Posts tagged ‘claudio tipa’

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

Brunello di Montalcino – 2007 normale and 2006 Riserva


Plaque honoring the 2007 Brunello vintage in the main square of Montalcino (Photo by Tom Hyland)

2007 Brunello- Triumph of the Traditionalists

I’ve just returned from Montalcino, where I attended the annual Benvenuto Brunello event along with several dozen wine writers from around the world. This is an anteprima tasting, where wines that will be released later in the year are sampled for journalists. As Brunello di Montalcino is released on a five-year cycle, the new wines at this tasting were from 2007; the 2006 Riservas were also sampled as well as Rosso di Montalcino from 2010.

2007 was an excellent year for red wines throughout much of Italy; this was especially true in Toscana. The warm weather ensured excellent ripeness, yet there was also good natural acidity in the wines. True, this is a forward, somewhat international vintage, but the wines are well balanced and offer very good structure. Overall, I think this is an excellent vintage and while I do not rate it quite as high as 2006, which I thought outstanding, this is a year with many first-rate and several outstanding wines. (note: the Consorzio rated both 2006 and 2007 as 5-star – outstanding – years.)

As usual, I will review all the wines I tasted – more than 60 – in my Guide to Italian Wines. For now, I will discuss a few of my favorite wines, starting with the 2007 bottlings.  As usual, the wines from Poggio Antico are excellent, delivering impressive depth of fruit as well as a long, polished finish. There are two bottlings: the regular Poggio Antico as well as the “Altero”; this year, I slightly preferred the regular bottling (5 stars-outstanding) over the “Altero” but that could change with time.

Every year, I have the Eredi Fuligni at or near the top of my list; the 2007 continues that tradition. Here is a traditionally made wine with gorgeous perfumes, a generous mid-palate, very good acidity and polished tannins. The wine is clean and has remarkable varietal purity. Bravo to Fuligni for their amazing Brunello every year, a wine that is for me, a textbook Brunello.

Francesco Marone Cinzano, propirietor, Col d’Orcia (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Col d’Orcia has been one of my favorite Brunello producers for some time now and they delivered another excellent wine in 2007. Displaying lovely rose petal and tart cherry aromas with a hint of tobacco, this has lovely balance, excellent persistence and ideal acidity. Another traditional producer, Col d’Orcia crafts wines that are true expressions of terroir, a trait on display in their 2007 Brunello, a wine I think will be at peak in 12-15 years, although it will most likely be drinking well for several years after that.

Other 2007 Brunellos that I loved included the gracefully mannered Caprili; the varietally pure and exquisitely balanced Il Poggione; the exquisite Tenuta di Sesta and the always graceful Uccelliera. Propietor Andrea Cortonesi has been on quite a streak as of late, refining his Brunello to offer a wine of lovely cherry flavors, polished tannins and a wonderful sense of place. This 2007 is outstanding!

A few pleasant surprises among the 2007 Brunello included the Ridolfi and the Sassodisole. Each year there are more than 125 Brunello normale available for tasting. I have a core group of wines I try each year, but I always make sure to sample the wines from producers I’m not that familiar with for whatever reasons. One of those producers, Ridolfi made a 2007 Brunello with lovely rose petal and dried cherry aromas along with notes of thyme and cedar, elegant tannins and very good acidity; this is quite stylish. The Sassodisole, another winery whose products I had not tried before, delivered a gorgeous traditional Brunello aged for 36 months in grandi botti that displays beautiful perfumes of tart cherry, currant and strawberry preserves (!); there is very good depth of fruit, ideal acidity and excellent persistence. Here is a graceful wine that is beautifully made – a wine from a powerful vintage that is all about finesse. This is an outstanding wine and Sassodisole is a winery to keep an eye on; I know I’l be tasting their wines every chance I get.

 

 Claudio Tipa, proprietor Poggio di Sotto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 If I had to select one 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, it would be the Poggio di Sotto. This has been one of Montalcino’s finest artisan estates since Piero Palmucci released his first wines from the 1991 vintage. Palmucci had several ideas as to how to produce outstanding Brunello, the core of which was two-fold; age only in large casks and age for a long period of time. The results over the years have been nothing short of outstanding.

Palmucci recently sold the winery to Claudio Tipa, a true Tuscan gentleman, who has been involved in the wine business for decades. Tipa is most famous as the owner of Colle Massari in southern Tuscany as well as the renowned Grattamacco estate in Bolgheri, along Tuscany’s coast. Tipa told me at the winery that he is a strong believer in what Palmucci has accomplished and will not change the style.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote that this year in Montalcino was a “triumph of the traditionalists.” You will note the number of traditional wines I have written about in this post and while I admit to a bias toward this style of wine, I could not help that even with the more modern wines, the oak influence has been reduced. What wonderful news for any wine drinker, as less oak in these wines lets the varietal character of these wines shine, while at the same time, allowing the wines to show a sense of place. Be it from Montalcino, Piemonte or Campania, all great Italian red wines share these traits.

Getting back to Poggio di Sotto, it is this subtle wood influence that helps define the local terroir of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, one of Montalcino’s best sub-zones. But it is also the length of time in grandi botti that helps refine these wines. The 2007 Poggio di Sotto Brunello stayed in wood for more than 3 and 1/2 years, far longer than the minimum two years required. What this achieves, according to winemaker Federico Staderini, is a lightness on the palate, an elegance that is largely unmatched. When I tasted this wine, I noted how weightless this wine seemed; this to me was a quality I normally only associate with older Brunellos, perhaps 12 or 15 years of age. But here was a new release that was as refined a Brunello as I have ever had at such a young age. This is something every producer should aim for, even if they may never realize the finesse and subtleties of the wines of Poggio di Sotto.

A few words on the 2006 Brunello Riserva. 2006 was an outstanding year in Montalcino with wines of great concentration and impresssive structure. The 2006s are not as forward as the 2007s (and thus may not appeal to casual red wine drinkers), but if you want to appreciate what classic Brunello is all about, this is an ideal vintage, as these wines will slowly unfold and offer their complexities over a long period of time – some 20-25 years. Among the finest 2006 Brunello Riservas were the Il PoggioneCanalicchio di SopraTalenti, Poggio Antico and of course, the Poggio di Sotto. All of these wines offered excellent depth of fruit and a fine sense of place, along with ideal balance and persistence. The Il Poggione was most impressive, as it is one of the most powerful wines I have ever tried from this great producer, yet the wine never abandons the harmonious style this winery is known for.

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My notes on the 2007 Brunello di Montalcino and 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva along with notes on a few 2010 Rosso di Montalcino will be published in the Spring 2012 issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. This is a quarterly publication that carries a paid subscription of $30 a year, less than a bottle of Brunello! This spring issue will be more than 40 pages in length and will be sent out to subscribers via email. If you would like to purchase this issue separately (available around the end of March), the cost is a mere $10. For more information, email me (this information can be found here.)

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One final note: the 2007 Brunello di Montalcino now carry the new DOCG strip – quite a change from the prior pink/rose colored one.

March 1, 2012 at 10:52 am 6 comments


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