Category Archives: Italian – Wine Reviews

Brunello di Montalcino – 2010 Vintage

20th July 2015

Reviewed by Barry Weinman

Situated in Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino is a rising star in the world of wine. The wines were virtually unheard of 40 years ago until pioneer Biondi-Santi forged a reputation for fine wines and, in the process, dragged the whole region into focus. Traditional, rustic wines for local consumption gradually gave way to increasing quantities of ever improving reds made from Sangiovese. In recent years, the number of producers has expanded rapidly, with over 200 now available.

Unlike neighbouring Chianti, wines labelled as Brunello must be 100% Sangiovese. The Grosso clone used in the region also differs from that used in Chianti.

Wine quality is divided in to 4 categories. Apart from the generic Toscana IGT wines, there are

Rosso di Montalcino:

  • May be made from young vine fruit, or declassified fruit that is not suitable to be included in Brunello.
  • Another source is the lighter juice that comes of the press early, enabling the more concentrated/extracted juice to go into Brunello.
  • Requires a minimum of 12 months’ aging (6 months in oak) before release

Brunello di Montalcino

  • Aged in oak for a minimum of 2 years
  • Further aged in bottle for a minimum of 4 months
  • May be released after 4 years

Brunello di Montalcino – Reserva

  • Aged in oak for a minimum of 2 years
  • Further aged in bottle for a minimum of 4 months
  • May be released after 5 years

As in many Italian regions, there are divisions as to how Brunello should be made. Traditionalists argue that extended aging in oak is the correct method, whilst a new generation is looking to make fresher wines where the fruit is better preserved.

Thanks to the team at Lamont’s, I was able to taste my way through 24 Brunellos and Rossos. This was a unique opportunity to try a large number of these high-quality wines. It proved to be very informative, showing a variety of styles. All identifiably made from Sangiovese, but with an interesting mix of modern and traditional styles.

My suggestion would be to select a mix of wines and style, get a few friends over and have a look for yourself!


  1. This was not a blind tasting, so my points are an indication only
  2. Prices quoted are RRP. The team at Lamont’s were offering generous discounts on the night, so it would be worth speaking to them directly
  3. Quantities are limited

Rosso di Montalcino

Tenuta Buon Tempo – Rosso di Montalcino 2012 (17.8). Lovely balance between supple fruit and savoury structure on the nose. The palate has cherry, tobacco, spice and tar notes, leading onto chewy, textural tannins. This is an excellent wine, but ideally needs a few years in the cellar, or a hearty meal to make this really sing. A lovely wine and great value! (RRP $38.25, though is available for pre-orders from Lamont’s for $30).

Querce Bettina – Rosso di Montalcino – 2010 (17.8). There is more power and depth to the fruit on the nose than some tasted. Shows a combination of sweet and sour fruit notes. The palate has licorice, spice, cherry and plum. There is real depth to the fruit and the structure frames the fruit beautifully. Very long and savoury, this will be a lovely wine to drink over the next few years. (RRP $52.75).

Tenuta Buon Tempo – Rosso di Montalcino – 2011 (17.7). I really like the way the ripe, cherry fruit is balanced against savoury notes on the nose. The palate transitions from cherry to tar, with just a touch of perfume. There is a core of dense fruit here, but this quickly gives way to savoury, textural components. The finish is chewy, with tobacco, spice and excellent length. A wine that is actually quite age-worthy. (RRP $38.25).

Il Poggione – Rosso di Montalcino – 2010 (17.5). A wine that values savoury complexity over obvious fruit. That said, there is a core of decent fruit that reflects cherry and tar, with excellent length of flavour. From the mid-palate though to the finish, the structural tannins and oak come in to keep the fruit in check. A really smart wine that is drinking a treat, yet will age for a number of years. A very good value wine that deserves to be paired with a decent risotto. (RRP $33.95)

Argiano – Rosso di Montalcino – 2012. (17). Lovely vibrant hue here. The nose has a mix of ripe fruit and savoury notes. The palate is rich and vibrant, with just enough savoury notes to identify the origins. Whilst not mainstream in style, this would be a great introductory wine for people used to drinking Australian Shiraz. Good value and drinking now. (RRP $36.55).

Brunello di Montalcino

San Filippo – Brunello di Montalcino – Le Lucere – 2010 (18.5 – 19). Chewy, textural and powerful. The fruit really builds with air becoming rich and succulent. The fine tannins are prodigious, yet supple enough to let the fruit build on the finish. With tremendous length of flavours, this is a brilliant wine. Old fashioned, with high acidity, this is sure to age well, but is a wine that some Australian palates may struggle with. (RRP $119).

Tenuta Buon Tempo – Brunello di Montalcino – Alta – 2010 (18.5+). Wow, this is fantastic! Floral fruit on the nose is reminiscent of roses. This continues on the palate leading on to tar, spice, licorice and graphite notes. There are very fine tannins that express on the side of the palate/in the gums, adding texture and structure. Great length, with a chewy close, this has excellent potential. (RRP $110).

Villa 1 Cipressi – Brunello di Montalcino – Zebras – 2010 (18.5++). Really deep smelling, with concentrated, perfumed fruit. The floral notes are a real feature. The palate is flooded with mouth-watering fruit, transitioning almost seamlessly to supple savoury characters and fine, textural tannins. Finishes quite chewy and serious. Will be a delight with food now, but really needs 10 years to truly express itself. (RRP $122.00).

