Gianfranco Soldera, grande produttore di Brunello, muore a 82 anni

Gianfranco Soldera, uno dei vignaioli simbolo di Montalcino – noto per la produzione di eccezionali vini di notevole finezza ed equilibrio – è deceduto ieri, 16 febbraio, a Montalcino dopo che la sua auto è uscita di strada a causa di un presumibile malore. Aveva 82 anni.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Soldera ha fondato la sua tenuta Case Basse nel 1972, lasciandosi alle spalle una carriera di successo a Milano come broker assicurativo. Dopo aver cercato per anni la tenuta giusta per produrre vini eccezionali, si imbattè in una proprietà abbandonata a Tavernelle, a sud-ovest di Montalcino. Anche se non c’erano vigneti, Soldera era convinto che il terreno collinare vicino alla piccola chiesa di Santa Restituta sarebbe stato il luogo ideale per le sue aspirazioni enologiche. La sua intuizione si è dimostrata giusta, grazie al microclima secco, alle lunghe ore di luce solare e al terreno ricco di minerali. Soldera e sua moglie Graziella hanno pensato di realizzare un ecosistema unico per generare un equilibrio naturale e un microclima sano. A tal fine, Graziella ha creato un magnifico parco botanico di 2 ettari, completo di oltre 1.500 varietà di rose e numerosi altri fiori ed alberi. Un lago artificiale e nidi creati per favorire la dimora di una moltitudine di api, uccelli predatori, insetti, rane e serpenti, che a loro volta hanno sviluppato un sistema naturale ideale per le piante e la fauna selvatica.

A Case Basse Soldera produceva vini squisiti, delicatamente colorati e impeccabilmente equilibrati che vantavano una complessità affascinante. Erano l’esatto contrario del loro enologo piuttosto schietto e talvolta imperioso. Le sue spietate critiche ai migliori Barolo, Brunello e Borgogna insieme ai loro vignaioli divennero quasi mitici quanto i suoi vini, e come chiunque abbia mai visitato la tenuta ricorderà sicuramente che sputare durante le degustazioni, anche da campioni di botte, era severamente vietato.

Eppure, per quanto abrasivo potesse essere, l’innegabile passione di Soldera – alcuni potrebbero dire il fanatismo – alimentò la perenne ricerca della perfezione che portò a questi magnifici, memorabili e incredibilmente costosi Brunelli.

Seguendo i consigli del Maestro Assaggiatore Giulio Gambelli, Soldera ha mantenuto rendimenti notevolmente bassi, circa la metà di quanto consentito dal disciplinare del Brunello, ed è stato un pioniere nella selezione delle uve. Ha inoltre lavorato a stretto contatto con diverse università, tra cui l’Università di Firenze, per studiare la migliore gestione del vigneto e la vinificazione del Sangiovese, mantenendo sempre un approccio rigorosamente naturale a tutti gli aspetti della vinificazione. Il suo approccio radicalmente non interventista in cantina prevedeva solo fermentazioni spontanee con lieviti autoctoni effettuate in grandi tini di rovere di Slavonia e senza controllo della temperatura ma con frequenti rimontaggi, seguiti da un lungo affinamento in botti di Slavonia.
Soldera è stato uno dei principali sostenitori del 100% di Sangiovese ed è stato fondamentale per aiutare gli associati a guidare il Consorzio nel voto del 2008 che ha rigettato le modifiche proposte al disciplinare del Brunello che avrebbe consentito lìutilizzo di altre uve.
La polemica ha sempre circondato Soldera, ma è diventato sempre più isolato dopo il sabotaggio del dicembre 2012, quando un ex dipendente ha fatto irruzione nelle sue cantine, ha aperto i rubinetti sulle botti di Brunello e ha svuotato più di 62.000 litri di vino dal 2007 all’annata 2012.
In quello che doveva essere un atto di solidarietà, i membri del Consorzio si offrirono pubblicamente di donare parte del loro vino a Soldera, che rifiutò. Soldera ha rassegnato le dimissioni dal Consorzio nel marzo 2013, dopo aver espresso pubblicamente le sue opinioni sull’offerta che considerava a dir poco fraudolenta. Per rappresaglia per le sue osservazioni, il Consorzio lo espulse, anche se si era già dimesso. Nello stesso anno, Soldera estrasse i suoi vini dalla denominazione, preferendo invece etichettare i suoi vini come IGT Toscana.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera and Kerin O’Keefe

