Monthly Archives: May 2018

Visiting Castello Banfi


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!



Filed under Banfi


I have been a grappa drinker since the first time I went to Italy in 1970. I generally enjoy grappa after meals, but I also like it in espresso (caffé corretto), drizzled on Italian ices, in a fruit salad, with chocolate, and in orange juice on cold winter mornings. Michele often cooks with grappa.

Two years ago I was invited to Rome to visit three wineries in Lazio. The organizer of the trip was Sylvia Anna Annavini and I had a great time. Sylvia contacted me when she came to NYC and Michele and I went to dinner with her. At one point she asked if we liked grappa and I said yes and so much so that we had written an article for Gourmet magazine on Cooking with Grappa. The grappa chocolate cake appeared on the cover of the magazine. Silva was doing a promotion for Grappa both in NYC and in Italy, called “Hello Grappa” and asked if we would like to take part.A few months later Silvia invited us to Italy for Hello Grappa to visit distilleries which produce Grappa.

We visited two distilleries: the Bonollo Distillery in Torrita di Siena in Tuscany and the Mazzetti Distillery in Altavilla, Piedmont.

Giulia Di Cosimo and Maria Carla Bonollo

At Bonollo we were greeted by Maria Carla Bonollo and her daughter Giulia Di Cosimo.

Bonollo is a very large operation and the Bonollo family own distilleries in other parts of Italy.  It Italy it is against the law to produce distilled spirits and wine on the same property. So Bonollo not only makes grappa under its own label but also  for some of the best  producers  in Tuscany such as Castello Banfi.

The producers will send their pomace to Bonollo and tell them what type of Grappa they want, traditional (clear), or aged (in barrels) and the alcohol content they want for their grappa.

In the past grappa was enjoyed mostly by farm workers in the cold weather to give them energy before they went into the fields to work. It was looked upon as something only the peasants drank because it was made from the discarded grape skins after the grapes were pressed. It was a morning drink taken between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. Back then grappa was only made  in Northern Italy. Over the years the popularity of grappa grew and it became more expensive. Southern Italy does not have a tradition of grappa because it is too warm. It is only recently with the popularity and often high prices for grappa that wineries in Southern Italy have their grape pomace (vinaccia in Italian) turned into grappa. Grappa was first called acqua vita, water of life,

The pomace

There are 45 distilleries that produce grappa in Italy and wine producers send their pomace to one of these distilleries to be made into grappa. Pomace is the grape residue left after the first pressing when making wine.  There are over 4,000 grappa labels on the market today.

Producing Grappa

In the distillery there are 100 days of work, 24/7 from September to December. The freshest selected pomace is distilled each day. The distillation takes place in alembics using the traditional discontinuous bain marie system (steam distillation).  Grappa is very difficult to produce because pomace is a solid ingredient.

The first part of the production called the “head” tastes bad because it contains too much methane (tastes like nail polish) and is discarded. The last part is called the “tail” and contains too many impurities and is also discarded. The discontinuous method produces small amounts of high quality grappa.

There is also the continuous process of grappa production in giant stills, which produces large amounts of grappa. This grappa is more commercial and does not cost as such as the grappa produced by the discontinuous method.

At Bonollo they mostly use the discontinuous method but do make some grappa using the continuous method.

Grappa made from white grapes (especially aromatic grapes like Moscato)  have more aromas and is easier to drink than grappa made from red grapes, though grappa made from red grapes has more taste. If you are going to introduce grappa to someone for the first time it is better to chose a grappa made from white grapes as it is easier to drink.

Until about 20 years ago all grappa was made without being aged in wood and this is now referred to as traditional grappa. This grappa was clear in color and the aroma and the flavor reflected the pomace that it was made from.

Today many grappa’s are aged in barriques, mostly new and are dark in color and in many cases the wood flavors dominate.  Grappa aged in wood is considered good as an entry-level grappa because the wood mellows the grappa. Both at Bonollo and Mazzetti the aged grappa we tasted was light in color, retained the aroma and flavor of the pomace  because they used large barrels to age the grappa. 

In Italy the government comes in and puts “locks” on the grappa that is still in the distillery and has not been bottled so that nothing can be added to the grappa.

At Bonollo we tasted three grappas:

Grappa Moscato–tasting this, one can understand why this would be a good entry-level grappa. It is distinctly Moscato, with floral aromas and a hint of honey.

Con senso–Grappa Chianti Classico is a typical traditional grappa and I really liked it.

Consenso Grappa riserva aged in legno di rovere(oak), acacia, frassino(ash and ciliego(cherry).  The grappa was light in color for one aged in wood. It had a certain smoothness to it but was still grappa.

The Mazzetti Distillery founded in 1846 is in the town of Altavilla in Piedmont. We were welcomed  by Elisa Belvedere Mazzetti and we went with her to the their grappa store and tasting room. You can visit here and have a cafe, perhaps a cafe corretto and purchase many different types of grappa.

After she took us on a tour of the distillery and explained how they make grappa,

They only use the discontinuous method for making grappa  because, she said, this produces the best grappa.  Then she said they also distill the tail again, getting rid of all the impurities and   making a different line of grappa.


Claudio Galletto of Mazzetti led us in a grappa tasting and discussed the idea of entry-level grappa. Both here and at Bonollo they believe in the idea of entry-level grappa to introduce the younger generation to grappa.

Collezione line Grappa di Moscato — it is easy to identify grappa di Moscato by its distinctive aroma.

