Saturday, March 28, 2009

Santa Cecilia Vertical

At a recent visit to the Planeta winery near Noto in far southeastern Sicily, I joined a small group of journalists who were treated to a vertical tasting of the winery’s famed Santa Cecilia, a 100% Nero d’Avola. Along with this rare opportunity to try this many examples at one sitting, it was fascinating to learn about the changes in this wine in its brief history.

Winemaker Alessio Planeta (Photo ©Tom Hyland) led the tasting of six wines which included the 2008, 2007 (not yet released) as well as the 2006, 2005, 2001 and 1997, the initial release of this wine. The Planeta estate was set up in Sambuca di Sicilia near Menfi on the west coast back in the mid 1980s and by the middle 1990s, the family had decided to produce a signature Nero d’Avola. The plans were to release this wine from 1995 and 1996, but Planeta decided that the quality was not what he wanted, so 1997 became the initial offering. Incidentally, this was the only wine that was not 100% Nero d’Avola, as this contains 15% Syrah.

Soon after, Planeta decided to focus on a Nero d’Avola in purezza, crafting a wine that would be suitable for long-term aging. Research showed that the best area in Sicily for the variety would be in the southeastern reaches. Planeta along with his agronomists discovered a piece of land near Noto in 1998 that they believed would be ideal for this wine and have been using fruit from this site ever since; the bottlings starting with the 2003 have been produced excusively from the Noto vineyards. An underground winery was built at this property and the wine is fermented and aged in this facility.

As for the tasting, it was interesting to note the more rustic qualities of fruit from western Sicily as compared to the wines made exclusively from Noto fruit. Now that these vineyards are older (some planted in 1974 and 1975 with the newer blocks being planted in 1998), the wine has become more deeply concentrated with more elegant tannins and the dream of a Nero d’Avola meant for long-term aging is starting to become a reality.

2008 (barrel sample)
Bright purple with a slightly closed nose of plum and marascino cherry; medium-full with soft, young tannins, very good acidity and excellent fruit persistence. 2008 was less rainy than several previous years in Sicily, which is important for Nero d’Avola as the variety suffers from rain and excessive humidity. I love the structure of this wine; combined with the rich aromatics and depth of fruit, this has the potential to be an outstanding wine. (Note: The 2008 will be the first Santa Cecilia labeled as Noto DOC.)

Bright purple with aromas of black plum and black licorice- deep fruit. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Big extract and still a bit tannic with very good balance and acidity. Notes of menthol in the finish. Give this time to round out; should be at its best in 10-12 years. Excellent

Light purple with gorgeous aromas of blackberry, marmalade and black cherry. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Lovely balance with pinpoint acidity, subtle tannins and subdued oak. Excellent fruit persistence- this should hold for 12-15 years. My favorite wine of the tasting – outstanding!

Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of blackberry, mint, dried red flowers and a hint of nutmeg. Very good length in the finish with round tannins and very good acidity. Light herbal notes in the finish. Enjoy over the next 7-10 years. Excellent.

This is Nero d’Avola from both Noto and Menfi. Deep ruby red with aromas of dried brown herbs, dried strawberry and a hint of tobacco. Medium-full with very good concentration. Good acidity, subtle oak and still firm tannins. This has a definite rustic quality and it quite different from the younger wines. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Very Good.

This is the first bottling of Santa Cecilia and contains 15% Syrah. Light ruby red with aromas of dried cherry and cigar. Medium-full with very good concentration. Big fruit persistence, good acidity and restrained oak with rich tannins. This wine tastes much fresher than the 2001 (this could be due to bottle variation). Excellent complexity- enjoy over the next 5-7 years. Excellent.

- Tom Hyland

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities: Vino Nobile's Anteprima

View over the rooftops of Montepulciano to the distant valleys

This is second article by Bill Marsano on the recent anteprime tastings held in Tuscany in February.

