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Italy 2011: the Fall

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Italy 2011: the Fall

by Filippo Bartolotta

So what’s little girl have to do with a gourmet blog?

Well for a start, she ain’t just a little girl: she is my lil girl. Then this is her first day of grammar school, so an important day for her and of course for me.

Usually though in Italy the beginning of the school year matches the arrival of Porcini mushrooms. the harvest, the opening of the truffle hunting season. In a few words my favorite gourmet season!

So this is what happened to a wine and food critic this past month.

This is my first White Truffle of the Season, which I officially had it after the 15th of Sept in one of the 5 greatest places in the world to have such a classic -fried egg with white truffles- at La Ciau del Tornavento with Maurilio cooking it for me! Yeah!!!!

What did I drink with it? But of course a glass of Diet Coke.

Agnolotti del Plin
Agnolotti del Plin
truffle taglierini
truffle taglierini

So we really didn’t have a diet coke.

First wine: Prunotto Barbaresco 1989.

Classic garnet aged Nebbiolo  color with a super intense licorice and sweet medicinal herbs aromas which would take anyone into the right fall mood with a gentle caress on the palate. If you have a bottle home drink it sooner rather then later as the wine is reaching its pick!

Second wine: Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1999

Well if you do have some of this wine home my suggestion is not to open it for another few years. I might have stumbled into a window of silence, but the wine was nonetheless showing its true potential with a powerful mineral tension which cuts through without noise like a Japanese sword!  By the end of our lunch Monfortino started to be a little more civilized giving some small red berry juice action and a tar/truffle finish. This is a very fine vintage for one of the most long leaving wines in the world, coming from the ancient Pliocene compacted yellow clay/sands soil and nursed by a very talented young Roberto Conterno who likes to age his wine in the traditional big Slavonian Oak casks.

Third wine: Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 1999

Opposite to Monfortino for many reasons. Here is why. The wine is very forward, dense, with a lot of dark prunes, tobacco a very leathery earthiness with a dense sweet coffee palate. It doesn’t come by surprise. Cerequio is one of the most important crus of La Morra, known for a younger – five million years- and smoother type of soil when compared to Serralunga. Here we are in the blue Marne of Saint Agata and the wine making technique followed by the proudly LaMorra born Voerzio focus on a very low yield philosophy -3oo/400 gr/plant(!) and a fining process which till a couple of years ago used to be all in new french small barriques.

Fourth wine, the intruder!: Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1996

What is maybe Tuscan most famous wine doing here? Well a lot of people know that I was born in Florence-Tuscany, but my gourmet heart bits a lot in Langhe. Well so I was asked to see how would a Super Tuscan cope in front of three delicious Nebbiolo. Although I belong to that group of people who still love Sassicaia, my initial gut feeling was that a Cab Sauv. based wine wouldn’t have made it in the Barolo land with Barolo food. Well…I was wrong. This ’96 proven to be a very fine wine packed with delicious subtle eucaliptus notes, blue berries and very Tuscan elegant smooth earthy persistence.

Well shall we say that this lunch didn’t suck!

Some of Italy's most sought after wines
BAROLO by Brezza's Winery
BAROLO by Brezza's Winery

It is right on this terrace that I had one of the greatest vintage produced by Brezza Barolo Sarmassa 1999.

Well we also had a thiner and more spiritual 1989 Brezza Barolo and the four current 2007 super clean and minerally salty  crus:

If you like to drink great wines and meet wonderful people well Brezza father and son are your scene.

I love wine, I love great wine, but I love even better nice wine producers! There’s nothing like sharing some time and learning from these people. Wine needs this. If we didn’t had this people behind the labels my life would be half the fun.

Mr. Brezza comes around the tasting table with his smiling eyes. I offered him a glass, he says: not now thanks. Then I say: it is your glorious ’89. Well, then I’ll have a taste, he responds happily, this is a secret to a long life!

