Tuscan wines include some of the finest reds in Italy. On 29 January I had the opportunity to taste some of these wines at the Brunello de Montalcino Tasting in NYC at Gotham Hall. The specific sessions and walk around tasting sponsored by the Consortium of the Brunello of Montalcino wines remains memorable. Indeed, this tasting, the quality of the wines and the treats served brought back visions of Tuscany, Italy.
Notably, on my trips to Tuscany with family and friends, we wandered through the glorious historical hill towns. Florence, Sienna, Luca, and San Gimingnano amazed us. Additionally, we toured picturesque farms and terraced wineries throughout Tuscany. We sampled wines, oil, and grappa and purchased all, shipping products back to the U.S. My nephew David used the Extra Virgin olive oil on everything.
Assuredly, Tuscany remains one of my favorite places on the planet. So this tasting reconnected me with the soil, terroir, wine, climate, and richness of Tuscan goodness and specifically Montalcino which I had never visited.
Montalcino, like many of the hill towns engaged in battles for supremacy first against, then in support of Siena an hour away. Surely, smaller than Siena, but bold and assertive, Montalcino remained impenetrable protected by walls and a great fortress. The hill town’s aggressive nature served it well. Indeed, it was the last to survive as an independent municipality. Then in 1559, it handed its authority and power to the Cosimo de Medici family.
Importantly, the Consortium insures that the quality of the wines from this area of central Italy follow strict standards. Though I couldn’t visit every producers’ product table, I appreciated the opportunity to sample many fine wines. And I enjoyed various vintages of producers from north, south, east, and western regions of Montalcino. Also, I attended a special seminar on targeted producers of Brunello de Montalcino wines. And in the seminar speakers familiarized me with the terroir, the soil, the climate and micro-climates, and a bit of the winemaking history of Montalcino and the Consortium.
Brunello de Montalcino Seminar Favorites
One of my favorite Brunellos, like all the Brunellos featured in the seminar save the Reservas, was produced in 2013 by Caparzo. And the grape varietal, 100% Sangiovese in this vintage sports an alcohol content of 13-14%.
The winemaker Massimo Bracalente notes a total production of 150,000 bottles. Interestingly, Caparzo winery produced its first vintage of Brunello di Montalcino in 1970. Thirteen wineries existed in Montalcino at the time. Thus, Caparzo has taken the time to “get it right,” and remains one of the historic Brunello producers. Another point to consider relates to its Sangiovese grapes which hail from different locations, terroirs and microclimates of Montalcino. For the estate has various grape growing regions in Montalcino. These varying terroirs and microclimates create the foundation for a complex and delicious wine. The Caparzo Brunello 2013 has a lasting finish, aromatic nose, and hints of spices and fruit on the palate.
Another favorite of mine created under unique circumstance by winemaker Andrea Cortonesi carries the label Voliero. Notably, winemaker Andrea Cortonesi of Uccelliera Winery deserves the credit for creating this delicious Brunello because he wanted to establish an excellent wine for the restaurant trade.
Because there were never enough Uccelliera wines, he created Voliero using grapes from a higher elevation in 2006, 2007 and 2008 from the Canalicchio vineyards. Afterward, he selected vineyards still in a higher elevation in Castelnuovo dell’Abate and Sant’Angelo in Colle closer to his Uccelliera Winery. Thus, eleven years later, the production of Voliero stays at around 600 bottles in limited distribution. Cortonesi exports some of this wine to the U.S. where it has an avid following. Because Voliero comes from vineyards 200 meters higher in elevation than Uccelliera where it is warmer, Voliero retains a classic blend of Montalcino Brunello with an elegance on the nose, rich, and lasting finish and richness on the palette.
