This time Roberto Giuliani takes the stand.
Montalcino clearly owes much of its fame to it viticultural traditions, and in particular Brunello, one of the maximum expressions of Italian wine. At present the appellation boasts a vineyard area of 3,500 hectares (about 9000 acres), 2100 of which planted to Brunello DOCG and 510 destined to Rosso di Montalcino, and 250 producers (208 of whom bottle) in the Consorzio. It is also worth noting that of those 3,500 hectares, a significant portion (850) belong to Castello Banfi, and another large portion is divided among a few “Colossuses”
And if mathematics aren’t an opinion, one quickly realizes that the Montalcino Panorama consists primariy of small winemakers. Luciano Ciolfi’s Podere Sanlorenzo clearly falls into this category, as it boasts fewer than 5 hectares and a total production of 15-18,000 bottles. It’s easy to reach once one is at Montalcino; at the traffic circle joust outside the town one takes via Bellaria, the winding road that leads past the Hotel “Al Brunello”. After about a km one turns right (there are signs for a number of wineries) and a little further on the road becomes dirt, and flattens out. Continue for a km past Le Potazzine (to the right) and when you reach a tree-lined road to the left, follow it to Podere San Lorenzo (n. 130, highlighted on the map in square B2).
I met Luciano in Febriary 2007. At the time his frist Brunello was aging in cask, the 2003, and he asked me if I wanted to taste the barrels. Remembering the 2004 I had just discovered at Benvenuto Brunello I eagerly accepted. It was an illuminating experience; there was tremendous potential in those casks!
We met repeatedly thereafter, retasting, talking and comparing impressions. What I have always appreciated in Luciano is his willingness to listen, and to try to understand what his wines might say to others.
It was a difficult period, and a strange one for a small winemaker who wanted to emerge in a saturated, intricate setting. During there years we talked a lot; Luciano told me of his doubts and uncertainties relative to the best path to follow, because the Brunellos that were garnering the most acclaim and attention were very different from his, opulent deeply colored wines, some heavily oaked. He feared nobody would notice his wines if he didn’t follow the trend of the moment, and he had invested everything in his winery. I tried to explain to him that it was a passing trend, one destined to fade quickly. He had to make his wine, as he liked it, a faithful expression of the land, the vines and the climate.
Luciano knew this, but was looking for support and confirmation of his ideas; after all he had just started out, and his worries were justified and understandable. This, year after year he followed his path, humbly, and always interested in comparing his work with that of others. And I continued to be transported by the sight of those vineyards, blessed by the sun, always well ventilated, extending towards the horizon, where I could watch the sun set.
Over the years his wines improved, gaining definition and expressiveness, but never hiding the differences between the vintages. I think the first five Brunello vintages offer a good opportunity to tell the story of this wine, born on the slopes facing Tavernelle and Camigliano. And it was a magnificent experience.
Brunello di Montalcino Bramante 2003
Technical info: 100% sangiovese grosso 100%; alcohol content 13.54%; dry extract 30.80 g/l; reducing sugars 1.6 g/l; total acidity as tartaric acid 5.38 g/l; free anhydrous sulfites 27 mg/l; total sulfites 93 mg/l; harvest carried out 26 and 27 September; in the 2003 vintage 8,000 bottles were produced. After a quick pressing of the bunches, fermentation took place over 25-30 days in temperature-controlled steel tanks with periodic pumpovers and delstages. Malolactic fermentation in wood. The wine was then aged for 36 months with the light lees, in 30 to 25 hectoliter casks, and prior to release was aged another 6 months in bottle.
The 2003 vintage began with a very rainy spring, and was very hot in July and August, two months with nary a drop of rain, and this tested the vines. Fortunately there was some rain in September, enough to rebalance the vines. As one might expect the grapes ripened early and when harvested were extremely concentrated, though the parameters for sugars and other components were perfect.
I published my notes on this wine in Febriary 2010, finding it perfectly balanced and giving no signs of overripeness, a clear indication of perfect vineyard management, coupled with an altritude of almost 500 meters, which made good thermal excursions possible. Nicely intense garnet; the bouquet reflects the characteristics of the vintage but are balanced and are maturing well. Clean lively cherry accompanied by ripe raspberry coupled with underbrush, slight mint, tobacco, juniper and licorice, a hint of leather, and spice in the finish. Round on the palate, but with lively acidity; the tannins are integrated perfectly and smooth. It’s perfectly balanced and pleasant, with backbone and no signs of slippage. One cannot ask for more.
Brunello di Montalcino Bramante 2004
Techncal info: 100% sangiovese grosso; alcohol content 13.31%; total dry extract 31 g/l; reducing sugars 1.9 g/l; total acidity as tartaric acid 5.64 g/l; free anhydrous sulfites 29 mg/l; total anhydrous sulfites 95 mg/l; harvested October 18 and 19 ottobre; 12,000 bottles of the 2004 vintage produced.
In 2004 the seasons were balanced. Persistent spring rains were followed by a hot sunny summer that did see a few cool rainy days, while September was relatively dry, with hot days and cool nights. This allowed good grape ripening and optimal conditions at the harvest.
The hue is very similar to that of the 2003, but with hints of ruby that reveal its being younger. The nose is completely different; the cherry is wilder, with echoes of prunes and sour cherries, followed quickly by roses and herbal accents, cardamom, humus, slight cinnamon, and sweet licorice.
The palate is a delight; the balance of the vintage is evident; just the right amount of alcohol, the tannins are already silky, and there’s a nice savory imprint that carries into a long elegant finish.