Text ©Bill Marsano, 2009
Photos by Bill Marsano

"On to Montepulciano!" Hardly were those words out when a vast image out of spiritus mundi troubled my sight: 200-odd journalists, critics and wine-tradistas thronging forth from Florence's Leopolda and piling into a small fleet of large buses southbound for Montepulciano and its splendid wine, Vino Nobile. Newcomers among the gang may have actually expected to get there.

They did in due course, of course, but first we all fetched up at Chianciano Terme, a few miles southeast, owing to Montepulciano's double-edged sword. That's a subject that tempts me to divagate (N.B.: That's a verb, not a noun for another Amy Winehouse scandalo), but I'll get to that later. First, a little wine.

Noble as it is, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano can never catch a break. Even now it is insufficiently recognized, and just after World War II, when the U.S. was awash with fiasco Chianti, the few writers who mentioned it usually said a) it beat Chianti to sky blue fits but b) was seldom seen, what with just a handful producers and fewer than 400 acres.

Interest grew when Nobile was DOC'd 1966 and again when DOCG'd in 1980: Now some 170 producers work 2000 acres. Other developments were less helpful. SuperTuscans had wine-lovers tossing Bolgheri around as if they knew where it was; Chianti began pulling its socks up (to Sicily's dismay); Brunello's 1960 acreage increased 10 times over by 1980; and Morellino di Scansano sat upright in its coffin . . . .

Pouring the Nobile

Nor did the press always gave Nobile a fair shake. A colleague at a tasting once beefed "All these wines are too much alike." Not such a bad thing, I thought, for a wine seeking an identity. Then a year later I heard "I don't understand these wines. They're all over the place!" Oh: not alike enough. Whillikers! Please, people--just try some?

Nobile DOCG requires a minimum 70 percent Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese's local moniker). The Anteprima had few wines that low. One was Carpineto, which doesn't specify the blender grape(s). Should I be scandalizzato? Dunno, because Carpineto makes Nobile only as a riserva, and I swooned for the '01 and '03. Maria Caterina Dei also blends unnamed complementari (20 percent) in her Nobile. Problemo? Nah: Her Nobile normale or vino d'annata was delightful, and her Riserva Bossona, which she's been perfecting since its inaugural vintage (1999) deserves the Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) awarded by from Gambero Rosso. I also enjoyed her SuperTuscan, Sancta Catharina, which includes Cabernet.

Di fatto, most wines Anteprima'd were 80 percenters and many were in the 90s. Conventional wisdom (wishful thinking? speculation? gossip?) says the zone is just far enough south of Chianti to be a bit warmer and so reduce the need for blending. Yet I spotted only two in purezza wines: Salcheto and the weighty, dinner-style Torcalvano Gracciano. I quite liked both.

The blender grapes are the old-timey Colorino, Cannaiolo and Mammolo, the newer, Cabernet and Merlot. A few producers add but one although most use two or three (one uses five), so it's unusual for any one blender to overwhelm rather than contribute.

I liked Poliziano, which won a Tre Bicchieri award, as it has "with implacable regularity" since 1997; Triacca (annata and riserva both); Il Conventino likewise; La Calonica, also Tre Bicchieri and a star of the Italian Trade Commisson's January Vinoweek tastings in New York, Boston and Miami; La Ciarliana's Vigna 'Scianello; Le Casalte's Querciatonda; Lodola Nuova and Talosa, two more dinner-weight wines; Vecchia Cantina and Villa S. Anna, with their Durante noses; Il Faggeto's delightful Pietranera; Trerose's Simposio and La Villa; Valdipiatta's entire lineup, including the Pinot Nero(!); Le Bèrne (normale and riserva); Poggiagallo; and La Braccesca's normale and the riserva, the Vigneto Santa Pia.

My increasingly illegible notes say those last two "drink right down," but senza dubbia as much can be said for the Canneto, Contucci, Avignonesi, Fanetti, del Cerro, Bindella and Boscarelli, which I finished off even as they finished me.

