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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, March 15 2010. 12:28

Tuscan Marathon 2010: Brunello di Montalcino

Tuscan Marathon 2010 as Conte John Salvi MW describes the 1000-wine Ante Prima tasting organised by the Consortia of San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino last month is a 4-part series only an expert like him with decades of experience can illustrate. This is  Crescendo of the symphony that concluded at Montalcino.

Montalcino- the last lap

The tasting and the event in Montepulciano was over, but we had arranged to be picked up outside the Fortezza, close to the Piazza Grande, at 18.00.  Our driver, from Il Poggione in Brunello, arrived perfectly on time and sped us away to the Il Giglio hotel in the historic heart of Brunello.  A beautiful drive through the Tuscan hills at twilight.  We were so happy to be in the best hotel in Brunello, thanks to the kindness and thoughtfulness of Stefania Tacconi, and we found that we had the most magnificent view from our comfortable bedroom.  We had an hour to unpack, wash and change and then the same driver returned to take us to dinner.

The dinner was fantastic.  It took place at Il Poggione, jointly with Col d’Orcia.  We were about 30 guests and were welcomed with Taittinger Champagne, fresh shrimps on sticks and baby broad beans.  Dinner was a magnificent pottage, woodcock puree on toasts, pasta with asparagus and truffles, fried brains, milk fed lamb and suckling pig again with truffles, and a stupendous apple pie.  Wines came, two by two, each time being one each of the two estates, and finishing with incredibly young tasting 1969 and 1967. 

A great chef had come all the way from his secluded mountain restaurant to prepare our feast.  So wonderful was the dinner that we did not see the time go by and had to ring the hotel to ask them not to lock the doors before we arrived back.  A great evening!

Friday morning we descended to breakfast at a table with a fabulous view over the town, the hills and the vineyards.  Our chauffeur arrived early and we asked him to come back, which he graciously did, and drove us up to the immense Fortezza di Montalcino that sits majestically on top of the steep hillside town of Brunello di Montalcino.  Here, having signed in and greeted the charming Stefania Tacconi, and thanked her for having arranged our hotel and our transport so comfortably, and having greeted and shaken the hand of the President of the Consorzio, we settled down to serious tasting. 

It was the same system as elsewhere, but on a larger scale, and my wife and I continued with our well tried system.  She sat at the tables and had the wines brought by the sommeliers and I walked round the many tables and talked and tasted with the producers.  We did a long and hard morning’s work until 13.00. 

The Consorzio serves a splendid buffet lunch, but unfortunately it is a stand-up affair without any chairs and my bad leg would not support this.  We therefore repaired to a nearby trattoria for wild boar and polenta and Tuscan sausages with beans, followed by pannacotta. 

Back to tasting again until 15.00, when we had arranged to be taken for a tasting at Pian delle Vigne, an Antinori property.  Serena Storri was there again to drive us and the knowledgeable Fabio, the winemaker, to take us through the tasting.  We analysed the wines of the estate in detail and went back as far as the 1995, their very first vintage.  The resident manager served us with his great speciality – wild boar stew from a boar that he had shot himself.  Time flew and we had to rush back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

In the final analysis we excused ourselves from the gala dinner, as I felt very tired and my leg was hurting, and I went to bed early without any dinner.  At this point I would just like to apologise to the Consorzio, both for absenting myself from the tasting for the time it took to visit Braccesca, since the Consorzio had asked producers not to take journalists away from  them, and for missing out on the Gala dinner due to feeling ill.  However, since we tasted nearly all the wines I do not feel that we failed in our duty!

We were picked up as arranged and taken off to Poggio di Sotto, the property of Piero Palmucci, one of the very top and most exclusive wine producers.  This was a sort of intimate supper with a small group of knowledgeable Scandinavian and Dutch journalists.  Our hostess served superb lasagne, tender artichokes and beef stew cooked in Brunello.  Talk was rather opinionated on behalf of the wine writers, but our host was both generous and charming and we were driven back to our hotel at the very reasonable hour of 23.00.

Regretfully, as on the previous evening, I still felt poorly on the Saturday morning.  It was hard to get up and my wife went ahead of me to start tasting.  However, I arranged to be driven up to the theatre for 11.00 to listen to the judgement on the 2009 vintage and the number of stars awarded out of 5.  I was greeted by my old friend Enzio Rivella.

The President gave his usual warm welcome, but regretfully, and this is something that should be carefully reconsidered in each producing region, the oenologist who talked about the 2009 vintage was both muddled and uninformative.  This was a great pity, but intelligently, as we left, they handed us a USB full of information for later use.

