• Brunello for the Ages: 1988-2010

    Brunello for the Ages: 1988-2010

    Visiting the great traditional estates of Montalcino in June left a sense of awe that's been hard to shake. Since then I've done my best to gather a nice collection that reflects the diversity of this very particular zone of Tuscany.

    In so many ways Brunello di Montalcino has been at the forefront of the modernist shift within Italy. Today's offer shies away from this, instead focusing on estates who rely on long macerations and large botti aging - both integral parts of crafting Sangiovese built upon structure and freshness. Featured below are among the most age-worthy wines of Tuscany, and many are the only listings in the US.

    3x 2004 Salvioni (La Cerbaiola) Brunello di Montalcino
    $216 per bottle.

    7x 2006 Salvioni (La Cerbaiola) Brunello di Montalcino
    $229 per bottle.

    8x 2010 Salvioni (La Cerbaiola) Brunello di Montalcino
    $299 per bottle.

    4x 1999 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $439 per bottle.

    11x 2000 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino
    $259 per bottle.

    1x 2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino
    $259 per bottle.

    3x 2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Il Decennale 1.5L
    $899 per bottle.

    17x 2004 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 
    $259 per bottle.

    4x 2004 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $376 per bottle.

    3x 2004 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1.5L
    $899 per bottle.

    6x 2006 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino
    $227 per bottle.

    22x 2007 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $339 per bottle.

    24x 2008 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $299 per bottle.

    3x 1993 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
    $286 per bottle.

    21x 2001 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
    $299 per bottle.

    16x 2006 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
    $299 per bottle.

    3x 2008 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
    $199 per bottle.

    1x 1997 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $899 per bottle.

    2x 2008 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Toscana IGT
    $499 per bottle.

    1x 1988 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $599 per bottle.

    6x 2010 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $249 per bottle.

    1x 1995 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino
    $122 per bottle.

    3x 1997 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino
    $161 per bottle.

    16x 2004 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 
    $149 per bottle.

    2x 2010 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $227 per bottle.

    1x 1997 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $167 per bottle.

    1x 1999 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
    $167 per bottle.

    1x 2001 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
    $117 per bottle.

    1x 2005 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli
    $88 per bottle.

    3x 2010 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
    $94 per bottle.

    4x 2006 Il Paradiso di Manfredi Brunello di Montalcino
    $113 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Baby Brunello Bullseye: 2015 La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino

    Baby Brunello Bullseye: 2015 La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino

    This summer's extensive visits throughout Tuscany left so many indelible marks. One of the highlights was the in-depth visit atop Montalcino with La Gerla's winemaker, Alberto Passeri. While Passeri's Brunello and Brunello Riserva fetch the most attention by critics and collectors alike, they aren't necessarily the true crown jewels of the estate.

    Much like de-classification in Burgundy where you can buy Grand Cru bottlings labeled with more humbled appellations, here too the practice is used. If there's one wine in Montalcino that delivers the greatest value it's certain to be La Gerla's Rosso di Montalcino, sourced exclusively from vines in the Brunello zone. In 2015, with its perfect growing season, the moniker Baby Brunello couldn't be more fitting. At $29 per bottle this is the best deal in traditional Montalcino.


    2015 was the vintage in botti I tasted first at each visit. Laws require that Brunello designated wines are aged 5 years prior to release (6 years for Riservas). At La Gerla, wines in botti that show more approachability in their youth are bottled as Rosso di Montalcino. These come from the same organic, estate-farmed vineyards that supply the two Brunello bottlings, but are released much earlier. When I sat down for lunch over and over again in Montalcino it was the 2015 La Gerla served by the glass that I kept coming back to each day. I did my best to taste through a range of producers and styles, but nothing came close to delivering the total package like the La Gerla Rosso.

    On Montalcino's north side, La Gerla was originally owned by the pioneering Biondi-Santi winery, who in fact created the very first "Brunello di Montalcino". The story behind the sale is an amusing one with Franco Biond-Santi's disgruntled sister selling this small slice to Sergio Rosso in 1976. Sergio made immediate changes to the farming and cellar practices to upgrade everything and two years later, in 1978, the first commercial La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino was released. Today the estate encompasses 12 hectares, all of which are organically farmed. Aging takes place in botti for the Rosso and the Brunello.

    The name La Gerla refers to the historic small wooden picking bins (pictured below) that vineyard workers would wear on their backs. The name is an hommage to the sacrifice made by the men and the women in the vineyards who worked tirelessly to ensure the best raw materials were brought into the cuverie. It's this warm reflection on the efforts in viticulture that became abundantly clear visiting with winemaker, Alberto Passeri.