By the way, just as Carpineto makes only Nobile Riserva, a several producers make only vino d'annata. And many a riserva does without a nome di fantasia, the ego-warming fantasy handle that is excessively popular elsewhere. So as not to miss a riserva, you'll have to look a bit closely at the label. If that's not asking too much.

Montepulciano's wealth of cheeses

Afterward came Montepulciano's customary abbondanza lunch, which could make a Puritan weep. The specialties are those wonderful fruit-topped torte and superb farm formaggi served by the very people who made them (if you ask, they'll introduce their sheep).

Then forklifts loaded the giornalisti onto lorries and medevacs, palanquins and litters pointed at Montalcino's Benvenuto Brunello.

Now I did mention Montepulciano's double-edged sword, and so must explain.

One edge is that this handsome medieval-Renaissance hilltown is all up and down--sometimes I think mainly up--and is more or less nowhere: far from the autostrada on a two skinny lanes of asphalt that wriggle like a small intestine and have exactly as many guard rails. It's between Acquaviva and Pienza, which means what? Probably that you're lost. Thus lovely Montepulciano escapes the soilsome hand of mass tourism.

Entrance to Meuble Il Riccio

The sharper edge is that Montepulciano's few hotels are either small or smaller. Il Borghetto is at the bottom of the town, whence the hike up to the centro storico will do you a world of good. La Terrazza is about halfway up and Hotel Duomo is off Piazza Grande, but the jewel in the town is Meublè Il Riccio, set in an 11th Century palazzo and run by Giorgio and Ivana Caroti with the help of son Iacopo, daughter-in-law Monica and Giorgio's mother, Antonietta. Elegant rooms, arcaded court, terrace looking onto tiled roofs and distant hills-- Oh, just Google and go, that's my motto. But be warned: you will hate having to leave.

Such homey places can't accommodate container loads of scribblers. That's why we had been off-loaded in Chianciano Terme, a spa town (your liver is our business).

American spas are indulgences where healthy-wealthy women show off their clothes, get absurdly priced beauty treatments and confide in their journals when not confiding in their sistern around a campfire and crying a lot. (Let go of the pain, girl!) Eurospas are mainly for sick people; di fatto, Italians used to get (and maybe still do) 10 government-paid spa days a year for their health. Thus Chianciano Terme is full of large new hotels and, in winter, almost devoid of life. The Nobile Consorzio had to wake the Ambasicatori Hotel from hibernation for the journalists' gala cocktail and gala dinner. Both lived up to their billing, and after sustaining sufficient damage the celebrants sought took the narrow elevator to their beds in narrow, cheerless rooms that had been decorated in the early 1960s by teams of dental hygienists engaged in a competition long and best forgotten. Never mind. Next morning, Montepulciano herself more than made up for it.
Next: Off to Montalcino.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Giovanella Stianti in vineyards at her new estate in the Maremma called Prelius (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Just a brief post today as I am packing my bags for a five-day trip to Sicily to participate in Sicilia en Premeur, an event that has several dozen Sicilian wineries presenting their newest releases to journalists from around the world. I’ll write about this event upon my return.

This post is about a new estate called Prelius in the Maremma district of Tuscany. Located near the popular seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia, the estate is owned by Giovanella Stianti, the dynamic owner of Castello di Volpaia, one of Chianti Classico’s great estates. Stianti was kind enough to take me to the estate after my visit to Montalcino as I was headed up to Bolgheri for a few days. It’s a long drive and I’m grateful to her for taking the time to make these arrangements.

This is a 10 hectare (25 acre) estate planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese. The plans are to produce one white, a Vermentino plus two reds. The first red is called (at this point) Prelius and it’s from the 2007 vintage, made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Giovanella also told me there is another red in the works, which will be a more full-bodied effort, but beyond that, she did not disclose much information.

