The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Why I Love Sangiovese Grosso

The marvel of Montalcino

Sangiovese Grosso vines grow on the hills of Montalcino

Sangiovese Grosso vines grow on the hills of Montalcino

Mods or rockers, cats or dogs, chunky or smooth, Star Trek or Star Wars: these are the dividing lines in popular culture. In aligning yourself with one or the other, you are in or out, one of us or one of them, a kindred spirit or a disrespected enemy. If you had to draw a line in the sand of Italian wine, you’d draw that line between Nebbiolo, the emblematic grape of Italy’s North, and Sangiovese, the obvious choice. Nebbiolo is fine, really. Barolo is lovely; Barbaresco is lovely. They’re great. Really.

But they’re not Sangiovese.

I have previously expressed my passionate love of Sangiovese in general andSangiovese Grosso, the clone particular to Tuscany’s region of Montalcino, in specific. Part of my love derives from the fact that this is where I’ve spent the most time, where I’ve drunk the most wine, fallen in love with the most winemakers, and shared the most good times. I’ve passed through Barolo and Piemonte a couple of times, but the time, love and experiences I’ve had pales in comparison to those I’ve enjoyed in Montalcino, and thus my love of the region’s wines runs a distant second. My roots, shallow as they are, run deepest in Toscana, and thus my heart belongs to Sangiovese.

Plus, I really like the grape. It’s acidic and pointy, and it smells like cherries took a tumble in autumn leaves, wrestled with a sprig of rosemary, and took it to heart in the dirt. I like the gut punch that a well wrought young Sangiovese offers, and I love the mellow outlaw-turned-legitimate businessperson vibe that a mature Sangiovese gives off. I also tend to rally behind the underdogs, and while Brunello was born an aristocrat, this isn’t true for the vast swatch of Sangiovese wines.

I also love Sangiovese—and specifically again Sangiovese Grosso—for its ability to be immediately enjoyable and spunky in a Rosso di Montalcino and for its regal, elegant age-worthiness as a Brunello. Even wine professionals can’t drink expensive bottles every night, but I can afford to drink a Rosso di Montalcino from Talenti, Collemattoni or Castiglion de Bosco on a regular basis. Brunello di Montalcino’s early-drinking little brother, Rosso di Montalcino usually comes from younger vines and is always aged for less time, giving a tasty introduction to an estate’s style. And without question, Cupano’s wines, whether the estate’s Rosso or Brunello di Montalcino or its Super-Tuscan Ombrone, slay me every time.

One of my favorite memories from the first time I was in Montalcino was sitting at the table of Pietro Buffo, the owner and winemaker at the rustic estate of Baricci, drinking his Rosso, eating the fennel cinghiale sausage his wife made, and feeling like the cosmos was knitting together in seamless logic. One taste built on the other, and together the wine and the sausage and the fine saltless Tuscan bread worked together in a harmony no less than the stars’.

It’s cool if you’re not a Sangiovese fanatic. We can still get along. My heart has room for many grapes, both red and white. We can appreciate the beauty of your Nebbiolo, your Sagrantino, your Cabernet—even your Amarone, your Super Tuscan or your cult white. But at the end of the hard work day, I’m going to gravitate to my first love, Sangiovese, if that’s all right with you.

For the record, I am a rocker, a dog person, all for chunky and more Star Wars than Trek. Now let’s pour a glass of Rosso di Montalcino and hug it out.

This week’s e-letter offers include a Brunello from Poggio di Sotto and a Rosso from Valdicava; both are perfect for lovers of Sangiovese Grosso.

Inside IWM, October 13-15, 2015: Short, Sweet Week

A look back at the week that was

IMG_2405It was a short week, but a sweet one here on Inside IWM. Stephane Menard kicked off the blog in some serious style, setting the bar high with his Go-To-Wine Tuesday post that highlighted Sartarelli 2013 Verdicchio Tralivio with a beautiful recipe for lobster pasta. On Wednesday, we got a history lesson on BBS11, the Sangiovese clone responsible for Brunello di Montalcino. And Thursday saw Emery Long urging you to embrace the world beyond beer as you ready for game day; whichever sport you watch, Emery wants you to pair your wings with wine.