    Looking ahead, on the heels of the challenging 2014 vintage, the 2015 Brunellos are going to receive the monster press that proceeded the 2010 vintage. Growers were gushing about the brilliant balance, pristine fruit, and deeply developed flavors that were immediately revealed in botti. These rare 100% de-classified Brunello di Montalcino's like La Gerla's Rosso are the best kept secret in this fabled hilltop village. With the bar being raised in 2015 there's really no question that this $29 Baby Brunello hits all the right marks.

    2015 La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino
    $29 per bottle.

    Also available:

    2010 La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino
    $56 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • The Best of Montalcino's Modern Touch: 2010 La Gerla Brunello

    The Best of Montalcino's Modern Touch: 2010 La Gerla Brunello

    Yesterday we took a close look at Brunello's most staunchly traditional side. Today we turn to the best example of a more modern interpretation, still thoroughly grounded in traditional practices. La Gerla's history is incredibly rich. Its wines today flaunt a silken frame, great approachability, still complete with the tension and whisper of austerity that makes Sangiovese from this village so esteemed. I'm thrilled to be able to offer the 2010 vintage today, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular here in the last several decades.

    La Gerla, on Montalcino's north side, was originally owned by the pioneering Biondi-Santi winery, who in fact created the very first "Brunello di Montalcino". The story behind the sale is an amusing one with Franco Biond-Santi's disgruntled sister selling this small slice to Sergio Rosso in 1976. Sergio made immediate changes to the farming and cellar practices to upgrade everything and two years later in 1978 the first commercial La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino was released. 

    In the mid 1980's a parcel on the south side was purchased and since then the two sides have been blended for the estate's Brunello, giving a complete snapshot into the entirety of Montalcino's terroir. Today the estate encompasses 12 hectares, all of which are organically farmed. Only 3,000 bottles are produced annually of the Brunello.

    The name La Gerla refers to the historic small wooden picking bins that vineyard workers would wear on their backs. The name is an hommage to the sacrifice made by the men and the women in the vineyards who worked tirelessly to ensure the best raw materials were brought into the cuverie. It's this reflection on the viticulture effort that makes itself clear visiting with winemaker, Alberto Passeri. There's a genuine respect here on the farming practices, community, and exacting approach in the cellar that's so refreshing to see. A thorough tour of the estate with Passeri was as in-depth and informative as any during my stay in Tuscany.

    At first glance the cellar appears to be the model of tradition - the Brunello and Rosso are aged exclusively in large Slavonian botti. The reason La Gerla has elements of the more modern qualities of the region come down to fermentation. Instead of the very traditional 30+ day maceration after de-stemming and crushing, here the whole berries see a week long cold soak. Then they're fermented for 2 weeks regularly employing delestage, a method where the entirety of the juice is removed off the skins and then replaced (also known as "rack and return"). This endows the wines with a rounder and softer tannin quality. But, the aging in large format really helps to maintain a sense of verve and snap to the wines, one that for me is so often lost with the more modern choice to age in small, new barrique.

    Technical notes aside, La Gerla really impresses for perfectly finding that balance between these two styles. In their youth they offer an upfront drinkability that's rare.They're also one of the very few that sit in this category still lining the cellar racks of the most devout collectors of Tuscany's most traditional wines. Being able to offer the home run 2010 vintage today, two years after its initial release, is a real pleasure. It's the ideal vintage to dive into right away to see a more luscious and generous side of Brunello with classic roots.

    2010 La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino
    $56 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Uncompromisingly Old School: Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

    Uncompromisingly Old School: Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

    Traveling throughout Tuscany and speaking with producers and sommeliers from Florence through Montalcino has been an epic journey for me. The diversity within this home of Sangiovese can be difficult to adequately articulate. All of my visits seem to circle around to an adventurous era when Brunello di Montalcino was officially born in 1966. Since then there have been many property sales of old school iconic estates, but one has stood the test of time and prevailed. The wines of Costanti today are revered as much for their deep historical significance as for their fortitude progressing into the 21st century with a philosophy firmly rooted in the 1960's. This is where I turn when the ultimate terroir-driven tradition of Brunello is in my cross hairs.

    A tour through Costanti's vineyards and cellar was the ultimate time warp. Entering this ancient building there are artifacts scattered throughout, some dating as far back as 1 AD. It was Tito Costanti in 1870 who first presented a wine named "Brunello" at the wine exhibition of Siena. And Emilio Costanti produced the first commercial release of their Brunello di Montalcino in 1964, a time when the family was just one of 25 producers in the region - and one of the first to bottle 100% Sangiovese.

