Tag Archives: Case Basse

Goodbye Giulio Gambelli.

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By Filippo Bartolotta

Yesterday afternoon the greatest Master of Sangiovese passed away. He was one of the least known, least payed and least understood wine makers in the world. And yet he was one of the greatest. Behind the scenes of a bunch of the purest, most elegant and long living Sangiovese ever.

A true master taster who was able to listen to the wines right from the first day of harvest.

His wines were so uncompromising that during the years of the big block busters even the docg tasting panels weren’t able to recognize these wines as Sangiovese: for them his Reds were too thin!

Today, in a series of reverse actions towards elegance and subtleness, more and more wineries in Tuscany are following his train of thoughts.

Among his masterpieces in Chianti Classico: Bibbiano; Ormanni, Montevertine and San Donatino. In Montalcino: Case Basse; Il Colle and Poggio di Sotto.

I know that among the discerning wine collectors there’s at least two or three labels that are for sure part of their cellar.  And these bottles managed to be part of these collections not just as the odd Italian bottles that one must have, but as some of the most precious wines of their selection.

As a matter of fact, in these awesome “cantinas”, I have personally opened several times two of the delicious Sangioveses Giulio -aka “Bicchierino”- helped making.

Gianfranco Soldera-Case Basse,  Brunello di Montalcino

Martino Manetti-Montevertine, Pergole Torte

Gianfranco Soldera and Giovanni Manetti (today, it’s his son Martino) have always had a very clear idea of the kind of wine they wanted to make, but Gambelli helped them making sure their ultimate idea was actually becoming true.

The relationship between this Maste Taster and these two wineries has been, without any doubts, not just the longest and most consistent, but  also the most poetic in terms of results in the bottle. As a result, over forty years of collaboration Soldera and Manetti have been producing not just some of the purest and most expressive Sangiovese ever, but also some of the greatest wines aver made.

If you have never come across this labels, you must try at least an old and a new vintage of these two wine to understand what heights of deliciousness we are talking about.

Try Pergole Torte 1990 and Pergole Torte 2004 and Case Basse 1985 and Case Basse 2004.

But do not worry if you can’t find these specific vintages. If this labels were produced in any given year it means they were worthwhile the effort!

Bicchierino passed away at the age of 86 without leaving any pupil that can properly be called so. There isn’t in other word a person that has taken the philosophical inheritance to be able to feel Sangiovese and “listen to it” like he did. His memory though is going to be lingering very long, not only thanks to the great vintages he helped making, but also thanks to Gianfranco Soldera and Martino Manetti who I believe are the true keepers of Bicchierino’ “secrets of Sangiovese”.

So long, farewell.

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How long and how well can Brunello di Montalcino age?

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Filippo Bartolotta

How long and how well can Brunello di Montalcino age?

La rocca di Montalcicno

With this question in mind, I spent many hot days discovering Brunello producers, tasting their wines young and old, and setting foot on the diverse soils of this magical territory in southern Tuscany at 50 km from the sea, 30 km south of Siena, and 100 km south of Florence.

Montalcino is a small fortified village on a hilltop at 567 meters above sea level, with just 5000 inhabitants. Until not too long ago, it was one of the poorest areas of Italy, but in recent years luck has turned in its favor, thanks to a wine that can only be produced here: Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello (literally, the “little brown one”) is the name of the Sangiovese clone selected by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi at his Tenuta Il Greppo estate at the end of the 1800’s, when he decided to produce a wine using the best winemaking techniques of the time.


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Today when we speak of Brunello di Montalcino, we are referring to more than 200 producers, on about 2.000 hectares of vineyards, valued at least €250,000 per hectare. But we must put these figures in historical context.  In 1967 when the territory founded its Consortium, there were 12 producers working only 64 hectares, valued at over 2000% less than it is today! Since the beginning, the Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino has worked to create worth and value throughout the territory for all producers. This is a particularly interesting case in the Italian Wine Industry, because today to walk among Montalcino’s vineyards is to walk in a jewelbox beneath the open sky.

It stands to reason that in the face of these figures, investment has multiplied, and today it has reached its peak. “We’ve closed the planting rights in Montalcino. In 2004 we will reach potential production, of about 11.5 million bottles,” says Stefano Campatelli, the Consortium’s Director. Just think that of the 6.5 million bottles on the market today, little more than 150,000 arrive in the UK every year. And if the rest of the world continues to drink even more Brunello di Montalcino, Great Britain will consume a steady 2.5%.

Brunello di Montalcino must be made with 100% Sangiovese, and aged for at least 2 years in wood casks, and another three years in the cellar. By law, it is the Italian wine that stays in cellar longest before going on the market, and the Riserva must wait a total of six years.

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But is it true what they say about Brunello’s extraordinary aging capability?

