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.
If I had to pick one wine to make a case for Sangiovese's greatness it would be Montevertine's Le Pergole Torte. Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 Le Pergole Torte in 750ml, 1.5L, and 3L formats, along with a deep collection of back-vintages.
2015 at Montevertine, as Antonio Galloni illustrates below, is a very exciting vintage. A warmer year for Tuscany, and in Radda's northern and higher altitude setting the wines have a definition and focus that marries perfectly to the riper crop. When I visited the region for 2 weeks of tastings in July 2017, the 2015's in cask had producers from every corner of Tuscany powerless in containing their child-like enthusiasm. It was, and is, a vintage that gave the opportunity to showcase the very best of their sites.
"Montevertine is one of the most privileged spots for wine anywhere in the world. If I had to choose only one Sangiovese to cellar, it might very well be Montevertine's Le Pergole Torte.""The 2015 Le Pergole Torte is explosive and powerful while showing a remarkable level of precision. Pliant and beautifully resonant, it captures all the best qualities of the year. The oak still needs time to fully assimilate. Even so, the wine's pedigree and potential are very much in evidence today. In a word: superb." (01/18)- Antonio Galloni of Vinous
Making the case for why pockets of Chianti warrant the same attention as Brunello di Montalicino, or even Burgundy, is a challenge for me. Have I lost you yet? The blame can fall squarely at the feet of those infamous straw-covered fiasco bottles, or even with higher priced examples where sharp acidity may mesh with the marinara, but not much else.
If I have one opportunity to prove to you that Sangioves from Chianti Classico can show a grace and pristine fruit quality akin to red Burgundy I will use Giovanna Morganti's "Le Trame" as my first example. I implore you to trust that this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the 2015 Podere Le Boncie "Le Trame", with special E-mail pricing on 4-packs.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine, and its Le Pergole Torte is a benchmark for the region. But, in many aspects his 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.
A visit last summer with Giovanna Morganti was one of the most memorable I've had along the wine route. Ever. The mentality of this estate exemplifies so much of what gravitates me toward the artisanal approach. One where we can talk ad nauseam about what happens in the cellar, but it's the fastidious vineyard work giving the raw materials responsible for showcasing greatness under cork.
You can read more below the offer to go down the rabbit hole on fermentation and aging specifics. But, I'd like to cut this one short here 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 dead serious all at the same time is innumerable. I recommend you take the dive to see what this small gem of an estate in Chianti Classico is all about!
2015 Podere Le Boncie "Le Trame" Toscana Rosso
$53 per bottle.
2014 Podere Le Boncie "Le Trame" Toscana Rosso
$53 per bottle.
In 1990 Giovanna Morganti, the daughter of a famed oenologist, embarked on her own project - a 5 hectare parcel she planted in Chianti Classico's southern zone, Castelnuovo Berardenga. 27 years later her wines stand out as some of the most soulful, perfumed, and elegant in all of Tuscany. Her approach differs somewhat dramatically from many of her contemporaries, but one thing is very clear after my visit: Every aspect of her process is with eyes firmly fixed on quality with a detailed focus. This is the best of Sangiovese that you've never tasted.
My love affair with these wines goes back a little ways. Drinking them I was always taken aback by how silken they were without conveying any sense of new oak influence or modernized quick-fix methods. These are natural wines, and learning about the process from the vines to the cellar offered some new surprises.
Growing up in a home where winemaking was in her blood, Giovanna knew there was an alternative approach that she would take when her time finally came. Her first two choices were to plant ancient native varieties to supplement the Sangiovese that would be the overwhelming dominant variety in her Chianti Classico. Planting at a very tight 8,000 vines per hectare (to promote competition of vines and concentration of fruit) she introduced Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Foglia tonda Mammolo, and Prugnolo with the Sangiovese. Most had a history in the region dating back centuries, but aside from Colorino they've nearly vanished from the limestone soils here in Castelnuovo Berardenga's border with Gaiole.
She also felt the wire systems from guyot and cordon vine training restricted the natural inclination of the vine to grow vertical, with this on her mind she introduced gobelet training which allowed the vine and its shoots to freely travel upward - a stake is planted and vine shoots are tied several times during their upward trajectory, a very labor intensive process. Giovanna sees these vines as living in 3D vs. the 2 dimensional plane created by a wire system.
In the cellar the divergence from the norm continues with fermentation taking place in small 500L open top barrels, and an ancient tradition of a wooden pole (pictured below) used for daily punchdowns - an extremely gentle process that was an ah-ha moment for me as I recalled the delicate structure and unique tannin profile of her gorgeous wines. Aging is done in traditional Slavonian botte, with now a move toward Austrian Stockinger large format because she's found the quality to be on another level.
All the technical information may clearly outline 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. Some wines you just have to try for your self. With 5 hectares and organic and biodynamic principles followed 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 always what I look for above all, and Giovanna is making a strong case now as the prime address for the best value Sangiovese in all of Tuscany.
As always, if you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach me by phone or email.