After all this perfect wines I go pay a visit to the Cavallotto winery in Castiglione Falletto. Here it is possible to see where the 11 million years old Elvetian yellow soil of Serralunga and Monforte separate from the blue clays of Barolo and La Morra. I can’t think of an other place in the world where the correspondence from earth to glass is so evident. Alfio and Giuseppe are running the winery with their parents. It is great to see a great winery and family business where the new generation is taking over with such confidence. We taste the monumental and austere Cavallotto Riserva Bricco Boschis 2004 and 2005 and I understand that this wine needs a good ten years to start releasing its full power. I ask Giuseppe what he thinks of the 2011 vintage. We go to the vineyard and he shows me some Nebbiolo still on the vine: look, he says showing me a cluster of half raisined grapes, this is what is happening. The long draught -three months of practically no rain-the hot days, but above all the hot nights have compromised a good part of the crop.

But on the other hand, while most producers have already harvested everything their Nebbiolo is still on the vine. It’s because a lot of it still needs ripening and it hasn’t been affected as much by the draught.

This I have understood it’s true everywhere in the country. Gianfranco Soldera just told me: that it has been a very difficult harvest, we had to select a lot, but the fruit we took home looks good. I had recently his Case Basse Soldera 1995 which was tasting like truffles, mediterranean herbs, broom, anchovies and sweetly decadent tobacco leaf. So rich in flavor. I know the wine is still young as many of his 1980’s always prove to be so fresh and packed with delicious natural sweet juiciness.

soldera 1995
soldera 1995

It’s amazing the resemblance of some great Sangiovese to great Barolo. Talking of which I decided to go talk to Maria Teresa Mascarello to hear how her harvest is doing. I meet her in Barolo town, where the winery is located. Maria Teresa is another awesome example of how the new generation has taken over with a superlative twist. From her first “alone” vintage 2005 she has been making three great Barolo. She asks me first what I have seen around and I told her that I have seen a lot of raisins. She says: I have cut down maybe 40-50% of my crop to get home healthy grapes. The fermentation is starting very slowly, I have never seen anything like this! She looked worried, but also she had confidence about getting a result. I love this kind of humble and yet focused producers. Her Bartolo Mascarello 2005, Bartolo Mascarello 2006, Bartolo Mascarello 2007 are three examples of pure Nebbiolo fruit with a delicate touch, subtle aromas, intense and pleasant lengthy finish. This wines can be drunk today with great pleasure and last forever, like the many 1961, 1967, 1989 I have tasted (I should have said: that I have drunk:) have honorably shown. Wines still retaining the great red fruit, the crystalline purity and the luscious smooth palate.

A quick stop in Barbaresco to see how they are doing over there. Tenute Cisa Asinari-Marchesi di Gresy is one of the oldest producers. Their vineyards look like a botanical garden, but the 2011 has hit them too, with a lot of their Nebbiolo looking a little bashed. This wasn’t the case with the past few years of Cisa Asinari Barbaresco Martinega; Barbaresco Gajun and Barbaresco Camp Gros. These are very polished wines with perfumes, character and aging potential.

Now is time for me to hit the read back to Tuscany, I must be on time to take Milo to Violetta, his lazy horse!

Winter seems to be finally getting around the corner with a bit of a stormy weather. But this was a week ago. Today I am writing this article outside, it is 7 p.m. and I am only wearing a t-shirt here in Chianti.

Different weather conditions in Naples where I went for a quick tasting: sticky hot and messy, but I have a trick when I go there in such a hurry.

Baba and sfogliatella in one of the historical places like Scaturchio, a cup of proper espresso and a little walk in Piazza del Popolo towards quite Castel dell’Uovo.

Then Pizza, the authentic Napolitan. I had one at Sorbillo but I am afraid to report that it was way below my expectations! I didn’t really have time to go for two pizzas so I am stuck with my last memories of the best pizza in Brooklyn at DiFara’s! Can you believe it?

PS: this is Benedetta eating Pizza. As you might recall with DiFara, she is now the standard tester for proper Pizza:)))
PS: this is Benedetta eating Pizza. As you might recall with DiFara, she is now the standard tester for proper Pizza:)))

So once Napoli is done I catch a train to Florence, as a group of U.S. journalists are joining me for a master Class on Vernaccia di SanGimiganano and Chianti Colli Senesi.

I am a little worried as I must spend five days with these people, but it turns out to be a young group of very professional journalists who also like to have fun! So it is. We drove them around Siena and the surrounding hills finding new avenues and sometimes also getting a little lost.

I guess if this is how we handle our road signs, no wonder we are experiencing certain difficult economical times! Italy 2011: the Fall.

