Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tradition Wins Out - Again

Last week at Via Carducci, a wonderfully authentic trattoria on Chicago's north side, I hosted a Brunello di Montalcino dinner. The featured wines were new releases from Montalcino, namely the 2007 vintage of Brunello, the 2006 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and the 2010 vintage of Rosso di Montalcino; there was a total of nine wines for the evening.

These wines are brand new and while a few of them have entered select markets in America, many of them will not be available here for another few months. So this was a great opportunity to try the latest examples of these celebrated wines, sort of a miniature anteprima tasting, somewhat like the one I attend at Benvenuto Brunello in the town of Montalcino in February. The difference in this case being that while the tasting in Montalcino offered a lot more wines (more than 250), this evening in Chicago featured the wines with food, a nice plus! Especially when you pair Brunello with wild boar ragu and filet!

This was also a rare opportunity to taste three vintages rated as outstanding (5-star) by the Brunello consorzio. To my knowledge, this situation of three outstanding vintages in a five year period has never happened before, so this only added to the enjoyment of the evening. (I've written some initial thoughts on these new releases of Brunello di Montalcino at my other blog, LearnItalianWines, which you can read here.)

We had an excellent turnout of 25 people. I knew a few friends who were there, but for the most part, I wasn't familar with those who attended. This was exactly the group of wine lovers I wanted at this dinner, as each individual wanted to try these wines for themselves, being lovers of Brunello. No one asked how many points these wines were awarded. No one cared what certain famous (or infamous) journalists thought of these wines. They tried the wines themselves and made up their own mind - how refeshing!

I introduced a variety of styles from modern (Banfi "Poggio alle Mura") to ultra traditional (Lisini Rosso di Montalcino, Tiezzi "Vigna Soccorso") as well as an in-between style (Citille di Sopra). As with any good-sized group, tastes and opinions varied. For the middle course with the 2007 Brunellos, a few people loved the richness and power of the Banfi "Poggio alle Mura", while others opted for the elegance of the Ciacci Piccolomini "Pianrosso" (this is a particularly lovely wine) or the spice of the Citille. All well made wines, all representing Brunello beautifully in 2007, yet reminding us that these wines are the products of their terroir - both in the vineyard and in the cellar.

The next flight of wines was the 2006 Brunello Riserva and while I served three traditionally made wines, they were quite different. One was the "Gualto" Riserva from Camigliano, a wine that clearly showed the power of the 2006 vintage. This was a classic Brunello vintage, but one that is tightly wound and clearly needs a great deal of time to display its finest qualities. This is a beautifully made Brunello that will reward 12-15 years of patience and will drink well for at least another 7-10 years after that (I hope I'll be around then!). (By the way, the 2004 Camigliano "Gualto" Riserva, which I tasted at the winery last month and is available in the US, is a marevlous wine with beautiful floral aromatics and silky tannins. Buy this wine if you can find it and enjoy it while you cellar the 2006.)

The Tiezzi "Vigna Soccorso" Riserva, a marvelous, ultra traditional wine, was clearly a hit with this audience.  This is not a fruit forward, toasty wine, but rather a graceful, subdued wine with beautiful structure and ideal balance; this is a nice reminder of what many Brunellos tasted like some thirty years ago, before a few producers introduced barriques to the mix. I had not had the privilege of tasting this wine previously and after making my initial notes, I thought the wine might be too low-key for consumers, but I was clearly wrong, as they loved it!

Fabio Tassi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

If there was a clear favorite at this dinner, it was the Tassi Riserva "Franci," another beautifully made traditional Brunello. Fabio Tassi operates a wine shop/tasting bar/ in the town of Montalcino and also manages the enoteca in the fortezza, where you can find virtually every Brunello label in existence. In his spare time, he even manages to find time to make a little bit of wine under his own label!

And what a wine this is. Of course, the greatness of any wine comes from the vineyards - Tassi has some outstanding plantings in Castelnuovo dell'Abate - but the final touches come in the cellar, in this case under the direction of enologist Alberto Antonini, one of Tuscany's most highly regarded winemakers, who ages this wine solely in grandi botti. This is a marvelously complex Brunello with impressive depth of fruit, excellent persistence, very good acidity and silky tannins. Above all, this is a wine of great breeding and finesse. You don't communicate the local terroir with heavy doses of oak, something both Tassi and Antonini understand quite well. Instead, you take a minimalist approach in the cellar and let the wine reveal itself, as it displays the sensual character of the Sangiovese grape about as well as any Brunello I have tasted this year. While this has the stuffing to drink well in another 20 years, you don't have to wait that long to enjoy this wine, given its elegance.

One final note on this dinner and why so many people there loved the traditional wines, be they Rosso, Brunello or Brunello Riserva. I can't speak for everyone, but I can wager a guess, which is that these wines were being enjoyed in the best fashion possible - with food! Modern, oaky wines may get high scores from certain so-called "influential" magazines, but I'm positive the tide has turned, as many consumers are turning away from the decision makers at these publications and look instead to what they prefer. I've always favored the more elegant, subtle approach of traditional Brunello (as well as Barolo, Amarone, Taurasi and just about any Italian red wine, no matter how humble or famous), as I can drink the wine, not just take one sip for the purpose of a review.

We all enjoy great wines paired with the proper food and the consumers at this dinner reaffirmed my belief in this as well as in the fact that traditional wines that play up to the food and do not overpower it are the most enjoyable of all. And isn't enjoyment why we pair wine and food together?

P.S. One final note. The 2006 Tassi "Franci Riserva" is not in this country and may not be brought in by the importer, especially as this is a very limited production wine. So you may have to order this from Montalcino. The price on the shelf at the enoteca at the fortezza is 120 Euro. That makes this wine one of the most expensive of all Brunello. The 2006 Tassi Brunello "Selezione Franci" (not a riserva) is imported in America and is less expensive; it's also a lovely wine in a similar style and one I highly recommend.

So if you need to try the Tassi Franci Riserva from 2006, it will cost you a fair amount of money. But this wine is something special - for me, one word perfectly describes it. It is a revelation!

P.P.S. I ended the evening with a bottle of 2001 Banfi Florus, a Moscadello di Montalcino, a sweet dessert wine of the area, made from Moscato. I normally don't care for this wine when it is young, at it seems a bit heavy as well as a bit simple. But I let this bottle sit in my cellar for about six years and when I discovered I still had it a few days before the dinner, I decided this was the perfect occasion to open it. What a pleasant surprise was in store for all of us, as the wine had rounded out and displayed remarkable complexity, tasting like an older Vin Santo or sherry, with just a trace of sweetness. Maybe that's the key with Moscadello - letting it age for five years or so before enjoying it.


  1. Nicely commented, Tom. Refreshing to read without all the numbers as well.

  2. Thanks, Bob. Always nice when I can present the wines as they are and not have to worry about impressing others with trivial nonsense.

  3. Tom,

    Nice job. The Castello Banfi Florus is indeed special and in the scheme of things, tremendous value compared to Vin Santo which I also love. It's cheaper to begin with, but Banfi bottles it in 500ml format, so you're getting more too. I always have some on hand.


  4. Thanks, John.

    One tends to focus on Brunello, quite obviously, so most examples of Moscadello are forgotten. But this one was quite special.

  5. thanks for the flattering judgment and appreciation of our wine ... we hope to see you again soon in Camigliano
    Laura and Walter Ghezzi