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The Tuscan Marathon.

John U. Salvi, Master of Wine reports.

Every year there is one week very special for wine-critics all over the world. It's the week, when the tuscan wines were presented: Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile, Brunello and Vernaccia. John Salvi calls it the Tuscan Marathon.

The Tuscan Marathon.
Tuscany. Beautiful Landscape. Great Wines.
Weblinks


The Tuscan Marathon, as I call it, started in san Gimignano, the city of towers (there were once 72 of them but now only 14 still stand). Today there are a mere 7,000 inhabitants but it still has 23 restaurants! A flight from Bordeaux, a pick up at Florence airport, an hour’s drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside and we arrived at our hotel, the Albergo La Cisterna, in a 12th century castle, facing the magnificent Piazza della Cisterna on one side and rolling countryside, mountains and vineyards on the other, with totally spectacular views. The hotel adjoined the Piazza Duomo with its massive cathedral and violently steep steps.

Before long, after being warmly greeted by the president of the Consorzio, Letizia Cesani, we were whisked off to the intimate Sala Leggeri where we were treated, in dialectic Italian without translation, to an improvised comedy show based on the imagined lifestyles of a couple of members of the audience, one of them Letizia. Dinner followed, in the Sala Del Teatrino Leggeri, and was welcome. My wife and I were seated at the table of honour with Letizia, the Vice president of the Consorzio (an oenologist with the Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi), the Mayor of the town, Prince Strozzi and other dignitaries. Five chefs from five different restaurants had been gathered together to give us a feast of local specialities, including a famous ice cream maker, Sergio Dondoli. We tasted a dozen white Vernaccia di san Gimignano, 3 reds and a wonderful 1997 Vin Santo Signano IGT, Azienda Agricola di Biagini Manrico. Sadly the superb food was served cold. We returned to our hotel just 200 yards away as the cathedral clock struck midnight.
Breakfast next morning was taken in the hotel Sala Panoramica and what a panorama! We all stood spellbound at the windows gazing at the view in the brilliant sunshine in a cloudless blue sky. After breakfast we walked over to the Palazzo Communale and installed ourselves in the indescribably beautiful, historical and magnificent 14th century Sala Dante. This has to be one of the great moments of the entire trip. Sala Dante is so beautiful that one can sit and gaze at its walls and ceilings for hours on end. Here, from 10.30 – 13.30, we had a tasting of 6 Pouilly-Fuissé and 6 Vernaccia, which we tasted, analysed and discussed exhaustively and in the minutest detail. We learned a great deal about different philosophies, wine making techniques, personal likes and dislikes, soil management, oenological practices, vinification, etc. Also that fine Vernaccia can age extremely well and need not always be drunk young – a fact that seems little known. It was a fascinating exercise and San Gimignano is to be congratulated on its broad mindedness and courage in importing the 3 fine Pouilly Fuissé producers. Would that more wine producing areas might follow suit!

San Gimignano.

San Gimignano.
Verkostung im Sala Dante.


The tasting was followed by the perfect buffet lunch in the same room as last night. I, who am personally antipathetic to buffets, enjoyed this one immensely. New and exciting dishes kept appearing and the miracle ice cream man had prepared a zabaglione ice cream with Vin Santo – splendiferous!

Now came the major tasting, in the Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea de Grada, of the Anteprimi de Vernaccia 2009. 38 wineries showed their wares from the 81 members of the Consorzio. Each producer stood behind his table in front of contemporary paintings and art works. I tasted most of them and enjoyed enlightening discussions with the growers. I also tasted the wines of the 3 Pouilly Fuissé producers – Domaine Guffens-Heynen, Château des Rontets (an Italian who had married the French lady owner) and Domaine Valette, whose proprietor Philippe Valette had very strong views about soil regeneration. One grower showed an interesting, well aged Sauvignon!
I wish to stress very clearly indeed that when I talk about the weather conditions, the ripening and the vintage, here and later on in this article, it is impossible to be specific. Conditions vary hugely from place to place according to height, soil, rootstocks, microclimates, etc. I have had to base myself on a particular place or grower, but other growers and places, even very close by, will most certainly have significant and considerable differences. Were I to try and cover them all this article would turn into a book. Please therefore accept the information as general and not specific. None the less it does resume the conditions with honesty and accuracy.

