We arrived in Tuscany the end of July fully expecting to be doused by the region’s heat and humidity that is common this time of year. Instead, we were greeted by mild conditions more typical of Northern California. You see, it’s been an unusually wet and mild summer in Tuscany. And with that we began our weeklong expedition in search of Brunello and Chianti Classico wines. First stop, the medieval village of Montalcino where we began our search for what is perhaps the most famous of Italian reds—Brunello di Montalcino.
The reputation of Brunello wines dates back to the 16th century. By the late 1800’s Brunello wines had gained international attention, even competing with the well-known French red wines from Bordeaux. Brunello di Montalcino wines were one of the first to receive official designation as a DOC wine, “Denominazione di Origine e Controllata” (meaning the origin is controlled) in 1966; and, in 1980, was the first Italian wine to be granted the highest quality designation, DOCG, (controlled and guaranteed). You can find the complete history of Brunello di Montalcino at the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. It’s this rich history of making world-renowned wines that allows these wines to command some of the highest prices for all Italian wines.
Standing in front of the Fortezza (Fortress) di Montalcino, built in 1361, and overlooking the vineyards blanketing the steep hillsides you cannot avoid being overwhelmed with the grandeur and history of this district. If you happen to be standing here during the Middle Ages, you would have been concerned about attacks from Siena or Florence; and while I felt fairly secure from Senese attacks this week, the task of finding one exquisite Brunello from the 209 members of the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino that span the 24,000 hectares covering the township of Montalcino seemed formidable. Our five merchant team was up for the challenge, and thanks to Deb’s planning, we set up an exceptional base camp at Castel Brunello, located in the quaint village of Sant’ Angelo in Colle, and overlooking the Tuscan valleys below.
For five days the merchants drove the narrow paved and gravel roads throughout the township meeting with small, family producers with a deep, rich heritage of growing Sangiovese grapes and producing fine Brunello wines. Each family we met consistently greeted us with warmth and hospitality. They wore their love for their land, vineyards and family on their sleeves; and while most already had exclusive contracts with importers, they were proud and excited to share their wines with us.
We met Luca Brunelli at Vinitaly in Verona in April, and we were immediately impressed with the quality of his Montalcino wines. Luca’s winery, Poggio Apricale, is located just a few hundred yards from the Fortezza on a panoramic hillside overlooking the Ombrone valley and river. We spent a wonderful afternoon with Luca, tasting his wines, touring his vineyards, and learning about his deep family heritage in Montalcino. Luca’s mother and father, Anna Sarini and Mauro Brunelli, are both from farming families with deep roots in Montalcino. In 1964, the Brunelli family moved to Martoccia, a small farm of about 3 hectares near the Fortezza. Today, son, Luca, and Maura combine their love of their land and respect for tradition in their care for their vineyards. Their passion and enthusiasm was expressed in every glass we tasted.
Our visit with Luca culminated in an unforgettable lunch he hosted in the home he was born, over homemade pasta and wild boar that was hunted and smoked by his father, Maura. We found our Brunello! Look for Luca’s Poggio Apricale wines to be available to our clients in November.
Drive 70 km north of Montalcino and you arrive in Gaiole in Chianti, the heart of the Chianti Classico district. Statues, portraits, and pictures of the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) abound; and if you aren’t familiar with the legend of the black rooster click here. A few kilometers south of the village of Gaiole in Chianti, perched on a hilltop, was our destination, Cantalici, Società Agricola L’Antica Fornace di Ridolfo.
I was immediately struck by the 360-degree panoramic views of the Tuscan hills and valleys, spotted with medieval castles and lined with cypress trees. Carlo Cantalici and Angela Butini greeted us warmly and proceeded to tour us through their historic cantina. The original building on the property was a medieval kiln that dates back to 1583. The oldest documentation identifies the building as “Fornace di Ridolfo Zati”, a member of a wealthy Florentine family at that time.
Loris Cantalici purchased the property in 1972; and, along with sons, Carlo and Daniele, have not only restored and preserved the historic ruins, but also built a beautiful wine production facility adjacent to the “Fornace”. Carlo and Angela spent the afternoon with us, sharing their wines, family history, love for their land, and philosophy of winemaking. Our merchant team quickly realized our search for a Chianti Classico was over. Carlo and Daniele’s wines deliver a tasting experience that embodies the essence of this historic district. The Cantalici’s vineyards cover 90 hectares where they cultivate Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malvasia and Trebbiano varieties.
The Chianti Classico Baruffo and Baruffo Riserva deliver a distinctive uniqueness and boldness found only in the Chianti varietals from this zone. And, for the “Super Tuscan lover”, I have one word for you—Tangano! This Toscana IGT is “in your face” with fruit, spice, and rich currant flavors. We are very proud to add the Cantalici Family wines to our rich collection of exceptional Italian wines. Look for Cantalici wines to be available to our clients in November. And, don’t forget to look for the Gallo Nero on every bottle!