Angelo Gaja is not a person I usually quote about Tuscan wines, but one of the people presenting two verticals of Castello Banfi’s Brunello this week quoted him, and his observations are spot on: “No other Italian appellation,” he said, “has had the fortune to have an historic leader, Ferruccio Biondi Santi, and a marketing leader, the Mariani Family.”
There’s no question that without the Biondi Santi family Brunello di Montalcino would never have come into being. However, when they began working Montalcino was a hilltop town at the end of a dirt road, by the time the Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio was founded in 1967 (after the better part of a century), there were 41 founding members who had a total of 71 hectares planted to Brunello, and who made just 5000 bottles of Brunello in that first vintage. It may have been a great wine, but it was also an extreme niche wine that many wine lovers may have heard of, but few had had the opportunity to try.
The number of wineries and volumes produced did increase some in the following decade, but the real push came in 1978 when the Mariani family, which had made its fortune importing other Italian wines to the US, decided to invest in Montalcino and bought the old Poggio Alle Mura estate, which had 20 hectares of vineyards, as well as several thousand hectares of surrounding lands, and embarked upon an ambitious vineyard planting program.
Production of Brunello increased quickly as the new vineyards came on line (they currently have 850 hectares, of which 200 are planted to Sangiovese), and the Mariani family, who are very good at selling wine, began to move it. Consumers had an opportunity to try a wine that had until then been almost impossible to find, and the activity attracted the attention of other investors and large wineries, who decided that maybe they should be making Brunello too.
As Gaja says, having great land and a great varietal, making a great wine from it (what the Biondi Santi family did) are just two parts of the equation: One also has to have a market for the wine, such that selling it will provide the winemaker with sufficient income to live well and be able to invest in the winery, and the Mariani family, though their efforts, played a fundamental role in developing the worldwide market for Brunello. Had they decided to invest elsewhere, Montalcino would not be what it is today.
Brunello is, by comparison with Chianti or Barolo, a young appellation — much of it has developed over the past 30 years, and
This tasting featured two verticals: the first of Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura, which is made from the Sangiovese grapes the estate has developed through clonal selections and research, and the second of their Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Poggio All’Oro, which is a cru from the Poggio all’Oro vineyard, and is from a selezione massale, or estate selection of Sangiovese.
We began with something new, the first vintage of Poggio alle Mura Rosso di Montalcino, which is from another vineyard also planted with the grapes derived from clonal studies; the vineyard was planted with Rosso di Montalcino in mind, and this is therefore not a fallback wine.
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2010
Lively cherry ruby with black reflections and ruby highlights. The bouquet is fresh, with bright cherry fruit supported by raspberry acidity with slight brambly accents and pleasant peppery spice from grapes, while there are also sweetish floral accents as well, roses and violets. Lively and fresh, zesty. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with bright cherry fruit supported by brambly greenish vegetal accents with underbrush and peppery spice, while the tannins, which are rather intense, have a warm rather greenish burr, and gain direction from mineral acidity, and flow into a fairly long rather bitter finish. Pleasant in a zesty brash key, quite fresh, with considerable fruit and some sweetness that is in part alcohol (it’s close to 15%) and very much a food wine that will work well with grilled meats or light stews; it’s not a wine to sip far from the table, but with the proper foods will go very fast.
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1998
Garnet ruby with almandine in the rim; it’s beginning to reveal some age. The bouquet is fresh, with warm rather mineral brambly acidity with hints of saddle leather and some leaf tobacco as well. Pleasant and it has quite a bit to say. On the palate it’s medium bodied tending towards full with fairly rich red berry fruit supported by warmth and tannins that that have a warm silky slightly cedary burr, and flow into a fairly long finish in which toasted accents and Moroccan leather emerge in the tannins, and continue at length, while there are also interesting savory notes that provide direction. It is entering maturity, a handsome wine that will drink quite well with red meats or aged cheeses, if you want to open it now. It will also age well for many more years.
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1999
Deep black garnet ruby with black reflections and garnet rim; it’s slightly darker than the 98. The bouquet is mature, with elegant leaf tobacco and spice supporting slight bramble and pleasant savory notes with slight cedar and more intense dried flowers; there’s considerable finesse and harmony, and it’s quite deft. On the palate it’s rich, with full sour cherry fruit supported by graphite shaving bitterness and deft mineral acidity, and by tannins that are warm and silky, though there is also a slight burr, and it flows into a clean rather bitter savory finish with underlying savory sour berry fruit that gradually gives way to green leather. Quite elegant; it’s a wine that one can converse with, and that will also work very well with succulent roasts. Roast beef cut thick would be very nice here.
Of the two (98 and 99), I found the 99 to display more finesse. Rudy Buratti, who has been Banfi’s winemaker for a great many years, says the 99 was “una annata da manuale vitivinicolo” — a text book vintage.
