When considering the most soulful and magically unique wines in Italy, the name Paolo Bea always leads the discussion. Their family roots in Umbria's Montefalco region stretch back to the 16th century on this property, now a diverse ecosystem of livestock, vegetables, and fruits.
Five of the fifteen hectares here are devoted to vines, and though the hearty and tannic Sagrantino variety is the focus throughout Montefalco, today we take a close look at the most approachable wine from the estate, the San Valentino.
San Valentino is a unique blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Montepulciano from a clay-dominant single vineyard at 1,300 feet. Wines from Umbria often stand out for extremely forward fruit personality - the high elevation here adds a dimension of snap and buoyancy that makes this one of the world's most hedonistic, yet refreshing wines.
Harvest of these 50-year-old vines usually occurs at the conclusion of October where phenolic ripeness is perfectly achieved for all three varieties. The grapes are fermented in the traditional manner spending 30+ days macerating on the skins. The wine is then aged for three years in stainless steel, and then one year in bottle prior to release.
The three varieties complement each other magically here. Sangiovese providing high-toned red fruit notes with terrific acidity. The combination of Sagrantino and Montepulciano provides inky blue and black fruits with a firm structure. In the end, sweet cherries, fig, tobacco, dried flowers, and hints of charcoal meld together beautifully.
Making the case for why pockets of Chianti warrant the same attention as Brunello di Montalcino or even Burgundy is a challenge for me. The blame can fall squarely at the feet of those infamous straw-covered fiasco bottles or with higher-priced examples where sharp acidity may mesh with the marinara but not much else.
But when I have the opportunity to prove that Sangiovese from Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Trame as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine and its Le Pergole Torte is a benchmark for the region. But in many aspects, Rosenthal's other discovery, Le Trame, is better suited to illustrate how Sangiovese's sometimes illusive fruit-forward profile and silken tannins can lead the charge in calling to mind those traits I personally adore about Red Burgundy.
All the technical information clearly outlines how Giovanna's Chianti Classico is one-of-a-kind, but it doesn't do a fair job of referencing what will end up in your glass. Farming her fives hectares using organic and biodynamic principles, you know the raw material is going to be pristine. But what stands out for me is that each vintage, no matter how challenging, the wines are just perfectly composed. Purity of fruit is what I look for above all else, and Giovanna is making a strong case now as the prime address for the best value Sangiovese in all of Tuscany.
I'd like to cut this one short and say this is a profound wine that's simply a joy to drink. The number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious is innumerable. I recommend you take the dive to see what this small gem of an estate in Chianti Classico is all about!
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. My visits seem to circle 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 1960s. This is where I turn when the ultimate terroir-driven tradition of Brunello is in my crosshairs.
A tour through Costanti's vineyards and cellar was the ultimate time warp. There are artifacts scattered throughout this ancient building, 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) have 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 celebrated vintages such as those 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 pump-overs. 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 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 '60 are still sought after for their freshness and delicacy.
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 were in the middle of a very extended heatwave 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 Campalto, this is a winery where conventions have been broken since inception.
Today, I'm happy to offer a mix of Stella di Campalto Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino, including large formats.
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 surprisingly fine and lifted personality of Stella’s wines. Many of these parcels contain high sand and white quartz concentrations, and strong breezes come from down from 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.
We tasted parcel by parcel (a rare opportunity) and could see how these elements from various soils worked together to create this tiny estate's grand image. 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.
The very young Stella lived 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 a 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 before blending.
Fermentations are in old open-top wood casks, with 45-minute pump-overs 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 tiny addition of old barrique.
I’ve never come across another Brunello that showed so well each time it was poured, no matter the vintage, whether decanted or popped-and-poured. To me, this is always the true sign of a great producer.
Unfortunately, the wines come in minimal 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 my determination had a new sense of rejuvenation after this visit.
During my Summer 2017 trip to Tuscany no estate garnered the same respect from winemakers and sommeliers quite like Castell'in Villa. From Rome through Florence, top restaurant wine lists all find a space for these age-worthy Chianti Classicos from vintages stretching back to the early 70's. This is where the longevity and transformative capabilities of Sangiovese is best illustrated.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2010 Castell'in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva for $59 per bottle, and down to $55/btl for any order of 6 bottles or more! Also featured today are late releases direct from the estate: 1971 and 1993.
Castell'in Villa doesn't fall into any easy category, outside of being staunchly traditional in their vinification and aging. The estate's soil in Castelnuovo Berardenga has an unusual makeup of fossilized fragments that conjure Chablis more so than Tuscany (see pictures below). The limestone-based soil is still the mother rock here as it is throughout Chianti Classico, but the ancient artifacts point to a time long ago when this specific vineyard was under a small sea.
As you can imagine, the mineral component endowed to this wine is profound. Met with the structure from these choice old vines dedicated to the Riserva we have a magical combo that's made this arguably the most sought-after aged wine in all of Tuscany. At $59 per bottle from one of greatest vintages of the last 50 years it's no wonder why this disappeared from their importer in a flash.
The Greek Princess, Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa has overseen the property here for many years, residing in the 13th century tower above the winery. She keeps a healthy stock of back vintages, namely the epic 1971 Chianti Classico Riserva that's still found on top Michelin starred wine lists in Italy and offered here today.
The 2010's from Tuscany have come and gone. Being able to source a late release like this from the most timeless estate in the original Chianti zone was an unexpected surprise. There's no doubt, in 40 years we'll be looking back on the 2010 vintage much like we are now on the revered 1971, but pricing will surely have gone up six-fold.