I tasted the 2007 Prelius with her over lunch at Ristorante il Votapentole, a small, outstanding restaurant in Castiglione della Pescaia. The wine has deep purple color like many Maremma reds with appealing aromas of ripe blackberry, myrtle and vanilla and has very good concentration. There are young, graceful tannins, very good acidity and plenty of fruit in the finish. The wine is very well made and offers beautiful complexity. While it is ripe, it is not overdone; this can be a problem in this warm, sunny area. Although it’s a little early to judge the wine now, as it will not be released until the fall, I think it is very good right now and has the potential to become an excellent wine in a year or two. (The Prelius wines will be represented in the United States by Wilson Daniels, which also represents the wines of Castello di Volpaia.)

Given the oustanding work done by Giovanella and her team at Volpaia, especially over the past decade, the new Prelius project is definitely one to watch over the coming months and years.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Anteprime Save My Day

I am pleased to announce that starting today my friend Bill Marsano (photo at left by Maury Englander) will be an occasional contributor to this blog. He is known variously as Marsanobeel and Lui Di Nuovo; I know him as a James Beard award-winning writer and one of the most insightful observers of the Italian wine scene. He himself admits only to being "a crank with some bizarre opinions."

By Bill Marsano
©Copyright 2009
Photos below by Bill Marsano

April--the cruellest month? Pace Mr. Eliot, it's February, my friends. February gives Oscars to mostly the wrong people; is National Canned Food and National Snack Food Month. It features Disaster Day (the 5th), Toothache Day (the 9th) and Hoodie-Hoo Day (the 20th; don't ask). And this February the French took leave of their senses.

Formerly a sophisticated people, the French now wage war on wine. New laws put wine on the same menace-to-society level as pornography. And according to Decanter magazine, France's National Health Ministry says “The consumption of alcohol, and especially wine, is discouraged”; Dominique Maraninchi, head of France's national cancer institute adds that "Small daily doses of alcohol are the most harmful. There is no amount, however small, which is good for you." Cieux aux Élizabeth! as my mother would have said had she ever Frenched 'Heavens to Betsy!' And Maraninchi feels much the same about red meat and charcuterie. Can I get an Ooo-la-la! here?

In short, France is awash in the Higher Nonsense. Tuscany, on the other hand, is not, so thither I skedaddled for the annual anteprime (previews) of Chianti, Vino Nobile and Brunello. The anteprime attract some 200 international critics and far-flung journalists, lightly salted with a few indigent scribblers like your correspondent, who apply themselves to the latest vintages and to rounds of dining and drinking such as would give Messr. Maraninchi the blue creevies or the dry fantods or both. This goes on without surcease for six start-early/end-late days, and we call it work.

Events opened with the Chianti Collection at Florence's Stazione Leopolda exhibition hall, in which the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, which represents 95 percent of Chianti Classico DOCG producers had gathered about 160 of them; they in turn opened their 2008s, '07s and '06s, throwing in a dozen or so '05s just for lagniappe. The total was close on to 400 wines. To deal with this tsunamic quantity I skipped all barrel samples (the '08s promise well but can't be released until autumn) and the '07s still in barrel now won't be the same when bottled. I lit into the bottled versions of '07 and '06, two vintages that are "widely," as they say, "hailed."

Chianti Classico offers endless variety for nearly endless reasons. One is that Chianti, which lies mostly between Florence and Siena, sprawls over 173,000 acres; has numerous soil types and elevations running from 660 to 2600 feet. Another reason is the vexed question of whether Chianti should be a varietal (its latest expression) or a blend (which is what it has been for centuries).

That question is answered by the three clans of Classico producers: I Puristi, who use Sangiovese cento per cento or in purezza, refusing to blend it; I Tradizionalisti, who use at least 80 per cent Sangiovese (the legal minimum) and add such back-in-the-day grapes as Colorino and Canaiolo, and Gli Innovatori, who blend instead such international varieties as Cabernet and Merlot.

