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Finally, a Blow Away Wine, Along With a Few Brunellos

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 31, 2007 11:00am ET

On Wednesday night, we just wanted to chill out a bit. So we followed a local’s recommendation and drove up the nearby hill into Radicondoli, where we ordered some pizza at La Pergola, on Via Garibaldi. It’s a small, casual kind if hangout, with a back deck covered in a pergola, overlooking the hillsides from the edge of the hilltop. By eight o’clock, the place was filled and buzzing with a mix of locals and tourists. A bottle of Moris Farms Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2004 went down nice and easy, if a touch weedy, while our truffle tagliatelle hit the spot. If you want a cool, casual place, La Pergola is a nice spot.

We spent Thursday in Siena, a town that I much preferred to Florence, as it seems to have been able to absorb the tourist presence without being overwhelmed by it. Bakery and butcher shops are still present (along with the occasional Furla store) and you get the distinct sense that it’s a living, breathing city on its own. The duomo in Siena, with its intricate marble flooring and a quartet of sublime Bernini statues was a serious notch up from the duomo in Florence, for me at least. So was lunch at Osteria Le Logge, on the Via del Porrione, easily the best restaurant meal so far on this trip. The dining room is a small jewel box of a room, with glass and wood cabinets that showcase an elegant arrangement of wine bottles, books and other curio items. It had the feel of a private library without being dark or stuffy.

We sat at a table that edged out onto a narrow, winding street lined with medieval brick buildings highlighted by rustic wooden window shutters. I was really getting into the pace of things, despite my youngest daughter’s best attempt to go for all-time one-day whining record. I was dining on a plate of beef cheek with Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1997—the first (and so far only) blow away wine of the trip. Its aromas and flavors just poured out from the glass. The wine had graphite, incense, raspberry ganache and a blazing minerality that stretched out the finish endlessly. It had that great artisan feel to it, along with a torrent of superripe fruit. And at 110 euros (about $150 U.S.) for the bottle, it cost less than it would at retail back home. It went way too fast, of course, so we ordered a Bibi Graetz Toscana Testamatta 2001, a wine I had tried with James Suckling a few nights before (in the ’04 vintage). I was curious to see what an older vintage was like, and I really liked how it kept its fresh fruit but also put on some tarry grip. Osteria Le Logge’s wine list was also easily the best we’d seen on the trip so far, loaded with Super Tuscans, Brunellos, Chiantis and Piedmont wines, along with some Burgundies and Rhônes. If you’re in Siena, don’t miss out on having a meal here.

Some Bernini statues are among the many highlights in Siena’s gorgeous duomo.  
Back at the villa on Thursday night, we decided to keep the Brunello groove working, so we attacked the remainder of our villa warming present from James. We worked through bottles of Marchesi de' Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo 2001, Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Schiena d’Asino 2001, La Fornace Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001 and Collematoni Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Fontelontano Riserva 2001. It was an ideal night: We dined al fresco. I grilled a few steaks and sausages from the butcher in Casole, and put them on the table with some fresh zucchini blossoms that my mother fried up and a host of mushrooms, crostini and other side dishes.

We continued our Brunello streak on Friday by visiting Altesino and Castello Banfi in Montalcino. Altesino’s single-vineyard Montosoli is probably my favorite Brunello, so it was fun to see the 12-acre vineyard where it comes from, complete with its odd northwest exposure. I was also lucky enough to get a sneak taste of the just-bottled 2003s, but I won't share my impressions for fear of stealing James' thunder; he'll report on the wines in good time. While I worked my way through the wines, the girls found the two German shepherds on the property to be far more interesting. Meanwhile, at Banfi, the renovated castle-turned-museum and newly opened hotel is also really spiffy.

The weather finally changed today. Instead of hot and sunny, it turned hot and cloudy, and the occasional lightening strike and rumble of thunder can be seen and heard. Alas. it’s time to start winding down. We leave early on Sunday morning, so just one more night out tonight before a day of pre-travel rest tomorrow.

Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  August 31, 2007 2:16pm ET
I'm not surprised that you prefer Sienna to Firenze. I much prefer the more relaxing atmosphere of Sienna. And I find the Piazza del Campo one of the most beautifull squares in the entire world.

Also your Ciacci Piccolomini BdM experience is no surprise to me.... Earlier this summer I had an exciting encounter with the 'regular' BdM. Reading your post, this was equally impressive.

Its a shame you have to leave on sunday. I have a suggestion for your next trip(!): After visiting one of the southern Brunello estates (between St. Angelo in Colle and Castelnuovo d'ell Abate) on a friday afternoon, visit the Vesper Mass in the abby of St. Antimo. Breath the ancient atmosphere of this beautifull abby which is build under French architecture (should appeal to you!). And watch the valley change color during the sunset behind the mountain. A diner with Brunello in Montalcino (preferably a '97 Ciacci) makes it the ultimate sensory experience to me. Music, architecture, spirit, light, landscape, wine and good food. Its hard to imagine that life can get any better than that!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  August 31, 2007 5:59pm ET
James, I'm curious what you thought of the Castelgiocondo. I bought a lot of it at the Canadian military grocery store I had access to just before I moved back from Germany (on sale for about $21/bottle). It's really very good. Not blow away, but very good (at least in my opinion). What say you? - Jim
Jack Dimond
Escondido, —  August 31, 2007 6:38pm ET
James, I can only echo Albert's suggestion. We have been at St. Antimo and followed that by dinner at Poggio Antico with a '97 BdM at dusk, listening to Mozart, overlooking the vineyards, and being served excellent fare by delightful young ladies in tuxedos. Life does not get much better!
James Molesworth
September 1, 2007 2:28am ET
James: The Castelgiocondo was excellent, and the best of the quartet we had at dinner, followed by the La Fornace. Both were outstanding. The Collematoni was in the very good range, the Martojanni was quite light.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 1, 2007 11:57pm ET
James, if you can opine on it, is Banfi's lunch offering worthwhile? We won't be taking the tour, but would like to at least experience one winery's tasting room that also offers a real meal to those who are wary of reservations.
James Molesworth
September 3, 2007 10:09am ET
Troy: We didn't taste while there, but the tasting room is spacious and well-staffed. It was a holiday, so the main restaurant was closed, but the taverna was open. They offered a prixe fixe menu only, available with wine pairings. The food was very good.
Scott Mitchell
Toronto, Ontario —  September 4, 2007 10:59am ET
My wife and I ate lunch at the Taverna at Banfi on our honeymoon last year. Well worth it in my opinion. Great food and great wine, though my wife really didn't like the grappa.
Bert Pinheiro
Baltimore Maryland —  September 4, 2007 10:27pm ET
A trip to Banfi and the view at the back of the castle is like a view of heaven. I told my friends that if God built a house on earth it would be at Banfi with that view. The restaurant there is outstanding and much in demand.The wineshop is one of the best looking anywhere and I have been to many.
Steve Woodward
Hinsdale, IL —  September 5, 2007 12:40pm ET
Next time in Tuscany, you also need to be sure to dine at Ristorante Poggio Antico, on the wine estate by the same name. Unbelievable wild boar medallions on the menu. Friendly service. It is in the hills outside of Montalcino. Brunello heaven.
Carla Mosqueda
Caracas, Venezuela —  September 7, 2007 1:54pm ET
James, en abril de este a¿o visite el Castillo Banfi, realmente espectacular. La comida del restaurante es exquisita y el Summus de Banfi es el vino de los Dioses, ni hablar del Rosa Regali... Visitar Montalcino y no ir a Banfi es como perderse la mitad del sonido!!!

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