Beginning two weeks of visits in Tuscany really couldn't have started with more of a bang than it did on Monday. Founded in 1972 by Gianfranco Soldera on the Casse Basse estate, Soldera is hallowed ground in Montalcino. Today, it's still perhaps Italy's most mysterious and celebrated address. Soldera is known for the most rigorous of standards for his vines, and selection in the cuverie is ruthless. The wines are featherweight and transparent, yet age-worthy beyond compare. In a commune whose meteoric rise to fame has occurred relatively quickly vs. its northern neighbor in Chianti, these Brunelli are the model upon which all others follow suit.
Gianfranco Soldera was on vacation during my visit, but touring with Paolo Franco, his son-in-law who manages all elements of production, was a detailed exploration into all areas of Soldera. The estates's 10 hectares of vines are adjacent to a mesmerizing 2 hectare garden, home to hundreds of species of flowers creating an endless cycle of blooming for the diverse range of birds. Soldera firmly believes the entire ecosystem works together with the vines creating a magic in the final product that only furthers the sense of mystery here.
The Casse Basse hillside is composed of clay and galestro, a schist rock that can be broken apart in your hands, allowing vines to travel deep below the surface for nutrients. Like the vines of Lalou-Bize Leroy in Burgundy, these here are not hedged at the top as they grow. They are rolled together horizontally on the wire system - Soldera believes the cuts made regularly by most wineries are harmful, opening the vine to bacteria and infection. The real turn of events with the farming (a practice also employed by Leroy) is the shockingly low yields - prior to harvest the vine may be reduced to only three clusters.
There were no cameras allowed in the winery. The role of selection again became a great theme. We walked over to the destemmer and sorting table and I was introduced to a machine I had not seen before. Soldera believes each vintage there's an optimal berry size. After the fruit is destemmed this machine will exclude all grapes falling outside the range of the preferred dimensions, whether they be too large or too small.
These selected grapes are then fermented in massive old wood open-top fermenters and the finished wine is sent to large 100hl botti for elévage. Sulphur additions are essentially kept to zero. And after aging the required 2 years in wood it's bottled, although this occurs in an ultra-rare method of going directly from botti to bottling line, minimizing the movement of wine as much as humanly possible.
The rigorous steps taken here are clearly validated when tasting the wines. Sampling the gorgeous 2013 vintage from botti was a bit of a haunting experience. The floor is damp, the light is dim, and the walls are covered with 5 meters of rocks - meaning this entire underground cellar was breathing through the vineyard located just beyond. The fragrance of the wine was so pronounced it was truly hard to take the first sip. The wine shockingly transparent and light. On the palate the fabled weightless frame is what comes across first and then a saturating and deep grip takes hold, though the tannins never forceful - more of a reminder to not underestimate the aging potential, ultimately what this wine is intended for.
Sangiovese takes on so many forms in Montalcino and Chianti, but here at Soldera it seems to exist on its own plane. There's no doubt in my mind after visiting that this site is truly magical, but it's the difficult choices that are made at every stage that allow a wine of this magnitude to come to life.
1997 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
$799 per bottle.
2006 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
$499 per bottle.
2008 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Toscana IGT
$499 per bottle.
2009 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Toscana IGT
$499 per bottle.
4-Pack containing 1997, 2006, 2008, 2009:
Regularly $2,296, Down to $2,149!