Posts tagged ‘le chiuse’
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.
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.
Given the number of producers making Brunello today, here is a short list of some of the finest:
- Il Poggione
- Le Chiuse
- Sesta di Sopra
- Il Palazzone
- Casanuova delle Cerbaie
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!