Querce Bettina – Brunello di Montalcino – Riserva – 2006 (18.5). Fantastic fruit on the nose. Perfumed, floral and spicy. The palate shows cherry, spice and plum, with supple structure. The very long finish is remarkably refined, with a touch of resin/varnish on the close. Silky, textural, spicy and long, this is drinking a treat right now. This is not a wine for everyone, but the traditionalists will love it. (RRP $146.50).

Le Chiuse – Brunello di Montalcino – 2010 (18.5). Quietly powerful fruit on the nose. The quality of the vintage really expresses on the palate. With air, this gets all savoury and interesting. The palate is textured, structured, powerful, long and dense. This is a very powerful wine, with the fruit carrying the savoury structure with aplomb. Excellent length, balance and presence from a wine produced from organically grown grapes. Needs years to hit its peak but will be worth it. (RRP $122.40).

Tenuta Buon Tempo – Brunello di Montalcino – 2010 (18 – 18.5). This is a really interesting blend of ripe fruit and savoury notes. The palate is fine and refined. Initially, the fruit is subdued, yet the structural components are very fine and almost silky. On the finish the cherry notes give way to tar and spice, the flavours lingering for what seems like minutes. Needs years to come around, but a lovely wine of real class. Don’t be afraid to try one now. (RRP $76.50, but likely to be discounted).

San Lorenzo – Brunello di Montalcino – Bramate – 2010 (18+). A lovely mix of ripe cherry fruit characters and supple savoury notes. The fruit quality is apparent on the palate, but the tannic, savoury notes really shut this down right now. This gets all savoury and chewy on the finish, with tar and graphite characters over dusty, chewy, textural tannins. A superior wine. (RRP $110.50).

Il Poggione – Brunello di Montalcino – 2009 (18+). Lovely nose that has enough fruit to make this beautifully perfumed, yet there is an undercurrent of savoury, spicy complexity. The palate is very structured and chewy, while the fruit is subdued and there are hints of varnish and resin to close. The finish is very long indeed. This needs many years to hit its peak, and will probably score higher in years to come. (RRP $102.55).

Villa 1 Cipressi – Brunello di Montalcino – 2010 (18+). Quite closed on the nose, but opens to show sweet, almost succulent fruit of real charm. The palate is bright and fresh, with graphite/pencil shaving characters over savoury, almost dusty fruit. The finish is notable for the fine, talc like tannins that linger with the sweet fruit slowly giving way to tar like notes. Very approachable now. (RRP $115.60)


Piedmont – December 2014

Reviewed: 14th December 2014

I recently attended a tasting hosted by Maurizio Ugge from Arquilla, an importer of a large variety of Italian wines. The focus was specifically on the wines of Piedmont and included wines from several highly regarded producers.

Whilst there were decent Dolcettos and Barberas on show, it was the wines made from Nebbiolo from the regions of Barbaresco and Barolo that were the main feature.

Due to the sheer number of wines and the limited time available, my notes are somewhat brief and represent my first impressions. Also, as this was not a masked tasting, my points are best used as a rough guide only.

If only they were a bit cheaper….


Elio Altare – Barbera d’Alba – 2012 (17.2). A lovely blend of ripe, succulent fruit and savoury, earthy, almost tar-like complexity. The palate is long and has surprising depth/density. An excellent wine.

Domenico Clerico – Barbera d’Alba – 2011 (17+). Opens with sweet ripe fruit, but the tannins really kick in on the mid-palate and continue to the close. The fruit is actually quite long and persistent and should become more expressive with a year or two in bottle. If you like a big red, this is a really interesting alternative and worth a look.

Pio Cesare – Barbera d’Alba – Fides – 2011 (17). A lovely blend of sweet fruit and savoury highlights on the nose. The palate is a standout. There is real depth to the high-quality fruit. The mouth-feel and texture are superb. A very good wine that has been expensively made (the oak is more apparent here, but not out of balance).

Domenico Clerico – Nebbiolo – Lange – Capisme-E – 2012 (17). I like this wine for its approachability. Savoury, drying and fine, yet with depth and subtle power sitting underneath. Not overly long or complex, but an excellent drink.

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Langhe – Il Nebbio – 2011 (17.3). Light and fresh, with textbook tannins. The fruit here gets quite floral and pretty. An excellent pinot alternative.

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barbaresco – 2009 (18). A real step up in terms of both fruit depth, as well as texture, mouth-feel and length. I really like the finish here which is feminine and seductive, yet focussed and fine. Savoury, textured and chewy tannins fit the bill. The fruit really builds and gets quite serious to close. Now, but also in 10+ years

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barbaresco – 2010 (18). This is tighter and less giving than the 2009. Savoury, structured, long and tight, the tannins get all chewy on the close. Needs time, but will reward.

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barbaresco – Bricco Di Tresio – Vendemmia – 2009 (18). Savoury, structured and tight, yet there is a real prettiness in the fruit. The palate is only mid-weight, with very fine tannins and silky oak. The finish is fine and long, the super-fine tannins making this an accessible drink now, but also ensuring longevity.

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barbaresco – Bricco Di tresio – Vendemmia – 2010 (18+). Mirrors the straight Barbaresco but this is just so much finer. Again the oak and tannins are silky and fine, caressing the palate, yet allowing the fruit to sing. The mouth-feel is a highlight, though this is structured and tight. Will age well.

Marchesi Di Gresy – Nebbiolo – Barbaresco – Martinenga -2010 (18.4). This is amazingly feminine, silky and fine! For a variety known for its tannins and power, this is a revelation. That said, the fruit is superb, yet it is wrapped in a cloak of silk gauze that holds it in check, allowing glimpses of potential to show through. Superb!