Our experts were similarly powerful. Michael Adler sings the praises of Morey-St-Denis and picked a pair of beautiful Burgundies from this subregion to prove his point. Francesco Vigorito can’t get enough Miani, the cult Friuli estate owned by reclusive Enzo Pontoni, and after experiencing Francesco’s wines, neither will you. And Garrett celebrated the sweetness of this short week with two dessert wines–you’ll love them!

Cheers to you and yours!

Expert Picks: Poggio di Sotto and…Poggio di Sotto!

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014“Genius” is one of the words that comes to mind when I think of Poggio di Sotto. Piero Palmucci was pretty much the mad scientist of Montalcino and the brain behind the estate, but keep in mind that he utilized the late, great Giulio Gambelli as his consulting winemaker. Palmucci recently sold the estate and Gambelli passed in 2012, forever changing the history of this estate—even though in recent releases current owner Claudio Tipa of Collemassari has shown that quality remains high. I chose two phenomenal vintages of classic Poggio di Sotto Brunello dating from before the changes, and these wines are pure genius.

Poggio di Sotto 2007 Brunello di Montalcino $169.00

Back in 2013 when I first starting offering this wine, it was one of the fastest-selling wines I have ever sold, and for good reasons. Number one, it’s made by Poggio di Sotto, and number two, it’s from the 2007 vintage, which is one of the finest benchmark vintages of Brunello. Aromatic, lush, seductive and opulent are just the beginning of this polished gem. Ready to drink right now, this ’07 Brunello will drink well for next 5-7 years, but it lacks the structure for the ten to twenty-year haul. Open this bottle now, and you will be a happy wine-lover.

Poggio Di Sotto 1995 Brunello Di Montalcino $299.00

Vintage Poggio di Sotto is extreme scarce, and good luck finding anything beyond the 2000 vintage with exceptional provenance; however, IWM has a few bottles of this ’95 tucked away for lucky wine lovers. If you’ve never experienced a mature Poggio di sotto, you are missing out on a thing of beauty, and these ’95s show you greatness.

The Beauties of Baricci, a Historic Brunello Estate

Remembering a trip to Italy and the pleasures of a family made wine

A bottle of Baricci Brunello from the 1970s

A bottle of Baricci Brunello from the 1970s

Drive up any long, winding road out of Montalcino, and you’ll pass any number of Brunello makers. So many wineries, so little time. It’s hard to know which wines to drink and which to pass by. I’m fortunate to have met more than my fair share of the region’s best winemakers. Still, I have my favorites.


The chicken coop at Baricci

The Baricci family is terribly humble, their winery incredibly small. Chickens cluck in a nearby coop, and the family’s hunting dogs kennel just beyond them. I grew up in rural Vermont, and the neat house sitting on ramshackle property reminds me of the farms where my parents would get their organic eggs and unpasteurized milk.

It’s easy never to have heard of Baricci. The family estate, founded in 1967 by Nello Baricci and now in the hands of son-in-law Pietro Buffi and his sons, make only about 12,000 bottles a year, and their entire 2010 Brunello production was fermenting in three shining stainless steel tanks the day I visited. Pietro Buffi, the father, is a gaunt man with a generous spirit. His family transitioned from sharecroppers to winemakers as post-WWII low-interest loans gave them the ability to move from “fame di fama”—or in English from hunger to fame, and Pietro’s attitude of gratitude is as real as the mud on his boots.

