Banfi Enrichment Trip Day 7 – A Day at the Castello

Castello Banfi cropped

On Day 7, Monday, we continued our intensive Brunello study with a visit the several of the Banfi vineyards where Sangiovese is cultivated for their Brunello.  Extensive sampling has revealed 28 different soil types on the estate.  It was amazing to find sea shells in a vineyard at over 400 meters elevation.  This serves as a poignant reminder that the Earth has indeed gone through dramatic changes over time.  The other plus is that the vine seems to produce very good wine on ancient sea beds.  We also experienced significant temperature changes at different elevations.  As you would expect, temperatures were cooler in the vineyards at higher elevations.  With the variation in soils, temperature and aspect at the Castello, it is clear that Banfi has a wealth of terroirs at its disposal.  Our tasting in the barrel room later that day would give us insight into the effect that these terroirs have on the wine.  After a couple of hours in the vineyards, the heat of the day began to set in.  It was time leave the vineyards and move indoors to the Banfi winery.

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We were greeted and led on a tour by the ever-passionate winemaker Rudy Buratti.  If you’ve ever met Rudy and heard him speak about wine, you would swear he is channeling Pavarotti.  He oozes passion and enthusiasm.  With the way he emotes when speaking, you almost don’t need to understand Italian to understand what he is saying.

Banfi Hybrid Tanks

At this point of our journey, we had toured a fair number of wineries where most everything looked about the same.  If I remember correctly, all of the fermentation tanks that we had seen were constructed of stainless steel.  Here at Banfi, however, the fermentation tanks had a steel top and base with a giant wooden barrel in the middle.  Lars told the story of how the concept of the hybrid fermentation tank, like most great ideas, began with a drawing on a napkin.

For many years, wood was the preferred vessel for fermentation.  It is widely agreed that wood imparts desirable character to wine during fermentation.  Wooden barrels, however, are difficult to clean, which could lead to hygiene problems in the winery.  Use of stainless tanks increased in popularity because they are easily cleaned.  It is also easier to control fermentation temperatures in a stainless tank.  With Banfi’s patented hybrid tanks, you get the best of both worlds.  These tanks have been in use at Castello Banfi since September 2007.

Clonal selection is central to Banfi’s Brunello program.  Banfi has conducted over 30 years of research on the numerous (hundreds) clones of Sangiovese to identify which clones possess the greater part of the grape’s inherent qualities.  Initially, 15 clones with desirable traits were identified.  Since that time, Banfi has narrowed this selection to just 3 clones.  Vineyards on the estate are now planted to a field blend of the desired percentage of each clone.  As a testament to the importance of Banfi’s research, 6 of the 45 approved clones for the production of Brunello are from Banfi.

Even with clonal selection, the many terroirs at Castello Banfi give rise to many different expressions of Brunello.  Banfi has embraced the potential of this diversity.  In addition to their single-vineyard effort Poggio all’Oro, they have identified 13 individual parcels on the estate that are vinified separately.  Each lot receives the same treatment, so the difference in the wines is solely the expression of terroir.

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Photo by Barry Himel

Rudy Buratti led us through a barrel tasting of wine from two vintages from each of the thirteen parcels.  The wines showed great diversity.  They ran the gamut from tannic to round, earthy to floral, fat to lean – you get the picture.  Clearly, some of the lots could stand alone while others would need to be blended to fill in the gaps.  The fate of the lots is ultimately decided by a Banfi tasting panel.  I would love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.  We concluded our tasting with a mini vertical of bottled vintages including the single vineyard Poggio all’Oro.  It was a great start to our day!

The tour and tasting gave us an impressive insight into the care with which Banfi approaches the production of Brunello.  While Banfi does many things on a large scale, their Brunello program is quite different.  It would be easy for Banfi to throw all their Sangiovese lots together and mass produce an average wine.  But instead, they have created a boutique winery within Castello Banfi that allows for a greater attention to detail.  They exact great care and expense to assure that each bottling of Banfi Brunello is the best that it can be.

IMAG1949Our day continued with an aperitivo in the Enoteca at Castello Banfi, followed by lunch at La Taverna.  Afterwards, we toured the luxurious hotel and grounds of the Castello, the glass museum, and the Balsameria, where Balsamic vinegar is made.  Castello Banfi is definitely a destination if you are in the Montalcino area.

Salt cod Cropped

Photo by Barry Himel

Proscuttio e Melon Soup Cropped

Photo by Barry Himel

That evening, we dined al fresco at the Michelin Star restaurant located at Castello Banfi.  We all figured it would be good, but had no idea the finale that Lars had planned for our group.  We had a beautiful meal.  Each course presented was a work of art.  Certainly, two standouts were a salt cod dish and a very clever take on proscuitto e melon in soup form.

As the meal unfolded, Lars took us on a retrospective of Banfi Brunello, starting with the 2001 Normale.  We followed with the 1998 Poggio alle Mura, which inspired great conversation.  We all began to reminisce about what we were doing in ’98.  It’s very cool that a bottle of wine can bring a flood of memories about things we hadn’t thought of in years.  It truly illustrated the idea that we were “drinking history”.  The next wine we sampled was wrapped in foil and we were left to guess the vintage.  Turns out, it was a 1990 Poggio all’Oro.  ThisPoggio alle Mura 1990 cropped wine was the star of the night.  At 23 years, it was perfectly mature and absolutely magnificent.  With this bottle, we began to realize the great journey through time that Lars had planned for us.  Another conversation about the past ensued.  We ended our final dinner in Tuscany with a 1978 from Banfi’s first Brunello vintage, a treat from the cellars of the Castello.