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barolo – Ornato – 2009 (18.4). This is clearly different to the wines from Barbaresco. More overt power to the fruit and very fine tannins that slowly build to the point that they close down the wine on the finish. Powerful and impressive, yet still balanced and possessing great length. A wine that can be drunk now with pleasure, but will certainly benefit from 10 – 15 years in the cellar. From the Seralunga sub-district.

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barolo – Ornato – 2010 (18.6). More structure and power, yet this is less accessible than the 2009. Amazing fruit, yet the tight, chewy structure shuts down the palate. Needs 10 years, but would be better with 20. Super stuff!

Pio Cesare – Nebbiolo – Barolo – 2010 (18.3). Closed, dense and structured. Classic Barolo, with the chewy tannins preventing the fruit from showing its best now. Not quite as dense as the Ornato, but will be ready sooner. A complex, multifaceted wine.

Domenico Clerico – Nebbiolo – Barolo – Ciabot Mentin – 2010 (18.8). Whilst this is still a savoury wine, the intensity and concentration of the fruit here is amazing. The pristine fruit tends towards the classic rose petal and tar characters. The tannins are prodigious, yet the fruit soaks them up, finishing with souring cherry-like acidity. A spectacular wine!

Domenico Clerico – Nebbiolo – Barolo – Pajana – 2010 (18.5). Really savoury, with tar and earthy notes on the nose. The fruit on the palate is, again, outstanding. The mouth-feel and structure spot on. The fruit is not as dense as the Ciabot Mentin, but this makes it so much more approachable.

Vin Santo

A Boot-Full of Wine – Tasting Notes from Italy

4 March 2011

As a young altar boy, I remember sneaking a taste of the altar wine before mass one day. It counts as my first ever wine! I remember it as being sweet, with a heady perfume. The style of wine was that of a vin santo.

There are many theories as to how vin santo got its name, some no doubt more apocryphal than others, but the widely held belief is that the origin of the name derives from the wine’s association with Eucharistic celebration.

Tuscany and Umbria are the centres of vin santo production, though many other regions around Italy produce their own versions. (The vino santo from Trentino, however, is made from the Nosiola grape, and is a different wine altogether, and usually less oxidised. More on oxidation below.)

Grape varieties used for vin santo are traditionally Trebbiano and Malvasia. (Trebbiano is a fairly neutral variety, and high in acid, much like the Palomino used for sherry in the former but not latter sense.) A red or rosé example of vin santo, called occhio di pernice (eye of the partridge), is made from a blend which includes Sangiovese grapes, but employing the same techniques.

This technique involves drying the carefully selected, hand harvested grapes in ventilated rooms for a period of about four months, which greatly concentrates the sugar levels. (I am writing this article in late February, and the Capezzana winery has just pressed its “passito” Trebbiano grapes for their vin santo two weeks ago. This after harvesting the Trebbiano in September!) The length of time the grapes are dried influences the degree of dessication and hence potential levels of residual sugar for a given alcohol reading.

Fermentation can be sluggish due to the potentially high sugar levels, and traditionally was “kick-started” by placing the must in small barrels used for a previous vintage of vin santo, being careful to leave some of the lees in the barrel. This represented a yeast innoculum, and was called “madre” or mother. It was felt that this “madre”, combined with wild or ambient yeasts, added to the complexity of the wine.

The barrels were then left in attics to age for a period of at least three years, but often longer. Ullage was allowed to develop and thus oxidation would occur in the headspace of the barrels. Unlike other wines, the barrels were allowed to heat and cool according to the diurnal and annual temperature cycles. Thus a degree of “madeirisation” also occurred. Fermentation would naturally stop at around 14% alcohol, when the yeasts were rendered inactive. Many a Tuscan still produces his/her own vin santo, using the time honoured methods above.

These days, however, with concerns about hygiene, stuck ferments and wine stability, most commercial vin santo is produced in new or newish barrels, and the fermentation is begun by an introduced, cultured yeast which works well in the high sugar, high alcohol environment (though some producers still add a portion of “madre” to add complexity.) Levels of oxidation are also less than that which was found traditionally.

The similarities between vin santo and other wines (such as sherry and madeira) are notable, in particular the oxidatively aged oloroso style of sherry, and Boal and Malmsey madeiras. An important difference between sherry and vin santo is that vin santo is not fortified or sweetened – it derives its alcohol and sweetness from the dried grapes themselves. (On the rare occasion wine spirit IS added, the wine is called vin santo liquoroso.)

Vin santo can come with varying levels of sweetness (like sherries) but is usually regarded as a dessert wine. An oft-suggested food pairing is that of the almond biscuits (‘cantucci’) from Prato!

Here are a few examples I have tried:


Fattoria Viticcio (Chianti Classico region) – Dolce Arianna – Vin Santo – 2001 (16.5). Grapes were dried for three months, and barrel fermentation and aging proceeded for five years. A blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Canaiolo. A deep amber colour, with nutty, oxidised, even rancio characters on the nose. Intense, persistent with complex biscuit, honey and dried fruits, medium sweet (residual sugar 53 g/l) with good acid.

Fattoria Artimino – Vin Santo – Occio di Pernice – 2004 (15.5). Made with 60% Sangiovese and 40% Malvasia Nera that were left to hang on the vines for as long as possible before being hand picked and dried for 3 months, this wine was then matured for three years in chestnut barrels. A complex nose with some candied notes, the palate was reminiscent of ripe nectarines. Brisk acidity and pleasant woody notes were in evidence but the wine finished with some bitter/astringent phenolics.