Finally, I enjoyed the Brunello di Montalcino 2013 produced by Winery Tenuta Fanti. The grape varietal like the other Brunellos is 100% Sangiovese. And winemakers Baldassarre Filippo Fanti and Martino Scheggi vinify 25-30 days in stainless steel tanks. Typically, the barrel ageing of 28 months in oak barrels of varying sizes, the largest 30hl precedes bottle ageing for 12 months. The Fanti Estate, located in the heart of Tuscany lies in the south of Montalcino where there abides the beautiful 1000 year old Sant[Antimo Abbey. Not only does the estate have vineyards, but the relatively sandy soil and gently rolling topography support olive trees.
The winemakers use wise techniques to soften the vintage. And they employ non chemical fertilizers and bio-dynamic approaches as do all the wineries listed above. For example they plant beans between the rows to restore nitrogen to the soil. This wine produced by vines growing on the estate is accessible with non aggressive tannins that are well integrated. The finish resonates on the palate with clarity and the nose is fragrant with bright fruit.
Walk Around Tasting Favorites
The San Polo Winery in southeast Montalcino presented three exceptional wines all 100% Sangiovese. The estate owner Marilisa Allegrini lists on the website two winemakers, Luca d’Attoma and one I met at the tasting, Riccardo Fratton. Indeed, this biodynamic winery like the others covered in this article shuns chemicals.
Their mantra remains to “maximize the intrinsic potential of the terroir and make the quest for quality a priority.” Most importantly, from start to finish, they work “to create an ethical and responsible context.” In this sphere the farmer’s labor and the natural environment then integrate in a harmonious, constructive whole.”
When those words resound in my mind, I embrace them with my whole heart. This concept of nurturing care and harmony between the farmer, his product and his environment remains paramount. However, it runs counter to the goals of the present administration and EPA Director Scott Pruitt in the US. Because their interest appears to be money first and environment last, I question. Could such wineries in Montalcino exist in the US under these present conditions? When choosing wines, I will select those that embody the finest of healthy intellectual and physical practices. American wines from certain wineries are not trustworthy in their care for the land or product.
First, I sampled the San Polo Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2016. Drinkable, warm and supple, with a medium-structure and balanced tannins, on the palate, the wine is suitably dry and sinewy. This Rosso shined amongst the others I sampled because of its freshness and accessibility. For me that’s a lot because I prefer deeper, bolder wines. However, this one I would easily drink for its delicious timber of blackberries and black cherries and pleasant finish.
Second, San Polo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013 is a standout Brunello. The garnet color and aromatic wood notes with vanilla meld into a palate of intense fruit and hints of coffee. Also, the complex structure produces full-bodied, warm tasting notes. This Brunello will age well and patient cellaring will definitely enhance the wine to its peak bloom in a number of years.
Third, the San Polo Brunello di Montalcino Reserva 2012, only produced in years of exceptional vintages went quickly. When my friend Emily Suzuki arrived at Gotham Hall in the late afternoon, the Reserva 2012 had finished. Word got around that it is an exceptional Reserva. Interestingly, the wine made of select grapes remains two years in barrels. And winemakers subsequently release it on the market six years after the harvest. This deeper ruby red expresses an aromatic nose with hints of flowers and small berries. On the palate the rich structure provides a persistent finish with nuances of spice, dark fruit and moderate tannins.
Le Chiuse Winery presented two Brunellos and its Rosso di Montalcino DOC2016 which I enjoyed second to the San Polo Rosso. Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013 has an intense nose with aromas of vanilla and fruit. On the palate the Chiuse Brunello has a full, round and elegant finish. Because its characteristics allow it, this wine will only improve with ageing and be allowed a lengthy period before it peaks. Though very accessible now, the wine must be opened and rest a few hours before sampling.
The tastes of the terroir and rich goodness of Montalcino in these wines prompts me to examine websites and note where they may be ordered online or in the states. Click on the links I have given. Many may be found in your wine store and, depending upon your patronage, they may order them for you.
Better yet, visit these wineries on a trip to Tuscany and check out their lodging and pools on Trip Advisor. Fall is the time of the harvest, a wonderful time of year to visit Italy without the crowds or tourists or heat. But watch out for the mosquitoes. Bring homeopathic spray. Italians don’t often use screens.