After a day off in Florence, our next day of wine touring brought us further south in Tuscany to the fabled region of Montalcino. This area is known not only for the picturesque hilltop town that sits in its center, but also for the exquisite wines made from 100% Sangiovese – Brunello di Montalcino. We began our day with a visit to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, an organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of these world-renowned wines. While the regulation requirements for Brunello seem very strict to those of us accustomed to the freedom of winemaking in California, it was interesting to see how small producers can benefit from the marketing heft of the Consorzio in getting their wines exported all over the globe.
After leaving the Consorzio, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch (see next blog post) and took in the view at the ancient fortezza in Montalcino before heading to our first wine producer. We started at Casanova di Neri in their original vineyard adjacent to the estate, where export manager Pier Luigi Bonari explained that they have since expanded to purchase other prime vineyard sites in the region. They have decided to take a terroir driven approach with these new vineyards and let them stand on their own in separate bottlings instead of blending them together. As Tuscan wine junkies well know, this strategy has been rewarded with several 100-point scores from major publications such as Wine Spectator. Unfortunately we were only able to taste their historic “white label” 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, which was nonetheless a fantastic wine. It featured a very floral nose, flavors of dried berry fruit and savory spice, chalky tannins, and a mouthwateringly juicy finish. I can only imagine how exceptional it could be with another five years in the cellar.
We lingered at Casanova di Neri until the sun had set, and then drove past the entrance to the next winery, arriving at Fuligni well after dark. Worried that they might not take us since we were nearly two hours late, we were relieved to be greeted with open arms by owner Roberto Guerrini Fuligni – “The important thing is that you are here!” Roberto is easily the friendliest and most charming man in Montalcino, and we had a lovely tour of his cellars. He even offered us a barrel taste of the recent vintages, a remarkable honor given the size of our group and Fuligni’s relatively small production (~ 4,000 cases). We eventually were able to taste three wines, the 2010 Rosso di Montalcino “Ginestreto” and both the 2007 and 2008 Brunellos. While both Brunellos were remarkable wines of balance and elegance, I think my wine of the day was the 2008 due to its feminine aromas and lovely texture.
While their size doesn’t allow them to do a lot of marketing, Roberto did explain that they frequently host wine buyers at their property, feeling that this is much more effective in delivering their unique selling proposition than touring markets and setting up a litany of tasting appointments. As infectious as Roberto’s enthusiasm for his wines was, I completely agree with the strategy.
Near the end of the delightful evening, a few of us were chatting with Roberto in an upstairs sitting room and inquired about the many animal skulls on the wall. He told us that deer had been a particular problem for them in the vineyard, frequently consuming large quantities of their Brunello crop, but that recently a growing wolf population had been helping the situation. In his typically jovial fashion, Roberto said, “I want to put up a sign in the vineyard that says ‘wolves are welcome here,’” after which he paused and added “as well as Americans…”
-Palmer Emmitt, January 7, 2013