The Legend of Montalcino

Today’s Story: Soldera Case Basse

Soldera Case Basse (known broadly just as Soldera) was established by Gianfranco and Graziella Soldera in 1972. Soldera was born out of a desire to craft high-quality natural wine, and Gianfranco and Graziella settled on an uncultivated and abandoned estate in the southwestern area of Montalcino. Between 1972 and 1973, they planted the first vines and selected only the parcels most suitable for the Sangiovese variety. A staunch traditionalist, Gianfranco made his wines adhering to a very strict natural and hand-crafted process from vine to bottle. Gianfranco was even strict about who could visit to taste his wines, requiring they share a similar philosophy and appreciation for great wines and he did not allow anyone to spit his wines during tastings. Though Gianfranco passed away in February 2019, Soldera remains under the watchful eyes of Graziella and their children adhering to the same strict and time-tested principles.

Covering roughly 23 hectares at an elevation of 320m, the Soldera estate is as devoted to nature as it is to winemaking. In addition to the rich botanical garden on the property, the vines grow in a complex ecosystem with varying animal and insect life which allow the family to farm without the use of any weedkillers or other chemical products. In fact, only organic substances are used in the vineyards and all vine rows are worked only by hand. To allow for manual labor, the vineyards are kept to a maximum of 10 hectares and very low yields with the balance dedicated to the winery, eight hectares of woodlands, refurbished old buildings, fruit trees, berry bushes, pomegranates, and olive trees.

Winemaking at Soldera is very traditional, beginning with harvest of the grapes by hand. Once the grapes reach the winery, they are sorted berry by berry to ensure only the best fruit goes into their wines. Fermentation occurs in large vertical Slavonian oak vats and is entirely natural and spontaneous. Afterwards, the wines transfer to large Slavonian oak barrels without filtering and racking occurs only when necessary based on barrel sampling of the wines. Soldera only adds minimal SO2, and after four years of aging the wines are bottled in the cellar directly from barrel without filtration. After a few months in bottles, the wines are labelled, packed, and shipped but only if they are of a quality that meets the strict requirements of the winery’s expectations. Total production averages around 1,250 cases per vintage, though this output is drastically reduced in lesser quality vintages.

I highly recommend visiting the Soldera website here to view incredible pictures of the vineyards, gardens, and winery.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Soldera Toscana IGT

100% Sangiovese; 14% ABV

The 2009 Soldera is translucent medium garnet in color and absolutely beautiful in the glass. I gave this about 4 hours of air and tasted it along the way, which helped the nose add complexities and depth though the palate needs more coaxing. The nose blossoms into aromas of vibrant red cherry, wild strawberry, raspberry, red rose, anise, tomato paste, leather, scorched earth, truffle, savory green herbs, faint cinnamon, and crushed rock mineral. Meanwhile the perfectly balanced palate shows notes of bright cherry, strawberry, orange rind, mild sweet tobacco, roasted tomato, charred herbs, smoke, rocky earth, and oregano. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, beautifully integrated medium tannins, and a long finish. Will only get better over the next 5+ years.

Price: $600 (paid $460 two years ago). I think the value conversation goes out the window at this price-point, however this is an absolutely magical wine and far and away the best Sangiovese I’ve ever tasted. I’m excited to taste the remaining bottles over the years to come, and I’m glad we snagged these before the prices rise even further.

The “Grand Cru” of Barolo

Today’s Story: Damilano

Damilano is a family owned and operated wine estate located in Piedmont, Italy and they are known for their Cru Barolo bottlings from the Cannubi, Brunate, Cerequio, and Liste vineyards. The Damilano family traces their winemaking roots to the year 1890 when Giuseppe Borgogno, the great-grandfather of today’s owners, began making wines from the family vineyards. It wasn’t until 1935, however, that Damilano got its name and “official” start under Giuseppe’s son-in-law Giacomo Damilano. Giacomo worked to improve the quality of his family’s wines, ultimately passing the estate to his children and then his grandchildren Guido, Mario, and Paolo Damilano who run the estate today.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Barolo Cannubi

100% Nebbiolo; 15% ABV

The 2008 Barolo Cannubi is opaque deep garnet in color. Given an hour or two to open up, the nose showcases classic aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, anise, red rose, tobacco, truffle, basil, scorched earth, and oak. Meanwhile on the palate I get equally classic notes of black cherry, plum, baked strawberry, cola, black licorice, pipe tobacco, oregano, and mineral. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, grippy and dusty medium (+) tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $85. There is a lot of good here and I think the price is justified, but this is lacking in complexity and depth to really blow me away. Though the alcohol is not overbearing, at 15% you can tell it is there and this comes across as a more modern expression than I would like. It has all the great Barolo notes to it, but there are bottlings more my style around the $50-60 mark.

