A slightly different model (Tuscany, Italy – Day Five)

Looking back over the past few weeks in Italy there were certain trends that I have identified in hindsight. One of these trends was who I was hosted by in wineries depending on the region. In Alto Adige, Romagna and Valpolicella my hosts varied, in the latter two regions I was only there for a short time. In all of the other regions – or more specifically sub-regions – I was commonly hosted by a person of similar position. For example when I was in Friuli many of my hosts were one of the children of the owner/founder of the winery, who are now heavily involved with different elements of the business. When I was in Piedmont, more often than not I was hosted by either the winemaker or the owner/winemaker. In both of these cases the host is able to provide first-hand insights into the specifics of the winery, and are well prepared to answer any of my probing questions. As you could imagine, Tuscany is the most visited region in Italy by tourists, particularly English speaking tourists, and as such there are dedicated individuals to welcome these guests. In many instances this week I was hosted by these individuals, sometimes privately and sometimes with others. Because I have not only experience with wine education of this nature and also will continue to make this an important part of career, I don’t really mind listening in to different approaches to wine communication. Being somewhat selfish however, it is difficult to take a lot away from these experiences as most of the information provided I already know, and I don’t want to intervene too much on the tour. If I am honest I would think that wineries would take me a little more seriously than this, as I am not a tourist and am going to great expense to visit the region and winery. I don’t feel it is appropriate to ask for specific hosts as any invitation to visit is welcome, but I would hope that wineries I request to visit treat it as an opportunity. Montalcino is possibly the most beautiful part of Tuscany I visited, and the wines are out of this world, but unfortunately I didn’t learn a lot about this complicated wine and was a little disappointed at not being taken more seriously.
The fort of Montalcino

My first appointment for the day took me over an hour to find as I didn’t have the correct address and attempts to call failed due network connectivity problems. I was determined to visit as it is my favourite Brunello producer, and I was relieved to stumble across it because luckily the Montalcino area is quite small. The Fuligni estate was established in one of the best parts of the Montalcino region in 1923, and is one of the more historic estates. Four parcels of vineyards grow sangiovese exclusively on the 10 hectares at about 450m, but there is also a 2 hectare vineyard nearby that grows other varieties to make IGT wine. Low yields are achieved through the soil composition, climate and by very heavy crop thinning strategies. This is necessary not only to create the very concentrated nature of the style, but also as there are very tight restrictions on yield volumes in Montalcino, and sangiovese is a very vigorous variety. The viticulture in Montalcino is fairly consistent between estates because of this, and as such the major difference between wineries is how they are processing the fruit. The philosophy at Fuligni is to be gentle with the ferments and macerations, extracting soft velvety tannins. This is particularly important as very little new oak is used and larger casks are favoured over barriques. In my opinion this is a better expression of the site, and is a more Burgundian approach. Naturally the laws determine the minimum amount of ageing wines must have in barrel and bottle, but Fuligni like all the best estates exceed this to allow the wine to be more approachable upon release. Click here to read my tasting notes.

A winemaker from Arizona joined us for a tour and tasting

On the other side of Montalcino but actually the same side of the hill, is Poggio Antico. This is one of the best known Brunello producers in the United States, as they regularly rank in the Wine Spectator Top 100. The owners Paolo Gloder and Alberto Montefiori have sunk some serious time and money into the development of their estate, planting 32 hectares of vineyards and building one of the most modern winemaking facilities in the region. Amazingly the 32 hectares only provide them with 100,000 bottles per year, which doesn’t quite add up. When you consider they are reducing the crop by 50%, and the fact that they have very low natural yields on the site, the concentration intensity and quality of the fruit is outstanding. The cellars are where the style is really expressed. Gentle but long extraction of the tannins from the skins means a robust wine that then is transferred into barrels. Poggio Antico tends to use more small-format barrels, and a larger proportion of new oak. They leave the wines in barrel for longer to provide better integration of the oak characters, and a good amount of bottle age as well. There are four wines that are exclusively made from sangiovese, with the famous Altero adding an additional style to the range for which the winery has garnered high scores. More recently two ‘super tuscan’ blends have joined the range, made from sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. According to the Bibenda Wine Guide to the Finest Italian Wines, their stance on using more oak is highly appreciated; they feel they do not yet express enough personality. In tasting the wines I would tend to agree, however they have established a reputation in the United States with these wines and they are exactly to the taste of this market, so why change it. Click here to read the tasting notes.

A tour amidst the fermenters at Poggio Antico

The final winery I visited is one of the most historic in the region, but also one of the smallest. The Costanti family have been in Montalcino since the 16th century, and have been heavily involved with the politics and development of the area since they first arrived. One of the huge influences they had on the region was the identification of the potential for 100% sangiovese wines, and they were one of the first to produce Brunello in this model. The Costanti brand was also one of the first to be taken out into the world, and amongst others put Italy on the global map for high quality wine production. Since the heyday of the 1970s there are significantly more wineries in the region, but the family haven’t changed much. The commitment to working with nature to capture the best fruit possible and then express it in the wines the best they can has always been of utmost importance. They know they have some of the best vineyards in the area, and aren’t interested in purchasing or planting more than the 12 hectares they have, which provide them with less than 60,000 bottles. They are also committed to the sangiovese grape, and only produce the classic wines of the region. The history is undeniable when you walk through the cellars hundreds of years old, and the care and attention paid to every aspect of the business is exemplary. In spite of this pedigree, they remain very humble and respectful, allowing the quality of the wines to speak on their behalf. Click here to read my tasting note.

Wonderful old Costanti cellars

Click here to see more photos from Day Five in Tuscany, Italy.

2 Comments

Filed under Winery Visits

2 responses to “A slightly different model (Tuscany, Italy – Day Five)

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It seems like you had an awesome time. I'm going to Italy for the first time this summer. I am going to be staying at a Tuscany Villa Rental that I was recommended by some friends. I can't wait to experience the culture and great sight seeing opportunities.

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  2. Your welcome Jake and thanks for visiting and reading. I hope you'll have an amazing time in Tuscany this summer, I'll be back in Melbourne and it will be winter there! Enjoy every experience, Italian culture and food is some of the best in the world in my humble opinion.

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