Thu 8 Mar 2012
The tale has often been told about how the wine we known as Brunello di Montalcino was created by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi (pictured at right) on his Tuscan estate Il Greppo and first bottled in 1888. The family was the only producer of Brunello di Montalcino until after World War II and had, in fact, released the wine only in 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945, a fact that testifies to incredibly rigorous standards and deep pockets. As the wine’s prestige grew after the war, the number of producers markedly increased, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s.
The original regimen of barrel-aging for Brunello di Montalcino was a long 42 months, a procedure that resulted — no surprise — in wines of great hauteur and austerity that demanded many years, if not decades, to mellow. That requirement was lowered to three years barrel aging in 1990 and two years in 1998, though Brunello di Montalcino must still age four years before release in a combination of barrel and bottle-aging; it’s the producer’s prerogative as to what that process will be. The wine, first by custom and then by law, must be made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes, a regimen with which many winemakers disagree, seeing the necessity to blend portions of other grapes to soften the wine’s somewhat rigid character.
While modernization has come to all parts of Tuscany, Biondi-Santi serenely follows the path it forged generations ago. Ferruccio’s grandson Franco oversees the estate and the august reputation of its wines today, while his son Jacopo, who founded his own estate in Maremma in 1996, has broken away from the family after disagreements with his father. (The image above, from decanter.com, reveals Biondi-Santi father and son in an apparently rare mood of shared good humor.)
In this post, we look at one of Jacopo Biondi-Santi’s best-known wines, Sassoalloro, in its rendition of 2008, and the Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005; both were made completely from sangiovese grapes. Are the wines different? Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Of course they’re different, but each is engaging and fully engaged in its vastly diverse task.
Imported by Vision Wines & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. These wines were samples for review.
The Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005 aged 36 months in large Slovenian oak barrels; the vines for this wine are a minimum of 25 years old. From beginning to end, the wine is a monument to the sangiovese grape. The extraordinary bouquet is an intense and lofty amalgam of dried red and black currants and red cherries, violets and graphite, oolong tea, sandalwood, leather and moss and mushrooms, all seemingly ground by some ethereal mortar and pestal of the gods; you could live in it. While this bouquet is fantastically warm, spicy, inviting and seductive, in the mouth matters quickly turn serious; I did not use the word “monument” casually. The Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005 is dense with iron-clad and finely-milled tannins and dry in an almost ecclesiastical way, in the sense of ancient, dusty wood polished by centuries of use and permeated by the slightly bitter austerity of old incense. The earthy aspects hinted at in the bouquet — the tea, graphite, leather, mushrooms and moss, along with some dusty dried porcini — penetrate the wine’s structure to its deepest foundations, while the clean, bright architecture of acidity gives it amazing vibrancy, despite its formidable depth and dimension; the finish is long, somber and dignified. Old-fashioned? You bet. Do I mind? Not a bit. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2025 to ’30 with roasted game birds or pappardelle with rabbit sauce. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was about 5,876 cases. Exceptional. About $149.
The appellation for the Jacopo Biondi-Santi Sassoallora 2008 is Scansano, in southwestern Tuscany not far from the seacoast. The wine aged 14 months in untoasted French barriques, that is, small 60-gallon oak barrels. The color is deep ruby with a faint magenta rim; the bouquet is indeed sangiovese — violets and sour cherry, red currants with a touch of blueberry, black tea and brambles, a hint of pomander — but with a fruity and fruitful intensity of ripeness and immediate appeal, a pointed thrust of lead pencil, licorice and bay leaf, all marked by clarity and freshness. The wine is smooth and supple in the mouth, a stream of lithe, concentrated, spicy black and blue fruit flavors wrapped in velvet and tied off with graphite-like minerality and resonant acidity; firm, slightly chewy tannins plow through the long, spice-and-dust packed finish. New-fangled? You bet. Do I mind? Not a bit. 14 percent alcohol. Begs, I mean freakin’ begs, for a medium-rare rib-eye steak, smokin’ from the grill or one of those Florentine steaks for two, sliced and crunchy with rock salt. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.