Shining Star in Tuscan Winemaking

Today’s Story: Bibi Graetz

Az. Agr. Bibi Graetz is a Tuscan wine producer located in the hills of Fiesole overlooking Florence, and it was established in 2000 by artist and winemaker Bibi Graetz. Bibi has quickly catapulted to near cult-status, producing exceptional wines from old vines using Sangiovese, Colorino, and Canaiolo for the reds and Ansonica and Vermentino for the whites. Bibi started off small, making wine from 5 acres of vineyards on his parents’ property around the medieval castle, Castello di Vincigliata, they call home. He also sources fruit from vineyards around Tuscany, putting an emphasis on old vines for their added complexity and concentration. In the Testamatta I am reviewing today, for example, vine age is 35-50 years and for his Colore bottling the vine age is over 70 years. These vineyards total around 75 acres across 20 small plots, which are all farmed organically. Bibi does not adhere to DOC or DOCG regulations, instead practicing an “artisanal approach” to winemaking (he has no formal training) so his wines are labelled as Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT).

Today’s Wine: 2016 Testamatta

100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Testamatta is medium ruby in color. Given about 1-2 hours in the decanter, this blossoms into a beautifully expressive wine with aromas of pronounced intensity. The nose showcases black cherry, black raspberry, anise, lavender, tobacco, leather, scorched earth, black truffle, tomato leaf, clay, and mild baking spice. Meanwhile the palate is also of pronounced intensity with notes of red cherry, red plum, black raspberry, roasted tomato, tobacco, black tea, oregano, iron, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but refined tannins, medium alcohol, and a long, long finish. Outstanding wine that is already beautifully balanced and finessed with only promise for the future.

Price: $100 average (though I paid $70 and you can oftentimes find it for a similar price). This is a glorious Sangiovese, offering great balance, length, intensity, and complexity for the price. I’ve seen these prices creep up (and these wines get considerable attention from critics) however for now these remain a very strong addition to your cellar.

Nicely Aged Brunello Riserva

Today’s Story: Uccelliera

Uccelliera is a small wine estate located in the Tuscan village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate in Montalcino, and it was established in 1986 by Andrea Cortonesi. Andrea purchased his property from the neighboring Ciacci Piccolomini, and at the time the Uccelliera farm consisted of 4 hectares and was pretty run-down with less than a hectare planted to vine. Andrea quickly set about transitioning the property to focus on viticulture, though he did keep the olive trees to make extra virgin olive oil as well. Andrea produced his first vintage in 1991 and production amounted to a measly 500 bottles, though fortunately for us consumers he grew his property to about 6 hectares over time with most of that planted to vine. All of the work in the vineyards is accomplished by hand, and Andrea produces a Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Rosso di Montalcino, and a “Super Tuscan” called Rapace which are all very highly regarded.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2008 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep garnet in color and almost opaque. There is a good amount of very fine sediment and this needs about an hour to decant, but once it does the nose showcases gorgeous aromas of dried cherry, cranberry, leather, anise, red rose, forest floor, mushroom, and tar. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of black cherry, dried strawberry, black raspberry, licorice, tobacco, truffle, black tea leaf, sage, and cedar. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Drinks beautifully right now but will be fun to revisit in 2-3 years.

Price: $180 (paid $100 a few years ago). This is a very, very solid Brunello and I think the price-tag is justified but there are certainly better “values” out there. Finding this a few years ago for $100 was a steal!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Outstanding Traditional Rosso di Montalcino

Today’s Story: Biondi-Santi (Tenuta Greppo)

Biondi-Santi (Tenuta Greppo) traces its roots to the mid-1800s when Clemente Santi realized the immense promise of the land and vineyards in the heart of Montalcino. A writer with a profound knowledge of chemistry, Clemente set about crafting wines built for long-term aging and utilized racking and barrel aging techniques that were much more advanced than neighboring producers. Clemente started gaining admiration for his wines, particularly the 1865 vintage of red wine at the 1867 Universal Expo in Paris. After Clemente passed away, his grandson Ferruccio took over and continued the drive of producing age worthy wines with 100% Sangiovese. Though he passed away in 1917, in 1932 Ferruccio was credited with the invention of Brunello di Montalcino by an interministerial commission studying the area.

Ferruccio’s son Tancredi took over management of the estate following his father’s death, quickly becoming an ambassador for Brunello and bringing the wines to new heights. One of the unique practices Tancredi started is the refilling of old bottles of reserve wines, beginning with the 1888 and 1891 vintages in 1927. With Brunello wines at new heights of quality, particularly those of Biondi-Santi, Tancredi’s son Franco eventually took over the estate and brought them to wider audiences. Franco travelled the world tirelessly to showcase the longevity and beauty of his wines, while also growing the estate from 4 hectares to the current 25. Today, Franco’s sons Jacopo and Alessandra work at the estate and are joined by Jacopo’s son Tancredi who marks the seventh generation of family tradition.

The winemaking practices at Biondi-Santi are very traditional, beginning with manual harvesting of fruit and sorting in the vineyards at the end of each row. The fruit is gently crushed for native yeast fermentation in concrete tanks, with the musk pumped over twice daily. Malolactic fermentation occurs under temperature control, lasting 30 days, before the wine is transferred to large Slavonian oak barrels to age. The Brunellos then spend at least 3 years in these barrels before being bottled, where it sits for at least another 6 months before release.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Rosso di Montalcino

100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Rosso di Montalcino is translucent medium garnet in color. This wine showed its best after two hours in the decanter, with the nose showcasing aromas of cherry, dried strawberry, tomato paste, red rose, licorice, tobacco, dried earth, savory herbs, and mocha. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of cranberry, tart cherry, raspberry, strawberry, violet, leather, tea leaf, woody spice, crushed rock, and underbrush. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium fine-grained tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $110 (cheaper in Europe). Certainly not cheap (particularly for Rosso di Montalcino) but an outstanding bottle of wine that lives up to the great Biondi-Santi name. This is a very precise wine drinking beautifully now, but the ageability is certainly there. Pair with meat sauce pasta, lamb with rosemary, or Pecorino cheese.