Are we going to make it? Yes I think we are, but we are definitely getting a little to close to a disaster.

With what is happening I feel really lucky and I am very thankful for the job I have and the life I am leading. I have no time indeed for people in our business who complain about the fact that this is a job like any other job…bla, bla! I mean there can be some tough moments and little sleep and some over storage of calories to burn. Yes there can be a feeling of dizziness to be too much on the road, but no complaints are accepted here and friends are always out there to look after me.

Talking about friends. Do you wanna know who’s hand’s shake is this? Un believable. Two of my favorite Tuscan Chefs: Benedetta Vitali and Luciano Zazzeri! Yes, they had never met and I made it happen!

Where did it happen to the grandiose presentation of Coevo 2007 by Cecchi at the Cecchi winery with Enoteca Pinchiorri cooking in the cellar for over 200 pax! What a lunch with the impeccable service of Mr Pinchiorri himself, the great Annie Feolde and Coevo 2006 and 2007. Coevo is a new Super Tuscan made with Sangiovese from Chianti Classico, Cabernet, Merlot and Petite Verdot from Maremma. I liked the 2006 for its brighter fruit and refreshing steel character to the denser and maybe smoother 2007. This is a wine with some good aging potential if one tastes the Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva 1988 today still young and fresh, a really delicious Sangiovese from a stunning vintage.

The afternoon went by quickly I had to go get the kids to my mum’s in Florence and as hard it is to believe, go out for dinner with Vanessa!

I went to one of my home close restaurants La Trattoria del Pesce where I had a superlative black pepper, salt and rhubarb nose with a clove and cranberry nose  Arpepe 2001 Riserva Buonconsiglio. This is a pure nebbiolo from Valtellina, in the Lombardy Alps.

A wine which is better to serve a little cooler then normal like a 16°C rather then 18-20°C. The palate is crunchy rich with pure juicy and the level of drinkability is beyond imagination. I am sure you are questioning if a red wine went well with fish. Well it did. I knew it would have but not the magical way it did it: oysters, raw clams and shrimps, horse radish action with wild raw salmon and it did it all! When great natural elements meet…there’s magic happening. I know the picture is a little 1972, but trust me the inner light of that food and that wine was much denser.

Can I go to bed now? Sure only a few hours before the kids wake up.

Today I am going to visit Castello della Paneretta, one of Tuscany most beautiful fairy tale Castle and now also great wines are coming out of it, like the simple cherry driven smooth Chianti Classico Castello della Paneretta  2008 and the more intense, licorice and leather dense darker fruit Chianti Classico Riserva Torre a Destra 2006.

Above the original Frescos by Bernardino Poccetti inside the castle, below the original smile of tow monkeys asking for a special treatment in the morning!

The full moon these evening on my daily run back home.

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Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Aglianico, Nerello Mascalese. And Pinot Noir?

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Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Aglianico, Nerello Mascalese. And Pinot Noir?

by Filippo Bartolotta

After my first trip to Rioja I would have loved to metabolize all those amazing wines a little more slowly, maybe taking a break with my kids or with Vanessa. Instead I had to fly to Langhe for some Nebbiolo tasting. I then have been blessed with Vanessa’s kindness to bring herself and the children up to Langhe to Ivana.

So before going to Barolo I have time for some family sessions:) in my home town and… a bit of Sangiovese.

Milo has started his first week of school and Daphne is still eating like a ten years old!

Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Aglianico and Nerello Mascalese have something in common:

CHERRY, LICORICE, VIOLETS, LEATHERY EARTHINESS AND JUICY DRINKABILITY WITH AN ELEGANT TOUCH.

Pinot Noir could go with them, but I didn’t have time to go to Burgundy. Not this time. So I did it with Sangiovese. A quick stop at Isole e Olena with Paolo de Marchi and USA Ice-Skating Champions Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre. Cepparello is a 100% Sangiovese from the Chianti Classico area. Paolo selects only the best grapes which every year come from different vines as Sangiovese never gives the best crop from the same vines, says Paolo.  Just to make the wine maker’s life easier. Cepparello 2006 is a pulpy, velvety, luscious and dense cherry driven wine. Cepparello 2007 is a more vertical wine with a little more structure and intensity though easier to please palates now.  Paolo’s wines are fermented in big oak conic cask and he makes a point about personally supervising every fermentation. Then they go into french oak barrels in a fantastically humid and naturally cold cellar, allowing a very slow fining process.

