One family. One estate. One clone of Sangiovese. Fermentation with native yeasts, 36 months of aging in Slavonion oak casks, two years of aging in bottle. “Every riserva is vinified in the same way,” said seventh-generation family member Tancredi Biondi Santi at Saturday's four-vintage vertical tasting of Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo Riserva. This is as traditional as Brunello gets, with most elements of its production carried through over decades and many going back to the very first vintage of the wine, 1888. The wine even spends some time in five barrels from the 1880s.
Still, as Biondi Santi spoke, he displayed a slide with the credo, “Sharing a family vision from generation to generation with feet firmly planted in tradition with the mind on tomorrow.” After all, as he noted, “We are still studying the evolution of this wine. We think so far it is kind of endless.”
Senior editor Bruce Sanderson started the seminar with a bit of history. Clemente Santi made the first known red wine to bear the name Brunello; the reference dates to 1865. His grandson, Ferruccio Biondi Santi, cultivated a selection of Sangiovese plants that resisted phylloxera, and his son, also Tancredi, homed in on a specific clone, BBS11, that suited the Montalcino terroir particularly well; it is still used to make Brunello at Biondi-Santi and elsewhere across the region.
Since its creation, the Tenuta Greppo Riserva has only been produced 38 times, in the best vintages. It is sourced from the oldest vines in four plots around Montalcino, totaling 65 acres. “Minerality is the main characteristic, I think,” said Biondi Santi, attributing that to the sites' nutrient-poor schist-based soils known as galestro.
The first wine, the 2004 (95 points, $400 on release), was born of a cooler vintage, which translated to a freshness and vibrancy in the wine. “Acidity, tannins, balance, the structure and the perfumes is really what makes these wines unique,” said Biondi Santi.
The 1997 (95, $425 on release) benefited from a temperate spring and warm summer; it showed a bit more evolution, with spice, tobacco and iron notes. 1990 brought a rainy spring and hot summer to Montalcino; that vintage (97, $230 on release) showed even more secondary and tertiary notes of balsamic, truffle and forest, with the “tannins now starting to become really well-integrated,” noted Sanderson. Biondi Santi still considered this one “young.”
Finally, the 1983 (93), from a vintage with a comparatively early summer and harvest, had come into its own, with all elements harmonized in a “very balanced” structure.
In closing, Biondi Santi said that while the wines pair nicely with roasted chicken (a traditional dish in his family), wild boar or deer, he prefers them on their own: “We call them ‘meditation wines.’” Then, bringing the audience back to 2018, he took a selfie in front of the ballroom crowd before leaving the stage.
Read more about Biondi-Santi in "The Bastion of Brunello," in Wine Spectator's Oct. 31, 2012, issue.