Fattoria di Bacchereto – Vin Santo di Carmignano – 1999 (17.5). This from a biodynamic vineyard not far from Prato (that produces a fine Carmignano also). A blend of 80% Trebbiano and 20% Malvasia, dried for four months. Vinification with natural yeasts in small chestnut barrels for a whopping eight years! A wonderfully complex wine, sweet (I would estimate residual sugar at about 100g/l) but not cloying, with flavours of dried apricots, orange peel, honey, and toasted almonds, and generous persistence. Confirms my preference for sweeter styles of vin santo.

Baddia A Coltibuono – Vin Santo – Del Chianti Classico – 2002 (18.7). A blend of 50% Trebbiano and 50% Malvasia, matured/fermented in oak casks for four years, and subjected to the swings in temperature as was the case traditionally, the production of this wine is extremely limited – only 6500 bottles in this difficult year. This is a wine of enormous complexity, depth and length. Apricots, honey, citrus, fig, vanilla, butterscotch and a gorgeous creaminess of texture. Just stunning.

Fontodi – Vin Santo – Del Chianti Classico – 1997 (18.3). A blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, this time dried for five months and aged for five years in a combination of chestnut and oak barrels. Production about 4000 bottles. Darker amber in colour, caramel and butterscotch on the nose carries through the palate. Crisp acidity which gives a drying lift to the finish.

It has often been said that sherry is one of the world of wine’s great untapped secrets – I agree, but to this I would add vin santo. Procure a bottle in the stead of a Sauternes, Trockenbeerenauslese or Tokaji next time you are in search of a dessert wine!

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Moderisation of Italian Wines

Dr Brendan Jansen

5 December 2009

Over the past 7 months here in Italy (and when I was in Rioja last week) I have frequently heard wines described as “modern” or “traditional” in style. I suspect this is a peculiar Old World issue, as “growing up” in the world of Australian wine, most styles were, almost by definition, modern.

What does the distinction mean here? I have come to understand that the term “modern” refers to a style of wine which is different to that produced by the region. It implies new and different winemaking techniques to attain such a style.

In the case of Sangiovese, and Chianti in particular, the traditional style has been a medium bodied wine with fine dusty tannins, high acidity, and bright cherry fruit characters, without any dominant influence of oak treatment. The more modern style involves more heavily extracted wines with deeper and denser fruit, even in the stewed plum spectrum, with use of oak to augment the tannic structure.

The drift to “modernisation” does not always flow towards creating a denser wine. In the case of Barolo for example, while the nebbiolo grape was traditionally fermented on its skins for up to two months and then aged in large oak or chestnut barrels (boti), these days, many producers limit skin contact to around the norm for red wine of about 17 days, leave the wine in wood for the minimum time allowed by law (for it to be classified as a Barolo) and often use small barrels. This results in wine that is far more approachable when young, and drinkable earlier than the 10 or twenty years one would have had to wait in the past.

What should we make of this drift towards the norm (part of what is sometimes referred to the “Parkerisation” of wine)? (By the way, I met Robert Parker as I was one who assisted at his grand Tasting at the Winefuture conference in Spain – a Grenache tasting with 538 people! More of that at a later date…).

Firstly, the positives. It has brought winemaking in the Old World into the 21st century, so that areas like Bordeaux are in fact the leaders in innovation when it comes to wine technology. There has been a revolution in quality (not solely because of this tendency to change of style of course). Spain is a fantastic example. The wines I tasted from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro and other regions were fantastic. A far cry from the fruit-less, partially oxidised Gran Riservas of the past. In fact the old distinctions of “crianza, riserva, …etc” are becoming defunct. Use of American oak has given way to use of French oak in Spain.

Marques de Riscal now has a new line of wines, with flashy new and modern labelling, very different to their traditional wines (which they still produce of course). In a previous post I mentioned Chianti Classici of a more traditional style, and those of a more modern disposition.

Are there any negatives to these developments? In my opinion there certainly are. It is clear that many wines are being manufactured (and I use the word deliberately) to suit some sort of international palate. To be honest I find it difficult to distinguish a Sangiovese from a Temperanillo from a Shiraz on occasion, when made in a rich, fruit- and oak-laden style. I, for one, was first attracted to Old World wines because they were NOT fruit bombs, with 14.5%+ alcohol, but instead had complex, savoury characters without the fruit and oak dominating. (Hopefully, for the purposes of the Master of Wine tasting examinations, traditional and iconic examples of certain regions will still make an appearance!)

The phenomenon has also resulted in more “international” varieties being planted (not at the expense, I hope, of rare and quirky autochthonous* vines). What a shame if the wines of Bierzo in Spain (with varieties like Mencia), or a the wines of the Mount Etna region in Sicily (Nerello Mascalese) were to be relegated in consumers’ choice and never ever sampled… Is this the death of terrior!

What are your thoughts?

Until next time, ciao!

Brendan Jansen

* Editors Note – According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, autochthonous is an adjective meaning “(of an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather descended


A Boot-full of Wine – Tasting notes from Italy

Cascina Gilli – Innovators of the Monferrato region in Piedmont

Whether one is talking about red or white wines, the style of wine produced can be very broadly placed into one of two categories: wines which reflect the composition of the grape (with factors such as the varietal type, location and manipulation of the vineyard, and the growing season being most important) and those that reflect the winemaking treatments applied post fermentation (where post-fermentation handling, age and type of cooperage used, and length of aging are important). Management of the fermentation and phenolic and flavour extraction by variations in temperature, juice and skin contact, and timing of pressing in red wines can contribute to both styles.

But what about when you are dealing with a variety whose essence is still to be discovered? A variety which has traditionally been vinified in a certain fashion, but has the ability to be made into ‘new’ wine styles, with potentially greater results than have hitherto been achieved by the variety?

