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.

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 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.