The 2009 vintage can be qualified as good to very good. There was enough rain during the winter for the water table to be filled, but perhaps not quite enough cold weather. Budding took place end March/begin April with adequate weather but some rain. Temperatures were normal for the period until end June. Flowering was at the beginning of June in dry weather and there was no shatter or “millerandage”. Colour change (invayatura) was a little early since July and August were very hot – indeed somewhat TOO hot. Since the Vernaccia is a very vigorous grape the heat actually helped to control the vigour. None the less, in spite of its vigour, it is a late ripening grape and is often picked AFTER the Chardonnay and the Red Grapes. Some growers went through the vineyards 3 times for the picking (3 tris). Relatively high acidity helps the ageing potential. Picking dates that I was given for Vernaccia varied from 7th September to 1st October (Signano 7/9, Lucia 1/10. Calcinaie picked its Chardonnay end August, 3 weeks before its Vernaccia). Day and night temperatures varied by as much as 15°-20°C, which was good for the development of flavour and bouquet compounds. Personally I believe that Vernaccia is a grape, like Riesling and Sauvignon, that does not take kindly to oak, although I had to admit that there were exceptions and a couple of wines with 6 months in new oak had totally absorbed it and showed perfectly. None the less the varietal character of Vernaccia comes through better without it. Many told me that to make the finest wines there should be a touch of over-ripeness in the Vernaccia? The pips are big but the skins are very thin and fine. The ideal alcoholic strength is about 13°. Good minerality is a strong and attractive feature in top quality Vernaccia. The harvest took place under good conditions and the 4 days of September rain were useful rather than the reverse. Bottling started at the beginning of February, those wine kept only in stainless steel being the first (Panizzi 1/02).

Feeling that I had worked hard and well I retired for a cappuccino and a siesta in my lovely room with the view and was ready for my hosts and for dinner at 20.00. Tonight was a private dinner with Lucia Migliorini, Vice President of the Consorzio, and with Marco Galeazzo, Director of Melini Chianti. We went to one of the few restaurants open on a Monday and enjoyed truffled potato soup and Bistecca Fiorentina with vintages of Machiavelli and Melini wines, which are about to be put on the market. An enjoyable, comfortable and pleasurable off-duty evening.
Silvia Beni and Elisabetta Borgonovi deserve the very greatest praise for their wonderful organisation of this whole event and their outstanding graciousness and hospitality on behalf of the Consorzio della Denominazione San Gimignano.

Chianti Classico.

Chianti Classico.
The Chianti Classico Tasting in Stazione Leopolda.


Tuesday, and since the Consorzio had kindly organised a private car to take us to Florence, nearly 2 hours later than the rest of the group, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast gazing at the incomparable view. A delightful driver picked us up at 10.00, swept us away and kept us engaged in conversation al the way to Florence and our AC hotel. We checked in, took possession of or room, washed and brushed and walked over to the Stazione Leopolda, Viale Fratelli Rosselli 5, where the Chianti Classico Collection 2010 was taking place. We hoped to be in time for the President’s speech, Marco Pallanti, at midday, but in fact I had time to walk round and greet friends and my wife to start tasting seriously before he gave it at 12.30. In the final analysis it was a simple but warm speech of welcome containing little of vital importance. As always, the organiser and my good friend Silvia Fiorentini was everywhere at once, greeting, controlling, supervising and welcoming. We tasted a number of wines, some Parmigiano cheese of varying ages, and when they started serving lunch we walked over to our favourite little pizzeria and watched them being made before eating them. Back again after lunch we settled down to serious tasting. The system here is the well tried one of sitting quietly at a table and choosing the wines one wishes to taste from a numbered list in front of one. The sommelier will then bring them to you, which makes it both easy to manage and easy to concentrate. We tasted for nearly 3 hours and were bowled over by the outstanding quality of Volpaia. Wine Spectator gave 5th place recently, among the world’s top 100 wines, to Castello di Brolio (Ricasoli).

This year 152 producers showed their wines as well as 29 Grappas. Tomorrow there will be 32 Chianti Classico of the 2009 vintage at the producers’ tables and about 60 barrel previews. Over 200 journalists have been invited this year. Sr. Pallanti said that he would not mention the word “crisis” but used it anyway! We were told that the years 2004-2009 were all incredibly good weather-wise. They used a saying that I much appreciated, by Ezra Pound, - “A classic is something new that remains so through time”.

