As part of the “Hello Grappa” press trip, we visited Castello Banfi in Tuscany. Michele and I have not been there in a number of years and were looking forward to our visit.
The Banfi estate is located at the junction of the Orice and Ombrone rivers extending across the southern slope of the township of Montalcino across 7,100 acres of land. One third of the property is vines and the rest is shared between olive groves, wheat fields, truffles, forests and scrubs.
Lorella Carres, the P.R. and communications manager, welcomed us.
Gianni explains his new vine training system
We went for a tour of the vineyards where we meet Gianni Savelli,, the chief agronomist, who is developing a new method for training the vines.
On the tour of the winery we were joined by the cellar master Gabriele Pazzaglia and the legendary John Mariani, Chairman Emertus of Banfi. Mr. Mariani told us about the history of the Castello Banfi Estate and other interesting stories about the workings of what he referred to as a “state of the art winery” always upgrading and improving.
Mr. Mariani showed us the temperature controlled horizontal hybrid stainless steel and wood tanks where fermentation takes place. Here these tanks allow for optimal temperature controlled fermentation with the end result of wines that are less astringent, less bitter and softer. He said the wines are unfiltered and bottled under nitrogen, reducing sulfites and histamines for a more pure and natural wine.
At the end of the tour we went to the cellar where Gabriele led us in a tasting of four Brunellos.
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013 100% Sangiovese. The soil has a yellowish brown color, calcareous sandy top spil and many round stones. There is a meticulous grape selection with a yield not exceeding 6 metric tons. This is followed by vinification in temperature controlled Horizon hybrid stainless steel and wood tanks with skin contact for 10 to 12 days. The wine ages for two years in different size French oak barrels, 350-liter barriques and 60 and 120 hl barrels. The wine remains in bottle for 8 to 10 months before release, which in the 5th year after the harvest. This is a classic Brunello, a full and intense wine, with red fruit flavors and aromas with hints of spice, licorice and a touch of vanilla. The first vintage was in 1978.
Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino-DOCG 2013 This wine has the same profile as the Riserva below, the main difference is that it is released sooner and the Riserva is a “bigger” wine. First vintage 1997.
Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2012 100% Sangiovese from a combination of estate selected clones. The vineyard slopes at 210/220 slopes down from the Poggio alle Mura (the walled hilltop) Castle. The vines were planted in 1992. The soil is yellowish in color, sandy topsoil, coarse, calcareous and sea sediment originating from the Pliocene age. There is an abundance of round rocks. The training system is spurred cordon and there are 4,200 vines per hectare.
The harvest is followed by a maceration of 12 to 13 days. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in temperature controlled hybrid stainless steel and wood tanks. About 90% of the wine is aged in French oak barriques manufactured according to Banfi’s specifications. The remaining 10% is aged in Slavonian oak casks. The wine remains in the bottle for 12 months before release. This is a complex wine with hints of plum, cherry and blackberries with notes of chocolate and vanilla. First vintage 1997.
Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva 2012 100% Sangiovese. The Poggio All’Oro Vineyard is in the southern slopes of Montalcino at 250 meters and there are 2,100 plants per hectare. There is skin contact for 12 to 14 days. The wine is aged in barriques for 30 months and 12 to 18 months in bottle before release. This is an intense wine, fruity and spicy with tobacco and chocolate notes. This wine is only produced in excellent vintages. First vintage 1985.
Gabriele said in 2013 the growing cycle began with a significant delay with some rain during the spring. Cooler temperatures in June were below normal. Summer nights were cooler contributing to the improvement of the quality of the grapes. From the end of September, rainfall was abundant causing problems during the ripening without affecting the vineyards.
2012 There was dry weather in April and May. There were cooler temperatures in June with lack of rain. In Mid August a sudden heat wave raised temperatures to over 40C (104F) through the end of the month. A sun drenched September with normal temperatures allowed for a good harvest. He said 2012 was a lot like the 2003 vintage.