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2001
Deep black cherry ruby with black cherry reflections and slight hints of almandine in the rim. The hues are younger than those of the older wines, to a degree that one would think it more than 2 years younger. The bouquet is fresh, with chewy cherry fruit supported by some tart acidity and hints of white glue mingled with spice and a fair amount of alcohol, and also hints of sweetness. It’s still quite young, and the fresher components are predominating over what tertiary notes — slight leaf tobacco and underbrush — are beginning to emerge. On the palate it’s ample and fresh, with fairly rich sour cherry fruit supported by warm savory sour cherry acidity, and by tannins that have a greenish slightly splintery burr and flow into a fairly long sour cherry finish with greenish accents and bitter undertones. It’s much fresher than the 99, and though it displays more finesse, has a vibrancy to it that promises considerable life, and those who have patience will find things to think about in years to come.
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2004
Deep black almandine with black reflections and cherry rim with slight hints of almandine. The bouquet is fairly intense, and rather sweet, an impression given by alcohol (it’s 14.5%), and with floral notes and spice that has slight brambly accents mingled with red berry fruit. Quite young, and is still developing. On the palate it’s ample, with fairly rich sour cherry fruit supported by graphite shaving bitterness and warm berry fruit acidity, while the tannins are fairly smooth, with some graphite shavings and bitter accents that flow into a fairly long rather butter mineral finish that leaves a dusty trail down the tongue. Decidedly youthful, and will drink well with succulent red meats now. Or you could give it time; it will age well for a decade at least, and it will be interesting to follow it as it does. It has yet to reach its peak.
Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2007
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is muted, not quite shut tight but still very shy; swishing brings up berry fruit mingled with spice and slight floral notes, mingled with some cedar. Young, and gives an impression of wanting its privacy. On the palate it’s ample, with rich cherry prune fruit supported by sweetness form alcohol, mineral acidity, and tannins that have bitter graphite shaving notes and a warm burr that flows into a fairly bitter mineral finish in which the tannic burr again emerges. It has been presented, but really isn’t ready yet — one could drink it if one had to, but it will age well and be much more interesting in 5 year’s time, and then go from there. A score now is premature.
Banfi Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1990
Garnet ruby with black reflections and almandine rim; it’s considerably more almandine than the 98 Poggio alle Mura. The bouquet is deft, with savory notes mingled with leather and leaf tobacco, and slight horse lather acidity; swishing brings up savory notes and slight dried flowers, and some cedar as well. A lot going on and considerable graceful finesse. On the palate it’s full, with rich slightly dusky cherry prune fruit supported by warmth and prune acidity, while there are also hints of oatmeal sweetness to the tannins, which are warm and silky, with a slight cedary burr, and it flows into a clean savory finish with some leaf tobacco and leather and lasting warmth. Very pleasant, a wine that has a lot to say and that I would rather drink far from distracting elements such as food, though it would do a steak considerable justice too.
Rudy says 1990 was the vintage that put Montalcino on the map — before it had potential, but with that vintage wine drinkers said, hay. This is good!
Banfi Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1995
Deep black garnet ruby with cherry rim; it’s slightly darker than the 98 Poggio alle Mura. The bouquet is intense, and more brambly than the 90, with savory notes mingled with Moroccan leather and spice with some dried flowers as well, and also some sour berry fruit acidity. Swishing brings things together, and reveals considerable harmony, in a slightly greener key than that of the 90, with considerable leaf tobacco as well: the vintage was what Italians call altanenante, seesawing — with ups and downs. On the palate it’s savory, and brambly, with some prune fruit laced with sweetness and cedary brambles, and considerable savory accents that lead into a fairly sour savory finish with a splintery tannic underpinning. It reflects the vintage very well, and is very much alive, held up by the brashness of its acidity, and while it’s not as approachable as some of the vintages, if you like older wines that have something to say you will enjoy it. Because it does have a story to tell.
Banfi Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1997
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine in the rim. Quite charged. The bouquet is fresh, with cherry and forest berry fruit supported by floral notes and warm mineral acidity, supported by some hints of tamarind and tamarind acidity. Quite harmonious in a rich very compact key; it’s not one-directional but is going in one direction. On the palate it’s full, with rich cherry fruit supported by some prunes, and by deft prune berry fruit acidity, while the tannins are full and smooth, with a very slight burr, and flow into a bright lively sour cherry finish with some raspberry notes. Extremely fresh for a 15 year old wine, and while many 1997s were initially raved about and then proved to be over the top, this one toes the line without crossing it. It will drink well now with red meats, but will also age very well for a decade or more.
Banfi Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2004
Deep black almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fresh and quite young, with cherry fruit supported by floral accents and some spice, and by slight balsamic accents and some warmth as well. Harmonious, though it needs time to develop. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by sour savory berry fruit acidity and by tannins that are warm and splintery. I’d have liked a little more richness to the fruit, which isn’t as intense nor as polished as I’d have expected. This said, it will bring considerable joy to succulent red meats, but isn’t at least now, something I would want to drink far from the table.
Banfi Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2006
Deep almandine with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is quite fresh, with violets and strawberry blossoms mingled with savory accents and warm sour cherry fruit, also some tamarind and spice. Very young. On the palate it’s ample and again very young, with sour cherry fruit supported by some tamarind acidity and by tannins that have a youthful splinter burr with some graphite shaving bitterness and flow into a fairly long rather bitter finish, with a bitter tannic underpinning. Like the 2007 Poggio alle Mura it is too young, though it is a little readier, and if you serve it with a thick steak it will do an admirable job of accompanying it. Expect it to climb with time.