Brunello di Montelcino: A tale of 2 tastings
Wine tastings are a HUGE part of any trip Elke and I plan to Italy. 90% of the wine produced in Italy will never be exported to our country and we want to taste all of it. This was why, on a fabulous June afternoon, we found ourselves, walking the beautifully manicured gravel paths leading to Poggio Antico, one of the most celebrated and decorated producers of arguably the greatest of Tuscan wines - Brunello.
Brunello is one of the most valued and treasured wines in the world, following only the great burgundians and bordeaux. Brunello is also the purest formulation of the Sangiovese grape used in nearly all DOC and DOCG appellations from Tuscany. While Chianti and Vino Nobile are formulations that require a minimum percentage of Sangiovese, Brunello must contain 100% of this robust grape and nothing else. The beauty of this wine is in it's purity.
Poggio Antico is not the oldest Brunello producer, but it has quickly become one of the best. Like it or not, the folks at Poggio Antico have taken a much more clinical approach to making their award winning wine. Touring the winery we were struck by how...well...German everything seemed. Most places we visit in Italy seem to be governed by an over-riding passion where as, at Poggio Antico, the passion was transformed to something more austere. When we visited Fattoria di Barbi, a much older and passionate producer, the cellars were far more disordely, bottles stashed everywhere, and they proudly displayed a billiard table that was used for the first bottling of their wine over 100 years ago. No such display is apparent at Poggio Antico.
The term Brunello, a diminutive form of the ubiquitous Italian name Bruno, used to refer not only to the wine but to the grape itself. Late in the 19th century it was discovered that the Brunello grape was indeed the same grape grown throughout Tuscany. In 1980, due to the special quality of this wine, Brunello was the first Italian wine to benefit from the DOCG designation. This meant that the grapes needed to be grown, handled and turned to wine in a very specific way to be called Brunello.
Following our tour we were led out to the tasting room. The charming old stone cottage was set amid the blossoming Oleander high atop sloping vinyards that stretched away from the winery. Inside we discovered, to our shock, that each taste of this amazing wine would cost us at least 5 Euros and the cost was not removed from any bottles you purchase. Now, we are accustomed to paying for tastings, it has become de rigeur, however, what set this one apart was the very tiny amounts poured. Often, Elke and I will share a tasting cost as there is enough for a couple of good gulps. This tasting was barely enough for me to whet my whistle and I whasn't sharing.
I will report to you that the wines were as fabulous as one would expect from a winery that regularly produces 98 and 99 point wines - robust, enormous tanins, perfect acidity with touches of leather, tobacco and dark fruit; and the prices matched. We selected a lesser priced (still 30 Euro) super Tuscan that was ready to be drunk immediately rather than a huge Brunello that required 10 more years in the cellar.
As one would expect, a much more pleasant scene played out at Fattoria di Barbi. The tasting of 3 wines (including a Riserva) was included in the price of the cellar tour. Not only that, but if you asked nicely, they were happy to pop open any bottle you may be interested in purchasing and give you, and anyone around you, a lovely taste. We bought a mixed case and had it shipped.
We will be returning to Fattoria di Barbi on our Bella Toscana tour and we would LOVE for you to join us!