Guess what? They all make really good wine.

In relying on Sangiovese alone, I Puristi benefit from the Consorzio's years of work to develop the best possible Sangiovese clone through the Chianti 2000 program. The results show that, all other things being equal, Sangiovese can stand alone as a varietal wine. Winning examples at Leopolda came from Le Fonti, Aria, Borgo Salcetino, Piccini, La Forra, Vignamaggio (where Emma Thompson starred in "Much Ado About Nothing"), Molino di Grace, Fèlsina, La Sala, Villa Cafaggio--among others.

The Tradizionalisti make blends, and they do it the old-fashioned way, using secondary red varieties that most people have forgotten: mainly Canaiolo, to soften the Sangiovese, and Colorino, which as its name implies puts more color in its cheeks. Does some Malvasia Nera creep in here and there? Bet on it-- but you can kiss yesterday's white varieties goodbye. No more Malvasia Bianco and the enthusiastically despised Trebbiano, which made Chianti an early drinker—da pronta beva in Italian--according to the formula long ago promulgated by the Iron Baron, Bettino Ricasoli. They had been steadily reduced to derisory amounts over the years, permitted, in fact, solely for old times' sake. Now, not even that. It’s official: quella è la porta is the word. They’ve been shown the door.

Before Leopolda showed me the same I had some very nice samples of these wines: Monsanto, Badia a Coltibuono and Castello di Querceto are names known to all, senza dubbia, but these others are hardly obscure: Fattoria Nittardi, Casa Emma, Carpineto, Manucci Droandi, Lornano, Tenuta di Capraia, Montegrossi, Mangiacane, La Ripa, Nozzole, Vicchiomaggio and more. I could go on. I'd rather go back.

Gli Innovatori have their roots in the 1960s, when the great effort to systematically improve Italian wines fairly began. Many producers dumped the traditional blender grapes in favor of Cabernet or Merlot. In the early days, when they were used heavy-handedly and accompanied by too many barriques, they overwhelmed Sangiovese’s essential elegance--stepped on her gown, so to say. A lot has been learnt since. Leopolda showed some nifty examples: Ruffino Santedame, Panzanello, Bindi Sergardi, Monte Bernardi Retromarcia, Le Due Arbie, Viticcio, Riseccoli, Poggio al Sole, Il Palagio and many more.

Among the newer blending grapes is Syrah. Talk about muscle! A colleague rightly fears it'll become too popular because it's powerful enough to cover for the producer who overcrops his Sangiovese: not at all a good thing. Used judiciously, however, it seems to work pretty well. Castello di Volpaia and Isole e Olena do very nicely using only 5 per cent (Volpaia adding an equal amount of Merlot and Isole e Olena using 15 percent Canaiolo).

Many and maybe even most producers mix and match--they'll have a cento per cento, but they’ll also make blends using old varieties, international varieties, or both. That suggests not inconsistency but careful attention to the vintage by the likes of Castello di Ama, Castello di Fonterutoli, Castello di Selvole, Il Poggiolino and Villa Calcinaia. It's surely the same with San Fabiano Calcinaia, Cecchi and Villa Cerna, but they prefer to keep us guessing, saying only that they add to their Sangiovese five or 10 percent "other complementary varieties."

Two fine vintages, a plethora of fine producers--increasingly it gets harder to make a mistake with Chianti Classico; you can pretty much pick blindfolded.

Tasting through so many wines in so little time was made possible largely by an army of fleet-footed sommeliers, by the efforts of the consorzio’s president, Marco Pallanti, its marketing/communications manager, Silvia Fiorentini, and by the restorative luncheon buffet and gala dinner provided for the ravening giornalisti. As I said, we call it work.

