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2000 1 September


The recent debut of Castello Banfi's Excelsus in the European Union's capital city, Brussels, was a "happening" that almost didn't happen. A traffic jam, unparalleled in European history, came close to preventing it.

The affair, first of its type staged by the award-winning Tuscan wine estate, was booked at Brussel's posh Hotel Astoria near the Royal Palace on Monday, September 18th. Some 40 VIP guests had accepted Banfi's hand-delivered invitation, wrapped around a half bottle of the wine itself.

A few days prior to the event, though, the wines to be featured at the tastings, including Excelsus, were on a truck that was stuck in a huge traffic jam organized by Belgian drivers to protest Europe's skyrocketing gasoline prices. Every highway leading into the country as blocked solidly, and the wines would not arrive in time.

Obviously, there was only one thing for export manager Rodrigo Redmont to do: organize an airlift of sorts! An airfreight service was contracted to deliver a pallet of the wines needed for the tasting and dinner, with little time to spare. To insure the arrival of the star wine, though, and protect one of his most prized creations, winemaker Rudi Buratti personally carried the Excelsus in his luggage on the five-hour trip from Montalcino to Brussels, via the Rome airport.

The event went off without a hitch. Guests who assembled in the hotel's sumptuous Louis XVI-style dining room included Italy's Ambassador Gaetano Cortese, several Michelin-rated restaurateurs such as the owner of the 3-star Comme Chez Soi, a group of Belgium's foremost sommeliers, the president of the country's restaurant association, members of the Cornell Hotel Society's European Chapter, and a notable press contingent.

Buratti conducted a complete vertical tasting of the "Super Tuscan" Excelsus, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, vintages 1993, 1995 and 1997 - it is only made in optimal years. It was a crowd-pleasing performance, judging from the hour-long Q&A session that followed.

Chef Susanna Fumi of Osteria del Vecchio Castello topped off the event with a luncheon best described as a Tuscan culinary tour de force. There were six courses with dishes ranging from Potato Focaccia with rosemary and thinly sliced lard to Breast of Duck with glazed scallions in brown sugar. Premier offerings from the Castello Banfi estate, including Serena Sauvignon Blanc and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio all'Oro, accompanied each course.

Redmont, highly satisfied with the event's success, says it developed into a blueprint for future Castello Banfi tastings in Europe, without the traffic jams, of course. He also reported that the winery's Belgian distributor, A.F. Mampaey & Co., has requested an increase in its allocation of Excelsus based on orders taken after the introduction.


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