If you ask Franco Biondi-Santi, the inventor’s nephew and estate’s current proprietor, there is no doubt. “I proved a few years ago that it’s a wine that can easily reach 100 years of age!”  Sitting in a room over the cellar with a view of vineyards, olive trees and cypresses right out of a Renaissance painting, we taste across more than forty years of production. The wines of Tenuta Il Greppo are born at 450 above sea level, in one of the highest areas of Montalcino, which gives rise to fresh and austere wines. The average acidity is almost always more than 6 grams per liter, decidedly high for a red wine. But this seems to be just the secret.

I have no doubt that the 1964 is Biondi-Santi’s champion. It is the most ready to drink, with the sweetest tannins. In thirty years, the 1997 Riserva, which is still quite closed, could become the ’64 of today.

Biondi Santi 1964

Biondi-Santi still carries out maceration in large wooden vats, using grapes from vines that are at least 10 years old for Brunello, and 25 years old for the Riserva. To understand Franco Biondi-Santi’s regal yet simple gait, which is mirrored in his wines, think of reading Melville’s Moby Dick: time is necessary for us to enter into the story completely. “I uncorked them last night before dinner, let’s hope they’ve opened up a little!” , he says. His is a wine for celebrations, harsh and hard when just opened but capable of offering an unique depth and sweetness after a few years of aging.

“Sangiovese is a variety with only six cellular coatings, poor in terpenes and therefore in very short supply of primary aromas, and difficult compared to Merlot or Cabernet,” says Paolo Vagaggini, one of the foremost experts of Sangiovese, seated in his high-tech winelab. “The same vine can produce clusters from 180 grams to 400 grams, which does not happen with easier to manage international vines.”

There is no doubt for oenologist Niccolò d’Afflitto, long-time technical chief of Frescobaldi. “Sangiovese is very difficult to work with. Just think that if it rains, a Cabernet grape can grow by a maximum of 4%, while Sangiovese can grow by more than 40% in just a few hours, and a whole year’s work can go to waste!”

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D’Afflitto doesn’t seem discouraged by this challenge however, despite the 153 hectares he transforms into Brunello di Montalcino with Frescobaldi. An oenologist for large estates who works only with native yeasts, he is in constant, close contact with university researchers.

D’Afflitto and I passed four out of the six hours of our meeting in the vineyard. “It’s all a question of soil and exposure. The Tuscan galestro serves at about 350 meters above sea level. What remains of compacted and broken clay, of very hard shale schist which require the plant to go deeper in search of water, and in doing so it offers the best of itself. This is certainly the case of Castelgiocondo –Frescobaldi’s 1990 Brunello Riserva, which emerged as one of the best of more than 200 old Brunellos tasted for this quest.

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Not far from Frescobaldi’s vineyards, in the southern part of Montalcino’s highest subregion, we find another producer who collaborates with the University of Florence’s microbiology studies, but who would never allow a barrique in his cellar. After exploring the modern methods that make Brunello ever more ready to drink, we once again return to the rhythms of Melville.

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We are with Gianfranco Soldera, a producer of strong and secure character who doesn’t seem to have many doubts about how to make his wine, or about Sangiovese’s superiority compared to other renowned varieties. “When Sangiovese from Montalcino is interpreted at its best, it is capable of giving a subtlety, depth, sweetness and intensity that you can’t find even in the great Barolos or Burgundys but here every harvest comes out well: of thirty-five harvests, I have bottled thirty-three great wines”, he declares looking far into the horizon from S. Angelo in Colle facing the majestic Monte Amiata.

AMIATA

From here we have the best view of the southern part of the region: before us the mountain protects it from the eastern winds, the hill of Montalcino that protects from the northern winds, and the Orcia river that channels the winds coming from the sea, making this area one of the most arid areas in Tuscany.

In his winemaker’s beret and suspenders, Soldera watches with his penetrating eyes as he tells you this, then he invites you to pair his 2000 Brunello Case Basse Riserva with one of the most dangerous foods: artichokes. “The natural tannins of my wine (which passes about four years in large Slavonian oak casks in order avoid any wood possibly masking the Sangiovese’s aromas) are so balanced that they face up to the artichoke’s! Indeed the great drinkability of this wine won against all foes and its aging potential is extraordinary.

Giulio Gambelli, one of the most admired oenologists for his refined results with Sangiovese, has told me that he considers Soldera’s ’83 the best Brunello ever made!

There is no doubt that ’83 was a very important year. You can see it in the ruby colour, even more intense than that of the others. On the palate its tannic structure is more important and the fruit extraction is denser and cleaner. But the’81 and ’84 (considerd very small vintages!) seem to dominate this vertical tasting for the first two hours. They both have suprisingly sweet tannins, with the latter’s similar to the elegance of a Burgundy Grand Crù. The former has tannins that are velvety like a good night caress. The ’85 is very austere and the most closed of them all, and still not ready to drink!?