Next: A Tale of Two Cities: Vino Nobile’s Anteprima.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chianti Classico - The Latest

Alessando Cellai, winemaker, Castellare di Castellina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently sampled dozens of examples of the 2007 Chianti Classicos at the Anteprima tasting in Florence held over two days in mid-February. This year, the focus was on 2007 normale bottlings and 2006 riserva wines. As some producers hold back their releases, there were also wines from other vintages, even as far back as a 2004 from one estate that counts this wine as a current release.

I had been looking forward to the 2007 vintage from Tuscany, as it followed a very nice 2005 and a powerful, if not subtle 2006 vintage. 2007 was cool, unlike many recent vintages, so the wines have beautiful acidity, but also excellent fruit concentration, given the long growing season. All ingredients for some beautiful wines.

And I am happy to report that there were many excellent Classico bottlings from 2007, brimming with fruit and displaying beautiful structure. Unfortunately, some vintners took a good thing and tried to make it better, as too many 2007s are very big with rich oak; these are powerful wines that often lack finesse. My guess here is that some producers want to make more than a Classico, as they aim for a Super Tuscan style. Perhaps they are feeling the decrease in sales for Chianti Classico, as more consumers these days turn to wines that sell for $12-15 instead of the $16-24 that most bottlings of Chianti Classico warrant. Maybe they believe they will give consumers more bang for the buck. Or it could be that they are in search of a high score (mid 90s) for their wine, thus enabling their chances at greater sales.

I personally don’t like the idea of making a bigger wine than is necessary. For me, Chianti Classico is a mid-weight wine and one that has many charming qualities about it. There’s nothing wrong with a Chianti Classico being drinkable when young and I look for most examples to be at their best in 3-5 years. This is what makes 2007 so special, as I believe the best wines (in terms of quality as well as balance) will be at their best in 5-7 years. That’s a nice bonus and a big positive for Chianti Classico, so why should producers try and change that? My wishes are that more producers make Chianti Classico and not something else.

That said, here are some of my favorite bottlings of 2007 Chianti Classico with a few notes:

Castello di Volpaia – beautiful strawberry fruit and lively acidity with excellent structure.
Querciabella – plenty of fresh red cherry fruit; nicely balanced with firm tannins.
Castello di Bossi – a more modern style wine that recalls the heritage of traditional wines; nicely structured wine.
Castellare di Castellina – big, rich red fruit and a powerful finish; excellent complexity
Badia a Coltibuono – always a favorite, this is a charming wine with tasty red cherry fruit and subtle spice.
Bibbiano – another supple wine much like the Badia; beautifully balanced.

As for the 2006 Riservas, I was less impressed, as the wines seem a bit heavy with lower than normal acidity. These are of course, more powerful wines than the regular bottlings, but that doesn’t mean the wines need to lack proper structure.

There were successes, though especially from Lilliano and Monsanto. The former 2006 Riserva offers notes of cedar and dried cherry with very good acidity, while the Monsanto has similar flavors and structure, but takes things up a notch. There is plenty of bright fruit while the tannins are silky and the finsih is quite long and complexy. Both wines should be at their best in 5-7 years, with the Monsanto drinking well for perhaps another year or two beyond that.

Laura Bianchi of Monsanto also showed her 2004 “Il Poggio” Riserva, which continues the great tradition of this wine. From an outstanding vintage, the wine offers excellent fruit concentration with gorgeous aromas of dried orange peel and truffles and beautiful fruit persistence throughout. This is a superb wine, one that should drink well for 10-12 years and one that shows that a producer can make a great Chianti Classico while adhering to a style that focuses on harmony and structure instead of tannin and power.

