Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Azienda Agricola Simonelli-Santi, Orcia, Tuscany (24/9/2011)

The regions of production of two of Tuscany’s finest wines – Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montpulciano – are separated by a strip of land where the River Orcia flows.  You can stand in the main town - San Quirico d’Orcia - and see the hill of Montalcino to the west while over the hills to the east, across the next valley, sits Montepulciano.  Sangiovese is the dominant variety everywhere which makes wines like Simonelli-Santi’s Malintoppo (100% Sangiovese) cracking value when compared to its more famous neighbours; a few kilometres east and you could easily double the price.  Move a few kilometres west and you ought probably to triple it.  It is interesting to note that producers in Orcia often receive approaches from growers of Brunello di Montalcino for their “surplus production” when their own vines leave them short of wine.  It is perfectly legal for Brunello producers to buy from Orcia, but they are only allowed include Orcia production in Rosso di Montalcino and not Brunello.  ‘Nuff said…(ahem).
The entrance to the old town of
San Quirico d'Orcia
The Simonelli-Santi winery sits on the outskirts of San Quirico d’Orcia.  They make two red wines here:  Malintoppo is 100% Sangiovese made from a 4 hectare plot about 400m above sea level.  The wine sees about 3 months in oak.  Antonio is 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and sees about 8 months in oak.  Grapes for Antonio come from just 1 hectare of vines.
In the winery we were guided through several vintages of Malintoppo by Ilaria Simonelli who makes the wine as well as being a busy wife and mum.  Her energy and enthusiasm for her products (she makes Vin Santo, Grappa and olive oil as well) is infectious!  As I write we are on the last few bottles of the fantastic 2004 Malintoppo here in the shop and about to move to 2005 which is also good, a little fresher and fruitier and perhaps less savoury.  Younger vintages, already queuing up to follow on when the time is right, are looking good!
Tasting several vintages of Malintoppo
The 2006 is delicious with lovely richness in the mouth.  There was disagreement amongst the group on when to drink it though; some thought it needed longer to settle down and soften some of its grippier character, while others thought it ready now.  Personally, though approachable now, I’d prefer to see it in a year’s time.  At least there is plenty of 2005 to be going on with!  If anything the 2007 is even better.  It has a purer and more characteristic Sangiovese character and a balance that perhaps gives it the edge on the 2006.  The 2008 is much deeper and darker and, though the tannins are ripe, they need time to integrate.  The alcohol is quite evident here and we notice a rise from the 2004 (13%abv) through the 2005 (14%abv) to the 2006 and 2007 (both 14.5%abv) to 15%abv in the 2008 (yeah, I know - more on this in a bit).  The 2009 is enormous with notes of liquorice, chocolate and tobacco.  It will be wonderful, but not for a few years yet.
Many of our number report comments from customers that alcohol levels in wine generally are on the rise.  Ilaria agrees, but explains that winemakers have a choice to make about whether to interfere with nature or not to address this.  Her approach is simply to let nature get on with it and riper grapes (and as a result higher alcohol levels) are the result of the current climate.  How much rain falls and (perhaps even more critically) when it falls has a direct influence on final alcohol levels.  It is possible to irrigate of course, encouraging the vines to take up water that might not have otherwise been available, which will proportionately reduce sugar (and therefore alcohol) but the resulting wines may lack concentration and depth.  “You could always add the water to the final wine!” suggests one of our number.  Ilaria’s wry smile suggests that this may be an option employed by other, less scrupulous, producers!  Hot climates are getting hotter and the message here is that we either we poke up with higher alcohol, or we buy different wines because it’s more important to producers like Ilaria that her wines are as natural as possible.  As a customer, you might not like that, but it is an approach worthy of respect.

Our tasting at the winery concentrated solely on vintages of Malintoppo (vin santo, grappa and olive oil) but bottles of Antonio 2005 were attacked without mercy at several points during our time in Tuscany.  Antonio is a more modern style with the addition of the Cab.Sauv.  It’s still leathery and savoury with underlying black fruit and is fuller and richer but the critical thing here is that although the Cabernet fills out the Sangiovese in a modern way, the wine firmly maintains its Italian identity.  If you don’t know what I mean, just buy a bottle or two…
Ilaria hands out the 2003 Vin Santo
The 2003 Vin Santo is made from a blend of 20% Trebbiano and 80% Malvasia.  The grapes are picked before the main harvest and then dried until late February.  The wine is matured for 5-6 years in oak casks after which time only 30% remains of its original volume (can you imagine the concentration)!  It is raisiny and rich with a soft, velvet feel in the mouth.  Utterly captivating!

