Posts tagged ‘biondi-santi’

Simply Sublime

Claudio Tipa, proprietor, Poggio di Sotto, Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Montalcino

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

My latest print article appears in the August 31 issue of Sommelier Journal, one of this country’s finest wine publications. The article is about Brunello di Montalcino and you can read it by clicking on this link. In the article, I discuss the current goings on in Montalcino, about how producers are putting the controversies of the final few years in their rear view mirrors as they move ahead with the most critical business of all – that of making the finest wines possible.

Various producers go about this in different fashions, of course, as some continue the traditional viticulture of their parents and grandparents, while others aim for a more modern style. Some of this philosophy is determined in the vineyards, while much is determined in the cellars; all of this is covered in the article.

Loyal readers of this blog know that I favor traditional red wines from Italy; ones aged in large oak casks known as botti (plural; botte, singular). These casks, ranging in size from 20 to 50 HL – or 2000 to 5000 liters – (some are even larger) have subtle wood influence. The more modern wines are aged in barriques of 225 liters or tonneaux of 500 liters. Clearly these smaller oak barrels impart more wood sensations to the wines, which can dominate a wine with their spicy and toasty notes. Too often wines that have been matured in these containers tend to blur the varietal characteristics of the grapes. Even worse, one loses a sense of place; it can be difficult to identify if a wine is from Tuscany, Abruzzo, Umbria or any number of regions. For my way of thinking, that’s not a good thing.

Botte in a Montalcino cellar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Now I am not saying that every wine aged in a smaller oak barrel does not have notable varietal character; much of this, as with any discipline, depends on moderation. I enjoy several examples of Brunello matured in mid-size tonneaux; the Poggio Antico “Altero” being a marvelous example. But the appeal of a wine depends on the oak being a supporting player and not the dominant force. It’s all about balance.

In my article, you’ll read tasting notes of some of my favorite wines. Of the more than 75 examples of 2007 Brunello di Montalcino I have tasted this year (2007 is the new release for Brunello in 2012), my favorite is the Poggio di Sotto. This renowned estate in the premier Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone, a bit south of the town of Montalcino, was purchased in 2011 by Claudio Tipa from the original owner Piero Palmucci, who had elevated his winery into one of Montalcino’s most in-demand, due to his ultra traditional style of aging for a longer period of time in botti than required by DOCG reglations for Brunello do Montalcino. Tipa, who also owns the magnificent Bolgheri estate Grattamcacco, promised Palmucci that he would maintain this traditional approach in the cellars.

When I sat down with Tipa this past February at the estate and tasted the 2007 Brunello as well as the 2006 Brunello Riserva, I was impressed with the complexity and richness of each wine. But while I was tasting these wines, it’s almost as though a light went on, as I was completely taken by the delicacy of these wines on my palate. Yes, these are wines that will improve and age gracefully for some 15-25 years, but the beauty of these wines was not their power, but rather their finesse. Clearly much of this elegance on the palate comes from the fact that these wines spend so much time in large oak casks – both were matured for four years in botti – which not only softens the wines, but lengthens the mid-palate and lends an overall sense of refinement. (Note: the DOCG regulations require two years of wood aging for a Brunello normale and three years for a Brunello riserva, so both wines at Poggio di Sotto are matured for longer than normal periods. Even their Rosso, a wine of great character, is aged for two years in botti; this wine type does not even require any wood aging, according to the disciplinare.)

Now this extra time in wood is of course a more costly way to do business and the wines of Poggio di Sotto are priced higher than most other examples of Brunello (I refuse to label these wines as expensive, as that is a relative term. A $150 wine that is magnificent can be thought of as reasonably priced, while an uninspiring $12 wine can be overpriced). But the sensation of elegance, of finesse, of discovering subtleties not found in other wines is a rare treasure. The wines of Poggio di Sotto – along with the examples of Brunello from Biondi-Santi, Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Le Chuise and a few other traditional producers – are in a word, sublime. This is what separates the great producers from the very good ones.

In short, there’s nothing trendy about these wines. For the reviewers at certain influential wine publications in the US, power is what makes a wine stand out; for them, bigger is better. Let them have their way – power is certainly easier to understand than finesse. It’s always been that way and it may always be that way. But for experienced wine lovers, finesse, subtlety and delicacy are magical terms. You wonder if the big-name wine writers will ever learn that lesson.

September 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm 1 comment

Year’s Best from Italy – To Date

Come learn Italian wines by tasting some!

 Francesco Carfagna, Az. Agr. Altura, Isola del Giglio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As we turn the calendar from June to July, we come to the half way point of 2012. So I’d like to share a few thoughts on the best Italian wines I’ve tried this year, both from my three trips (Verona, Montalcino and Grosseto/Campania) as well as a few wines I’ve tried at home, while working on a special project. It’s been a great year so far with plenty of highlights!