Before returning to our hotel we looked at the new “Chianti Classico Lifestyle” presentation of merchandise and noted that this year is the 17th edition of this remarkable event.

It is important to note that the Chianti Classico vineyards range in altitude from 200 – 800 metres and the climate is basically continental but without excessive fluctuations in temperatures. The soil is chiefly stony and shallow and slopes are frequently steep. Most of the area is covered in woods (oaks, chestnuts, pines and some cypress). The boundaries of the Chianti Classico production zone have remained unchanged from those stipulated in the ministerial decree of July 1932, which delimited the borders. The area totals 70,000 hectares (172,000 acres) in the communes of Castellina, Gaiole, Greve, Radda in Chianti and parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. No less than 18,000 hectares are dedicated to vineyards and 25,000 to olive trees.
Today the Consorzio Del Vino Chianti Classico has over 600 members and 344 bottle under their own label. In 2005 the Black Rooster became the emblem of the ENTIRE Chianti Classico denomination. As a denomination trademark it is included in the state authorised seal that is applied to every bottle.

Something New.

Something New.
In the afternoon it was pretty crowded. Time to leave...


There are some new and important regulations. Following the passage of the CMO wine regulations, created in 2008 by the European Community, the Italian Farming and Forestry Ministry drafted an official proposal to change law 164/1992, which regulates the Italian Denominations of Origin. The Consorzio must be notified of the sale of bulk wine “at least 2 days prior to enactment of sale”. For wine in bulk “batches destined for sale as Chianti Classico DOCG MUST have the chemical-physical characteristics foreseen for the already certified wine”.

Chianti Classico has been waiting for another law that is now just in process of being passed after 78 years. Chianti Classico vineyards will finally be growing grapes destined SOLELY for Black Rooster wine. This regulation, in the soon-to-be-approved text modifying law 164/92 – the framework law for Italian wine - formalises the veto on planting or declaring vineyards for the Chianti DOCG. “In vineyards located in Black Rooster Territory ONLY grapes for Chianti Classico and NOT Chianti may be grown”. This is claimed as “a solution that, after 78 years, separates Chianti Classico from Chianti definitively, cutting an umbilical cord between 2 distinct wines without getting into legal battles”. The Consorzio says “This can be called historic”, but opinions about it are both strong and divided as many fear that growers will now just put everything into Chianti Classico, thus lowering the intrinsic quality. Time alone will tell! The text continues “in the production zone for Chianti Classico wine it is prohibited to plant and inscribe vineyards in the Chianti DOC register or to produce Chianti or Chianti Superiore wines”.

There is also a new recession fighting regulation. The Consorzio has decided that, in order not to flood the market, 20% of the 2009 production will be held back and not put onto the market until it is ready to absorb it. Blocked for up to 24 months, this can be rescinded at any time with partial or total unblocking. We were told that banks are now again giving liquidity to the Chianti Classico System. This rule is also not universally popular with producers. Top quality producers who can sell their entire production without any problem feel that they will be penalised vis a vis growers of lesser quality who have problems selling their wine and will be advantaged by such a system.

This had been a long afternoon and we grabbed a cappuccino and a short rest before returning yet again to the Stazione Leopolda for dinner. The dinner, scheduled for 20.00, was of course served rather after 21.00 and after an endless aperitif session and lots of deep fried nibbles. During dinner we tasted over 20 wines of our choice served by an excellent sommelier and finished with a magnificent tasting of Vin Santo wines served with a buffet of desserts. I very carefully sat myself next to John Matta at dinner, a very old friend and owner of Castello Vicchiomaggio, and during dinner he gave me in great detail the weather conditions and meteorological factors that led up to and created the 2009 Chianti Classico. I stress again that conditions vary hugely and this is just one grower’s experience.

So what of the 2009 Chianti Classico?