We can obtain the following wines from Simonell-Santi should you be interested – please contact us for details:

2005 Malintoppo  £12.25 (already on the list)
2005 Antonio  £16.50 (shortly to be added)!
2003 Vin Santo  £29.00 per 50cl

Vintages and prices correct as at 25th October 2011 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Podere Le Berne, Montepulciano, Tuscany (24/9/2011)

The medieval hill town of Montepulciano has a problem, namely that is shares its name with a red grape variety grown extensively on the other side of Italy in Abruzzo.  The town of Montepulciano and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are entirely unrelated of course, yet confusion reigns; sometimes I wonder whether the Italians do it deliberately… So, the town is Montepulciano, the grape is Sangiovese (mostly) and the people are the Natalini family who own Podere Le Berne, a farm which occupies about 21 hectares of which 10 are planted with vines.
We found Andrea Natalini
with his pickers in the vineyard.
We had to search for Andrea amongst the vineyards for the harvest was in full swing and he was out with the pickers.  Greeted with confident handshakes and beaming smiles we were handed the secateurs and encouraged to join in. 
Picking Sangiovese in the Le Berne vineyards near Montepulciano.
The small trailer was soon full and on its way back to the winery, we watched the grapes unloaded, crushed and the juice pumped to the fermentation tank.  Within 30 minutes of picking the grapes we were tasting the resulting juice. 
The grapes are crushed.
Andrea grabbed his hydrometer and took a reading of the sugar content.  It read 22 something-in Italian-that-I-didn’t-quite-catch which Andrea said was high and would equate to about 15% alcohol in the finished wine.  This too is high, though not unusual for such a hot vintage as 2011 (his 2008 is also 15%). 
Andrea checks the sugar content of the
juice from the freshly crushed grapes.
Some people may be put off by a wine whose label reads 15% abv but it’s foolish to judge a wine solely on its alcoholic content.  Wine is all about balance and lots of booze is ok so long as there’s lots of everything else to maintain that balance.  Besides, what’s the alternative?  Pick the grapes before they are fully ripe to control the sugar and thereby the potential alcohol?  That means mean, green stalky wines that are not enjoyable.  Or you could just add water I suppose?  It might lower the alcohol but also dilutes the flavour that the winemaker has worked so hard to achieve. 

It is possible resort to all sorts of modern trickery to lower the alcoholic content (as many supermarkets are now insisting their producers do in response to customer demand) by techniques such as reverse osmosis (look it up...) but just how much do you think we should bugger about with that which nature has seen fit to provide?  The time has come to stop bickering about a few degrees of booze and have a glass of water with your wine and, if you have to resort to such desperate measures, just drink fewer glasses; it’s meant to be shared after all!  OK,  that’s the rant out of the way and you need to buy a bottle of Le Berne’s 2008 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano too see what I mean about 15% abv wine and balance.

Andrea has vines ranging from 60 years old to those which he only planted this year.  In the best years he makes a Riserva, the juice for which tends to come from his oldest vines.  Generally speaking only vines over 10 years of age make his Vino Nobile, anything younger will tend to become Rosso di Montepulciano.  It will be several years before he uses the fruit from the vine he planted this year for anything other than green manure!
Tasting the Le Berne wines.
The 2010 Rosso di Montepulciano (13.5% abv since you ask) has a fresh cherry nose and shows evident youth.  It’s attractive enough now, but will mellow and soften with a couple more years in bottle and will drink beautifully for another 3-5 after that.

The 2008 Vino Nobile di  Montepulciano (15% abv if you recall) has a super ripe nose of red fruit with real depth and intensity.  The palate is concentrated ripe cherry with a hint of vanilla from the oak.  It’s very big in the mouth and the alcohol, pleasingly, doesn’t dominate at all.  My scribbled tasting note at the time ends with the words “Bloody brilliant!”

The 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva is much darker in colour and is even more complex with the characteristic red fruit but just a hint of liquorice.  There is more obvious oak here which follows through onto the palate which is full and fleshy with great length.

Andrea drizzles some of his olive oil onto some bread for us to taste and then mysteriously vanishes to return a few minutes later with an unlabelled bottle asking if we’d like to taste something else.  It was impossible to resist.  The wine we taste is, we understand, something of an experiment.  So much so that it does not yet have a name.  It is 75% Colorino and 25% Marmolo (no, I don’t know either).  It is simply enormous, with a nose reminiscent of Priorat or at least a similar Grenache/Carignan mix from a warm climate.  It’s young, vibrant, rich and chocolatey and quite unlike anything else we’ve tasted from Tuscany.  Andrea is clearly a chap who's not afraid to try new things in the quest for better and better wines.  He certainly got my vote anyway!

The Vin Santo is the nuttiest we’ve tasted so far.  Almost sherry-like on the nose yet with a sweet delicacy in the mouth with raisin and dried citrus notes.