However, things don’t always go so well. And moving forward in the tasting, some problems emerge. On the one hand I’ve confirmed that Brunello di Montalcino seems to have all the right properties in order to not only age, but improve as years pass. However, it is also true that not all Brunellos live up to this expectation. Furthermore, it seems more reliable to trust the best producers with vineyards in the best areas instead of going by what have been defined as the “best years.”

Therefore out of about forty champions tasted at the Brunello Consortium’s forty year anniversary celebration, in my book only about 25% stood out for their indisputable class. The rest wavered between medium level and acceptable wines, to those which weren’t up to standards. This means that it is necessary to use a bit of caution for wines on the shelf at prices between £25 and £50 for the current vintage. The right choice however, will please your palate as well as your wallet.

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To give some examples, at the refined trattoria Boccon di Vino in Montalcino you can find the great ’67 Costanti for £250. A fresh, dense and refined 1991 Tenuta Ugolaia Fuligni or a 1979 Col D’Orcia, with great mineral balance and traces of goudron and coffee on a perfect bed of tannins, can be found for roughly £80 at the Enoteca La Fortezza in Montalcino. The elegant 1979 Poggio Salvi, of which only 4.000 bottles have been recovered, is sold for about £50 directly at the estate, while the savoury and juicy Le Macioche 2001 or a more fruit driven Ferragamo’s Castiglion del Bosco can be found for around £25.

But we can better understand the place by coming in contact with its people, not just its wines. In the area’s northern part closest to Siena, one of the most modern and one of the most simple cellars in the entire region can be found just hundreds of meters apart. These are the Giancarlo Pacenti’s and Nello Baricci’s. In Pacenti’s case, we find ourselves with a young mathematician who seems to understand the mysteries of the difficult balance in managing the barrique and Sangiovese. “Very low temperatures (10°) and very high humidity (over 90%),” he states. “In this way the wood doesn’t have a big impact on the wine and manages to refine the Sangiovese in the best way.”

Indeed, he masterfully combines the grapes from the southern vineyards closest to the Orcia river, with their expressive mediterranean aromas, with those from the north side closer to the estate, which are more austere and tannic. Pacenti’s Brunello is rigorously modern, but also rich with a great personality, extraction, dense tannin bed and a velvety pleasure on the palate.

Baricci shares not just the same age and profession as “Doctor” Biondi-Santi, but also his mother’s milk, as Mrs. Baricci nursed them both. On this sunny afternoon, he is sitting waiting for me on the stone wall in front of his house in a straw hat, and invites me to come in. In the very small, humble kitchen four or five family members have gathered, along with four or five bottles. A still fruity and hot 1977 as well as a concentrated, rich and extracted 1983 stood out in the tasting. These are two great wines that should be crowned in gold. Don’t miss the Rosso di Montalcino from this small estate, it is often better than most Brunellos!

To discover more stridently contrasting styles, let’s stop even further south, close to the town of Montalcino at Giacomo Neri’s estate, Casanova dei Neri. His Riserva Cerretalto comes from a vineyard of red, alluvial, iron-rich soil which gives it a sense of place. It is concentrated and very decadent, with almost volcanic qualities as well as traces of elegant minerality. The Tenuta Nuova is more expansive, expressive and concentrated crù, produced in the southern area. “I just bought them in Germany, do you feel like tasting them?” Giacomo asks, corkscrew and two very old-looking bottles in hand. What stood out here were an appetizing and fresh 1981 and a dense, rich, expressive, never-ending 1986!

Not too far from the barriques of Neri’s supertechnical cellar lies a small family run estate where the proprietors are likely to offer you a piece of salame should you stop by, even if they don’t know you. This is La Fornace, belonging to native Fabio Giannetti, who produces a very clean and fruity Brunello from his three small hectares of Sangiovese. Making large leaps to the south, we then move south past Montalcino towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate, to one of the most suitable areas. Here you mustn’t miss a classic that satisfies modernists and traditionalists alike: Poggio di Sotto’s sweet, velvety, intense and deep Brunello. Be sure not to pass by the Rosso either, which is a truly a young Brunello. Among the highlights are the 2001 Decennale and a powerfully savoury and juicily refreshing IGT (with 6 years of ageing, don’t ask me why it’s not a Brunello…Italians!).

A few hundred meters in front of the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, which was founded by Alexander the Great, lies Andrea Cortonesi’s small estate. After tasting a battery of Brunellos, all with great and noticeably different personalities marked by leather, liquorice, tabacco and ripe black cherries, you may find yourself still here close to lunchtime. If so you will not escape Andrea’s mother’s wild boar ragù, a true shot of endorphins in most sublime form. And if you like discovering further contrasting scenarios, just cross the valley towards the west to S. Angelo Scalo, and Montalcino’s most southernly estate, where a fossil of an entire whale was recently discovered. This is Banfi, the largest Brunello estate. With its 160 hectares, it is truly responsible for this wine’s worldwide success.