What was I told? That is the vital question. The winter had good rains (less than 2009-10) but it was not very cold and there was virtually no snow - just a touch at the end. The risk of summer hydric stress was therefore averted. Budburst (aperture delle gemme) was on schedule around 22-27 April, with temperatures around 18°-20° by day and 8° by night. Here early budding is not desirable as there is still the danger of spring frosts. This year April and May were nice and warm and the flowering arrived during the last week of May and lasted until mid June with warm weather, little or no rain and certainly no burning heat. There was just a little “coulure” (colatura) and “millerandage”. Soil humidity was good. However vegetative growth was a veritable jungle and extra labour was required for cutting back and thus avoiding the danger of oidium. This was a lot of work. June having been a warm month, July was the same without any torrid heat and maximum temperatures of 30°-32°. Nights were cool. August was very hot but again not torrid. Colour change (invayatura) took place last week of July and first week of August. Basically all key phases were on time this year. In September there were a few brief but intense storms, more or less every 10 days, which produced a lot of rain that the vine could have done without. Some growers clipped back the bunches on the Sangiovese at the beginning of August as there was a risk of over cropping. Secondary growth (feminelle) was also cut. It seems that here the feminelle can ripen in December and are pleasant to eat rather like juicy raisins. A lot of deleafing was required, both to allow sun to get to the grapes and to control humidity. John Matta started picking his Sangiovese 16th September, after his Cabernet Sauvignon. Basically his order of picking was grapes for Rosé, Canaiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and finally Petit Verdot. There was no rot this year in spite of the rains and the worry. Grapes were wonderfully healthy, partly due to the weather and partly due to meticulous agronomy. Those who did not deleaf did get rot. Most growers agree that Sangiovese should be picked very ripe as unripe it has a vegetal taste. It is a late ripening grape with a long cycle rather like Nebbiolo. The maxim is “if you think pick today then pick tomorrow”! Fermentation went smoothly and easily, colour extraction was good and the wines fell bright without problems.

September and October were bright and sunny apart from those rains already mentioned. For October picking it was wise to start later in the day as the heavy dews did dilute up to 1° of alcohol. John picked his last Sangiovese on 10th October. The Malo-lactic fermentation took place immediately following the alcoholic one. Some growers in dryer places did have some hydric stress and some yellow leaves and shrivel. These people also had high alcohol and late ripening phenolics. They were saved by those September rains. The result is that the 2009s are excellent and also forward, clean, fruity, aromatic and succulent. A success!

President Pallanti had said “Grapes arrived in the finest condition and are good for ageing”. Total acidity was generally low due to an almost total absence of malic acid and very low volatile. Production forecasts are around 295,000 hectolitres (7,793,075 gallons).

Wednesday was a continuation of the previous day, except that the producers were present standing behind their tables, and I walked round and talked to them while my wife sat and tasted with the sommeliers. During the morning I tasted every single 2009 that was available – I counted 32 of them and each producer gave me his account of the weather conditions and phenomena of the vintage. The final analysis, as stated at more length above, is that it is an excellent vintage. The fruit is clean, pure and wonderfully Sangiovese. They are wines that will develop relatively quickly and in the present market situation this is a considerable advantage. They are classic Chianti Classico and well worth the attention of all serious buyers. Between my wife and myself we ended up tasting over 120 wines, so we feel justified in expressing the above opinion.

A delicious self-serve lunch was laid out at the end of the immense hall and there was superb polenta.

We then continued tasting until almost 16.00 and just had time for a cappuccino before the bus whisked us away, almost exactly on time, for Montepulciano. Once again Silvia Fiorentini and the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico are to be hugely congratulated in organising an enormous event with professional skill and great hospitality. Thank you indeed Chianti Classico Selection 2010!

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Perfect Tasting in Montepulciano.


We reached the Hotel Ambasciatori in Chianciano Terme about 18.00 and had time for a short rest before the traditional and monumental dinner offered by our Montepulciano hosts in the hotel dining room. The dinner was gargantuan and magnificent, including huge grilled prawns and freshly made sushi as well as all the local specialities of charcuterie, pasta, meats, fishes and desserts. Naturally it was not served until after 21.00, as in Chianti, and after many delicious nibbles. We enjoyed the same system of choosing our wines from a long list, which were brought and served by a smiling sommelier. At our table we managed 25 and finished with 7 Vin Santo. A good evening’s work! We retired replete at around midnight.

