Brunello di Montalcino 2008 and 2007 Riserva

The latest releases from Montalcino’s cellars have had their first outing and they’re a mixed bag. The 2008 Brunellos and 2007 riservas shown at the annual Benvenuto Brunello tasting ranged from outstanding to unpleasant, and the two vintages could pose serious challenges for Brunello fans.

© Paolo Tenti | The Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento vineyard, with Castello di Argiano in the distance

Read the article: Brunello di Montalcino 2008 and Riserva 2007

Q & A with Gaia Gaja

Gaia Gaja oversees the day-to-day running of her family’s prestigious 154-year old estate in Piedmont.

Gaia Gaja
© Paolo Tenti | Gaia Gaja

Are you adjusting your winemaking practices because of climate change?

Absolutely. But more than in the cellar, the real changes are being made in the vineyards. If in the 1970s and 1980s, vineyard management was geared towards achieving better ripening and eliminating humidity from the vineyards, we’re now doing just the opposite. So, we no longer top off the leaf canopy to help the sun ripen the grapes.

Twenty years ago, we planted grass between the rows to absorb water, and we cut it constantly to stimulate new growth. Now, we leave the grass but never cut it. We let it die, then press it down so that it covers the soil to keep it cool and moist. Since 2003, we’ve also been identifying those clones on our estate that perform best in dry, hot vintages. It’s a long process but we’re starting to see interesting results that should help us in the future.

Who or what inspired you to make wine?

Both my grandfather and my father. My grandfather, because he believed wholeheartedly in Barbaresco at a time when almost no one else did, and my father because of his great courage to make daring changes that revolutionized vineyard management and winemaking.

Has your winemaking style changed over time? If so, how?

The style itself has not really changed, but each vintage is approached differently in order to make the best wines possible. Changes are subtle but include adapting maceration times and how long the wines age in oak, for example. Also, my father used to make all the decisions on his own, but now we have a team; together we make all the strategic decisions after careful tastings.

Read the article: Q & A with Gaia Gaja

Ornellaia and Masseto: A Tale Of Two Wines

Kerin O’Keefe delves into the background of the famed Italian wines Ornellaia and Masseto.
© Paolo Tenti | Individual vineyard samples are tasted before the blend for Ornellaia is decided

When Lodovico Antinori founded his estate in 1981 on land his mother had given him from her holdings in Bolgheri, he was confident that he was going to make quality Bordeaux-styled wines. This scion of the famed Tuscan winemaking family can hardly have realized, however, that he was on the path to creating two of Italy’s most celebrated labels: Ornellaia and Masseto.

Read the article: Ornellaia and Masseto: A Tale Of Two Wines

Giuseppe Sesti: Brunello Written in the Stars

A medieval Montalcino castle inspires a stargazer to make his own wine.
© Paolo Tenti | Giuseppe Sesti rejects small barriques in favor of large Slavonian barrels

When Giuseppe Sesti, a historian of astronomy, purchased an ancient ruined castle in Montalcino, he did not realize he had just sealed his own destiny as a boutique Brunello maker.

Sesti, whose rich and powerful Brunellos are a cult favorite among fans of Italian wine, is Montalcino’s accidental winemaker; when he bought the splendid Castello di Argiano estate in 1975, wine was the last thing on his mind. The property came complete with a disintegrating but authentic medieval castle tower, a ninth-century church, and a stone country house with a tree growing through the roof and pecking chickens milling about the sitting room. Sesti and his English wife, Sarah, were captivated.

Read the article: Brunello Written in the Stars

Conterno: Tradition Underscores Celebrated Barolo

Barolo doesn’t get any better than Giacomo Conterno. Kerin O’Keefe explains why.
© Paolo Tenti | Roberto Conterno pictured at the Monforte d’Alba winery

The prized wines include Cascina Francia and the family’s crown jewel: Monfortino. Monfortino is not simply one of the best Barolos, whose name alone can make die-hard Barolo fans weak at the knees, it is one of the finest wines in the world. Italian wine expert Nick Belfrage MW wrote in his 1999 book “Barolo to Valpolicella“: “Indeed if I was given the choice of one bottle of Barolo before I die (I have more than once maintained that Barolo will be my deathbed tipple) I would choose Monfortino.”

© Paolo Tenti | Wooden barrels at the Conterno winery; nebbiolo grapes; Conterno’s sought-after wines

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Tenuta San Guido

Sassicaia is the Italian wine world’s rock star, and not just because of the unusual rocky soils where the wine’s grapes are cultivated. A rebel when it was first released in 1971, Sassicaia – like the defiant rock musicians of the same period – shook up the status quo and spawned generations of imitators.

© Paolo Tenti | L-R: Cabernet Sauvignon grapes growing at Tenuta San Guido; a barrel of Sassicaia; Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta

It can also claim the title of Original Super Tuscan as it was the first of Tuscany’s renegade wines to break with the antiquated rules that governed Italian winemaking in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although no longer a revolutionary, Sassicaia is one of Italy’s most iconic and seductive wines.

Read the article: Tenuta San Guido

Check out my reviews of Tenuta San Guido wines