Pietro Buffa in the cantina

Pietro Buffi in the cantina

When I visited the Baricci estate in March 2011, it was drizzling with a foul intensity. Rain dripped from the eaves and the trees, and the ground was sucking mud. It was cold, unpleasant, and depressing weather. It was hard to understand why anyone would want to be a farmer, which is essentially half of Pietro’s job description. But Pietro was warm and inviting, and rather than merely taste his wine in a sterile tasting room or snuggled around the botti, he invited Eleanor, my guide and translator, and me to the family’s dining room table, where we drank his rustic, umano Brunello with fennel sausage that his wife had made. Pietro apologized for not having roasted a cinghiale for us. He’d not had enough time to prepare, he said, and he felt bad.

One of the two Baricci boys

One of the two Baricci boys

Today, our eLetter announced the release of the estate’s 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, which is breathtaking (even though it really needs several years in my wine fridge!). Drinking a wine to which I have a deep personal connection always sweetens the experience, and whenever I see a Baricci wine on a wine list, I pretty much always leap to order it, to enjoy it again, and to share its maker’s story with someone new. I still dream of that fennel sausage, though. Sadly, that taste remains an unrequited memory.

Expert Picks: Biondi-Santi and Giuseppe Mascarello

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoContinuing my theme of traditionally made wines, I was happy when I had a recent opportunity to taste two wines from two magnificent and historical producers: a Barolo from Giuseppe Mascarello in Piemonte and a Brunello di Montalcino from Biondi-Santi. Both producers make beautiful wines that are highly expressive of both their varietal and their terroir.

The Mascarello Giuseppe e Figlio winery goes back 150 years. During this time it has always been tended by members of the Giuseppe Mascarello family. In fact, they were the first farmers to run the Manescotto estate in the village of La Morra for the Marchesa Giulia Colbert Falletti di Barolo, who is responsible for the Barolo we drink today. They have tended their own property since the late 1800s. Barolos from Guiseppe Mascarello are made in a traditional way, with long maceration periods and aging in Slovenian cask. The wine I tasted was the Barolo Monprivato 2010. Monprivato is a single-vineyard cru that is only made in outstanding vintages and is bottled with a numbered label. The vintages that do not meet the estate’s extremely high quality standard become part of the Barolo normale and Langhe Nebbiolo. The vineyard’s exposure along with its unique soil composition provide this Barolo with excellent body, a subtle bouquet, delicate tar, a lingering aftertaste, great elegance, and an ability to age while still maintaining youth and freshness.

Biondi-Santi is the estate that created Brunello. The late, great Franco Biondi-Santi was known for saying that he wanted to make wines that were never old enough to drink, and all the wines that I have tasted from this producer hold true to his statement. Biondi-Santi makes both an Annata, or normale bottling, and a Riserva bottling. Both are only made in good vintages and the Riserva only in great vintages. While the Annata derives from vines between the ages of ten and 15 years, the Riserva derives from older vines averaging 80 years of age. Grapes for both wines are sourced primarily from the Greppo vineyard, which has an altitude that ranges between 1,300-1,600 feet above sea level. Both the Annata and the Riserva undergo fermentation in traditional Slavonian oak for 18 days, followed by aging in large oak casks of 800 to 7,000 liters for a period of two to three years, and the Riserva is released six years after harvest.

These are both wines that require a bit of patience but will reward you with a beautiful drinking experience after some additional time in bottle.

Biondi-Santi Il Greppo Brunello di Montalcino 2008 $139.00

This 2008 was a Bright ruby red color full of delicate and varied aromas of violets rose petal, lavender, tobacco, pepper, coffee bean and licorice with a background of dark fruits. The palate is elegant with tart juicy cherry acidity and silky tannins. It finishes with plum, spice and hints of earth. Drink 2020-2030.

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 2010 $225.00

This 2010 Monprivato is still a baby. The color is a deep bright garnet red, with a very aromatic nose of lavender, violets, rose, and sweet red cherries. The palate is fruity with a rich texture and silky elegant tannins that linger on a long finish. Drink 2020-2040.

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