Andrea Cortonesi says that Brunello was born from three “B’s”: “Biondi-Santi, the inventor of Brunello and producer of one of the most famous wines for aging; Barbi, the cellar that brought multifunctionality to Montalcino through wine tourism and Banfi, who introduced Brunello to the world.”

At Banfi, we enter a medieval castle renovated as a modern and welcoming cellar where tastings with friendly and well-prepared staff are possible at all hours of the day. The wines are typical of the Montalcino’s low altitude sandstone: very expressive while young, with tannic structures that are not too thick (keep in mind that we are talking about Sangiovese, so we will taste the tannins no matter what), and generous fruit.

To understand the difference of a wine from the more tannic North, try tasting Livio Sassetti’s monumental Brunello di Pertimali, produced out of the difficult clay soils. This wine is very austere when young, with thick, closed, impenetrable tannins which melt thanks to the generous sapidity and roundness of this Sangiovese, which is born in a soil “that must be ploughed to avoid the plants being broken by the clay when it compacts.” Lorenzo Sassetti keeps me in front of the vineyard for 45 minutes in order to explain the hard work to be done here behind the Montosoli hill. His wine is born here, and in certain vintages it is without a doubt one of the most enduring and intense wines of Montalcino.

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This land’s split could go on into another second chapter, with another handful of names and places, but I believe we have enough proof of this wine’s aging potential. It’s light is still shining. “This mountain is magic,” says yet another great Italian oenologist, Roberto Cipresso, as he opens a refined, intense and balanced 2000 La Fiorita. “It still has not been sufficiently studied or understood. In other areas of the world there are studies on terroir and the symbiosis with some varieties established over more than 500 years of history, while here our potential is still unexplored!”

This is the beauty of Montalcino. It is a land of contrast, where everything is still possible. If you are looking for bottles to put away and open in a few decades, seek out Brunellos from the highest areas of Montalcino and perhaps those from rather hard soils. If your Brunello must be more ready to drink and less long lasting, look to the lower areas where the soil is looser. If you are on the hunt for a balanced, pleasant and relatively young wine, but with great potential, the best land is the classic Tuscan galestro at medium altitude, as in the highest part of the region’s central area leading from Montalcino towards Tavernelle.

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BOX

Top Ten

Biondi-Santi 1964 *****

A clean and bright red garnet colour for a still very refreshing wine. Honestly: no sign of ageing! The wine is a restrained and yet elegantly perfumed example of classy Sangiovese showing hints of tobacco, coffee and dried fruit. Some decades to go!

Costanti 1967*****

Perfumes of dry roses and mint with a basil and bergamot touch. An intense leathery, sea salt lingering finish.

Silvio Nardi 1967****

Eucalyptus and aromatic herbs with some cumin and cardamom-like spieces.

On the palate the wine comes out with some white pepper, gun powder and a zesty finish.

Baricci 1977****

A densely perfumed wine still rich in red dried fruit integrated with a leathery complexity.

A smooth and rich toffee-like taste with a very lingering broad finish.

Pertimali 1983*****

A very austere wine built with a perfect architecture. Still very youthful, it is concentrated with black cherries, tar, and leather but with an elegant, never ending floral finish. Still a baby!

Soldera 1983*****

Another “young” Brunello with a lovely ruby red garnet colour, a black cherry fruit concentration blended with a combination of dry roses and an earl grey suiff. The palate is savoury, well structured with a very long finish of coffee and tobacco.

Salvioni 1985****

A dark ruby garnet wine packed with black berries and tobacco which develops a coffee and goudron taste in its very greatly structured Mediterannean palate.

Casanova dei Neri 1986****

A leathery, mineral, intense Sangiovese still built around mature red and black fruit, with a truffle touch. Concentration, power and intensity with a lingering finish.

Castel Giocondo Riserva 1990*****

A very clean strawberry jam like nose with some floral hints and a good tannic grip substained by well-extracted pulpy fruit. Another 20+

Siro Pacenti 1996*****

A slick earthy and densely extracted black driven fruit still plenty to support the still tight but very finely extracted tannins. A leathery, earthy, licorice long-lasting finish.

from Decanter Magazine 2007

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“Soldera in the eighties: the rose of Montalcino”

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“Soldera in the eighties: the rose of Montalcino”

by Filippo Bartolotta

“There are only ten wines worth drinking”. In Italy? “No, of course not, in the world!”.

Gianfranco Soldera’s reputation precedes him wherever he goes and although he is aware of this, after about an hour you begin to get through to the person and not just the personage.

Soldera

The legendary Brunello producer is not only famous for his exquisite Case Basse Riserva, but also for his strong opinions.

To describe Soldera’s opinions as ‘strong’ would be an understatement, because they are generally as sharp as a razor and come at you without giving you time to dodge.