Then it’s time to try another amazing Sangiovese. This time from a different valley, near Radda in Chianti. It’s Montevertine. Here lies another amazing site for Sangiovese. Here Martino Manetti makes a very mineral, red berry crush Montevertine. This year his 2007 is phenomenal. The more structure, austere and long lasting Pergole Torte 2007 instead is a 100% Sangiovese: classic wine as well. Both wines go for a long maturation process in small and big barrels.

Time to eat some fish at my home most favorite fish Trattoria: la Trattoria del Pesce in Bargino. Here GIanni has got a really large selection of great Champagne and Italian Fine Whites. People that would look after you any time. Great the Raw Fish plateaux, the house fish soup and the Spaghetti with clams and Bottarga served in a steaming frying pan!

After all this I get to Langhe where my dear friends Walter Fissore and Nadia Cogno are waiting for me to taste the great 2004 Barolo Elvio Cogno Riserva Vigna Elena a wine not to be missed, together with the Barolo Ravera 2006. Smashing wines with a lot of polish licorice and sour cherry leathery crispiness and a structure lengthy finish.

I have time to stop for lunch at l’Antico Borgo where my two guests open a Voerzio Cerequio 2006 and Giuseppe Rinaldi Cannubi San Lorenzo e Ravera 2006.

I know that with this one I would have a lot of people arguing how the heck can one like The “citric Beppe” and the “smoothy Voerzio”! Well you’ll be surprised to hear that I actually I can like them both. It only depends by the vintages and the care they had in the making. Most people think Rinaldi is the super traditionalist and Voerzio the super modernist. But the truth is a little more complicated. What I can tell you is that Rinaldi’s wines tend to be fresher, with a great energy and minerality and Voerzio instead goes for more density, fruit and pulp. If you were lucky enough to go for Roberto Voerzio 1990 La Serra or Barolo Riserva, Vecchie Viti dei Capalot e delle Brunate 1998 then you will see how some of his wines retain that wonderful Nebbiolo lush, crunchy elegance that would make them go on forever.

I will try to go back on the discussion above. I had a very lovley chat about this and more philosophical wine issues with Nino Felicin in Monforte. He is one of the greatest and simplest wine Langhe man one can come across. The cuisine is just what anyone can dream of. I look forward to go back there again! Thank you Nino, Lana and Jim for the great wines.

This was a 1989 Barolo little context that I have set up for Lana and Jim.

Poderi Aldo Contenro Bricco Bussia Vigna Colonello 1989. This was in extraordinary conditions with a super classic red berry fruit and velvet earthy touch. Just delicious.

Elio Altare Vigna Arborina 1989. The oak was a little bit covering the underneath elegance of the wine stopping the tasting pleasure a bit.

Roberto Voerzio La Serra 1989. I preferred the 1990 as it was fresher and more solid. Mind you though that the ’90 was coming straight from Roberto’s cellar.

Still in Nebbiolo I am going to say hello to Marina Marcarini owner of Punset. Her Barbaresco Punset Campo Quadro 2007 came out as one of the best of the year and it is an organic (a seriously organic one) wine. I like Marina a lot, she is a very straight forward wine maker and her wines are getting better and better by the year.

And now ready? Steady? Gooooooooo! Train to the Amalfi Coast where I have spent threen days and three nights tasting Aglianico Taurasi away. My home base has been Hotel La Marmorata where not only you can enjoy this kind of view, but people here would solve any problem possible: they are just extremely friendly and professional.

Lemon Gardens on the Amalfi Coast.

Here one of my first and most important reasons of the trip was to go and taste some Mastroberardino’s Taurasi. Their 1968 has been one of the best wines I have ever had. I firstly drank that wine together with Aj and Gianfranco Soldera for lunch together with Soldera Case Basse 1981: what a sweet day that one was.

This time instead I was going to try some serious mozzarella at Vannulo near Paestum when I got a call from Chiara, Mastroberardino’s PR. She says that the Cavalier Mastroberardino would be delighted to taste some of the old wines with me. And…what do I reply?