Freisa is such a variety, and Gianni Vergnano is the visionary to lead the way.

Freisa is a native variety of north-western Italy, and has been produced in Piedmont for centuries, in several styles, including a lightly sparkling version (“vivace”) version. Rich in anthocyanins and phenolics, it was sometimes used to give other varieties a boost of colour and body. Its tougher skin means it is more resistant to rot, another reason the variety was appreciated in this cooler, damper area of Italy.

But research by Prof Schnieder of the University of California Davis, in conjunction with the Instituto di San Michele all’Adige, has confirmed it is a close relative (and possibly the grandparent) of Nebbiolo, thus confirming what had been suspected by Gianni Vergnano, and Prof Gerbi in the Department of Oenology in the University of Torino: Freisa is special.

To bring the great nobility of the grape to the fore, Gianni has collaborated with local universities, and has done microvinification experiments himself, exploring different fermentation and post fermentation strategies (such as cooperage and aging times) to attempt to uncover the full potential of this grape. To this end, he has engaged the young oenologist, Bruno Tamagnone, to assit him. If Gianni is the visionary, Bruno is the disciplined force that helps to realise Gianni’s ideas.

Gianni is the first to admit that his investigations are far from over. He laments the fact that others in the local area (which, unusually, has the light coloured ‘terrabianca’ soil of clay/marl, more akin to that found in the Langhe hills around Barolo than in Monferrato) are reluctant to follow his lead and innovative techniques. When he begins with issues such as reduction of yield, they run a mile!

Here are three examples of Freisa that we tasted (the winery also produces a range of other wines including the authoctonous Bonarda variety, and a Barbera D’Asti):

Cascina Gilli –Freisa D’Asti Luna di Maggio – 2009 (17.25). This is a lightly sparkling or ‘vivace’ style so popular in the wine bars of Milan. The wine displays a fruity lightness, with lovely tannins that dance in the mouth. The sweetness is derived from the fruit core – there is no residual sugar to speak of. I felt that my long search for a wine to match lightly spiced Asian food, such as Barry Weinman’s dahl, was at long last, over! 17.25 pts

Cascina Gilli – Freisa Vigna del Forno – 2007 (18). My first impression was of a medium weight palate, with ripe, firm tannins adding good structure to what was an easy to drink style. Then sweet fruit, lightly spiced, became more evident, with a long finish. No oak is evident – one gets the impression of pure cherry and dark berry fruit. Though drinking well now, I suggest it will develop further for 5 years or more. Yum! 18 pts

Cascina Gilli – Freisa D’Asti Arvele – 2004 (17.75). The oak (1st or 2nd pass French oak barriques – 30 months) was immediately evident on the nose. Again, the structure contributed by firm tannins was evident, this time assisted by the oak. Dark berry fruit mingled with some meaty characters (probably from a degree of oxidative handling), with good persistence of flavour. 17.75 pts

So again I have come across a lesser-known Italian variety, and have been absolutely enchanted by its different manifestations. A special thank you to Gianni and Bruno for their hospitality that day – I look forward to the ongoing results of his exploits at Cascina Gilli!

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen



A Boot-full of Wine

Tasting notes from Italy

27 October 2010

The wines of Barolo get their name from the village of Barolo, around which the DOCG appellation is located, in the Piedmontese province of Cuneo in the Langhe hills. The wine is made from the Nebbiolo variety, which is an early budder but late ripener, thriving best in calcerous soil. Therefore, in cool North West Italy, sites which have the greatest sun exposure, by virtue of slope orientation, and the requisite soil type, provide the best conditions for Nebbiolo to thrive. Though a tannic variety, the skins of Nebbiolo are not so much thick as tough, accounting in part for the sometimes lighter colour of Barolo wines.

Barolo was “invented” in the 19th Century by a French winemaker, Louis Oudart, at the invitation of the Count of Cavour – prior to this, wines from the area were sweet rather than dry. In what would become tradition, wines were macerated and fermented for several weeks, thus explaining the extraction of tannic components, and then aged in large oak or chestnut butts for up to 3 years and more. The result was a wine best left to age in the bottle, to be drunk after a period of 10 years at least.

The oft referred to “Barolo Wars” of the 1970’s and 80’s refer to the development of the more widespread use of shorter maceration and fermentation times, the employment of aging in small French oak barriques, and longer bottle aging at the expense of time in oak. This led to a more approachable, “modern” style of Barolo, with the innovators at loggerheads with the so-called “traditionalists”.

The current situation has evolved so that, usually, some kind of middle ground is adopted by most producers. This is epitomised by the producer we visited in the Cannubi vineyard, smack bang in the commune of Barolo, considered to be one of the prime sites for production of quality Barolo. (Attempts to classify vineyards by quality into vineyards considered “cru” have as yet not been granted official sanction.)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno have been making Barolo for more than three generations. We were guided through our tasting by Danillo Boffa, who has married into the Borgogno family. Over the course of the tasting, Danillo espoused the virtues of the site, describing themselves as custodians of a great gift. As with many Old World winemakers, the importance of terroir, and in particular the terrabianca (white clacerous/clay) soil, and orientation of the slope of the vineyards, were seen as key. He also spoke about the importance of “tradition”, seeing it as an essential ingredient in the creation of any wine. In our brief discussion about Australian wines, he commented that it would be difficult to make great wine in any country without a “tradition” of winemaking.

Should I at this point talk about the history of Australian wine dating back to before Barolo was “invented”? To Sir James Busby? And the many greater than 100 year-old vines to be found in Australia? The many different “terroirs” that we, too, were discovering? The many passionate winemakers all over Australia, who marry the numerous Australian-led innovations in wine science to a respect for the art of winemaking? I thought better of it – perhaps another time….