We returned to the Fortezza and continued tasting.  My wife enjoyed the buffet, but still not feeling too good I abstained from lunch and we then went on tasting right through the afternoon until it closed at 17.00.  We felt that we had really worked as hard as possible, done the maximum and tasted as many wines as we could.

Brunello di Montalcino 2009

So what of the 2009 vintage and the weather conditions that shaped it?  Once again I have to base myself somewhere, as conditions naturally varied from place to place.  Remember that here there are no less than 24 subzones in a mere 16 kilometre stretch. 

There is also the influence of the volcano, Monte Amata.  Vineyards face in all directions and some are up to 520 metres above sea level.  Soils vary immensely and in close proximity. This year most of what I have said about Chianti and Montepulciano also applies here, so I shall not repeat all the detail. 

The weather trends occurred in 2 phases.  The first saw abundant rains, especially in the spring, with quite a cold May and a beginning of June that slowed down the flowering of the vines.  In the second phase the temperatures started to rise, but from the middle of July until the end of the month there were additional rain showers that contributed, along with the previous rains, to the swelling of the berries.  Sangiovese grapes have a tendency to swell with water.  For this reason, this year the berries were bigger than usual.

Budding began at the beginning of April, flowering started at the end of May, and colour change took place at the end of July.  Naturally harvest dates varied enormously, but a general average was from around 20th September/ first week of October.

The rest of July, August and the middle of September were very hot and dry, with the Sirocco wind prominent for almost 10 days in mid-to-late August, increasing drought conditions.  Sirocco is a warm wind that intensifies the heat of the summer and when it occurs for an extended time it is feared by the growers because it can dry out both the berries and the leaves.  This year however this wind was useful because it helped dry the over swollen berries.  Then the repeated presence of a cool Tramontana wind, that comes in from the Alps, in the middle of September, further helped the grapes to dry and hastened their ripening.

Experience and close observation were vital this year, and this applies to all the Tuscan regions.  The varying climatic trends had to be responded to.  Even as late as the second half of October temperatures were still around 25°C with lows at night of around 15°C.  Green harvesting had been vital and some growers practised it, a little at a time, in July and the first half of August.  Cutting too much or too vigorously all at once makes the vine react by producing even larger and more swollen berries.  Deleafing (sfogliamento) was also important, but needed to be done sparingly and only in the north-facing vineyards.

My old friend, Angelo Gaja, had invited me to visit his completely restored and renovated property, Pieve Santa Restituta.  We were picked up from our hotel at 17.30 and driven there.  Fantastic!  Magnificent!  And what a history!  What a magnificent blend of old and new and what a long and delicious history, for which there is regretfully no room here.  We were taken round by Angelo’s daughter, Gaia Gaja, who then gave us a superb tasting of their wines going back to the 1996 Rennina.  This was a real pleasure and a treat.

However there was another treat in store – a last one!  An evening with Candace Máté at her lovely house on their very beautiful property.  We spent it in the kitchen, in front of the fire, at the long wooden table, in her company and that of her friend Katia and my friend Sarka from the Czech Republic.  We gossiped while she cooked.  We talked and tasted and ate – deliciously!  Candace effortlessly produced a variety of crostini, cappacollo and prosciutto, home made pasta with meat sauce, and a splendiferous Bistecca Fiorentina cooked over her wood fire. 

Photo By:: Adil Arora

We tasted her 2006 and 2007 Syrah, her Merlot and her Cabernet Sauvignon.  We wound up with home made jam tart.  A heavenly evening of food, fun and friendship so wonderfully typical of Brunello di Montalcino and of Candace.  This time we forgot to advise the hotel and were extremely fortunate to find it still open when we returned at almost 1.00AM in the morning.

The trip is over.  Sunday was our return to Bordeaux via the Consorzio bus from our hotel to Florence airport and then Air France to Bordeaux via Lyon.

 What are much more important are the congratulations that are due to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino for their generous hospitality, warm welcome, superb organisation and great wines.  Stefania Tacconi, as always, is in large measure responsible for all this and I offer her my warmest thanks.  Also sincerest congratulations to the Consorzio on their 30th anniversary of obtaining DOCG status.

I have called it a marathon no less.  Had we tasted every wine available it would have been over 1,000.  As it was,my wife and I clocked up 800 and felt very proud of ourselves.  We already look forward to 2011!  

John Salvi MW


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