balsamico, a tarry feeling, a Sant Angelo in Colle character. Plenty of chocolate, warmth and zonazione personality. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted October 2019
There’s something special about a Rosso di Montalcino that speaks to a place, in this case the moderate specificities of the Sorgente vineyard for a 6,800 bottle lot of pure and focused sangiovese. An ease back on the sugar ripening and colour content throttle makes for a transparency and clarity of delight in the way Rosso should be, at least for this lower section of the three main estate vineyards. Inox fermentation, 18 months in larger Allier barrels, further bottle refining and then no filtration makes for Rosso of true to Salicutti spirit, bright, effusive, uncompromising and willing to stick with what works. What else do you need from Rosso di Montalcino? Drink 2019-2023. Tasted October 2019
Salicutti is in a south-eastern Montalcino location, on route SP 55 towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Now in the altruistic stewardship of owners Sabine and Felix Eichbauer who heed the tradition and ideology created by its previous owner, Francesco Leanza. The agriculture and winemaking team remain to keep the promise and the faith for all of the estate lands and and inner workings. They do so as custodians of Piaggione, the movie star of Salicutti’s vineyards, fastest to ripen from both a sugar and phenolic standpoint but also lending the deepest colour to its grapes. That in itself creates some great oxymoronic irony because Salicutti’s are some of the most transparent and clearest expressions of sangiovese in the territory. As is this stunning 2013, a Brunello of pure, unadulterated and sexy fruit with all of its natural, vintage specific and structured parts on full display. The combined effects of three years spent in an array of French and Slavonian barrels has come to this, meaning the fruit has been coaxed but never pushed so that is speaks only of Piaggione. Blood orange acidity and lightning strike energy make for such a buzz of a Brunello. Barrel tastings of 2016 through 2018 ferments will only magnify and hyperbolize these feelings. The future will hold and be something else. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted October 2019
Always a blend of the two vineyards, including Vigna Pian Bossolino, which incidentally was not made in this vintage. The tannins here are nothing short of remarkable, silken, succulent and so strong. A woody and hematic sangiovese with blood and oranges running through its veins. Drink 2021-2028. Tasted October 2019
This is the baby and yet already more in the approachable realm, offering up lush fruit, ganache of a rich consistency, spice rendered and layered. A chewy Brunello, fruit leathery, up front and generous. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted October 2019
A concentrated vintage, with muscles and also highest quality phenolics. Truth is spoken in that last bit of content because this noses high, mighty, rich and ripe. The fruit carries a sweetness from which skins and seeds are most certainly responsible. Always Terralsole silky, fine and golden in liquid sangiovese form. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted October 2019
Even if ’13 and ’12 Riserva are current releases it is this ’07 that should be considered the present tense. The label depicts and angel with an attitude, by Whistler artist Lisa Geddes. Showing its 12 years of development, with plenty of rendered chocolate. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted October 2019
Good to go!