    Since 1983 it's been Andrea Costanti who's presided over operations. While Brunello's reputation has skyrocketed in his time, the vineyard holdings (10 hectares) and production (around 4,000 bottles) has remained fixed. The profound admiration for tradition was more evident visiting Costanti than any other estate this trip. The large Slavonian botti have stood the test of time, housing countless of celebrated vintages such as the 1988 featured today.

    Costanti's vineyards sit at 450 meters, extremely high in the greater region and key to the cool-fruited, subtle, and wildly nuanced Sangiovese born here. The soil is predominately galestro, a prized high calcium mix of decomposed shale, limestone, and clay. It easily breaks in your hand, a reminder of what's happening deep below the topsoil where these old vines can dig quite deep in search of water and nutrients - in turn also endowing superb concentration to these wines.

    All of the vineyard holdings here are designated as Brunello di Montalcino, and a decision to bottle Rosso di Montalcino is strictly one of declassification. Fermentation takes place over 3 weeks with daily pumpovers. Large botti are used for aging and the wines are bottled unfiltered and un-fined. 

    The bright red cherry, graphite, licorice, tobacco, and leather notes really jump out from Costanti much more so than at neighboring addresses. There's an unadulterated quality of Sangiovese here that's earned them so many loyal collectors over the years. Today, bottles from the 70's are still sought after for their freshness and haunting delicacy. I'm very happy to offer two wines from some of the most classically-leaning vintages from the past few decades: the 2008 and 1988. The perfect marriage between the old school approach of Costanti and the graceful nature of the vintage makes these ideal introductions to this legendary producer.

    2008 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino
    $59 per bottle.

    1988 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino
    $127 per bottle.

    Posted by Max Kogod
  • South Side Montalcino:  Unrivaled Finesse of Stella di Campalto

    South Side Montalcino: Unrivaled Finesse of Stella di Campalto

    Arriving at Stella di Campalto was a curious moment. As I stepped out of the car and felt the intense blast of heat something didn’t seem quite right. We’re in the middle of a very extended heat wave here in Tuscany, but I had just left the north side of Montalcino where the weather had been substantially cooler. How was it that I was about to enter the home of arguably the most featherweight and famously dubbed “Burgundian” estate in all of Montalcino? But as all things go with Stella di Campalta, this is a winery where conventions have been broken since inception.

    The very young Stella had been living in Milan with her family and began to fall in love with traditional wines. Serendipitously, she was gifted by her father-in-law an un-planted property on the southern side of Montalcino. After exploring the rundown former farmhouse, and finding the quiet setting very comfortable, she made the move to plant vines. Her heart was adamant about 100% Sangiovese and farming the land with organic and biodynamic principles - now certified.

    The birth of Podere San Giuseppe Stella di Campalto dates back to 1910 when Giuseppe Martelli had a sharecropping estate. It was abandoned in 1940 and then acquired by Stella’s family in 1992. Today, 6 parcels of vines comprise these 6.7 hectares, each being fermented on its own prior to blending. 

    The moment you taste a Stella di Campalto wine you realize these defy any preconceived notions you may have of the rich Sangiovese Grosso varietal in Montalcino. I learned there are many keys to the unusually fine and lifted qualities of Stella’s wines. Many of these parcels contain high concentrations of sand and white quartz, and strong breezes come from down from the Mount Amiata, a former volcano. A river in very close proximity to the estate also plays a role especially helping temperatures dip quite low at night, preserving the much needed acidity. 

    Fermentations are in old open top wood casks, with 45-minute pumpovers 4 times per day, surely an element to the soft tannins. The wines follow traditional methods of long, slow ferments (30+ days) and are aged in botti with a very small addition of old barrique. 

    We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements from various soils worked together to create the grand image of this tiny estate. Some showed high toned with white pepper spice, and others darker and more savory. But, each had a common thread of weightlessness and a beautiful sense of agility. 

    I’ve never come across another Brunello which showed so well each time it was poured, no matter the vintage, no matter decanted or popped-and-poured. To me, this is always the true sign of a great producer. 

    The wines are unfortunately made is very small quantities, and allocations are usually counted in bottles, not cases. I’m always working to acquire more even with the challenges due to quantity, but after this visit my determination has a new sense of rejuvenation. 

    2012 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino (Podere S. Giuseppe)
    $75 per bottle.

    2008 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino (Podere S. Giuseppe)
    $114 per bottle.


    2010 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino (Podere S. Giuseppe)
    $194 per bottle. (Fall arrival)

    Posted by Max Kogod