After my visit to Biondi-Santi, I headed a little further south to Uccelliera, where Andrea Cortonesi has 15 acres of Sangiovese in the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and an additional 0.75 acres of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that falls under the Sant'Antimo DOC.
Cortonesi purchased Uccelliera, which means "birdcage," in 1986. His oldest vines come from a leased parcel planted in 1975; the youngest date from 1999. His seven different plots range in elevation from 500 to 1,155 feet. Each has a different exposure, with planting densities from about 1,200 to 2,025 vines per acre. The vineyards are farmed organically.
The soils vary from a mix of clay and limestone to clay and sand to iron-rich red soils and galestro, the porous rock found in Tuscan soils. Cortonesi ferments in temperature-controlled stainless steel so he can extract color during a prefermentation maceration at cooler temperatures.
He uses indigenous yeast and all the lots are fermented separately. "I want to understand each season and the type of fruit I get from the different soil types," he explained. The overall goal is to achieve the greatest harmony from all the different parcels in the Brunello sites.
Uccelliera's Rosso di Montalcino (1,650 to 2,100 cases on average) is made from a vineyard selection at harvest, aiming for a fruity style of red that differs from the Brunello.
The Brunello itself is a blend of the different sites, with aging in both barrique and cask, depending on the year and the character of the fruit. Cortonesi is convinced that the quality of the tannins comes from the grapes. "The tannins must be silky from the fruit in the vineyards," he said. "It's not something you can get from oak."
A riserva is made when the Sangiovese, especially from the higher-altitude parcels, shows the best possible quality and characteristics of the various terroirs.
Cortonesi showed me different lots from 2010, 2009 and 2008, both from barrique and cask, to illustrate the differences in the soil types.
The final blend from 2007 will be bottled this month. It showed ripe black cherry and tobacco aromas and flavors. Though silky and elegant, it was also concentrated and long on the finish. Cortonesi feels it's less powerful than the 2006, more like the 1999, fine praise based on the '99s I have tasted this year.
The riserva starts its life in new barrique for a year, then sees two years in big casks. Overall, it spends six months more in wood. It will be bottled in September 2011 and ages in bottle for a year and a half, versus eight months for the regular Brunello.
The '07 was more marked by oak than the normale, yet tasted fresher, even more elegant and very long, a terrific riserva.
The following day, I visited Siro Pacenti. The estate was founded in 1970; Siro's son Giancarlo Pacenti runs it today. Overall, it comprises 99 acres, 54 of which are planted to vines.
Pacenti's oldest vines were planted by his grandfather Alessandro Pieri, in 1967 and 1968. They are in Piancornello, near the southeastern part of the DOCG, where the soils are a fertile reddish brown color and rich in minerals. These grapes are blended with those from Pelagrilli, located in the northeast part of the appellation near the winery.
Pacenti sells grapes and wine from the youngest vines, up to 15 years old. From 15 to 25 years of age, the grapes are destined for the Rosso di Montalcino. Only the oldest vines, 25-plus years, go into the Brunello.
The grapes are selected at picking and sorted twice at the cellar. After 100 percent destemming, they go into tank for the fermentation and a gentle extraction using pump overs. The Rosso spends 12 months in barrel, the Brunello twice that, with 70 to 75 percent new wood. Pacenti prefers to bottle early and allow the wine to develop in the bottle.
We tasted barrel samples of the 2010 Brunello, the final blend of the '09 and the 2008, which was bottled in June 2010. All showed outstanding potential.
The '08 was rich, boasting dark aromas of black cherry, plum and tobacco. It felt leaner than either the '09 and '10, with elegance, a firm structure and higher acidity. Pacenti's Brunellos are typically 60 percent fruit from Piancornello and 40 percent from Pelagrilli, however, due to hail in 2008, 55 percent comes from Pelagrilli.