Now it was Thursday and we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast after putting hotel stickers on our luggage for transfer to Brunello, hoping they would arrive safely and at the right hotel! Around 09.00 the bus took us as far as it could into Montepulciano, but could not manage the narrow, twisty streets. Those of us with sticks or gammy legs had to wait while they sent down cars, which they did with grace and charm. Then started something of a marathon. The President welcomed us warmly, but this was followed by a presentation of the 2009 vintage by an oenologist who is better not being named and who was totally uninformative. None the less the 2009 vintage was awarded 4 stars, which it deserved, and I owe the following brilliant description of the 2009 weather and vintaging conditions to the superbly written and highly informative brochure that was handed out to us all. As in Chianti we had the choice of two options. We could sit at the tables, choose wines from the list, and be served by the sommeliers, or we could go to the museum 100 yards down the road (this was a new venue) and walk round the tables talking and tasting with the producers. My wife did the former and I did the latter.

I tasted every 2009 that was being shown, which amounted to 9. It is a pity that here, and elsewhere, so few people show the new vintage. I perfectly understand this as it requires professional wine knowledge to taste wines so young and sometimes unfinished and growers are afraid of inexperienced journalists getting the wrong impression. However, as a professional, I need this knowledge of the new vintage and need to write about it.

I tasted all morning until 12.30, when lunch was served upstairs on the 2nd floor, after a brief look at internet on the 1st. A wonderful, copious and delicious buffet, once again of all the local specialities. One of these was a superb lasagne and there was farro, fine cheeses and my favourite - pannacotta. Downstairs, after lunch, we discovered a splendid tasting of Vin Santo, which nobody seemed to know about. Pity!

We had answered the many emails, with invitations that were sent to us before the visit, and arranged an afternoon visit to Braccesca (Antinori). Soon after 15.00 the wonderful Serena Storri drove us to their estate in Cortona. I was worried about time but the tasting went very fast and lasted some 30 minutes with 7 wines. The vineyard manager drove us back to Montepulciano and was a veritable fund of information as he had been there since the first vine was planted 11 years ago. I learned a great deal in the short 20 minute drive. At this estate, under the Cortona banner, Braccesca produces Syrah.

So what of the 2009 vintage?

Information, as I said above, is drawn from the Consorzio brochure. It began here with a cold and very wet winter. During January and February rainfall reached 150mm and temperatures were very low. The slightly above-average minimum and maximum temperatures in the first half of March resulted in enlargement of buds in precocious varieties on shallow, sandy soil. This slightly early development was halted on 21st March by snow and a consequent sharp fall in temperature. The “bleeding” phase, consisting of partial recommencement of vine activity with opening of the buds, which had already begun in precocious varieties like Colorino, was thus stopped by this variation in weather conditions.

Temperatures in April were quite high with an average of 12°C minimum and 19°C maximum. This created ideal conditions for bud break, which took place in all varieties in the first 10 days of April. The hot weather in May (with peaks of 30°C-35°C), following the regular rainfall during the preceding months, accelerated the development of foliage (see Chianti) to about 10 days earlier than average, enabling flowering to be complete by about 29th May. As for Chianti again, the lush foliage on the plants made it necessary for wine growers to thin shoots and to spray with fungicides, which these days are almost 100% efficient.

At the end of May some areas experienced slight hydric stress and foliage growth slowed down, especially on shallow, sandy soil. Seasonal temperatures were unusually high and growers talked about drought.
The heavy rainfall and lower temperatures in early June set that right and created conditions for total recovery of foliage development. Rain is very important for the formation of the fruit at this stage. The 120mm of rainfall caused the grapes to swell with a sharp and substantial increase in average weight. The months of July and August had an almost total absence of rain and above average temperatures for the period, slowing down that slightly early foliage development. Colour change began in July and ended around mid August. Ripening developed gradually and evenly with a good accumulation of sugar and polyphenols, also aided by the warm September weather with sporadic rainfalls. These conditions facilitated the harvest that took place, for Sangiovese, in the last week of September and the first week of October.

Bud break: first 2 weeks of April
Flowering: 21st – 31st May
Colour Change: 25th July – 2nd August

Sangiovese reached excellent levels of ripeness in terms of colour extraction and elimination of grassy aromas, starting from the last 10 days of September, when the sugar content reached medium-high levels and acidities were medium or medium-low. This trend continued in the days to follow so that the wines that resulted showed a high alcohol level, medium-low acidity after malo-lactic fermentation and generally high pH. The polyphenol content and colour were also average. The final result is that the wines are very good and worth 4 stars out of 5. Lovely, clean, pure and vibrant Sangiovese fruit will give relatively quick developing wines of great charm.