Elegant and Refined Sangiovese in a Tough Vintage

Today’s Story: Isole e Olena

Isole e Olena is a Tuscan wine estate located in the heart of Chianti Classico and was established in 1952 by the De Marchi family. The family purchased two distinct estates, Isole and Olena, each with multi-century histories of their own and combined them into this new venture. In 1976, fourth generation winemaker Paolo De Marchi left his home in Piedmont and joined the family estate of Isole e Olena. Paolo immediately set about enhancing the quality of the wines and modernizing their approach, primarily by planting non-indigenous varieties in single vineyard plots. On the quality front, Paolo will sell off any finished wine he does not feel meets the quality standards of his estate and therefore he keeps production smaller than it could be. Today Isole e Olena consists of about 290 hectares of which 50 hectares are planted to vine, and the family practices sustainable viticulture. Through a traditional and minimally invasive philosophy in the cellar, Paolo crafts wines meant to showcase the variety alongside a sense of place for the Chianti Classico region.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Cepparello

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Cepparello is almost opaque deep garnet in color with ruby hues in the bowl. Given two hours in the decanter, the wine opens to showcase a nose of plum, black cherry, blackberry, blue florals, leather, sun-dried potting soil, wet slate, oregano, chocolate, and oaky spice. Moving onto the palate, I get notes of dusty cherry, black plum, black raspberry, dried violets, sweet tobacco, scorched earth, charred garden herbs, balsamic, espresso, and baking spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, and a long finish. Superb depth and quality for such a tough vintage in Tuscany.

This is the estate’s flagship wine, first created in 1980. Since a 100% Sangiovese wine could not be labeled Chianti Classico, Paolo received acknowledgement for this wine as a “Super Tuscan” and it is therefore labeled Toscana IGT. Many credit this wine as a huge step up for Chianti Classico Sangiovese, and it is coveted by many in the world of wine.

Price: $79. It’s pretty remarkable what Isole e Olena did with the Cepparello in this tough vintage, and I do think there’s a solid value proposition here. I could easily put this up with the $120ish bottles I’ve enjoyed from Tuscany, even from stronger vintages. This is a beautiful and elegant Sangiovese with plenty of gas left in the tank.

Three Rising Stars in Barolo

Today’s Story: Trediberri

Trediberri is a relatively new wine estate established by father and son Federico and Nicola Oberto alongside their friend Vladimiro Rambaldi in 2007. That year, the trio purchased 5 hectares of vineyards in the hamlet of Berri in the westernmost area of La Morra in Piedmont, Italy. Federico has wine in his blood, having been cellar master at Renato Ratti from 1970 to 2005. His son Nicola, on the other hand, left a career in finance to return home to La Morra and pursue his true passion of wine, having wished he studied winemaking during college instead. Last but not least, Vladimiro is a banker by trade but he shares a passion for wine and La Morra while guiding the financial interests of Trediberri. Together the three are Trediberri, which translates to “the three from Berri.”

In addition to their original 5 hectares of vines, Trediberri owns and farms 2.8 hectares between Rocche dell’Annunziata and Torriglione and they rent 3 hectares of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo in Vicoforte. The portfolio is largely focused on Barolo (Nebbiolo), but they do produce Barbera and Sauvignon Blanc on top of the rented Dolcetto and Nebbiolo (for Langhe Nebbiolo). All of the Trediberri vineyards are certified organic, and the winemaking philosophy focuses on finding balance and a true, transparent sense of place. To this end, winemaking is more traditional in style and the team prefers vinifying in cement tanks with long maceration, aging in large oak botti, and minimal SO2 additions. To learn more, particularly about each vineyard site, check out the Trediberri website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Barolo

100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV

The 2016 Barolo is deep garnet in color and slightly translucent. I know this is major infanticide, but I bought an extra bottle to review at this very young age while the remaining ones rest for 5-10+ years. This justifiably required a lengthy decanting, totaling 6-7 hours for me and I drank the bottle over the following 3 hours or so. Though certainly tight, the nose emits aromas of tart cherry, black raspberry, cranberry, rose petal, dried earth, tar, savory green herbs, and oak. The palate took all night to open up, eventually revealing notes of sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, licorice, violet and rose, pipe tobacco, charred earth, rocky mineral, and a hint of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. A classic Barolo that is both elegant and powerful with beautiful concentration and length.