Ricorderò per sempre la mia prima visita a Case Basse durante la vendemmia del 2003. Soldera acconsentì all’intervista, ma solo se avessi fatto le domande in cima a una tino di fermentazione di legno molto alto, così da poter continuare a pompare il vino mentre rispondeva alle mie domande. Dopo trenta minuti dall’inizio dell’intervista, tra le risposte alle mie domande, l’abbaiare degli ordini allo staff sottostante e l’attenzione al vino, notò ben prima che lo facessi che i vapori della fermentazione mi stavano facendo perdere i sensi. Mentre ero contenta di scendere, per me rimarrà sempre un ricordo prezioso. Più tardi, pochi secondi dopo aver dichiarato arrogantemente che il suo vino “era uno dei pochi vini veramente fantastici al mondo”, osservai mentre sorrideva teneramente e pazientemente seduto mentre una delle sue giovani nipotine metteva un bouquet di fiori appena colti sulla parte superiore della tuta che indossava quel giorno mentre lavorava in cantina.

Ho sentito dire che è difficile conciliare la personalità controversa di Gianfranco con l’eleganza quasi eterea del suo Brunello, ma io dico che l’uomo era complesso e profondo quanto i suoi affascinanti vini.

Cult Brunello Producer Gianfranco Soldera Dies at 82

Gianfranco Soldera, Montalcino’s most controversial and outspoken producer – known for making stunning wines boasting remarkable finesse and balance – died yesterday, February 16, in Montalcino when his car careened off the road. First responders found him in cardiac arrest. He was 82.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Soldera established his Case Basse estate in 1972, leaving behind a successful career in Milan as an insurance broker. After looking for years for just the right estate to make exceptional wines, he came across an abandoned property in Tavernelle, southwest of Montalcino. Even though there were no vineyards, Soldera was convinced the hilly terrain near the small church of Santa Restituta would be the ideal place for his winemaking aspirations. His intuition proved right, thanks to the dry microclimate, long hours of sunlight and mineral rich soil. Soldera and his wife Graziella went on to create a unique ecosystem to generate a natural balance and healthy microclimate. To this end, Graziella planted a magnificent 2ha botanical park, complete with more than 1,500 rose varieties and numerous other flowers and trees. An artificial lake and man-made birds’ nests provide the perfect home for a multitude of bees, predator birds, insects, frogs and snakes, that in turn have developed a natural system of checks and balances for both the plants and the wildlife.

At Case Basse Soldera produced exquisite, delicately colored and impeccably balanced wines that boasted mesmerizing complexity. They were the exact opposite of their rather blunt, and at times imperious winemaker. His ruthless criticism of the finest Barolos, Brunellos and Burgundies along with their winemakers became almost as legendary as his wines, and as anyone who ever visited the estate will surely remember, spitting during tastings, even from cask samples, was strictly forbidden.

And yet, as abrasive as he could be, Soldera’s undeniable passion – some may say fanaticism – fueled his perennial search for perfection that led to these magnificent, memorable and incredibly expensive Brunellos and other bottlings.

Following the advice of Sangiovese Maestro Giulio Gambelli, Soldera kept yields remarkably low, roughly half of what the Brunello regulations allow, and he was a pioneer when it came grape selection. He also worked closely with several universities, including the University of Florence to study the best vineyard management and vinification for Sangiovese, while always maintaining a strictly natural approach to all aspects of winemaking. His radically non-interventionist approach in the cellar included only spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts carried out in large Slavonian oak vats and without temperature control but frequent pumping over, followed by lengthy aging in Slavonian casks.

