While most of you were celebrating Independence Day with coolers of beer and fireworks, Sissy and I drove to Montalcino for the day to taste some of Tuscany’s finest wine, in particular the Brunello.
We visited three wineries: Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Uccelliera, and Poggio di Sotto. All the wineries were in close proximity to each other, in the area of Castelnuovo del’Abate (about one hour from Montepulciano). I had previously made appointments at each place, as I was not sure what the protocol was with Italian wineries. Turns out, I was right to make reservations as all three of the, required it.
Sissy and I agreed that Ciacci Piccolomini was our favorite of the day. Maybe it was our friendly hostess, Nicoletta, who led our private tour and may or may not have not charged me for the bottle of Brunello that I purchased. Or maybe it was the fact that the current owners were a brother and sister; he possessing a passion for bicycle riding, and she possessing a love for animals – in particular wolves (of which she owned seven that lived on the property). But it was probably our favorite because they had served some of the best wines of the day.
We tried six wines: 2011 Rosso di Montalcino, 2010 Sangiovese (blended with Merlot and Cabernet), 2010 Syrah, 2008 Brunello, 2008 Pianrosso (the wine I took home), and 2006 Pianrosso (single vineyard) Reserve. We concluded that the 2010 wine was too young, the Rosso was a great table wine, and the Syrah was very bold. Of the Brunello wines, we favored the 2008 Single Vineyard and thought that the reserve needed a little more time. We also tasted some Grappa before heading out of the winery, which I decided I do not like.
We learned that a wine needs a rating of five stars in order to make a reserve version of that we. This is something that is regulated by the D.O.C. and applies to all wineries in the region. They also regulate the amount of time that the Brunello must age in the barrel and the bottle. In the case of Ciacci Piccolomini, the wine is not ready until five years after the harvest date. We also learned that most Italian wineries use Slovenian oak barrels that are enormous, some fitting up to the equivalent of 7500 bottles. They use Slovenian oak instead of French because the flavors are less strong and don’t affect the taste of the wine as much. However, they still own French oak barrels because they use them to age the Merlot and Cabernet, which are exclusively used for blending.
Montalcino has some of the most expensive property in the entire region of Tuscany. For this reason, Brunello wines are quite expensive and range from €30-€300 depending on the vintage and whether or not it is a reserve. When we visited Poggio di Sotto we learned that they only use 50% of their grapes to guarantee the best quality wine. Because of this reason, they charge €90+ for their wines, which were quite delicious and are available in New York with Kermit Lynch (Dad, please note). Poggio di Sotto primarily uses large Slovenian oak barrels, but they also own French barrels. Their production carries so differently from year to year, that they often don’t have enough juice to fill all their Slovenian barrels. Because they cannot leave any oxygen in the barrels, they use the French barrels to house the remaining wine.
Uccelliera happened to be bottling the day we visited. They rent a truck to complete the bottling practice, and the owner and winemaker was very excited because the weather was perfect for bottling: dry but not too hot. We were also very excited because we got to try the wines right out of the new bottles and barrels. Most of the wines we tried out of the barrels were pretty young and a little sweeter, but we very much enjoyed the 2008 Rosso di Montalcino. And the hostess, Agnes, reminded me so much of my grandmother so I felt very much at home. I decided to purchase a bottle of their 2012 Olive Oil, which was smokey and spicy – just how I like it.
Speaking of which, nearly all wineries in Italy serve some kind of food with their tasting. It is usually something as simple as toasted bread with olive oil, but some wineries serve a large selection of meat and cheese as well. This is something that I deeply appreciated as a food and wine lover, but also as the designated driver of the day.
All in all, it was a glorious day with spectacular views and delicious wines. Sissy and I learned a lot about the winemaking process and I can’t wait to look for Brunello wines when I get back to the US.