Thank you Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano for a great visit.
The tasting and the event here was over, but we had arranged to be picked up outside the Fortezza, close to the Piazza Grande, at 18.00.

Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello di Montalcino.
As always, there were some hundred journalists from all over the world...


Our driver, from Il Poggione in Brunello, arrived perfectly on time and sped us away to the Il Giglio hotel in the historic heart of Brunello. A beautiful drive through the Tuscan hills at twilight. We were so happy to be in the best hotel in Brunello, thanks to the kindness and thoughtfulness of Stefania Tacconi, and we found that we had the most magnificent view from our comfortable bedroom. We had an hour to unpack, wash and change and then the same driver returned to take us to dinner.

The dinner was fantastic. It took place at Il Poggione, jointly with Col d’Orcia. We were about 30 guests and were welcomed with Taittinger Champagne, fresh shrimps on sticks and baby broad beans. Dinner was a magnificent pottage, woodcock puree on toasts, pasta with asparagus and truffles, fried brains, milk fed lamb and suckling pig again with truffles, and a stupendous apple pie. Wines came, two by two, each time being one each of the two estates, and finishing with incredibly young tasting 1969 and 1967. A great chef had come all the way from his secluded mountain restaurant to prepare our feast. So wonderful was the dinner that we did not see the time go by and had to ring the hotel to ask them not to lock the doors before we arrived back. A great evening!

Friday morning we descended to breakfast at a table with a fabulous view over the town, the hills and the vineyards. Our chauffeur arrived early and we asked him to come back, which he graciously did, and drove us up to the immense Fortezza di Montalcino that sits majestically on top of the steep hillside town of Brunello di Montalcino. Here, having signed in and greeted the charming Stefania Tacconi, and thanked her for having arranged our hotel and our transport so comfortably, and having greeted and shaken the hand of the President of the Consorzio, we settled down to serious tasting. It was the same system as elsewhere, but on a larger scale, and my wife and I continued with our well tried system. She sat at the tables and had the wines brought by the sommeliers and I walked round the many tables and talked and tasted with the producers. We did a long and hard morning’s work until 13.00.

The Consorzio serves a splendid buffet lunch, but unfortunately it is a stand-up affair without any chairs and my bad leg will not support this. We therefore repaired to a nearby trattoria for wild boar and polenta and Tuscan sausages with beans, followed by pannacotta.

Back to tasting again until 15.00, when we had arranged to be taken for a tasting at Pian delle Vigne, an Antinori property. Serena Storri was there again to drive us and the knowledgeable Fabio, the winemaker, to take us through the tasting. We analysed the wines of the estate in detail and went back as far as the 1995, their very first vintage. The resident manager served us with his great speciality – wild boar stew from a boar that he had shot himself. Time flew and we had to rush back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. In the final analysis we excused ourselves from the gala dinner, as I felt very tired and my leg was hurting, and I went to bed early without any dinner. At this point I would just like to apologise to the Consorzio, both for absenting myself from the tasting for the time it took to visit Braccesca, since the Consorzio had asked producers not to take journalists away from them, and for missing out on the Gala dinner due to feeling ill. However, since we tasted nearly all the wines I do not feel that we failed in our duty!

We were picked up as arranged and taken off to Poggio di Sotto, the property of Piero Palmucci, one of the very top and most exclusive wine producers. This was a sort of intimate supper with a small group of knowledgeable Scandinavian and Dutch journalists. Our hostess served superb lasagne, tender artichokes and beef stew cooked in Brunello. Talk was rather opinionated on behalf of the wine writers, but our host was both generous and charming and we were driven back to our hotel at the very reasonable hour of 23.00.

Regretfully, as on the previous evening, I still felt poorly on the Saturday morning. It was hard to get up and my wife went ahead of me to start tasting. However, I arranged to be driven up to the theatre for 11.00 to listen to the judgement on the 2009 vintage and the number of stars awarded out of 5. I was greeted by my old friend Enzio Rivella. The President gave his usual warm welcome, but regretfully, and this is something that should be carefully reconsidered in each producing region, the oenologist who talked about the 2009 vintage was both muddled and uninformative. This was a great pity, but intelligently, as we left, they handed us a USB full of information for later use.