Incredible QPR From Chianti Classico

Today’s Story: Castello di Monsanto

Castello di Monsanto is a family-owned estate and winery in the Barberino Tavarnelle municipality of Chianti Classico. Aldo Bianchi was born in San Gimignano, however he left before WWII to seek opportunities in northern Italy. When Aldo visited Chianti again, however, he fell in love with Castello di Monsanto and purchased the property. It was Aldo’s son Fabrizio, however, who through a love of wine and entrepreneurial spirit realized the potential of their terroir and produced their first wine in 1962 using fruit from the Il Poggio vineyard. This was a special endeavor, not simply for it being the first Monsanto wine, but because it was the first single-vineyard Chianti Classico Cru. Fabrizio did, however, make a Chianti Classico Riserva in 1962 as well. As time passed Fabrizio augmented the Monsanto portfolio with Fabrizio Bianchi Sangioveto Grosso (100% Sangiovese in 1974), Nemo (100% Cabernet Sauvignon in 1981), Fabrizio Bianchi Chardonnay (in 1990), and more. Today, Fabrizio’s daughter Laura (who joined in 1989) works alongside him at Monsanto to carry the estate onto another generation.

To learn more about Castello di Monsanto and view pictures of the vineyards, cellar, and castello, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva

90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and Colorino; 14% ABV

The 2016 Chianti Classico Riserva is mostly opaque medium ruby in color with garnet hues. I decanted this for 2 hours thanks to its youth, and the nose showcases aromas of ripe cherry, cranberry, plum, anise, loamy earth, tar, savory herbs, and light oak. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of brambleberry, dusty black raspberry, pomegranate, black cherry, tobacco, crushed rocky soil, mild baking spice, coffee bean, and oak. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) dusty tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25. Outstanding QPR, and one of those wines to buy by the case to stock in your cellar. This is incredibly young but approachable with air, and will drink well for another decade or two at least. Pair with pasta bolognese, ossobucco, or meat lover’s pizza.

Traditional Brunello di Montalcino for a Great Value

Today’s Story: Fattoria dei Barbi

Fattoria dei Barbi is a historic estate in Montalcino, founded in 1790 by the Colombini family who were one of the region’s most influential and noble families. Though they established Barbi in 1790, the family owned land in Montalcino dating back to 1352 and first built Poggio alle Mura (now Castello Banfi) and then Argiano. The Colombini family greatly helped build the prestige and quality of Brunello di Montalcino as one of the original producers, with bottles back to 1870 in their cellars today. Barbi was the first Montalcino estate to ship wine to France (1817), by mail order (1832), and to the United States (1962), England (1969), and Japan (1975). Today the estate spans more than 306 hectares and is under guidance of 20th generation family member Stefano Cinelli Colombini.

To learn more about Stefano, this historic estate, or peruse their portfolio of wines, you can visit the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Brunello di Montalcino

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Brunello is medium to deep garnet in color and mostly opaque. Given a couple hours to decant, the wine blossoms to showcase a nose of black cherry, redcurrant, dried strawberry, cedar, tobacco leaf, worn leather, loamy earth, gravel, and savory herbs. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, juicy blackberry, black raspberry, stemmy tomato paste, blue florals, licorice, tobacco, oregano, espresso, and black pepper. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) grippy tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $45. The 2015 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino is a great value for the region and is beautifully traditional. Give this another 5 years of bottle age and drink it over the following decade. Pair with Bistecca alla Fiorentina, herb-roasted leg of lamb, or Pecorino cheese.

Outstanding Value From the Tuscan New Wave

Today’s Story: Montepeloso

Montepeloso is a small, 15 acre estate located in the Tuscan comune of Suvereto. Current owner and winemaker Fabio Chiarelotto purchased the estate in 1998, though Montepeloso was already producing world class wines under original owners Willi and Doris Neukom. When Fabio took the helm, he undertook an immense overhaul of the vineyards, reshaping them over the course of 8 years by retraining, pruning, and regrafting a significant number of vines. Fabio loved the wines of Montepeloso before this drastic feat, however he rightfully assumed that the terroir had so much more to offer in producing elegant and finessed wines rather than concentrated examples easy to make in the hot climate. Fabio’s wines are proclaimed as some of the greatest examples of Tuscany’s “new wave,” characterized as “beautiful, profound, and expressive.” Fabio practices biodynamic viticultural methods, relatively short macerations, fermentation using only native yeasts, and bottles his wines without filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Eneo

45% Sangiovese, 35% Montepulciano, 15% Alicante, 5% Marselan; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Eneo is opaque medium ruby in color with some purple hues. This needs at least 1-2 hours to really open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of plum, blueberry, black cherry, anise, lavender, cigar box, dry chalky soil, dried green herbs, light baking spice, milk chocolate, and light oak. Once in the mouth, this beauty displays notes of brambleberry, black raspberry, black plum, mild tobacco, scorched earth, slate, savory herbs, black pepper, and espresso. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruit and purple/blue florals.

Price: $45. This is an outstanding value, and certainly one of the greatest out of Tuscany I’ve had in a long, long time. The finesse and depth this shows at such a young age is breathtaking, and I would love to stick this into a blind tasting lineup with wines twice it’s price. Pair with Bistecca alla Fiorentina, hearty red sauce pastas, or charcuterie and Parmigiano Reggiano.