Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The One and Only Biondi Santi

Producer: Biondi Santi

It’s not often that the opportunity arises to taste with an estate that is responsible for developing one of Italy’s pre-eminent fine wines. There are hundreds of producers bottling Brunello di Montalcino today, but original credit goes to one Ferruccio Biondi Santi from Tenuta Il Greppo, who crafted a wine meant for long aging from a particular clone of Sangiovese known locally as Brunello. The first vintage of this wine, of which some bottles can still be found in the winery’s cellars, dates back to 1888 (how’s that for a lucky number?).

The land-locked town of Montalcino lies in the Tuscany region of central Italy, around 110km south of Florence. It has a warm, dry and arid climate – conditions that help the Brunello grape reach high levels of ripeness. The rules for Brunello di Montalcino are some of the most exacting anywhere in the world; not only must it be made entirely of Sangiovese, but it must also be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak and 4 months in bottle, and cannot be sold until the fifth year after harvest (six for the Riserva). Even then, the wines may take a decade or more to reach its peak.

These long aging periods have created a divide within the producers Brunello di Montalcino, with some aiming to make their wines accessible sooner through the use of small oak barriques. Even Biondi Santi was not spared from this debate, and it reportedly caused a schism between father and son Franco and Jacopo. It appears that this has been solved however, by the creation of a separate winery in Maremma called Tenuta Castello di Montepò run by Jacopo. Tancredi Biondi Santi (Jacopo’s son), in Singapore for a wine dinner at Zafferano, explains that Il Greppo and Castello di Montepò represent tradition and modernity respectively. “Two different wines for the market”, he quipped.

Traditional Brunello di Montalcino is a structured, elegant wine with a garnet tinge and that high acidity which is a signature of Italian wines. Biondi Santi uses large Slovanian oak casks which allow the wine to mature gracefully without imparting overt notes from the wood. In view of the long time spent in wood, the use of old casks also prevents too much tannin from leeching into the wine. As Tancredi puts it, “We want the transfer of the green tannins from the wood to the wine to be very slow”.

The long-lived nature of the wine presents an unusual problem. Tancredi explains, “If a customer buys a bottle of our Riserva the company guarantees that it can last a hundred years. But the cork cannot, so the company offers a recorking service.” This exclusive service involves topping up the bottle (provided that it has been stored properly and is free from faults) with wine of the same vintage from the estate’s own cellars. Most unusually for a European, Tancredi does not champion cork as a closure, calling it “a disaster” and stating that the quality of corks is not as good now as 50 years ago.

In a world of fast-changing trends, you have to admire Biondi Santi for sticking to their guns and maintaining their original vision for the wine. “Brunello is a wine to be understood and to spend some time for it,” says Tancredi. “If you don’t have time for Brunello it is a waste of money, (but) the complexity of Brunello will give you something that other wines cannot.”

Tasting notes:

Biondi Santi (Tenuta Greppo) Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2010 – This “baby Brunello” is made from the younger (between 5-10 years) vineyards of Biondi Santi. It undergoes 12 months aging in Slavonian oak casks. The wine displays a medium garnet appearance with delicate notes of creamy milk chocolate, cherry and earth, backed by tangy acidity and medium tannins. Drinking well now.

Biondi Santi (Tenuta Greppo) Brunello di Montalcino “Annata” DOCG 2010 – Produced from vineyards aged between 10 and 25 years. According to Biondi Santi the wine has an estimated lifespan of 20-40 years. Deep garnet, with a tempered nose of earth and raspberry. Still at an early stage, the palate already shows complex notes of beef extract, tea and tobacco, with a savoury length delineated by fine acidity.

Biondi Santi (Tenuta Greppo) Brunello di Montalcino “Annata” DOCG 2007 – Eight years old and a world of difference from the 2010. Deep garnet brown colour, quite reticent on the nose with predominant notes of sour cherry. Brown spice, tea, and licorice open up the palate, which still holds sturdy tannins and great freshness. The long, classy finish echoes notes of bitter cherry.

Biondi Santi (Castello di Montepò) Sassoalloro IGT 2010 – From the same Sangiovese clone (BBS11) that is used at Tenuta Greppo, fermented longer at a lower temperature. This is a deep ruby coloured wine exhibiting notes of violet, freshly laundered linen and plums. Clean and light bodied with softly-treading tannins, this wine is easy to appreciate.

Biondi Santi (Castello di Montepò) Schidione IGT 2010 – A blend of Sangiovese Grosso, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in Tronçais oak for 24 months. A very deep garnet wine showing developed aromas of tea, black cherry and savoury notes. Bears some resemblance to an old Bordeaux, with greater heat on the palate. Aging gracefully and still going strong.

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