Giovanni Ricasoli Firidolfi, owner, Castello di Cacchiano (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally I would like to single out the wines of Castello di Cacchiano, located in Monti (Gaiole) in the southern reaches of the Chianti Classico zone. Giovanni Ricasoli Firidolfi runs this property and has been producing some of the area’s best balanced and most complex wines in recent years. Giovanni poured his 2006 normale and his 2005 Riserva. Both wines display beautiful cherry and currant fruit with notes of truffle and cedar and offer excellent structure. The finishes are nicely balanced and offer spice and subtle earthiness. These are wines made with respect for the land and are beautiful food wines. How nice to taste impeccably made Chianti Classicos such as these which are clearly not made with an eye for big scores, but rather are fashioned with elegance and charm while displaying a specific sense of place.

Giovanni also showed his 2001 Vin Santo, a wonderfully lush and remarkably delicious treatment of this wine type. There are beautiful aromas of caramel, maple syup amd almond with great fruit concentration and a long, medium-sweet finish with cleansing acidity. As powerful a wine as this is, his style used to be much bigger with this wine; in fact vintages of this wine in the mid 1980s were so rich, you would be tempted to pour the wine on ice cream- not a bad idea, but not really what Vin Santo is all about. Thankfully, Firidolfi has lightened up a bit on this wine and the resulting 2001 is a classic Vin Santo. And if that wasn’t enough, Castello di Cacchiano also produces one of the best extra virgin olive oils each year in Chianti Classico. Quite a lineup!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fixing Brunello

Along with tasting the new releases of Brunello, one of the great pleasures in returning to Montalcino each February is meeting with my friend Mircko Giorgini, who I first encountered four years ago at the annual tastings. Mircko is a sommelier and a retailer who co-owns a first-rate enoteca in nearby Cerbaia. He’s been a great acquaintance, letting me know about many of the new producers of Brunello and offering his opinions on who he thinks makes great wines and who he thinks doesn’t. He seems to know just about every producer of Brunello, so he’s an invaluable source of information on this area’s wines.

So when I sat down to lunch with him at Al Baccanale in the town of Montalcino, the talk naturally turned to the recent problems with Brunello that have made news worldwide. Mircko talked not only about the obvious tribulations of certain producers who have been accused of adding Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or other varieties to their Brunellos, but he also dealt with the bigger problem of where Brunello is headed. As there have been many opinons offered by American journalists as well as those from Italy (many of whom do not live in Tuscany), I was fascinated to hear the thoughts of someone who has first-hand contact with these wines on an everyday basis.

As for producing a Brunello that is not 100% Sangiovese, well as you can imagine, Mircko is strongly against this treatment. “I don’t want the greenness of Cabernet Sauvignon. I don’t want the color of Petit Verdot. Sangiovese is a great variety on its own, with garnet color and beautiful acidity.”

Continuing, he told me, “We’ve known that some producers have been adding other grapes for some time. You can tell it by looking at the wines or smelling them. This whole affair could have been ended very quickly if a local official would have stepped in and demanded to see the cellars. But you had people collecting big salaries who did nothing.”

For Giorgini, Brunello is about longevity, not trendiness. “We have to thank Giacomo Neri (the owner of Casanova di Neri, one of the most in-demand Brunello properties) for the 100 points he received for his wine a few years ago, because it has brought publicity to Montalcino. But many producers have tried to copy his wine in order to receive high scores from wine magazines. This has meant a change in the style of the wines.”

“Forget about the 95 or 97 points you might get today. What will the wines taste like in twenty or thirty years? This is what Brunello is all about. The great wines from the 1970s and ‘80s that are drinking well today. We need to remember these wines.”

Instant success is not what Giorgini is looking for in these bottlings. “A wine like Brunello really displays its terroir after eight years. Do the new style Brunellos do this as well?” He also thinks that some producers do not work as hard in certain less than successful vintages. “We have to strive to make great Brunello every year.”

For Giorgini, he sees his job as a salesman as someone who is an educator about Brunello; he believes he and his fellow owners of local enoteche have a special responsibility. “I think an enoteca is like a pharmacy. We need to give the customer the right medicine, so to speak. We have to make the right selection of wines. We have to sell the real Brunello.”