In reality, the “tradition” that Danillo spoke about placed emphasis on the use of old large butts (bote) and no small French oak barrels. On this point, this producer is indeed “traditional”. However, in terms of maceration and fermentation times, temperature controlled fermentation, yeast innocula, – the list goes on – the producer has adopted some the more enlightened “modern” methods.

Though most of its 60,000 bottle production is derived from grapes grown in its own vineyards, the Dolcetto D’Alba, Barbera D’Alba and Barbaresco are made from grapes sourced from trusted growers in Fossati (a few kilometres south), Castellinaldo (in Monferrato) and San Rocco Senio d’Elvio, (a few kilometers northeast, close to Alba) respectively.

On to the wines (note: prices are ex-cellar):

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Dolcetto D’Alba DOC – 2009 (15.5). Suffering somewhat from having spent a little too much time opened, the cherry fruit core was still evident. 15.5 pts (5 Euro)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Barbera D’Alba DOC – 2007 (16.5). Classed as “Superiore” for having spent 24 months in large boti (butts), this wine was understated yet showed great structure, a lovely medium weight palate with soft cherry/berry fruit. 16.5 pts (6.50 Euro)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Nebbiolo D’Alba DOC – 2005 (17.5). Light coloured, with the classic “tar and violets” signature of Nebbiolo, with perfumed fruit poking through its chewy tannins. A fantastic wine! 17.5 pts (7.20 Euro)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Barbaresco DOCG – 2007 (18). This wine had spent 2 years in large wooden butts, and showed mint, herb and spicey notes, even a whiff of scorched almonds, with chewy plum and berry fruit, and wonderful length, encased in mouth puckering tannins. 18 pts (14 euro)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Barolo Cannubi DOCG – 2006 (18). Opened earlier that morning, this wine was the quintessence of young Barolo – tight, with firm tannins and tarry notes, with a hint of prunes poking through. 18 pts (18 Euro)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Barolo Cannubi DOCG – 2005 (18). Showing a little more development than its younger sibling, more spice, truffle and tobacco notes. 18 pts (18 Euro)

Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno – Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 (18). Spending a whopping 5 years in large butts, this showed even more development with anise, cinnamon, tar, truffles and smoky notes. 18 pts (19 Euro)

As can be seen by my points, this was a tasting of superlative quality. I cannot wait for my order to arrive! Interestingly, there were some back vintages on sale also, including Baroli from 1999, 2001, and, yes it is not a misprint, 1971!

After the winery visit, we popped in to the little town of Barolo. Once an impoverished part of Italy, the town has been transformed into a wine tourist’s paradise. Nowhere in Italy have I seen such a collection of trendy wine bars and tasting rooms. A visit to the old Barolo castle ended the day. Now refurbished largely using private money, the castle is now the home of an ambitious wine museum. Part art installation, part interactive exhibit, it has a comprehensive section on the history of wine, with special focus on the history of Barolo wine. (17.5 pts, 12 Euro entry fee!)

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Brunello di Montalcino

A Boot-full of wine – Tasting notes from Italy

Excellent Current Releases

Brunello do Montalcino is an appellation in the southern part of Tuscany, south of Sienna, around the picturesque hilltop town of Montalcino. The tradition of Brunello goes back a relatively brief hundred or so years, with the family and firm of Biondi-Santi associated with its inception. The number of companies has ballooned however, to include over 200 producers now.

The wine is made from 100% Brunello, or Sangiovese Grosso grapes (a clone or group of clones of Sangiovese). Traditionally the wines were aged in large Slavonian oak butts for the requisite 3 years, though more and more, the use of smaller French oak barriques is becoming the norm. Commonly, some Brunello is aged in larger oak casks, some in smaller barriques, and then later blended. Often producers will make 2 levels of Brunello – a ‘normal’ Brunello, and a Riserva from the best parcels of grapes. Very occasionally, if not up to standard in poor vintage conditions, the designated Brunello can be reclassified as a Rosso di Montalcino, though usually the Rosso di Montalcino is an earlier drinking, less oaked, less extracted, and often delicious manifestation of Sangiovese Grosso.

At a recent tasting of current release Brunelli, I had the opportunity to sample 11 wines. That I have chosen to highlight eight of them indicates both the high quality level of wines at the tasting, and of Brunello in general. I have a confession to make – I love these wines, and they represent a different beast altogether to other incarnations of Sangiovese such as Chianti Classico. Most usually require bottle aging for 10 years at least in order to reveal their full tasty potential. The wines were tasted alphabetically by producer, and are presented so.


Altesino – Brunello di Montalcino – DOCG Riserva – 2004 (18). Cherries but also blackberries, leather and chocolate. Persistent and balanced. 18 pts. 44 Euro

Banfi – Brunello – Poggio All’Oro– DOCG Riserva – 2004 (18.5). An early whiff of sulphur which soon blew off. A baby – long, tannic, tangy acid, complex. 18.5 pts. 84 Euro

Cupano – Brunello di Montalcino – DOCG – 2004 (17.75). The nose was a bit muted but the palate sang, with fresh dark red fruit and a savoury undertow. 17.75 pts. 84 Euro

Pacenti Franco-Canalicchio – Brunello di Montalcino – DOCG Riserva – 2004 (18.25). Acid, tannins, fruit in fine balance. Complex and long. 18.25 pts 47 Euro

Piancorello – Brunello di Montalcino – DOCG Riserva – 2004 (18.5). Incredible depth to the fruit with blackberry and raspberry, violets, and spicy anise. 18.5 pts. 46 Euro