Then we tasted Brunello barrel samples of the 2016 and 2017 vintages from 3 different vineyards: Poggione, Santa Costanza and Marrucheto.
Gabriele said they have spent over 20 years trying to find the perfect clones for their Brunello .
Tasting the barrel samples and hearing the explanations from Gabriele was very interesting and informative. He said that 2017 was a difficult year hot and dry with little variation between night and day temperatures and the harvest was 10 days earlier than normal.
He also said that 2016 difficult vintage but with different problems than 2017
At lunch we sat with John Mariani and his wife and Mr. Mariani spoke about the wines we would have with lunch and again told us very interesting stories about the estate. He said this part of Tuscany was covered by the ocean and in the vineyards paleontologists recently unearthed a great discovery, a 5 million year old whale fossil completely in intact.
Vermentino “La Pettegola” Toscana 2017 IGT made from 100% Vermentino. Following a very soft pressing, fermentation takes place for about 13 to 16 days in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine has hints if citrus fruit and peach and a touch of sage with good acidity. Mr. Mariani was very proud of this latest addition to the Banfi portfolio.
With the Vermentino we had creamy salt cod with liquid panzanella and pumpkin flower chips
Belnero 2014 Toscana IGT 100% Sangiovese. The soil is stony, calcareous and well structured. Fermented in patented temperature-controlled French oak and aged for an additional 14 months. The wine is unfiltered. It is nitrogen bottled to allow the wine to retain its youthful character thus minimizing the use of sulfites. The wine has hints of cherry and prunes with a touch of vanilla, tobacco and coffee.
With the Belnero we had Duck ravioli on peas cream with truffle shavings.
Poggio All’Oro Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012 Having a chance to drink this wine with food made a big difference in my enjoyment of the wine. All of the Brunellos need much more time to develop and they will age for many years.
Brunello di Montalcino 2010 DOCG 2010. For me this was the wine of the lunch; it was more forward than the other wines and great for drinking right now.
With the Brunellos we had the Beef tagliata with arugula salad and grilled vegetables.
Poggio Alle Mura 2013 DOCG. This is a big wine that will age for many years.
With dessert we had the Brachetto d’Acqui “Rosa Regale” Red sparkling wine produced with Brachetto grapes grown in and around the town of Acqui. The soil is rocky, calcareous with tufaceous marl. Fermentation is with brief skin contact and storage at 32F. Refermentation in stainless steel vats, followed immediately by bottling. This is an aromatic wine with hints of raspberry, strawberry and rose petals and good acidity.
With the Brachetto we had strawberry chantilly cream tart with yogurt ice cream.
What is the perfect way to end the meal? With Grappa of course. Gabriele Pazzaglia, the cellar master, led us in a tasting of four grappas. Gaberiele said that all grappa is distilled in the same way.
Grappa Del Castello The pomace comes from selected Banfi vineyards in the Southern hills of Montalcino.(Sangiovese) The soil here is olive brown in color with very calcareous topsoil. This is a traditionally-made grappa with a hint of fruit.
Grappa di Brunello made from the pomace of Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese) very traditional grappa.
Grappa di Brunello “Torre” made from the pomace of Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese). This is an intense grappa with a hint of wild berries and sour cherries on the finish.
Poggio Alla Mura- Grappa di Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva made from Sangiovese grapes from the vineyards around the historic Poggio alle Mura Castle. After being distilled the grappa is aged in Slovonian oak casks for 18 months. It has fruity notes with a hint of vanilla, wood and spice with a touch of honey in the finish.
It was a wonderful visit and I wish I could have spent more time here as there was just so much to see and some much information to absorb.
That night walking around the town of Montalcino I ran into Bill Whiting Director of Wine Education for Banfi and a member of the Banfi “family”. I have known Bill for a long time and he was going to visit Castello Banfi with a group of retailers the next day. What a lucky group to enjoy this beautiful place, wonderful people and great products!