His great Brunello has a smoother approach, but this does not mean that it is any less honest and overwhelming: its bright and clear light ruby-red colour immediately reveals a style and origin that leaves you no doubts

Soldera’s Brunello is immediately distinguishable from other Brunellos that have adopted more modern styles characterised by darker and more concentrated colours and a timbre that plays on muscularity.

Case Basse Brunello, with its marked and refreshing acidity, is an elegant wine with an unmistakeable style; though Soldera is not one to make it a question of style: “This is the only way to make Brunello, the best expression of Sangiovese in the world that can only come about in Montalcino”.

For Soldera, Montalcino is a magical place to make wine. A shameless lover of Barolo – or rather of Nebbiolo made in a couple of vineyards in the Langhe area and only in a tiny handful of years – Soldera decided to make wine in Montalcino because of its generous climate and the good land: it is almost impossible to make bad wine in this land. “Out of thirty-five harvests I have made thirty-two great wines, the 1976, 1989 and the 1992 I gave to the hospices!”

And while Soldera admits his frankness to be a fault in his character, there is a twinkle in his acute eye as a sign that he likes it that way.

We often talk about terroir and areas where great wines are created, but too often however we forget about the decisive role of the person who makes the wine. Soldera and his Brunello are a single thing, an obvious form of symbiosis between man, a grape variety and a piece of land.

Case Basse

Each step, from the selection in the vineyard to four years in large Slavonian barrels to the further necessary years in the bottle, there is only one person who decides on the destiny of Sangiovese at Case Basse: Soldera. The only outsider who has a say in the matter during the tasting stage is the master taster Giulio Gambelli, with over 65 years of experience behind him.

“If I had found land in Piedmont I would never have met Giulio Gambelli, who has made me discover how sweeter, deeper, longer, more elegant and harmonious Sangiovese is with respect to Nebbiolo or any other variety.”

A few months after I had visited Soldera at Case Basse I asked Gambelli what he thought were a couple of great vintages of this important winery. He did not speak for a while and said “Gianfranco’s 1983 is one of the best Brunellos ever produced!” With a satisfied smile he added “I have tasted Gianfranco’s 2006 … an extraordinary wine.”

Soldera only produces Brunello and mainly because he likes to drink it himself.

Sitting at the table for over three hours, Soldera can not conceive how you can taste a wine without drinking it, at every course he lets you notice how this wine even perfectly matches boiled and raw artichokes with lemon juice, “I am prepared to compare my wine with any white or red in the world. I often do it, but rarely do I find one that can stay open for more than a week and accompany a whole meal in abundance without making you ill!”

The tannins of the Case Basse 2000 drunk at “Leccio” of S.Angelo in Colle are sapid, almost savoury. This, combined with great acidity, means it does not fear the tannins and the iron character of the artichokes. The best however comes when I order panna cotta. Soldera smiles, satisfied, and watches me calmly while I marry his wine to the dessert without making a strange face: the tannins are a little harsh and the wine dries the mouth slightly, but after another sip the palate resets itself and you are ready to go on.

There is no doubt that the drinkability is on the side of Case Basse. A wine with deep mineral scents and soft tannins, perfumed like face powder.

Soldera seems to achieve these results with extraordinary simplicity, “the wine goes from the land to the glass without too much interference. It is the grapes that tell you when they’re ready, whereas the wine tells you when it wants to be bottled. The malolactic starts when it wants to and the large Slavonian barrels are the containers that keep the wine alive without adding tannins, aromas or who knows what else”.

In the Case Basse cellar, 14 metres underground, everything breathes: fermentation and maceration in wood, the walls of stacked stones seem to emanate fresh and humid perfumes of soil and flowers. The whole cellar is surrounded by two hectares of garden where his wife cultivates 1000 kinds of antique roses. Soldera works so that everything is as natural as possible and while he walks with his head bowed in this little Eden, I realise that I am entering a different world where naturalness, straightforwardness and simplicity  seem to be the only game rules.

Soldera's Roses

His eight hectares of loose land of sand and marl are officially neither organic nor biodynamic, but the respect for nature is obviously very strong. In his vineyard and his cellar he moves with familiarity, but one feels that he is only there as if he were the guardian of a very special place where he creates the best conditions for Sangiovese to best interpret the territory it is native to.

We can find confirmation of this from the barrel tastings of his oldest wines.

The 2006 comes forward with aromas of sour cherries and orange rind, leading the way to graphite notes and a sapid, almost saline palate; the 2005 seems to be directed more towards a certain concentration of fruit and ample tannins with a pleasant peppery finish; the 2004, however, emerges with a more marked aromatic drive, a clean fruitiness of cherries and strawberries on a background of tannins with great structure and refined elegance; the 2003 distinguishes itself from the others for its more evident tannins (of course, it’s a seven-month baby! I had to harvest early and therefore there is a different maturity of tannins!) and for its more mature fruity notes with a certain spiciness; the 2002 comes forward with very soft tannins and a more marked spiciness, although at the moment it is the most difficult to drink.

me and Soldera

In the cellar there is always a question about yeasts: Mr Soldera, what do you think about selected yeasts? “What would you think if someone else went to bed with your wife?”