Price: $50. This Barolo has an outstanding QPR and the Trediberri name lives up to all the hype I’ve read about them. While barely getting into an approachable window with a lot of air, this is a well-structured and gorgeous wine built for the cellar. You will thank yourself down the line if you stock up today.

Traditional 2015 Brunello at a Friendly Price

Today’s Story: Mastrojanni

Mastrojanni is an Italian wine estate located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate of the Montalcino region in the province of Siena. It was established by lawyer Gabriele Mastrojanni in 1975 when he purchased the San Pio and Loreto estates and planted his first vines. Though little viticultural activity existed in this area when Gabriele purchased the estates, he viewed the soil as perfect for Brunello di Montalcino and planted his entire vineyard to Sangiovese with a goal of crafting wines after the great Biondi-Santi. The goal of creating exceptional Brunello di Montalcino has not changed over the years, but the estate grew with the times and now consists of 240 acres of which 80 are planted to vine (42 acres of Sangiovese for Brunello). For their other bottlings, Mastrojanni also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Ciliegiolo, Moscato, Malvasia di Candia, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Since the very beginning, tradition is the name of the game at Mastrojanni. Beginning in the vineyards of gravel, clay, limestone, and sandstone which cause the vines to struggle, low yields coupled with a more hands-off approach create fruit full of character and quality. At the winery and in the cellars themselves, traditional and minimally invasive winemaking find themselves at home as well, with the winemaking team favoring finesse and a sense of place over heavy-handedness. Though the estate sold to the Illy family (yes the coffee family) in 2008, the traditions, mentality, and passion of Gabriele live on thanks to Franceso Illy’s love of the wines before Gabriele’s passing. Improvements continue to be made at Mastrojanni, with the estate now certified organic while instituting higher quality controls and improving winemaking equipment.

To learn more about Mastrojanni or read through their portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Brunello di Montalcino

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino is somewhat translucent and medium garnet in color. I decanted this bottle for about 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours or so. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of cherry, black raspberry, redcurrant, red rose, slight barnyard, tobacco, sage, loamy earth, and mild oak. The palate displays similarly traditional notes of bing cherry, dried strawberry, plum, licorice, red and purple florals, worn leather, scorched earth, chopped green herbs, black tea leaf, light baking spice, and cocoa. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but fine-grained tannins, and a long finish. While certainly delicious and approachable now, I’d give this another 3-5 years and drink it over the following decade.

Price: $60 average (I paid $50). I think this offers good QPR, drinking similarly to some of the $80-90 Brunellos I’ve enjoyed over the years. If you can find this for $50 like I did, don’t hesitate to give it a try or cellar it for enjoyment down the road.

Gorgeous Valpolicella From Perhaps the Most Important Name in Veneto

Today’s Story: Giuseppe Quintarelli

Giuseppe Quintarelli is a legendary family-owned and operated wine estate located in Italy’s Veneto region. The estate traces its roots to the early 1900s when Silvio Quintarelli tended vines as a sharecropper in Figari with his brothers, however Silvio moved to Cerè di Negrar and established his own estate in 1924 which can be considered a more official founding date. By the 1950s, Silvio’s son Giuseppe came into his own as a winemaker and took over the family estate with an immediate mission of tirelessly improving the quality of his wines. It is this Giuseppe whose name today adorns the bottles, and he is largely considered the Father of Amarone which he worked to perfect over a 60 year career.

A staunch traditionalist and perfectionist, Giuseppe’s wines are the benchmark for quality when it comes to Amarone and Valpolicella. At the Quintarelli estate, which consists of about 12 hectares of vineyards, they eschew the use of chemical herbicides and intentionally foster low yields through strict pruning and green harvesting in an effort to bolster quality, not quantity. Harvest is accomplished with multiple passes through the vineyards by plot and variety to ensure all fruit is picked at the most opportune time, and there are very strict standards for how to qualify fruit as acceptable. As an example of how far the Quintarelli family is willing to go, they will not bottle an Amarone in vintages they deem anything but the utmost quality, instead bottling the Rosso del Bepi with declassified fruit. A subset of the Quintarelli’s perfectionism is their patience. Once the wines are transferred to Slavonian oak botti for aging, the Amarone remains for 8 years and the Amarone Riserva for 10 years before they are bottled and released only when ready. Even the Valpolicella Classico Superiore I am reviewing today spends 7 years in oak botti!