All the wines we tasted that night were pre-Rudy.  From what I have seen and tasted of Rudy’s efforts, he will only take the Banfi Brunello program to new heights.  I left this day and our time in Montalcino with a better understanding of Brunello and great appreciation of the Banfi Brunello program.  If you are a Brunello Lover, as I am, you should certainly seek the occasion to try these fine wines.

1978 Cropped

Thanks Lars…

Banfi Enrichment Trip Day 6 Brunello in the Fortezza, Eating and Drinking Terroir, and the Supernatural

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We woke up on day 6 of our Italian odyssey at the Collupino Farmhouse on the Banfi Estate.  Shaky and a little disoriented from the previous day’s festivities, we were in great need of coffee and a snack to settle our stomachs.  We stopped at a coffee shop in Montalcino where the man behind the counter greeted Lars-uh like an old friend.  (It seemed that Lars was well-known, albeit as Lars-uh, throughout the area.  He ran in to many acquaintances in and around Montalcino). A cappuccino and Panini and we were off to Class – Brunello alla Lars-uh 101.

After a short walk, we arrived at possibly the coolest enoteca on earth.  Located in a corner of the Fortezza di Montalcino, it was cleverly named “Enoteca la Fortezza di Montalcino – Imagine that.  With an amazing and comprehensive selection of wines from the regional producers, including library wines, verticals, and large formats, it was certainly Heaven if you are a Brunello geek.

Brunello tasting Barry Cropped

Photo by Barry Himel

We were led up a creaky set of wooden stairs to the tower room where we found fourteen bottles (of Brunello, presumably) wrapped in foil and a table filled with glasses.   After we all shared in the pouring duties, were given some quiet time to sniff, taste, and take notes.   I can’t speak for the others, but frankly, after a couple of “tastes”, a little Brunello at noon set me right.  We followed up with a straw poll of our favorites and had a spirited discussion of our impressions.  Then, the moment of truth, our lineup was revealed.

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Capanna 2008 

Silvio Nardi 2008

Biondi Santi 2008

Mastro Janni 2008

Cassanova di Neri 2008

Fulligni 2008

Talenti 2008

Uccelliera 2008 (Link to website appears to be broken)

Pacenti 2008

Banfi 2008

Il Poggione 2008

Costanti 2008

Banfi Poggio alle Mura 2008

Altesino 2008

While we can’t be sure as to whether or not it was planned, Lars seemed genuinely surprised as the Banfi wines were revealed.  Planned or not, it worked out, because each of the Banfi Brunellos showed well.  This was easily the best Brunello tasting I have ever experienced.  Tasting this lineup of wines blind in the Tower of the Fortezza di Montalcino is a memory I will hold dear for a long time.  Hats off to Lars, it was a highlight of the trip.

After a few photo ops, we left for lunch at a charming restaurant in San Angelo, Il Leccio.  We sampled some traditional Tuscan dishes, a bread soup that was really more of a casserole; a tomato salad with bread – the tomatoes were absolutely delicious, seasonal squash blossoms, and pasta.  The meal was a tasty backdrop to a presentation of the Banfi Super-Tuscans – Fontanelle, Cum Laude, and Summus.  After a selection of amaros to finish, I think everyone had completely knocked off the rust from the previous night.

Bread SaladCropped Barry Squash Blossoms Cropped 2013-07-14 13.58.39

Bread Soup Cropped Barry

Later that afternoon, we visited Poggio Stenti in Montecucco.  The estate was more than just a winery as they also raised pigs that they processed at the family butcher shop, and produced farro grain.  Eleanora, daughter of proprietor Carlo Pieri, led us on a tour of the tiny winery that consisted of a few stainless tanks and a handful of barrels.  After a brief walk through the vineyards, we were seated on their patio that overlooks the estate.

Steni Salad Barry CroppedSteni Eleonora Cropped BarryIMG_6612

Above photos by Barry Himel

We had a selection of cured meats, made at the family butcher shop; a delicious farro salad with fresh tomatoes and herbs; a selection of wines – the rose was a standout; and the most intense olive oil I have ever tasted. (I brought a bottle home and, sadly, it is almost gone).  It was a really cool experience to taste such honest food and wine, all produced within shouting distance of where we were sitting.  This was a truly complete experience of the estate’s terroir.

Sunset at the Collupino Farmhouse

Continuing the day’s eating and drinking crawl, we returned to the Collupino Farmhouse and relaxed for a couple of hours before preparing our own dinner.  Everyone pitched in to create a meal with grilled meats, fresh green salad, farro salad, and cheeses.  We dined al fresco on the partially enclosed patio at the entrance of the Farmhouse.  This was a great opportunity to sit and enjoy each other.  No distractions, no presentations – It was like being at home with friends.

I must relate one unusual experience that I had during dinner that evening.  We sat at a long table with four of us on each side.  I sat at the end looking out towards the area where the patio opened to the road outside.  Near the end of the meal, I looked up and saw the figure of a woman in a full-length farm dress.  Her hair was pulled up in a bun.  I saw her only for a moment as she quickly moved out of view behind the stone fence at the opening of the patio.  I have chills now and every time I tell this story…The woman I saw was a ghost.

Next Post, The Passion of Rudy Buratta and the Brunellos of Banfi…Stay Tuned