In reality, behind this reply there is hidden a very long and very important scientific project that Soldera has been following for years with Florence University and particularly with Professor Vincenzini, professor in microbiology: “We still haven’t carried out enough studies on wine, but with Gianfranco we have made huge progress. We know the strains of Case Basse yeast very well and we know that each year there is a strain that is represented 10 times out of 11, it is the GFS1 (editor’s note: Gianfranco Soldera). Thanks to this willingness to study what happens at Case Basse, we have discovered how long a wine stays alive, i.e. how long we can find living microorganisms that help to create a lot of the flavour in the wine and that change the original flavour by at least 25%.”

We are at the table once more with Gianfranco Soldera, two weeks after the first meeting. And while Prof. Vincenzini talks about the “life” of the wine, Soldera, impeccable in his light blue shirt, braces and white fishing hat, personally opens four 1980s vintages: 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985.

It is one of those moments in life when you realise that the light around you is a little different than usual, like when it suddenly starts snowing.

Tasting, or rather drinking, Soldera’s 1980s, uncorked by him with his daughter and a few friends, is an experience that cannot help but change the history of Sangiovese in Montalcino.

According to Soldera’s assessment scale – the most-drunk bottle – the best wine in the battery  was the 1981, closely followed by the 1983, then the 1984 and finally the 1985.

If we enter into more detail however, the sapid and mineral character of Case Basse emerges with its refined aromatic power, an unstoppable freshness and a soft and balanced tannin, the same common features in his recent wines.

It is difficult to contest the result of the most-drunk wine. The 1981 is clearly the most ready today, marked by evident notes of liquorice, coal tar and truffle and a soft, balanced palate which won over everybody within an hour of opening the bottle with its contrast between freshness and decadent opulence. The 1983 was perhaps the youngest of the group with aromas of pleasantly ripe blackberries and cherries, a tight-knit, silky and refined tannic structure. This was the most concentrated of the wines, immediately evident from the colour and right from the start it revealed itself in all its strength and elegance, with many years ahead of it yet.

But the real surprise for me at the table was the 1984. Like the 1981 it was a difficult year that has only established itself through time. The aromas are the mineral tones and fruits of the forest of the great Burgundy Pinot, which alternate with dried roses, mushrooms and undergrowth. A great softness of tannins but still a fresh structure and a reassuring and multi-sensory finish!

And finally the 1985, which is decidedly the most closed of all. It opened up a little in the final stages with interesting leather, black pepper and rhubarb notes. From the important palate with some more oxidative hints than the others which were then released in the glass to leave room to notes of tobacco leaves and coffee.

There is no doubt about the paternity of all four wines and likewise for the continuity of taste found from the 2006 to the 1981, with very similar organoleptic characteristics.

The freshness and sapidity are the unmistakeable style of Soldera’s Brunellos. This freshness and sapidity are like angels protecting a very subtle, deep character whose intense and ethereal aromas and whose softness will not delay in revealing themselves, gliding above you as light as rose petals.

Soldera: La rosa di Montalcino

Di Filippo Barolotta

“Ci sono solo dieci vini che meritano di essere bevuti”. In Italia? “No, certo che no, nel mondo!”.

La reputazione di Gianfranco Soldera lo precede dovunque vada e sebbene lui ne sia cosciente, dopo un’oretta di conversazione si entra a contatto con la persona e non il personaggio. L’ormai leggendario produttore di Brunello non è famoso solamente per il suo squisito Case Basse Riserva ma anche per le sue forti opinioni.

Ma descrivere forti le opinioni di Soldera sarebbe riduttivo perchè generalmente sono taglienti come un rasoio ed arrivano senza lasciarti il tempo di scanzarti.

Il suo grande Brunello ha un’approccio più morbido ma non per questo meno onesto e travolgente: il suo colore rosso rubino chiaro, brillante e trasparente denuncia immediatamente uno stile ed un’origine che non laciano dubbi.

Il Brunello di Soldera si distingue immediatamente fin dall’inizio da altri Brunello che hanno adottato degli stili più moderni caratterizzati da colori più scuri e concentrati e registri giocati sulla muscolarità.

Il Case Basse, con la sua spiccata e rinfrescante acidità, è un vino elegante dallo stile inconfondibile anche se Soldera non uno che ne fa una questione di stile: “questo è l’unico modo di fare Brunello, la migliore espressione di Sangiovese al mondo che può nascere solo a Montalcino”.

