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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, November 03 2009. 17:27

Wine Show 2009: Vertical Tasting of Biondi Santi

Every wine fair has a special  event that is show stopper and makes you want to attend just for that one programme and the organizers of the Wine Show at Torino last month had maneuvered a special vertical tasting of Brunello do Montalcino Riserva from the legendry Franco Biondi Santi, going back  over 40 years, writes Subhash Arora.

Any bottle of Tenuta Greppo of Franco Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino commands a hefty premium over the other top quality Brunello producers. The reason is clear to the connoisseur-it is the legendry wine estate that not only helped bring up the standards for Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, it has continued to impress unequivocally the aging potential and the finesse of the classic style of Brunello. So the price of € 80 kept by the organizers for a flight of 5 vintages of ’04, 01, ’98, ’82, 70 and ’68 Riserva at the Salone del Vino seemed quite reasonable.

All wines of Il Greppo come from grapes grown on 20 hectares of their vineyards, and Brunello Riserva is made exclusively from vineyards over 25 years of age. To preserve the characteristics of the Grosso grape as the Sangiovese clone is known in Montalcino, and discovered by Franco’s grandfather Ferruccio Biondi Santi in 1870, the new vineyards are always grafted with buds taken from old plants. Franco talked about the traditions carried over by his father Tancredi who was also instrumental in framing the DOC laws of Montalcino. 

The time announced for the tasting at Sala Blu (blue room) was 3:30 pm but when I arrived a few minutes earlier than the scheduled time to keep my appointment for the historical tasting, there was no sign of activity, except I could see Franco, the 87-year old patriarchal owner whom I had first met last year at his estate, dressed nattily in a blue suit and a matching tie and chatting with a few friends in the tasting room.

The excitement started building up half an hour later with a flurry of activity and the 40-seats were fully occupied by the people who had pre-reserved.. I was fortunate enough to have requested the hosts, ENIT- Italian State Tourist Board whomade sure I got my seat- in the front row.

Franco Biondi Santi is long known for its long ageing wines. Last year in August, Franco had shown me the special cellar where 1888 and 1991, perhaps the oldest living Brunellos of the world are resting. Wine Spectator had compiled a list of Top Twelve wines in the world during the 20th century- wines that would take you into the state of vinous nirvana, wines that even the most educated palates in the world would beg, barter or steal to get their noses into. The 'Top 12' list included only one Italian wine- Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1955 from Biondi Santi.

After a brief introduction by the President of Slow Food and Franco’s explanations of his wines (there were no translation facilities-perhaps the organizers were not expecting any non-Italians), the tasting started.

The 2001 Brunello was still young though very pleasant wine. The tannins still dominated and the colour was still ruby red and had not started turning the typical orange/brown shade. It was a very harmonious wine with good structure and had plenty of fruit yet also elegance. But 1998 was even better and more complex wine.

The 1983 was a real stunner. It was full of a complex bouquet that was reminiscent of forest flowers and berries. But the after-taste was so long that I loved holding it in my gullet and enjoying the warmth, the length and the complexity of the fruit. 

The 1970 was a disappointment for me. It was no doubt still alive and drinkable but I personally felt that it had not evolved into a pleasant wine. In a blind tasting I would not give it a high score for the overall impression. I waited till the end of the tasting and sipped from two other bottles too- but my opinion was only reinforced.

It was reassuring to go to the last vintage of the afternoon-the 1968. It was still very elegant, harmonious wine with subtle acidity in the back layer making me feel confident that it would go on aging for quite a few years yet.

Slow Food and the Wine Show gave a Career Award to Franco Biondi Santi, considered one of the patriarchs of Montalcino, for the continued and expanded work of the family with the deepest respect for nature and the highest Italian tradition, contributing to the enhancement of quality wine around the world."

In order of preference, I would choose- 1983, 1998, 2001, 1968 and 1970, in that order..

Subhash Arora

For a related earlier article, click


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