Il Poggione – Brunello di Montalcino – I Paganelli – DOCG Riserva – 2004 (18.7). Complex with excellent persistence of aromas and flavours. Hints of chocolate and leather. 18.7 pts 59 Euro (For the record, the Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2008 is a cracker – providing the essence of Sangiovese unsullied by oak – 18 pts, 14 Euro)

Poggio di Sotto – Brunello di Montalcino – DOCG Riserva – 2004 (19). Almost indescribable – wonderful length and complexity – and one would expect so at this price. 19 pts. 130 Euro

Tenuta di Sesta – Brunello di Montalcino – DOCG Riserva – 2004 (17.75). Again began a touch sulphurous, but later a solid example of Brunello, suffering somewhat for having been tasted after the Poggio di Sotto. 17.75 pts. 44 Euro

I should add that my favourite Brunello producer, Uccelliera, was not represented at this tasting.

As can be seen, there is a range of prices for Brunello, but these producers represent excellent quality and hence value for money.

Ciao again!!

Brendan Jansen


A Boot – Full of Wine

Tasting Notes From Italy


Dr Brendan Jansen



I will devote this column to the small appellation of Carmignano. Carmignano is the Tuscan appellation closest to where we are living in Prato. This is a small appellation and it had to fight for its inclusion in the DOCG scheme of things. The fight was won in 1975. Before that, Carmignano was subsumed under the Chianti Montalbano region.

The wines in the Carmignano area had a reputation for depth and longevity dating back 7 centuries (at that time, 100% Sangiovese). Carmignano is unique in that its wines are now a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. The French varietals have been used in Carmignano blends long before the advent of the so-called “Super Tuscans” (which probably began with Tignanello, of the Antinori stable, in 1971).

Legend has it that, as the power of the ruling Medici Dukes was waning in the late 17th Century, they married into the French royal family. The French naturally brought their own grape varieties along with them to Italy – these have now been shown to be Cabernet Franc in the main, and Cabernet Sauvignon – and planted them alongside Sangiovese in the Tuscan countryside, most especially around the Carmignano area.

The power that the Medici family wielded, and the length of time they were in power, is truly amazing. The Tuscan countryside around Florence is dotted with large Medici villas, some of which have been restored to reflect their former glory.

Every year there is a festival of Carmignano wine in Prato – I Vini Profumi – The Perfumed Wines, and naturally I attended. Most of the 20 odd producers of the Carmignano district exhibited their wines, with a separate guided tasting by an Italian Association of Sommeliers representative. I include my tasting notes on the pick of the bunch. You will see that Cabernet Franc has given way to Cabernet Sauvignon, and its old stable-mate Merlot, in the wines below.

Two final words. Firstly, just like in the coastal region of Bolgheri (home of Sassicaia and Ornellaia), some of Carmignano’s Bordeaux blends are gaining a better reputation in the international wine media than their Sangiovese-Cabernet counterparts. Whether this relates to greater palate familiarity I am unsure.

Finally, in the Carmignano region, most producers produce a Barco Reale. This is usually their basic ‘house’ wine. (Barco Reale literally means the wall or fence around the Medici property.) Whilst at one time these wines were generally un-oaked, these days most spend about 6 months in oak. I find these wines amongst the best bargains in Tuscany. In Italy, unlike Australia, wine is considerably cheaper when bought directly from the cantina or winery. The grape blends used in Barco Reale are similar to other wines from Carmignano, and I have picked up Barco Reale bargains for as little as 5 Euros. When the weather starts to cool, these wines will be my quaffers. I am unsure if you can track any down in Australia, and what they might cost, but if you see a bottle, it might be worth a try – for curiosity’s sake!

On to the tasting…

Colline San Biagio – Carmignano – DOCG – 2005 (16). This is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. Oak dominated this wine, whose fruit was a touch muted. There was good tannic structure and adequate acidity.

Mauro Vannucci‘Il Sasso’ – IGT – 2006 (16). This is an IGT wine but with the same varieties and proportions of the DOCG above – they are from different producers I should stress. This was a big wine. Toasty bacon (probably an oak influence) with slight vegetal characters (from Cabernet?) led to a somewhat hot finish (Its label says it is only 13% alcohol).

Villa Medicea – Carmignano – Riserva – DOCG – 2004 (17.25). Made from 75% Sangiovese, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Canaiolo, this wine displayed the classical perfumed nose, with stewed dark fruit on the palate, a nice mouth-feel with good supporting acid and tannins.

Pratesi – Carmignano – Riserva – DOCG 2006 (17.5). Another big wine but in which all elements are well balanced. It a 70%/20%/10% mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Had some savoury elements within its ample fruit flavours, which I enjoyed.

Tenuta PierazzuoliLe Farnete – Carmignano – DOCG – 2005 (18). The 20% cabernet sauvignon component was immediately discernible by the presence of cassis and herbal notes on the nose, but on the palate the sangiovese dominated with cherries and plums. There was a touch of elegance to the wine.

Ambra – Carmignano – Riserva – Elzana – DOCG 2004 (18.25). This blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet was most impressive for its length, not to mention its structure and elegance. A thoroughly well made wine with dark fruit elements in perfect balance with oak, tannins and acid. Will age well for 7+ years.

Chianti Classico

A Boot-Full of Wine – Tasting Notes from Italy

By Dr Brendan Jansen

18 October 2009: This week’s article is on Chianti Classico. The name refers to a largish zone in Tuscany, within which, if certain standards are met, a wine may be given the same name. The main grape in Chianti Classico is Sangiovese (70-100%), but other varieties such as Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera (up to 10%) are also used. Small amounts of other varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, and even Shiraz may be added (up to 20% only), but since 2006, no white grape varieties are permitted in Chianti Classico.