Per Soldera Montalcino è un posto magico per produrre vino. Amante spudorato del Barolo -o meglio del Nebbiolo fatto in un paio di vigne delle Langhe e solo in una minuta manciata di annate- Soldera ha deciso di fare vino a Montalcino per la generosità del clima e la bontà del terreno: fare il vino cattivo in questa terra è quasi impossibile. Di trentacinque vendemmie ho vinificato trentadue grandi vini, il ’76, l’89 ed il ’92 li ho dati agli ospizi!

E mentre Soldera confessa la sua franchezza come un difetto del suo carattere, una scintilla brilla nei suoi occhi acuti come un segnale che invece a lui piace essere così.

Spesso si parla di terroir e zone dove nascono grandi vini, ma troppo spesso invece ci si scorda del ruolo decisivo di chi lo fa il vino.

Soldera ed il suo Brunello sono una cosa sola, una evidente forma di simbiosi tra un uomo, un vitigno ed un pezzo di terra.

Passo dopo passo, dalle selezioni in vigna ai quattro anni nelle grandi botti di Slavonia fino agli ulteriori necessari anni di bottiglia c’è soltanto una persona che decide sulle sorti del Sangiovese a Case Basse: Soldera. L’unica persona esterna che ha voce in capitolo nella fase degli assaggi è il Sig. Gambelli.

Se avessi trovato terra in Piemonte non avrei conosciuto Giulio Gambelli che mi ha fatto scoprire quanto più dolce, profondo, più lungo, elegnate ed armonico sia il Sangiovese rispetto al Nebbiolo ed a qualunque altro vitigno.

Qualche mese dopo aver visitato Soldera a Case Basse ho chiesto a Gambelli quali fossero un paio di grandi annate di questa importante azienda. Rimane qualche secondo in silenzio e mi dice: l’83 di Gianfranco è uno dei migliori Brunelli che siano mai stati prodotti! Con un sorriso compiaciuto però aggiunge: “ho assaggiato il 2006 di Gianfranco…un vino straordinario.

Soldera produce solo Brunello ed in buona parte perchè gli piace berselo

Seduti da oltre tre ora a tavola, Soldera che non concepisce come si possa assaggiare il vino senza berlo, ad ogni portata ti lascia notare come questo si abbini con armonia perfino con i carciofi lessi e crudi con il limone: sono disposto a confrontare il mio vino con qualunque bianco o rosso del mondo. Lo faccio spesso, ma è molto raro che riesca a trovarne uno in grado di stare aperto oltre una settimana e di accompgnare un pasto completo in quantità senza che ti faccia stare male!

I tannini del Case Basse 2000 bevuto al “Leccio” di S.Amgelo sono sapidi, quasi salati. Questo combinato alla  grande acidità non gli fanno temere i tannini ed il carattere ferroso dei carciofi. Il bello però arriva quando ordino la panna cotta. Soldera sorride soddisfatto e mi guarda sereno mentre abbino il suo vino al dolce senza fare facce strane: i tannini si sono fatti un pò più duri ed il vino asciunga leggermente in bocca, ma dopo un altro sorso il palato si risetta e si è pronti ad andare avanti.

Non vi è dubbio che la bevibilità è dalla parte di Case Basse. Un vino dai profondi sentori minerali con tannini dolci e profumati come la cipria.

Soldera sembra raggiungere questi risultati con straordinaria sempicità: il vino va dalla terra al bicchiere senza troppe interferenze. È l’uva che ti dice quando è pronta, mentre il vino ti dice quando vuole essere imbottigliato. La malolattica parte quando vuole e le grandi botti di Slavonia sono dei contenitori che lasciano il vino in vita senza aggiungere tannini, aromi o chissà cosa altro.

Nella cantina di Case Basse tutto respira: fermentazioni e macerazioni fatte nel legno, i muri fatti con sassi accatastati sembrano emanare profumi freschi ed umidi di terra e fiori. Tutta la cantina è circondata da due ettari di giardino dove sua moglie coltiva 1000 tipi di rose antiche. Soldera lavora perchè tutto sia il più naturale possibile e mentre passeggia a capo chino in questo piccolo Eden mi accorgo di entrare in un mondo diverso in cui naturalità, schiettezza e semplicità sembrano essere le uniche regole del gioco.

I suoi otto ettari di terra sciolta di sabbie e galestri non sono ufficialmente ne biologici ne biodinamici, ma il rispetto nei confronti della Natura è evidentemente molto forte. Nella sua vigna e nella sua cantina si muove con dimestichezza, ma si ha la sensazione che lui sia lì solo come se fosse il custode di un luogo molto speciale in cui egli crea le condizioni migliori affinchè il Sangiovese possa interpetrare al meglio il territorio in cui nasce.

Dagli assaggi da botte si posono ritrovare alcune conferme con i suoi vini più vecchi.