Soldera was one of the leading advocates for 100% Sangiovese only, and was fundamental in helping guide the Consorzio in the critical 2008 vote that threw out any proposed changes to Brunello’s production code that would have allowed other grapes.

Controversy had always surrounded Soldera but he became increasingly isolated in the aftermath of the December 2012 break-in, when a former employee broke into his cellars, opened the taps on barrels of aging Brunello and drained out more than 62,000 liters of wines from the 2007 to 2012 vintages.

In what was meant as an act of solidarity, members of the consorzio publicly offered to donate some of their wine to Soldera, who refused. Soldera resigned from the Consorzio in March 2013 after publicly voicing his thoughts on the offer that he considered nothing short of fraud. In retaliation for his remarks, the Consorzio expelled him, even though he had already resigned. That same year, Soldera pulled his wines out of the denomination, preferring to label his wines as IGT Toscana instead.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera and Kerin O’Keefe

I will always remember my first visit to Case Basse during the 2003 harvest. Soldera agreed to the interview but only if I would conduct the questions on the top of a high, wooden fermenting vat so he could continue pumping over the wine while he answered my questions. Thirty minutes into the interview, in between answering my questions, barking orders to the staff below and tending to the wine, he noticed well before I did that the fumes were getting to me. While I was glad to get down, it will always be a treasured memory. Later, just seconds after arrogantly declaring that his wine ‘was one of the only truly great wines in the world’ – I watched as he smiled tenderly and patiently sit still while one of his young granddaughters placed a bouquet of just-picked wildflowers across the top of the coveralls he wore that day while working in the cellars.

I’ve heard some say it’s hard to reconcile Gianfranco’s contentious personality with the almost ethereal elegance of his Brunello, but I say the man was as complex and as deep as his fascinating wines.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Reclaiming Its Throne

After years of challenges Vino Nobile is finally regaining its lofty reputation.

If you haven’t tried Vino Nobile di Montepulciano lately, you’re missing out on the return of an Italian classic. While it’s still a work in progress, the last few vintages have revealed a steady rise throughout the denomination of more polished, terroir-driven wines that boast aging potential and pedigree. And the best part? With few exceptions, Vino Nobile still costs way less than most other Tuscan wines at this quality level.

As the latest releases prove, Vino Nobile estates are finding their groove. Many producers have cut back on or abandoned Cabernet and Merlot and are returning to native grapes Canaiolo, Colorino and Mammolo to blend in with Sangiovese. Still others are using exclusively Sangiovese, known locally as Prugnolo Gentile. Better Sangiovese clones and more sustainable viticulture have had a big impact on quality while producers who have stepped back from less invasive cellar techniques are generating wines with more character and elegance.

Read the article: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Reclaiming Its Throne

 Check out my Vino Nobile di Montepulciano reviews

2012 Brunello: a return to finesse and age-worthy structure

If you love wines with elegance, fragrance and longevity, then you’ll love the just-released 2012 Brunellos. And even though I’m one of the biggest critics of the Consorzio’s Brunello vintage classifications (I find most vintages have been overrated), when it comes to 2012’s five-star rating, I completely I agree.

Defying the intense heat of the growing season, many 2012s have the vibrancy usually found in cooler vintages. They boast juicy red berry fruit, noble tannins and impeccable balance that will allow them to age well for years. Out of the 140 Brunello 2012s I tasted so far, I rated 88 wines 90 points or more, with 20 of these getting 94 points or higher. I was pleasantly surprised to see a return to finesse, enticing aromas and generally lower alcohol levels when compared to other recent releases.

The 2012s even have more consistent quality across the denomination than the highly acclaimed 2010s. The latter were a mixed bag divided between majestic wines boasting structure and finesse, and subpar wines marred by low acidity, cooked fruit and alcohol of 15% abv or more.

Quality is more uniform in 2012, but in terms of weather, 2012 was an undeniably difficult year. Unstable conditions included a cold, wet winter and an extremely hot, dry summer marked by late rains. But the extended heat wave was gentler on the grapes than the turbulent temperature changes of other past vintages.