Brunello di Montalcino Bramante 2005
Technical info: 100% sangiovese grosso; alcoho content 13.67%; total dry extract 27.5 g/l; reducing sugars 1.7 g/l; total acidity as tartaric acid 5.8 g/l; free anhydrous sulfites 24 mg/l; total anhydrous sulfites 89 mg/l; harvested October 10 and 11; 5,770 bottles of the 2005 vintage produced.
The small number of bottles produced allowes one to infer the quality of the 2005 vintage, which was fairly good but suffered several dramatic problems: A heavy hailstorm at the beginning of may, and heavy rains in September that put the harvest at risk. The summer was in any case fairly hot and sunny, and September, after the rains, improved enough to allow the grapes to dry and ripen.
In the glass the wine is a more transparent garnet with ruby reflections, and indicative of a less structured vintage; the bouquet is fresh but less ample and complex: red berry fruit and slight floral accents give way to slight spice, with hints of juniper and myrtle coupled with delicate licorice and rhubarb.
The palate is less full but with lively freshness accompanied by tannins that are balanced and not aggressive. It’s a direct, zesty wine, and easy to drink thanks to an interplay of elegance and enjoyability; it’s a style I particularly like.
Brunello di Montalcino Bramante 2006
Technical info: 100% sangiovese grosso; alcohol content 14.22%; total dry extract 29.8 g/l; reducing sugars 1.6 g/l; total acidity as tartaric acid 5.9 g/l; free anhydrous sulfites 18 mg/l; total anhydrous sulfites 90 mg/l; harvested October 4 and 5; 10,800 bottles of the 2006 vintage produced.
This vintage has all the characteristics necessary for the production of an excellent wine: after alternating periods of sun and rain from April to June that allowed perfect vegetative development, intense sunny heat arrived, continuing until August, when temperatures dropped some and there were also slight rains. The first half of September was again hot and sunny, bringing the grapes to full, balanced ripeness. In the second half of September there were some rains, but the situation promptly improved, allowing the grapes to finish ripening.
The 2006 is intense garnet with ruby reflections, and its bouquet opens steadily; at the moment there’s less fruit but greater complexity in the spice, with hints of heme, balsamic accents, wet earth, and blonde tobacco. The palate is ample and enveloping, with a rich but elegant tannic weave terrific persistence, and licorice and wild berry fruit.
Brunello di Montalcino Bramante 2007
11,000 bottles of this vintage were produced. The 2007 vintage was unusual, and as a result the vines behaved differently than in other years, with budbreak and flowering much earlier (20-25 days) than usual. During June and July growth slowed, and the veraison was again early (July 15, and took longer than usual because of rians and lower than usual temperatures in August, which brought the vintage more into line with normal years. The grapes grew well, with bunches that were loosely packed, well distributed on the vines (the result of careful bunch selection), and ripened without difficulty.
The most recent vintage from Casa Ciolfi, a hot vintage but far from 2003. One should also keep in mind that the vines are 4 years older and that much more mature, with better developed root systems and by now acclimatized to the terroir. The wine is deep ruby with garnet reflections, while the nose opens a little at a time, with roses, cherries raspberry, hints of thyme and grass, and once again heme and iron, coupled with incense.
On the palate it’s it’s much more open and direct, with sweet fruit, nice spice, and perfect tannins, nor is freshness lacking, and the balance already reached is impressive for a wine so young. There is substance, and it’s one of the best expressions of the vintage thanks also to richness, substance and persistence that cannot but please.
Brunello di Montalcino Bramante Riserva 2006
Technical info: 100% sangiovese grosso; alcohol content 14.43%; reducing sugars 1.6 g/l; total acidity as tartaric acid 6.3 g/l.; the wine aged 48 mesi in 10 hl casks; 1,260 bottles of the 2006 Riserva were produced.
For this wine I must begin by saying I am not completely impartial, because this first Riserva of Casa Ciolfi is the fruit of repeated tastings and comparisons I took part in. Two casks of the same volume (10 hl) from the same cooper, bought the same year, containing 2006 of that turned out to have differing characteristics. Luciano wanted to make his first Riserva because he knew it was the right vintage for it, but was uncertain of what to do with the two casks. So one day we got together with his winemaker, Claudio Gori, and with Silvana Biasutti, who knows Montalcino very well, and happens to be the mother of the Padovani sisters who run the azienda Campi di Fonterenza.
To determine the composition the 2006 Riserva would have, Luciano prepared flights of five blind samples, 2 containing the wine from each cask, two with 70-30 and 30-70 blends from the two casks, and one with a 50-50 blend. We decided upon 100% of one of the two casks, which had something special to it.
Forgive me, then, if I feel a point of pride for this thoroughbred Brunello, which is certainly the best Luciano has produced to date. Intense, brilliant garnet with a refined, enveloping bouquet with dried flowers, bay leaves, resin, mint, humus, underbrush, slight but promising goudron, earth and red meat, licorice, and many other aromas still developing.
The palate reflects the nose, with depth and intensity, rich fruit, and spice coupled with an extremely refined tannic weave and balsamic accents flowing into a delicately peppery finish that lasts and lasts.
14 years have passed since Luciano took over the family property; with agronomic assistance from Massimo Achilli and winemaking assistance from Claudio Gori, he worked very hard remodel the vineyards to obtain maximum quality, and in the space of a few vintages was able to produce a Rosso and a Brunello of tremendous character. I undertook this vertical to provide readers with as clear a picture as possible of this Brunello, and in doing so saw confirmation of my conviction that Sanlorenzo, which is just starting out, is one of the best wineries to emerge in Montalcino in recent years.
Podere Sanlorenzo, 280 – 53024 Montalcino (SI)
Tel. e Fax +39 0577 832965
info AT poderesanlorenzo DOT net