Best Sparkling Bellussi DOCG Superiore di Valdobbiadene Prosecco Ferghettina Extra Brut 2005

The Bellussi Prosecco (green label) is everything I look for in a Prosecco: excellent freshness, very good acidity and a richness on the mid-palate. This has excellent complexity. The Ferghettina is a multi-layered Franciacorta with tantalizing notes of caramel and honey that you rarely find in this wine type. It is an outstanding sparkling wine.

Best Whites – Several examples from Campania

I tasted so many first-rate whites during my visit to Irpinia in May; this is a tribute to the work of the producers as well as the quality of the fruit. A few highlights include the 2009 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino; 2011 Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino2011 Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”2011 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; 2010 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and the 2010 Vadiaperti Greco di Tufo “Tornante“. All of these wines show wonderful varietal purity, perfect balance and a vibrancy that keeps these wines fresh and gives them longevity. I’ve been a fan of Campanian whites – especially Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – for many years and based upon the examples I’ve tasted over the past two or three years, I have to rank these whites as among the very best in all of Italy!

Wild papaveri amidst the vineyards in Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Best Reds – 2007 Brunello/ 2006 Brunello Riserva/ 2008 Barolo

So many great wines to choose from here; let’s start with the newly released examples of Brunello di Montalcino. Both 2007 and 2006 have been rated as 5-star (outstanding) vintages by the local consorzio with 2007 being more forward while 2006 is a more classic, tightly wound vintage that will need more time. I don’t have room to list all the great wines here, so a few highlights from the 2007 Brunello normale: Poggio di SottoLisiniFuligniSesta di Sopra and Sassodisole. For the 2006 Brunello riserva highlights include Biondi-SantiLe ChiuseIl Poggione “Vigna Paganelli”Tassi “Franci”Talenti and Citille di Sopra. As you can see from the photo above, Montalcino in May was the most beautiful viticultural area I have visited this year!

As for 2008 Barolos, this is shaping up to be a classic vintage, as temperatures that growing season were relatively normal, cooler than several recent years where conditions were quite warm. The 2008s have beautiful aromatics and acidity and display a sense of place in a far more direct way than the hotter vintages. I have only tasted about 20 examples so far, with several dozen to go, so my list is partial. But at this point, here are my favorite 2008 Barolos: Renato Ratti “Marcenasco”Mauro Sebaste “Prapo”Conterno-Fantino “Sori Ginestra”Marcarini “La Serra” and Einaudi “Costa Grimaldi.”

I also have to tell you about a fabulous red wine I tasted at a wine fair near Grosseto back in May. I met Franecsco Carfagna, who with his family, farm a few acres on the island of Giglio in the Tyrrenhian Sea. His winery is called Altura and his estate red is called Rosso Saverio; it is a blend of about 15-18 varieties, both red and white, some of them well-known, such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, others rather rare, such as Empolo, Biancone Giallo and Pizzutello (!). The result is a totally original wine, one that has aromas like a white wine (yellow peaches) at first, but then quickly reveals more typical red wine aromas, such as strawberry, dried cherry and notes of milk chocolate. Medium-full, this has amazing complexity as well as a velvety feel on the palate. The current vintage is the 2010, which is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for the next 3-5 years. This is not a powerhouse Italian red, but one that shows what a dedicated producer with a vision can do. As I taste so many wines in my trips to Italy, it takes something special to get me excited – well, this is the wine! (Note: this wine is imported in the US in limited quantities by Louis Dressner.)

Best Older White – 1994 Vadiaperti Fiano di Avellino

Not only did I taste so many wonderful new white wines from Irpinia, there were also a few beautiful older versions as well. None was more eye-opening than the 1994 Fiano di Avellino from Vadiaperti. Proprietor Raffaelle Troisi was kind enough to open this wine for my friend and I at his estate and I am forever grateful for that decision! Light yellow in color, this looked like it might be four or five years old, not eighteen. The aromas were lovely – Anjou pear, honey, mango and magnolia blossoms and the wine tasted as fresh as it smelled. The finish was quite long with impressive persistence and distinct minerality. What a gorgeous wine – one that shows how wonderfully Campanian white wines can age!

Best Older Reds – Several at the Frederick Wildman Italian Portfolio Tasting

National importer Frederick Wildman held a tasting of their Italian producers in several cities across the US back in May and made a stellar decision to have the producers pour an older wine. They made it clear that these wines were not available any more, but how nice is it that they took this approach so one could witness first hand how wines such as Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and other wines age. Also, isn’t it great to be able to try these older wines, especially with the producers present? There were several outstanding wines, my favorites being the 1985 Le Ragose Amarone ( a stunning wine), the 1974 Barolo  from Marchesi di Barol0 (a true classic) and the 2001 and 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Le Chiuse (marvelous wines of grace, finesse and complexity – seamless wines that are perfectly balanced.) Thank you to these producers for showing these wines and thank you to the people at Frederick Wildman for offering this opportunity. Here’s hoping that more importers offer tastings such as this one!