Il 2006 si fa avanti con profumi di amarene e scorza di arancio per lasciare strada a sentori di grafite ed un palato sapido quasi salino; il 2005 sembra essere più orientato verso una certa concentrazione di frutto e dei tannini molto larghi con un gradevole finale di pepe; il 2004 invece emerge adesso come quello con più articolata spinta aromatica, un fruttato pulito di ciliege e fragole che si posano su tannini di grande struttura e raffinata eleganza; il 2003 si stacca dagli altri per dei tannini più in evidenza (per forza, è un settimino! Ho dovuto raccogliere prima e quindi c’è una diversa maturità dei tannini!) e dei sentori di frutta più maturi ed una certa speziatura; il 2002 si fa avanti con un tannino molto dolce ed una speziatura più marcata, sebbene al momento sia il più difficile da bere.

Tra le domande in cantina, scatta sempre qualcosa relativa ai lieviti: Signor Soldera, cosa ne pensa dei lieviti selezionati? Lei che ne pensa se qualcun altro andasse a letto con sua moglie?

In realtà dietro questa risposta brasante si cela un lavoro scientifico molto lungo e molto importante che Soldera segue da molti anni con l’Univeristà di Firenze ed in particolare con il Prof. Vincenzini, ordinario di Microbiologia. Ancora non si è studiato abbastanza il vino, ma con Gianfranco abbiamo fatto dei grossi progressi. Conosciamo molto bene i ceppi di lieviti di Case Basse e sappiamo in particolare che ogni anno c’è un ceppo che si ripresenta 10 volte su 11, si tratta del GFS1 (ndr: Gianfranco Soldera).

Grazie alla volontà di studiare ciò che succede a Case Basse abbiamo scoperto quanto a lungo un vino rimane in vita, cioè fino a quando si possono trovare microorganismi viventi che quindi contribuiscono a creare una buona parte di sapori nel vino e a  cambiare modificarealmeno per il 25% gli stessi rapporti originari.

Siamo di nuovo a tavola con Gianfranco Soldera, a due settimane dal primo incontro. E mentre il Prof. Vincenzini parla della “vita” del vino, Soldera, impeccabile con la sua camicia azzurra e bretelle e cappellino bianco da pescatore, stappa personlamente quattro anni ottanta: 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985.

È uno di quei momenti nella vita in cui ti accorgi che il colore della luce che ti circonda è un pò diverso dal solito come quando comincia a nevicare all’improvviso.

Degustare, anzi bere, gli anni ottanta di Soldera stappati da lui con la figlia e qualche amico è una esperienza che non può non cambiare la lettura del Sangiovese a Montalcino.

Secondo la scala di valutazione Soldera –la bottiglia di cui si beve di più- il miglior vino della batteria è stato il 1981, seguito a stretto giro dall’83, poi l’84 ed infine l’85.

Se si entra più nel dettaglio comunque emerge il carattere sapido e minerale di Case Basse con la sua reffinata potenza aromatica, una freschezza inarrestabile ed un tannino dolce e bilanciato, stessi tratti comuni nei suoi vini recenti.

È difficile contestare il risultato del vino più bevuto. L’81 è chiaramente oggi quello più pronto marcato da evidenti noti di liquerizia, goudron e tartufo ed un palato dolce ed equilibrato che ha conquistato tutti dopo un’oretta dall’apertura della bottiglia con il suo contrasto tra freschezza e decandente opulenza. L’83 era forse il più giovane di tutta la batteria con profumi di more e ciliege gradevolmente maturi, una trama tannica fitta, setosa e raffinata. Questo era il vino più concentrato di tutti, lo si vedeva anche al colore e fin da subito si è manifestato in tutta la sua potenza ed eleganza con ancora molti anni davanti a sé.

Ma per me a tavola è stato l’84 la vera sorpresa. Come l’81 un’annata difficile che solo con gli anni è riuscita ad affermarsi. I profumi sono quelli dei toni minerali e dei frutti di bosco dei grande Pinot di Borgogna che si alternano a rose secche, fungi e sottobosco.

Una grande dolcezza nel tannino ancora di fresca struttura ed un finale rassicurante e multisensoriale!

Ed infine l’85 era decisamente il più chiuso di tutti che si è concesso un pò di più nella sua fase finale con interressanti note di cuoio, pepe nero e rabarbaro. Dal palato importante con alcuni sentori più ossidativi degli altri che si sono poi liberati nel bicchiere per lasciare spazio a note di foglia di tabacco e caffè.

Sulla paternità dei quattro non ci sono comunque dubbi ed altrettanto dicasi della continuità gustativa trovata dal 2006 fino al 1981 con caratteristiche organolettiche molto vicine tra loro.

La freschezza e la sapidità sono lo stiletto inconfondibile di Soldera e dei suoi Brunelli. Degli arcangeli a protezione di un carattere molto sottile e profondo i cui profumi intensi ed eterei e la cui dolcezza non tarderanno a rivelarsi planando sui di voi leggeri come petali di rosa.

Articolo pubblicato già su Chianti e Le Terre del Vino

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