Though Giuseppe passed away in 2012 at the age of 84, the Quintarelli estate is managed today by his daughter Fiorenza and son-in-law Giampaolo Grigoli. With the help of their sons Francesco and Lorenzo, Fiorenza and Giampaolo remain steadfast to the traditions and sky-high demands passed down by Giuseppe. Similar to the longevity of their great wines, it appears the Quintarelli estate will remain a family endeavor and benchmark of the region for the years to come.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Valpolicella Classico Superiore

Blend of Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella; 15% ABV

The 2012 Valpolicella Classico Superiore is somewhat translucent medium ruby in color with hues of dark garnet. I decanted this for an hour or two, which helped the nose blossom into aromas of blackberry, plum, prune, black raspberry, licorice, cedar spill, tobacco, mint, savory green herbs, wet rocky earth, and graphite. Moving onto the palate, this rustic and complex Valpolicella displays notes of black cherry, juicy plum, cassis, anise, dried raisin, leather, cigar box, forest floor, slate, eucalyptus, wild herbs, and bitter chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long, elegant finish.

In producing this wine, 50% of the grapes are pressed immediately after harvest and 50% are pressed after drying for two months. Following three to four days of maceration, primary fermentation begins using only indigenous yeasts and the wine is racked until February. The second alcoholic fermentation begins after the wine is racked onto the lees, and once complete moves to Slavonian oak barrels for seven years before bottling.

Price: $100 (can probably find closer to $80 in some locations). As with the other Quintarelli wines I’ve enjoyed over the years, I think this is worth every penny. There is a rare level of palpable quality in this wine and the balance, depth, and pure beauty of it did not allow the bottle to last long. If you are new to Quintarelli, I can’t recommend the wines enough.

Who Says Barbera Has to Be a Lesser Wine?

Today’s Story: Braida

Braida is a family winery established in 1961 by Giacomo Bologna in the province in Asti in Piedmont, Italy. Though Piedmont is dominated by Nebbiolo and famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco, a large percentage of vineyard land is planted to the Barbera variety which, largely until Giacomo, was known to produce a cheap, highly acidic table wine. A staunch enthusiast for wine, his town of Rocchetta Tanaro, and the Barbera variety, Giacomo set about to rattle Piedmont by showcasing the untapped potential of Barbera simply by improving viticultural methods and aging the wines in small, French oak barriques. During the 1980s, Giacomo proved his point with great acclaim for his Bricco dell’Uccellone (1982), Bricco della Bigotta (1985), and Ai Suma (1989). These wines in turn demonstrate the immense promise, ageability, and complexity of Barbera done right and Giacomo will forever be appreciated by the wine world for his passion. Though Giacomo very sadly passed away prematurely on Christmas Day in 1990, his widow Anna and their children Raffaella and Giuseppe continue his legacy with unwavering dedication to his principles, their home, and the “fruit” of their labor.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Bricco dell’Uccellone Barbera d’Asti

100% Barbera; 16% ABV

The 2016 Bricco dell’Uccellone is opaque deep ruby in color with nearly black/deep purple hues in the bowl. I decanted this for 3 hours or so and drank it over the following hour, with the nose opening to showcase blackberry, black plum, tart red cherry, anise, dried green herbs, bitter chocolate, crushed rock, and oak. While not overbearing, there is slight heat as well that should integrate with age. Moving onto the palate, this gorgeous Barbera displays notes of plum, blackberry, sour dark cherry, tomato paste, cigar box, scorched earth, oregano, black pepper, and charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $80. Most may very well see this as a very expensive Barbera, and they would not be wrong because Barbera is overshadowed by the Nebbiolo (Barolo and Barbaresco) of Piedmont. However, this is a wine to prove a point – that Barbera can be high quality, complex, and beautiful. The price here is justified in my opinion, though I do find myself partial to their 2015 Bricco della Bigotta I drank for about the same price.

Bold and Powerful Tuscan Red That Needs More Time

Today’s Story: Vecchie Terre di Montefili

Vecchie Terre di Montefili was established in the Chianti Classico area of Tuscany by the Acuti family in 1975, right in the midst of rising popularity of “Super Tuscan” wines. The family planted their Sangiovese vineyards when they established Montefili, later giving in to the rise of Tuscan wines containing Cabernet Sauvignon by adding the variety in 1981. Dedicated to the craft of sustainable winemaking, Montefili helped create Italy’s first organic winemaking district in 2000 which is overseen by the Panzano in Chianti Winemakers Association. Though the winery shifted hands in late 2015 to American investors Nicola Marzovilla, Frank Bynum, and Tom Peck Jr., the trio is dedicated to maintaining the traditions of the Acuti family and their wines.

