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2015 28 January


The excitement continues to build over Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2010. In his article for Virtual Gourmet (Jan 25, 2015), the writer John Mariani discusses the beauty of the vintage and, more broadly, notes that “Banfi has been very much in the vanguard of modern viniculture.” This advanced technology is a unique advantage, not only for CB Brunellos, but for wines from our constellation of vineyards: Pinot Grigio, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc.

Crafting a modern Brunello di Montalcino

Back in 1975 only 800,000 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino were produced by 25 estates; in 1995 more than 3.5 million bottles were made by 120 estates. Today there are more than 220 estates producing more than 7 million bottles of this once rare Tuscan wine. About 60% of Brunello is exported, with 25% going to the U.S. market since the mid-1990s. Only about 20 percent is consumed locally around the town of Montalcino in Tuscany.

Traditionally, Brunellos were wines made to be saved for decades before coming into full maturity. Legendary bottlings like those of Biondi-Santi, which created the wine’s reputation in the 19thcentury, tasted better at 50 years of age than at 20. But Brunello’s fame and demand have caused so many newcomers to plant estates in and around Montalcino that that old style has been transformed into several styles, most lighter, some with more alcohol.

By far the largest investor in Brunello has been Castello Banfi, owned by the Mariani family (for the hundredth time: no relation to this writer), which in 1978 began developing vineyards around Montalcino—-now with 7,100 acres--financing ampelographic research to choose the 15 best, healthiest clones out of 650, information they shared freely with their competitors.

Castello Banfi last week held a fascinating seminar in New York at Armani Ristorante, a tasting that showed how the components of wines made from grapes grown in different vineyards on the Banfi property (below) are knit together by winemaker general manager Enrico Viglierchio into a number of different wines made from the sangiovese grape.

As was pointed out at the tasting, led by Banfi CEO Cristina Mariani, Montalcino is a very hot region during the day but the temperature drops at night, encouraging good acids in the grapes. Also on hand was wine authority James Suckling, who commented on the structure of well-blended Brunellos that have a true elegance owing to the sangiovese, a grape that grows nowhere else with any distinction.

Banfi has been very much in the vanguard of modern viniculture, including hybrid fermentation by which the fresh juice is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel with oak staves and the oak helps keep a more constant temperature during the process. The wines are not filtered and they are bottled under nitrogen. Meanwhile, the estate’s carbon footprint has been reduced by plantings of forests and maintaining natural meadows, while a modern, drip irrigation system has reduced water consumption by 80%.

At the seminar we tasted 15 wines (below), the first, from 2013, being barrel samples that will be blended to make a wine to be released in 2018. The vintage is expected to be an excellent one, based on dry weather in April, cooler, dry temperatures in June, average temperatures through summer, then a sudden mid-August heat wave that mellowed in September for a good harvest. Each sample showed subtle differences in flavor and body: the wine from the Mandrielle Vineyard was fruity but very tight, while a Sorrena Vineyard was tighter still and distinctly tannic. Far more ripe and very fruity was the wine from Baidaioli Vineyard, while that from the Poggioni Vineyard was very rich with an underlying taste of straw and fennel.

We then turned to the 2010 vintage--said to resemble the highly vaunted 1997--which had mild temperatures in spring and early summer, followed by heat, then cooling August nights, culminating in a fairly dry early autumn. The alcohol level is 13.9%. It would not be considered infanticide to drink the Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2010($65-$75) right now, for it’s a forward wine with fast-mellowing tannins.

Poggio alle Mura 2010($70-$75) was more luscious, voluptuous, spicy and peppery, still coming together in the bottle and promising a long life of maturity ahead. The same wine’sRiserva, which is still aging in wood right now, was very similar to its sister wine but seemed a little light, with more finesse at this point.Poggio all’Oro Riserva2010, another barrel sample, had very little bouquet at first but was syrupy on the palate, lingering long, showing complexity and an elegant balance of fruit, acid and tannins.

We then moved on to the 2007 vintage, which had an early growing season, heavy May rainfall and a mid-June heat wave, followed by ideal fall weather, with harvesting a week ahead of the usual time. Banfi says that 2007 marked a year of innovations by a new micro-winery called “Horizon,” taking advantage of continuing clonal research and artisan vineyard management, with separate vinification of each Brunello on the property.

TheBrunello di Montalcino 2007($50-$60), released in 2012, was wonderfully ripe with plum fruit flavors but, at 14% alcohol, not at all cloying. Brunellos on first whiff may seem slightly oxidized, but that usually blows off, as it did with this wine, revealing a very well rounded style.Poggio alle Mura 2007($55-$80) is still very tannic, but it has a fine backbone of dark and cherry-like fruits that should emerge within a year or two.

The 2007 vintage was a debut forPoggio alle Mura Riserva(which I've found in a range from $85-$150), one of my favorites of the finished wines, with a resilience of fruit and acid and a deep complexity with tannins softening in harmony. ThePoggio all’Oro 2007($130-$170), at 15.2% alcohol, is a very big wine for an Italian red, and, while I did not find it particularly tannic at this point, it did not seem knitted just yet, leaving a mild bitterness to be resolved. Theriservaswere released in 2013.

We then had a chance to taste how these wines stacked up next to the much heralded 1997 vintage, about which I first had doubts. My early tastings of 1997s did not impress me then as one of those oft-claimed “wines of the century,” but after ten years of aging, I found several of them superb wines on all counts. Indeed theCastello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino($80-$120) was delicious, nice and loose, the acids in impeccable trim and the whole of it very fresh on the palate, with 13% alcohol.

Our table might well have had an off bottle, because the bouquet of the1997 Poggio alle Mura($80-$120) was unpleasantly funky aroma did not blow off after 30 minutes, though the flavor was sound if not stunning. The difficult to findPoggio all’Oro Riserva($115-$125) was still tight but indicated at every level that its nutty, violet, spicy flavors will come together beautifully at 13.2% alcohol.

These distinctions are all part of the crafting of a wine of Brunello’s eminence, whose storied past has been respectfully added to at the Banfi estate. In matters of wine, time will always tell, but the care taken in blending makes the odds tilt strongly towards consistent excellence. 




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