In less then two hours I was sent a car an in one hour I am in Atriplada right in front of Mastroberardino Taurasi 1968, 1980, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005 and…the man himself. Cavaliere Antonio Mastroberardino is a small man with lovely smiley face. His hand is shaking a little bit but nonetheless is moves and speaks very rapidly  and he is moving swiftly throughout the tasting. Also he doesn’t make it to pompous, but rather goes straight to the point. I love when people are together with you instead of talking about themselves.  We taste the six wines and the ’68 shows the usual youthful character, just silky deliciousness. The ’80 is completely silent but the palate is even rounder then the ’68! I look forward to this wine in twenty more years, what a great surprise. This was the wine of the Earthquake and here the Cavaliere shows a touchy side. The ’97 is the earthier, meatier and more animal. I loved the ’99 better with more polished elements, bright fruit and velvet black peppers tannins. Great crisp 2005 and a super structured earthy grip. These wines are just like the man who made them: light, sweet, elegant with a romantic side immediately contrasted by a very pragmatic whiff! I take the ’68, ’80 and ’99 with me to see what happens in the evening. The wines got better and I was right: the 1980 opened up so much. It might get better then the mythical 1968! I mention the Cavaliere, that I had his wine with Soldera and he seems sincerely touched by this and so we call Gianfranco. The two of them talk flat for 15 min. They haven’t spoken in quite a while. I feel proud about this reunion:)

I gotta go and he says Ciao. I say Arrivederci. He says you must say Ciao to me please let’s drop the formality. He hugs me and I say Ciao Antonio. I can’t believe that I clicked so much with one of the greatest Italian wine makers!

Feudi di SanGregorio.

I got to Feudi after lunch. Emanuela smiles as we get in. She takes me and my wine club for a walk around the garden. It’s a glorious day I woke up and I went for a swim in the sea. The sky is blue and crisp. We started chatting and I told her I was on a old fine wine tasting quest started in Rioja with its Tempranillo, gone by the Sangiovese in Chianti Classico, the Nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco and finishing with Nerello Mascalesse in Etna. Half an hour later I am kidnapped my the President of Feudi Antonio Capaldo.

Very much to the point also in this case. Most people think about souther Italy as a land of “dolce far niente” -sweet doing nothing-, but you gotta change your mind when you meet these kind of men. So let’s get to business.

Taurasi Feudi di SanGregorio 1993, 1997, 1999, 2005.

We star with the first vintage of Feudi. I must confess that I didn’t have many high expectations. Antonio opens the magnum and pours a glass. I am a happy man. The wine show a great Aglianico character, a sweet red fruit, licorice, rhubarb and balsamic touch. Tannins like velvet. The 1997 is a bit more austere, musk and mushroon type with some oak. The 1999 shows some more extractives and power frame, but I like the balance and the clean fruit. The 2005 a little more on the modern confection side. Feudi is changing path. The Fiano 2009 is a clear sigh of this with a more natural energetic zest. For the Taurasi one has to wait for the 2007! Thank you Antonio.

Quick now is time to catch a boat in Amalfi to go to Positano and then sinner at Capo d’Orso, one of the best Retaurant in Costiera with the ever caring Ferrara brothers.

How to spend a holiday in Costiera Amalfitana? This is a bit of the Costiera Amalfitana by car. It is great to see the little towns and the narrow street and the great light on the sea, but if you ever are going to make it here you must get on a boat along the coast or it is like you have never been here!

Capo d’Orso.

A taste of Aglianico del Vulture La Firma of Cantine del Notaio 2007.

Although the Aglianico form Taurasi is cultivated on a soil reach in volcanic ashes, the Vulture ones are actually on a Vulcano and they tend to emerge as bigger, denser, sweeter and more muscular types. This great 200 vintage is an example of that.

My window view from La Marmorata Hotel in Amalfi.

Vannulo

Approaching Positano

Positano

This is a remaining column of a little chapel near Tenuta di SanFrancesco. Not too far away from here the pre-philloxera over two hundred years vineyard of Tintore grape are still yielding some great fruit. As a result one of the label of Tenuta di SanFrancesco is for me the most striking result of this small estate: “è iss” Tintore Pre-phillossera Vigna Paradiso 2007. Very earthy, savory wine with well extracted tannins, great drinkability and very classic mediterranean herbs elegance. The other Red -a classic Tramonti Doc with Aglianico, Tintore and Piedirosso- is a riper, fruitier and easier to drink wine with a lovely red fruit finish.