July 2, 2012 at 11:36 am 6 comments

Best Brunello Producers

 

Plaque hanging outside the offices of the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino

Plaque hanging outside the offices of the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino

 

A few weeks ago, I wote a post on Brunello di Montalcino (read here) in which I discussed ths wine’s characteristics and makeup along with listing some of the finest producers. I thought readers would be interested in learning what some of the top authorities in Italy as well as this country think about Brunello, so I asked several experts in this field to provide me with a list of whom they believe are the finest producers of Brunello.

I asked for a list of ten, letting them know they could add brief comments if they wished. One contributor gave me twelve names, saying he couldn’t get his list down to just ten, while another gave me his list of his top ten followed closely by another ten. No problem- the more the merrier – and it shows you how many excellent producers of Brunello di Montalcino there are.

So without further ado, here are the lists:

 

Jeremy Parzen – Author of dobianchi wine blog and co-author of vinowire blog. Italian wine writer, educator and marketer, currently living in Texas.

“Based on what I feel are indicative, traditional expressions of Brunello, available in this country… 

  • Le Presi
  • Il Poggione
  • Poggio di Sotto
  • Salvioni
  • Canalicchio di Sopra
  • Paradiso di Manfredi
  • Campogiovanni
  • Collemattoni
  • Caparzo
  • Fornace

 

Alfonso Cevola – author of On the Wine Trail in Italy blog and The Blend blog. Italian wine writer and marketer, currently living in Texas.

  • Altesino- cellar worthy
  • Angelo Sassetti – ultimate contadina
  • Argiano- stylish and elegant
  • Costanti – another classic their 2004 reminded me of their 1964
  • Fattoi- great pruners and dog trainers
  • Il Poggione – Love these guys
  • Lisini – classic archetype
  • Poggio alle Mura (Banfi) – their ’71 was so great
  • Poggio San Polo –  new young winemaker and energy

 

Tom Maresca – America’s leading writer on Italian wines, having contributed hundreds of articles on the topic for more than 25 years. Lives in New York City.

  • Banfi: great quality-to-price ratio
  • Barbi: very traditional house
  • Biondi Santi: self explanatory
  • Casanova di Neri: elegant
  • Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona: big, structured
  • Donatella Cinelli Colombini: very true to Montalcino character
  • Col d’Orcia: great finesse
  • Fuligni: a pace-setter in recent vintages
  • Lisini: the essence of Montalcino
  • Nardi: great strides in recent years
  • Poggio Antico: more and more, intensely Sangiovese
  • Il Poggione: superb vineyards

 

Charles Scicolone – Author of the blog Charles Scicolone on Wine. One of America’s leading authorities on Italian wines. Wine writer and restaurant consultant. He lives in New York City.

  • Fattoria dei Barbi- Some where between traditional and modren but I think more traditional
  • Biondi-Santi -Traditional and one of the best
  • Caparzo – Some wines in Traditional style, others modern
  • Casanova di Neri – use of botti, small french oak barrels and tonneau
  • Col d’Orcia
  • Il Poggione
  • Constanti- I think he is still traditional
  • Poggio Antico- They changed their style went modern with the 2001 vintage -loved the wine before this
  • Mastrojanni – in between
  • Pian delle Vigne- Antinori

” I really liked the 2004 Brunello from Banfi- I think it is the best Brunello they ever made. 

“It is difficult to tell the modern from the traditionalist except for Franco Biondi- Santi.

“In most cases the “traditionalists” are using more modern methods and the modern producers less small oak. Some make one Brunello in a traditional style and other in a modern style.

“I find Brunello to be very confusing. That is why I like my Brunello to be 1990 or older.”

 

Franco Ziliani – Author of vinoalvino blog and co-author of vinowire blog (with Jeremy Parzen). One of Italy’s most important wine writers and arguably the most influential in the country. Lives near Bergamo in the province of Lombardia.

  • Case Basse
  • Il Greppo Biondi Santi
  • Il Colle
  • Poggio di Sotto
  • Giulio Salvioni Cerbaiola
  • Lisini
  • Col d’Orcia
  • Fuligni
  • Gianni Brunelli
  • Capanna

Plus others like:

  • Il Poggione
  • Caprili
  • Gorelli Le Potazzine
  • Le Macioche
  • Sesta di Sopra
  • Il Marroneto
  • Uccelliera
  • Pian dell’Orino
  • Salicutti
  • Mastrojanni

 

And finally, my choices (in alphabetical order):

  • Biondi-Santi
  • Caprili
  • Col d’Orcia
  • Fuligni
  • Il Poggione
  • Le Chiuse
  • Pian dell’Orino
  • Poggio Antico
  • Poggio di Sotto
  • Sesta di Sopra
  • Talenti
  • Uccelliera

 

Do you have favorite Brunello producers? I’d love to read your choices- send them along.