Pacenti referred to 2007 as, "A year with good ripeness, round and an impression of density." His Brunello '07 was reticent on the nose, hinting at cherry and flowers. It, too, showed elegance and finesse, with a juicy richness midpalate, bright acidity and tannins that need another year or so to integrate.
We also tasted the Brunello di Montalcino PS 2004, a wine made "only when we have perfect balance, perfect ripeness and a very good year," according to Pacenti. It expressed aromas of violet and black currant, pure black fruit and berry flavors on a linear frame. A sophisticated red, with greater finesse than the regular Brunellos, it was still young, ending in a long, fruit- and mineral-filled aftertaste.
Pacenti also had a surprise for me. At lunch, prepared by his wife, Claudia, he invited Vincenzo Abbruzzese of Valdicava, Roberto Giannelli of San Filippo and Giacomo Neri of Casanova di Neri. Each brought their 2006 and an older vintage to enjoy. Pacenti's 1999 from magnum and the Valdicava 1990 were the standouts.
From there, it was on to Castello Banfi (running late!), the largest estate in the region. American-owned, Banfi's winery dates from 1979; its first crush was 1982. Over the years, the Banfi team has done extensive clonal research on Sangiovese, discovering 180 genetically different plants in its nearly 750 acres of vineyards.
After extensive microvinifications of these different clones over a 10-year period, Banfi's winemaker, Rudy Buratti, found that three worked best on the variety of soil types on the estate: BF 30, Janus 10 and Janus 50. Each has similar characteristics of small berries, low berry weight and a large surface area of skin to pulp. The new clones were planted in 1992.
At the end of March, Buratti was in New York and we did a small tasting of the different clones from four of Banfi's parcels. During my visit in April, we tasted 10 lots from the 2010 vintage and 6 from 2009. Each demonstrated the differences from site to site and the soil types, whether there was more or less clay, limestone or sand.
"We are 30 years old, nothing in terms of winemaking, but more and more we are moving to a cru approach in the past 10 years to understand each single vineyard, each cru as a component of the blend," explained Buratti.
Buratti matures the different parcels in 350-liter barrels, 30 percent new, for two years. The wines are blended and continue aging in stainless steel or large oak casks.
Banfi also developed unique fermentation tanks, a hybrid of stainless steel and oak, which Buratti feels is necessary for Sangiovese to fix color and stabilize its polyphenols.
After the barrel tasting, we tasted samples from 2008, 2007 and 2006. The final blend of the '07 Brunello offered black cherry, plum and blackberry aromas, picking up a strawberry note on the juicy, vibrant profile. The Poggio alle Mura, from parcels surrounding the castle, exhibited more concentration, structure and density, with a black currant flavor riding the assertive, ripe tannins.
Finally, the Poggio all'Oro Riserva 2007, made from the oldest vines in the Belcontento cru (the 2010 sample from barrel was stunning), was austere, evoking floral, spice, cherry and berry flavors. Very tannic, it had a touch of heat on the finish. I preferred the Poggio alle Mura, but the Poggio all'Oro had just been racked, so will show better in time.
Over dinner at the excellent restaurant on Banfi's estate, we enjoyed several older vintages of Brunello, including a 1985 and a 1978, the estate's first vintage. All had held up nicely, but my favorite was the Poggio all'Oro Riserva 1995 with its complex truffle, black cherry and spice bouquet. Powerful and rich, evoking licorice and tobacco flavors, its firm structure propelled it through a long finish (96 points, non-blind).
Since my visits to these estates, I've also now officially reviewed their 2006s:
Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2006 (93, $62)
Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino 2006 (95, $83)
Tom J Wilson — Canada — June 21, 2011 5:42pm ET
Juan Morales — Monterrey NL Mexico — June 22, 2011 11:23am ET
Michael Holzer — Miami Fl — June 22, 2011 10:14pm ET
Joel Singer — Toronto, Ontario, Canada — June 23, 2011 12:22am ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — June 24, 2011 8:45am ET
sabrina cohen — Italy — August 11, 2011 12:31pm ET
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