Grappa IN Incontro — Barbaresco and Barolo — an aged grappa light in color made from pomace of the Nebbiolo grape

7.0 Grappa Di Ruche 100% Cru– this is produced as an “entry level grappa” and it is aged in barriques. The 7 stands for the 7 generations of distillers at Mazzetti and the 0 for the zero kilometers it takes for the pomace to reach the distillery. It is a very soft grappa.

Riserva Gaia Mazzetti Grappa Cuvée Extra Aged Moscato and Cortese. This was a little darker in color and had much less of the Moscato characteristics.

At Mazzetti they used different style classes for the traditional and aged grappa.

Segni Grappa Riserva– aged for 5 years in barrels made from 6 different woods. oak, chestnut, ash, cherry, mulberry and juniper.

It is aged the shortest period of time in the juniper barrel because it has the strongest flavor. The juniper barrel is the last and smallest barrel in size since some of the grappa has evaporated over the years. This is one of the best-aged grappas that I have ever tasted. I liked it so much that I purchased a bottle because it in not available in the United States. The bottle is being held for me in Rome and I will pick to up next month,

Collezione Line:

All were traditional grappas and very good. We drank wine with lunch and just has a small taste of the grappa

Grappa with Lunch

Grappa di Arneis, Grappa di Barbera, Grappa di Barolo, Grappa di Ruche

At  Bonollo we tasted the grappa after lunch with dessert.  At Mazzetti we tasted grappa alone, and accompanied by dark chocolate and hazelnuts, which was sensational.  Then we had lunch, with each of several courses paired with a different grappa.  It was a unique experience.







Filed under Bonollo Distillery, Hello Grappa, Mazzetti Distillery

Tasting the 2015 Vintage at Domaine Antonin Guyon

One of my favorite producers of Burgundy is Domaine Antonin Guyon, a family-owned winery started by Antonin Guyon in the 1960’s. The estate in the Cöte d’Or is controlled and operated today by Antonin’s sons Dominique and Michel. Last year at a tasting in NYC, I met Hombeline Guyon, the daughter of Dominique, who along with him manages the day to day operations of the winery. Hombeline said if I was in Burgundy I should visit the estate.

Soon after the tasting Michele and I made plans to stay in Beaune for a week. The Guyon estate is only a short taxi ride from Beaune so we contacted Hombeline and made an appointment to visit the winery.

It was a beautiful fall day when we arrived at the winery and were greeted by Hombeline. She showed us around the winery and then we went for a tasting of wines from the 2015 vintage.

Hombeline said that 2015 was not only a great vintage but a remarkable one in Burgundy.

Hombeline said that they have 47 hectares of vines producing wines from 25 different appellations. The domaine owns vines around the hill of Corton.  The southern limits are in Gevrey, Meursault in the south, the Cötes Nuits in the west and the Chorey-lès-Beaune in the east.


She said that all the grapes are picked by hand from the first selection (triage) of the vines. Some of the pickers are regulars and have been coming for 25 years. They want to get the grapes to the vat-house within 30 minutes of picking.

Cleaning a wine barrel in the cellar

At the curerie there is second triage on the sorting table. Then the red gapes are completely destemmed and placed into large, temperature controlled, open-top wooden fermentation tanks. There is about one week cold (10-12C) maceration, one week at a maximum of 30C and one week of post–fermentation maceration. Twice daily pigeoge takes place (in the purest Burgundy tradition) before gravity sends the wine to barrels in the cellar below. 50% of new oak is used for the grand crus and less for the other reds. She made the point that they were moving away from new oak for all their wines.

For the whites, the grapes are whole pressed with a relativity light touch of the pneumatic press, the juice then settles and is racked in the barrels. The wine remains on the lees for as long as possible with a weekly batonnage. The wine is bottled after 12 months, with the exception of the Grands Crus Charlemagne and Corton Clos du Roy, which stay in barrel for about 18 months.

Before we began the tasting Hembeline said she likes to taste the red wines before the whites.

Gevery-Chambertin “La Justice” 100% Pinot Noir the soil clay and limestone. Long fermentation for 20 days takes place. Aging in oak barrels, 30% new, and estate bottled after 18 months. This is a round and well balanced wine, rich and complex with hints of cherry.

Savigny lès Beaune “Les Goudelettes” 100% Pinot Noir. The soil is clay and limestone. Aging in oak barrels, 15% new and estate bottling after 15 months. This is a well balanced elegant wine with hints of red fruit. This wine can last for another 8 to 10 years.

Chambolle – Musigny “ Les Cras” 100% Pinot Noir the soil is clay and limestone. There is a long fermentation of 20 days. The wine is aged in oak barrels, 30% new and estate bottled  after 16 months. The wine has hints of violets and red cherries with a silky texture. It has a very long finish and a very pleasing aftertaste.

Pernard Vergelesse 1er Cru-Sours Frètille 100% Chardonnay. Soil is white marl.The wine has hints of citrus fruit notes with a touch of hazelnuts and mineral notes.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru “La Charmes Dessus” 100% Chardonnay. The soil is white mais. The wine is aged in oak barrels 30% new and estate bottled after 15 months. This is a rich tasting wine with notes of honey. Hombeline said the wine can last for a least another 10 years.

After the tasting she offered me one of the open bottles to take back to the hotel to drink. I picked the Savigny-lès-Beaune and we enjoyed it with pate in the hotel.

Last month the Wine Media Guild held a Burgundy tasting and I was able to taste the Savigny-lès-Beaune again. It was drinking even better than I remembered and it is a bargain at about $40.


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Filed under Burgundy, Domaine Antonin Guyon