We returned to the Fortezza and continued tasting. My wife enjoyed the buffet, but still not feeling too good I abstained from lunch and we then went on tasting right through the afternoon until it closed at 17.00. We felt that we had really worked as hard as possible, done the maximum and tasted as many wines as we could.

So what of the 2009 vintage and the weather conditions that shaped it?

Once again I have to base myself somewhere, as conditions naturally varied from place to place. Remember that here there are no less than 24 subzones in a mere 16 kilometre stretch. There is also the influence of the volcano, Monte Amata. Vineyards face in all directions and some are up to 520 metres above sea level. Soils vary immensely and in close proximity. This year most of what I have said about Chianti and Montepulciano also applies here, so I shall not repeat all the detail.

The weather trends occurred in 2 phases. The first saw abundant rains, especially in the spring, with quite a cold May and a beginning of June that slowed down the flowering of the vines. In the second phase the temperatures started to rise, but from the middle of July until the end of the month there were additional rain showers that contributed, along with the previous rains, to the swelling of the berries. Sangiovese grapes have a tendency to swell with water. For this reason, this year the berries were bigger than usual.

Budding began at the beginning of April, flowering started at the end of May, and colour change took place at the end of July. Naturally harvest dates varied enormously, but a general average was from around 20th September/ first week of October.

The rest of July, August and the middle of September were very hot and dry, with the Sirocco wind prominent for almost 10 days in mid-to-late August, increasing drought conditions. Sirocco is a warm wind that intensifies the heat of the summer and when it occurs for an extended time it is feared by the growers because it can dry out both the berries and the leaves. This year however this wind was useful because it helped dry the over swollen berries. Then the repeated presence of a cool Tramontana wind, that comes in from the Alps, in the middle of September, further helped the grapes to dry and hastened their ripening.
Experience and close observation were vital this year, and this applies to all the Tuscan regions. The varying climatic trends had to be responded to. Even as late as the second half of October temperatures were still around 25°C with lows at night of around 15°C. Green harvesting had been vital and some growers practised it, a little at a time, in July and the first half of August. Cutting too much or too vigorously all at once makes the vine react by producing even larger and more swollen berries. Deleafing (sfogliamento) was also important, but needed to be done sparingly and only in the north-facing vineyards.

My old friend, Angelo Gaja, had invited me to visit his completely restored and renovated property, Pieve Santa Restituta. We were picked up from our hotel at 17.30 and driven there. Fantastic! Magnificent! And what a history! What a magnificent blend of old and new and what a long and delicious history, for which there is regretfully no room here. We were taken round by Angelo’s daughter, Gaia Gaja, who then gave us a superb tasting of their wines going back to the 1996 Rennina. This was a real pleasure and a treat.

However there was another treat in store – a last one! An evening with Candace Máté at her lovely house on their very beautiful property. We spent it in the kitchen, in front of the fire, at the long wooden table, in her company and that of her friend Katia and my friend Sarka from the Czech Republic. We gossiped while she cooked. We talked and tasted and ate – deliciously! Candace effortlessly produced a variety of crostini, cappacollo and prosciutto, home made pasta with meat sauce, and a splendiferous Bistecca Fiorentina cooked over her wood fire. We tasted her 2006 and 2007 Syrah, her Merlot and her Cabernet Sauvignon. We wound up with home made jam tart. A heavenly evening of food, fun and friendship so wonderfully typical of Brunello di Montalcino and of Candace. This time we forgot to advise the hotel and were extremely fortunate to find it still open when we returned at almost 1.00AM in the morning.

The trip is over. Sunday was our return to Bordeaux via the Consorzio bus from our hotel to Florence airport and then Air France to Bordeaux via Lyon.

What are much more important are the congratulations that are due to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino for their generous hospitality, warm welcome, superb organisation and great wines. Stefania Tacconi, as always, is in large measure responsible for all this and I offer her my warmest thanks. Also sincerest congratulations to the Consorzio on their 30th anniversary of obtaining DOCG status.

I have called it a marathon no less. Had we tasted every wine available it would have been over 1,000. As it was I and my wife clocked up 800 and felt very proud of ourselves. We already look forward to 2011!
© by Helmut Knall
last modified: 2010-03-28 11:37:35

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