Chianti Classico is but one subregion in Chianti; the others being Chianti Colli Sinesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Montespertoli, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colline Pisane. (“Colli” means “hills”, so Chianti Colli Sinesi refers to Chianti made around the hills of Sienna, for example.)

The Chianti Classico region lies between Florence and Sienna, with about a 50/50 split between the 2 provinces. You may be familiar with the black cockerel found on the certification tag on every Chianti Classico bottle’s neck. Legend has it that to settle one of many disputes between Florence and Sienna, a horse race was organised. Both kingdoms had to select their fastest horse and a skilled horseman. At the crack of dawn, as the cock crows, both were to leave their respective cities and ride as fast as they could along a predetermined route. Where they met would be deemed to be the boundary between the two great powers.

The story goes that the Florentines semi starved their (black) cockerel, so that it crew much earlier than that of the Siennese. The emblem of the black cockerel has persisted ever since!

A few words about how a wine is classified to be a Chianti Classico. The area within the region is about 80,000 acres, of which about one quarter is under vine. There are maximum yields permitted (7.5 tons/hectare) and minimum requirements for aging (10 months, at least 7 of which is in oak). Vineyards must be at least 4 years old and dry-grown. Not all wine meeting these minimum standards is bottled as a Chianti Classico – the producer can call it a Chianti Classico Riserva if it is aged for 27 months before release, and has a higher alcohol content (12.5% instead of 12% in the case of Chianti Classico). Other producers might choose to label a wine as an IGT wine, especially if they think the style of the wine is not in keeping with a Chianti Classico. Such wines may have a denser and more tannic structure for example.

Having said that, there are as many types of Chianti Classici as there are producers. The classic description is, however, of a medium bodied wine, with medium tannins, medium/high acidity and core fruit flavours of cherries (and perhaps raspberries). In this incarnation, Chianti Classico partners many foods extremely well. Chianti Classici of greater structure and density, especially the Riservas, have the potential to age for up to 10 years.

Living here in Tuscany for the past 5 months I have, of course, been exposed to many a Chianti Classico. Rather than describe tasting notes for all, I will list below the ones which have caught my eye, in 2 categories – the first a more “classic” Classico style, and the second, a denser, more highly extracted style. I hope at least some of these can be found in Australia!

Recommended Chianti Classici “classic”

  • Castellare docg 2007 (18 pts)
  • Castell’invilla docg riserva (18.25 pts)
  • Fontodi docg 2006 (17.5)Isole e Olena docg 2007 (17.75)
  • Ormanni docg 2004 riserva (18)
  • Poggerino docg 2007 (16.5)
  • Castello dei Rampolla docg 2006 (17)
  • Riecine docg 2007 (17.75)
  • Fattoria di Rodano docg 2004 riserva (18.5)
  • Vecchie Terre di Monefili docg 2006 (18)

Recommended Chianti Classici “fuller bodied”

  • Dievole docg 2005 (17.5)
  • Fonterutoli docg 2007 (17.5)

Until next time, ciao!!

Uccelliera – Andrea Cortonesi in Montalcino

A Boot-full of Wine – Tasting Notes from Italy

Dr Brendan Jansen

30 December 2009

It was a mild autumn day as my companion and I drove to Montacino from Florence. As we approached the hills around Montalcino, Mauro, my friend, remarked that the heavy fog which surrounded the low hills would not be present when we reached the top of the hill upon which Montalcino lies.

He was right. We reached the summit of this medieval town, replete with its own fortress, 500 metres above sea level, to a clear vista. The peaks of the neighbouring hills looked like boats, bobbing on a vast cloudy ocean. We picked up Laura, our host, from Il Palazzone (about which I have already written) and made the short trip to Uccelliera, about ten kilometres away, and at an altitude of about 350 metres.

Andrea Cortonesi made time to see us despite having much on his plate that day. He met us with muddy boots and calloused hands. He began talking about his philosophy of wine and winemaking. He spent time developing his ideas from his time working at two local wineries – Ciacci Piccolomini and Mastroianni.

He explained that, when he had bought the land in the mid 1980s, he had chosen sites with various aspects and various altitudes. These sites also come with different soils, and therefore, different expressions of the Sangiovese Grosso grape. His vineyards lie between 150 and 350 metres above sea level, and some face south, others east and still others west.

This means that every year, he is able to make a Brunello, possibly different no doubt to the previous year, but nonetheless of outstanding quality, even if the weather was challenging because of heat or rainfall variations.

Andrea then took us on a tour of the cellar, where we tasted from barrels, the 2008, 2007 and 2006 vintages. He showed us about four different barrel samples from each vintage, highlighting the effects of terroir and oak – some wines had spent a year in French barriques, others two and still others had remained in the older Slavonian oak bote or large barrels. What began as a winery visit had turned into a Brunello masterclass!

He then offered us to taste the 2005 and 2001 vintages. Both were stunning, with the 2001 superior and benefitting from the effects of bottle aging.

As Andrea talked, he became more animated; his eyes lit up. Brunello is clearly a passion for him, and he truly qualifies as an artisan. One of the most impressive aspects of the man is his superlative palate – an enormous asset given the importance of the assemblage.

My pick of the tasting was the sample earmarked as a Riserva from one of the 2006 large bote. It was a wine of immense power and structure yet still displaying finesse and elegance. Fruit, acid and tannins are in perfect balance, displaying both complexity and persistence. I for one will search it out upon release.

Until next time, ciao!

Brendan Jansen