Vecchie Terre di Montefili consists of 31 acres of vineyards situated at just over 1,500 feet elevation. While the majority of these vineyards are planted to Sangiovese, there are smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon for the Bruno di Rocca bottling. Adhering to their place in Panzano’s organic district, Montefili practices organic and sustainable viticulture with minimal intervention to the natural flora and fauna of the land, allowing them to increase an already diverse biological ecosystem. Winemaker Serena Gusmeri views herself as more of an observer and guide to the fruit and wines, avoiding a heavy hand throughout the winemaking process with use of spontaneous fermentations and long aging in barrel. Her goal is simply to create wines that reflect the terroir and sense of place in her corner of Tuscany.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bruno di Rocca

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Bruno di Rocca is opaque deep ruby in color. I decanted this for 3 hours or so, but I sense it will only blossom further and I’m saving some to revisit on day 2. Dense and powerful, this does start to open up and showcase a nose of blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, licorice, leather, wet slate, charred herbs, vanilla, chocolate, and oak. The palate benefited from air time as well, offering notes of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, tobacco, damp rocky earth, coffee grounds, nutmeg, savory green herbs, mild oak, and iron. This youthful Tuscan red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, grippy high tannins, and a long finish. I think if one gives this another 5 years of cellaring they will be handsomely rewarded.

Price: $50 (typically $100+). The $100 or higher price tag is certainly a large stretch on value, and I’d recommend you look elsewhere for now. However, if you can find a great deal like I did and pay $50 for this wine it’s certainly worth trying. Give it a lot of air now, or remain strong and let this rest.

Complex Primitivo From a Lesser-Known Region

Today’s Story: Agricola Felline

Felline was established during the 1990s by the Perrucci family in Manduria of the Puglia (Apulia) region of Italy. Under the leadership of Gregory Perrucci, Felline is a champion of older native Italian varieties such as Primitivo, Negramaro, Ottavianello, Malvasia Nera, and Sussumaniello. Though these older varieties and many wines coming out of Puglia were “cheaper table wines” made in bulk, Gregory champions the region and spent great effort in studying the various soils and microclimates to produce higher quality, true-to-variety wines. Alongside Felline, Gregory established the Accademia dei Racemi to further his goals of bringing greater renown to the older varieties and wines of Puglia with the help of other wineries who share a similar mission. Gregory has been instrumental in building the reputation of Puglia as a winegrowing region, and it seems there are only greater heights ahead.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Primitivo di Manduria Cuvée Anniversario

100% Primitivo; 14.5% ABV

The 2010 Primitivo di Manduria Cuvée Anniversario is a rather beautiful, translucent, medium garnet color. Given some time to open up, the wine showcases a nose of sweet red cherry, strawberry, fig, red licorice, violet, exotic spice, cinnamon, and gravel. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry purée, ripe cherry, strawberry rhubarb, raspberry jam, sweet tobacco, dried earth, iron, and medicinal herbs. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, chewy medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. I think this is very fairly priced and it’s a fun bottling of Primitivo with some age on it. There’s certainly still plenty of gas left in the tank emphasized by the wine’s fruit-forward characteristics and structure, but it is beautiful now. Share this with your Zinfandel lover who may not know it’s the same genetic variety!

Great Value Italian Syrah

Today’s Story: Tenimenti d’Alessandro

Tenimenti d’Alessandro was established in 1967 by the d’Alessandro family when they acquired property in Manzano near Cortona in south-east Tuscany. Today the estate consists of about 30 hectares of certified organic vineyards, which are planted to Syrah, Viognier, and Sangiovese. During the 1980s, Tenimenti d’Alessandro experimented with a number of varieties before ultimately finding the soil and climate uniquely suited for Rhône varieties of Syrah and Viognier. In the beginning of the 1990s, d’Alessandro released their first Viognier and Syrah called Fontarca and Bosco, respectively, and have since become a benchmark producer in Cortona. Several years ago, the Calabresi family who had been partners of Tenimenti d’Alessandro since 2007 took ownership of Tenimenti d’Alessandro and today Filippo Calabresi handles much of the winemaking process. Under the Calabresi family, the winery became certified organic in 2016.

To further explore the estate or their wines, visit the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Il Bosco Syrah

100% Syrah; 14% ABV

The 2013 Il Bosco Syrah is opaque deep purple in color and almost black in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of black plum, blackberry, black licorice, tobacco, damp tilled soil, mild smoke, and oak, with some alcohol also poking through. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry, purple florals, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, dark chocolate, and green peppercorn. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) fine-grained tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $38. This is my first Italian Syrah, but I do drink a good amount of Syrah and find this bottling to be a very strong value. While both distinctly Italian and distinctly Syrah, I think this would be a fun wine for any Syrah lover to try.