Read more here: 2012 Brunello: a return to finesse and age-worthy structure

Here you find the full reviews: 2012 Brunello di Montalcino reviews by Kerin O’Keefe

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Quality Quells Critics

Chianti’s newest category lives up to the hype.

In February 2014, the Chianti Classico Consorzio officially debuted the newest category of Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione—touted as the crowning glory in the denomination’s revamped quality pyramid. The launch came amid a mixture of fanfare, doubts and sharp criticism from journalists, buyers and even local producers.

Read the article: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Quality Quells Critics

check out my Chianti Classico reviews

Brunello 2010. Some fantastic wines alongside under performers

After the wild success of the 2010 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco, Bolgheri and Chianti Classico, all eyes are on Montalcino. Although the Brunello 2010s will officially debut at the annual press tastings in late February – along with the 2009 Riservas, I was fortunate to preview almost 200 of the new release in early January at the Brunello Consorzio’s headquarters in Montalcino.

So are they living up to the hype? Yes and no.

Read the article: Brunello 2010. Some fantastic wines alongside under performers

Check out my Brunello di Montalcino 2010 reviews

Making sense of Montalcino

Forget recent debates over new oak, excessively low yields and native grapes versus international varieties. Today, the hottest topic in Italy is the creation of subzones.

© Paolo Tenti | harvest at Tenuta Greppo

Nowhere does it stir up more passion than in Montalcino, home to the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita).

Read the article: Making sense of Montalcino

2009 Brunello di Montalcino: Enjoy Soon

My tasting of the 2009 vintage revealed that it was another challenging year in Montalcino, and the main problem was the weather. Scorching summer temperatures and a lack of rain dominated crucial phases of the growing season. As a result, most wines are prematurely evolved, and while this makes the best wines enjoyable now, many ’09s deliver sensations of cooked fruit, evident alcohol, low acidity and fleeting tannins. Others have more acidity, but dried-up fruit and aggressive, astringent tannins. And there are many styles in between, ranging from soft and sexy to lean and mean. The one trait that distinguishes almost all the 2009s is a lack of ageworthy structure—unusual for wines that are famous for racy acidity and bracing tannins that need years to tame.

Read the article: 2009 Brunello di Montalcino: Enjoy Soon

Gianfranco Soldera – Case Basse (by Paolo Tenti)

Paolo Tenti catches up with the Brunello di Montalcino producer who lost most of six vintages when his cellar was vandalized.

© Paolo Tenti | Gianfranco Soldera

Gianfranco Soldera established his Case Basse estate in 1972, leaving behind a successful career as an insurance broker. He’d looked for years for a Barolo estate, but as owners of good vineyards were not willing to sell, he searched elsewhere and found the perfect estate in Montalcino. Although the land was abandoned, with no vineyards, he had a strong feeling it would be perfect and his intuition proved right.

Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino, almost always designated as riserva after five or six years’ aging, is among the most sought-after and expensive wines in the denomination.

Read the article: Gianfranco Soldera

Kerin O’Keefe’s Montalcino subzones (by Walter Speller)

Just before the annual Tuscan en primeur tastings (on which I will report in detail later this week) last February, I met up with Kerin O’Keefe in Florence. She reports on Italian wines for both Decanter and The World of Fine Wine magazines,while last year she published her second book, Brunello di Montalcino. Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines.

Bunrllo di Montalcino book cover
Kerin O’Keefe, Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines

In her book she describes a system of sub zones in order to get a clearer picture of the diverse Montalcino terroirs, and the different wine styles as a result of this. It is something wine lovers and wine professionals alike are keen to know about more, but a controversial topic in Montalcino itself, where every producer considers his or her vineyards automatically to be of Grand Cru status as long as they are located within the Brunello di Montalcino designated area. It is the reason why the region has never tried to map its sub zones in any comprehensive or systematic way so far.

Read more here: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/kerin-okeefes-montalcino-subzones