July 22, 2009 at 8:44 am 3 comments

Great Reds of Toscana – Brunello di Montalcino

 

View of the town of Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

View of the town of Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most famous red wines produced anywhere in the world. Made entirely from Sangiovese – known as Brunello in the Montalcino area – Brunello is one of the longest-lived red wines of Italy, with most bottlings drinking well fro 12-15 years, while the finest examples from the best estates in the top vintages lasting as long as 25-30 years.

 

Brunello di Montalcino – and the lighter, more approachable Rosso di Montalcino – are the only Tuscan reds that are regulated as being produced solely with Sangiovese. A Brunello must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, though the size of the barrel is not mentioned. This gives winemakers freedom; some use the traditional botti grandi, large casks that hold anywhere between 2000 to 6000 liters, while other producers prefer barriques, small barrels that hold 225 liters (other still, prefer tonneau, 500-liter casks).

This means a wide variety of styles of Brunello, with the traditional wines aged in large casks offering flavors of red cherry, currant , cinnamon and cedar, while the more modern bottlings focus on black cherry, vanilla and spice. Traditional producers include Biondi-Santi, Il Poggione and Talenti, while the modern producers include Fanti, Valdicava and Donatella Cinelli Colombini.

As this is a famous red that can age for decades, prices are not inexpensive. Expect to pay between $60-$80 for most current bottlings of Brunello. The price is fair when you consider that a Brunello di Montalcino cannnot be released in the market place until the fifth year after the harvest; thus the 2004 bottlings are now being released in 2009.

The Consorzio of Brunello producers rates each vintage on its quality, from one star (poor) to five stars (exceptional). 2004 is a five-star vintage; others include 1997, 1995 and 1990. The 2007 vintage has also been rated five stars; these wines however will not be released until 2012.

Given the fame of this wine, many new estates have been established over the past 10-15 years. In the 1970s, there were fewer than 40; today the number exceeds 140. Many are quite small, owning only 2-3 acres of vineyards and producing less than 5000 bottles of Brunello per vintage. 

 

Andrea Cortonesi, owner/winemaker, Uccelliera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Andrea Cortonesi, owner/winemaker, Uccelliera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Given the number of producers making Brunello today, here is a short list of some of the finest:

  • Biondi-Santi
  • Il Poggione
  • Le Chiuse
  • Sesta di Sopra
  • Talenti
  • Il Palazzone
  • Uccelliera
  • Valdicava
  • Caprili
  • Casanuova delle Cerbaie
  • Argiano
  • Caparzo
  • Fuligni

 

A scandal

In 2008, investigations into an alleged scandal looked into the question of whether certain producers have or had been introducing varieties other than Sangiovese into the wine. Some members of the media have said this has been going on for years and point to the softer acidity of the wines as well as deeper color. As Sangiovese has lively acidity for a red variety and the color is generally garnet, these critics point to the deep ruby red color as well as soft acidity that a grape such as Merlot or possibly Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon was added to certain wines.

To date, a few dozen producers have been investigated and a few estates declassified their Brunellos in 2003, a sign to some that that particular wine was not 100% Sangiovese. Yet nothing has really been proven.

It seems safe to say that while this may be happening, it is not the practice of the majority. It seems also safe to say that what makes Brunello di Montalcino so distinct is its requirement of 100% Sangiovese. It seems unlikely that there will be any changes to this law anytime soon. In my opinion, there certainly does not need ot be any change regarding Brunello as a wine made purely from Sangiovese.

 

As for a Rosso di Montalcino, there are no requirements for wood aging; the wine can be released as soon as one year after the vintage. A few producers also make a Reserva bottling of Brunello di Montalcino; these wines cannot be released in the market before the sixth year following the vintage.

 

Read more about some of the best producers of Brunello di Montalcino at my website

 

BUYING GUIDE TO TUSCAN WINES

I have just put together a collection of my reviews of the latest wines from Tuscany. These reviews can be found in a special Tuscan issue of my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines; this is a 30-page pdf document. This issue contains reviews of 50 different Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, as well as reviews of wines from six different estates in Bolgheri (including three vintages of Sassicaia), as well as 40 new bottlings of Chianti Classico, a dozen examples of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and even a couple newly released bottlings of Vin Santo.

The price for this special issue is only $10 US. I will email the issue to you upon payment (either check or Paypal), so if you are interested, please email me and I will reply with payment instructions. This is a must for a Tuscan wine lover!

June 29, 2009 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment


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