Gaetano Bove with the pre-phillossera vines.

The Whites -made of Falanghina, Biancolella and Pepella grapes- are very light, zesty with a crispy citrus fruit character.

Eva, Raffaella and Angela the three wonderful cooks. 

After a great lunch in the cellar we move to Pompei.

Zebra Crossing in Pompei

The Vesuvio seen from Pompei. Should you ever visit Pompei -I think anyone should- you’d better do it with a fun and knowledgeable guide. I am afraid to say that the maintenance of one of the world greatest archeological site isn’t the best one. Quite the opposite. Most remaining frescos are barely covered with bit of metal, straigh dogs browse around -I haven’t seen a straigh dog in Italy in twenty years!!!- and there is practically no guards around.  Still though if you go with someone who can tell you what happen here, it can become a reason to travel here.

And before catching the boat to Catania I must have a slice of Pizza “Da Michele”. Here is where Julia Roberts had her slice during “Eat, pray, love?”. I have had Pizza here throughout the years. It is very good, but be prepared for a not very welcoming service. People do not seem very happy to have you there. Every once in a while there are some funny jokes going among them, but in general terms there’s a little bit of that cuttle treatment feeling where guests are pushed and not listened to. I am sure if you go there with Julia Roberts they’ll be pretty good to anyone though. I must confess that the Pizza as well isn’t really the best in town s most say. Il Pizzaiuolo del Presidente for instance makes Pizza with a little more tender care and irresistible moisture.  Anyway it’s a pity about the bad attitude da Michele as Napolitan Pizza is one of mankind greatest and happiest inventions. Off we go on a boat to Catania with our tummies filled.

Overnight we cross the channel of Messina and we are in Catania. Our main destination would have being Nerello Mascalese in the Mount Etna, but I had to stop at my uncle’s favorite Pasticceria for a -Coffee Ice Crush- Granita al caffè and brioche breakfast. It is like something in between a smoothy and an ice coffee. The soft/bouncy/warm brioche collapses with the ice cold mouse, the coffee gives you a kick and the cream rounds the edges off: pure pleasure.

Ciro Biondi cellar is in a great location near Sant’Alfio on the Mount Etna. One could see the Volcano and the see at the same time. That is if the weather is good; not today it is more like being in Langhe tasting Nebbiolos:)

We start with the grape must of two different vineyards of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Already a great deal of difference with the M.I. vineyard showing way more earthy power then the Outis.

We then move to Ciro’s Palmento – the ancient Sicilian wine cellar. The ancient Palmenti were cellar working by gravity. Fruit arrived, people stomped them dancing, the free run juice was going down and the skins then removed. Here we have a very frugal lunch to match Biond’s wines while Ciro’s wife, Staphanie is helping with the presentation. The White -a blend of bush trained Carricante, Minnella, Malvasia, Catarrati, Moscatello- is a rustic leafy and almost tannic wine with a lot of character. Then we go for a Etna Rosso Outis 2007 with a lot of tannic structure a mushrooms and carrub fruit.  I loved the Etna Rosso M.I. 2008 better. The fruit is more focused, the nose is more Burgundian with a peppery/barnyard hint and the palate packed with energy and sapid twist to allow the wine baskets full of drinkability.

I was about to rap this long post up till I tasted the Cos Pythos Frappato 2009. It’s barnyard, savory, forrest fruit minerality outs the wine close to our Temprannillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Aglianico, Nerello Mascalese similarities. When these varieties are made without fiddling  too heavy an oenological hand they release some outstanding common factors: great acidity, minerality, savoriness, red berry crush fruit, some earthiness and licorice and a floral&black pepper touch. The palate is crunchy with structured but also not obstructive tannins and aging potential. Of course this result can be achieved with completely different wine making techniques, but always with very impressive result. Cos in Acata South East Sicily has being using Spanish Amphorae -rich in silex- to ferment and macerate their wines for over 6 months. The Amphorae well used are a very interesting method which allow natural stabilization of the wine and great enzymatic complexity.

The Cathedral in Ragusa

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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.


brunello_montalcino_logo_consorzio

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.

100_2895

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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