Grapes for Vin Santo drying on raised mats
We can obtain the following wines from Podere Le Berne should you be interested – please contact us for details:

2009 Rosso di Montepulciano  £14.50
2008  Vino Nobile de Montepulciano  £22.50 (in stock now - yes, you can buy this today)!
2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva  £29.50

Vintages and prices correct as at 11th October 2011 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fattorie Giannozzi Wines, Marcialla, Tuscany (22/9/2011)

Fattorie Giannozzi is a small family-owned and run Fattorie that can trace winemaking in a direct line since 1710.  Situated about halfway between Siena and Florence their vineyards lie in the district of Barberino Val d’Elsa which itself is just 2km from the edge of the Chianti Classico region.  The grapes here are grown without the use of fertilizers etc though they (sensibly) reserve the right to intervene when absolutely necessary.  There are 180 hectares in total with 35 hectares being vineyards. 

The ancient farmhouse (you can stay there is you wish) dates from the 16th century, though Marcialla has grown to the extent that it now sits on the edge of the main square!  Two ancient olive presses lurk in the cellar alongside a selection of old agricultural tools displayed on the wall like instruments of torture. 
Instruments of torture?
Hidden in the corner is a small door leading to a treasure trove of old historic vintages on which several generations of spiders had woven their protective silky blanket; there are bottles here dating back several generations!
The "Library" at Fattorie Giannozzi
Our tasting here was done as part of a Tuscan meal and commenced with, unusually for Tuscany, a Chardonnay.  The 2010 Chardonnay from Fattorie Giannozzi is clean and fresh with a note of lemon and pear on its easy, attractive nose.  In the mouth it is apple-fresh and crisp with citrus acidity.  It’s not available in the UK however, and one can understand why when it would sell for around £11 – after all, you can buy decent Macon for that sort of money.

The 2009 Chianti Colli Fiorentini Villa Marcialla is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot.  It is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak.  The nose is all ripe cherry and damson with the damson and an attractive hint of grape skin astringency following through to the palate.  It really needs food to show it at its best.  The selection of proscuitto, salami, olives, breads and salads we ate with it certainly did the job well!
These wines worked better with food....
The 2007 Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva Villa Marcialla is also a 90/10 blend of Sangiovese and Merlot and sees 24-30 months in French oak (18, 20 and 25hl barrels though – not barriques).  Certainly there is evident oak on the nose though the ripe cherry and damson fruit still shows through.  The palate is rounder, fuller and more savoury than the 2009 straight Chianti, and the finish longer with lingering notes of vanilla.

Fattorie Giannozzi also make a straight Merlot and a straight Cabernet Sauvignon neither of which are brought into the UK; presumably for the same reason as the Chardonnay.  Both are sound wines though.  The 2006 Merlot has gentle round chocolate notes and is ripely fruity in the mouth.  It’s something of an international wine and, whilst sound enough, could almost come from anywhere which sort of misses the point when you’re in the middle of Italy.  The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is very minty on the nose and actually tasted of spearmint leaves with fleshy blackcurrant fruit.  Again, it is sound enough and perfectly enjoyable, but something of a homeless wine.

Giannozzi’s Vin Santo di Chianti was super though.  Very intense and almost sherry-like in flavour it has a sweet nuttiness on the palate and a long powerful finish.

We can obtain the following wines from Fattorie Giannozzi should you be interested – please contact us for details:
2006 Villa Marcialla Chianti Colli Fiorentini  £9.95
2005 Villa Marcialla Chianti Colli Fiorentini  Riserva  £12.95

Vintages and prices correct as at 12th October 2011 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Olive Oil

Almost all Tuscan vineyards are interspersed with olive groves; olives are the other big crop of the region.  Consequently, most producers make olive oil in addition to wine and there is an equal variety of styles available.  I have to be careful here since, whilst my palate is accustomed to wine, it is not used to tasting pure olive oil.  Many producers drizzle it over the local bread (which is unsalted) though one producer served it to us in a tasting glass, like wine.

Olive oil is a delicate beast and easily killed by light.  9 years ago the EU (bless ‘em) woke up to this and decreed that it could only be sold in dark green bottles or tins.  So if you keep yours at home in a clear bottle get a dark one instead.  It also picks up other flavours so keep the cork in the bottle!  In the UK we’ve only really caught on to what the Italians, Spanish et al have known for centuries – after all it wasn’t that many years ago that you could only buy olive oil in the UK at the Chemists, and only then in small bottles that lived in the medicine cupboard and not the kitchen!  My parents thought it was really only good for de-waxing your ears and getting the fluff out of your belly button…

Legally olive oil has to carry a “best before” date (rather than an expiry date) because it is a foodstuff.  This always strikes me as a bit odd for something that has been used as a preservative for centuries.  But then again, as one food broker we know pointed out, he sources salt for a UK supermarket that comes from a deposit that is hundreds of thousands of years old, and that has a “best before” date on it too… best before the next ice age presumably…

When olive oil is fresh it’s green in colour.  This is because the olives (only picked in Tuscany once the grape harvest is in) are not 100% ripe.  In time the colour will change from green to yellow.  Olive oil will begin to solidify at 4˚C and once it’s done that it will separate and will not restore itself once it warms up again.  To taste it (if tasting from a glass, like wine) you find the same flavours as with everything else: sweetness on the front, bitter at the back and salty and sour at the sides, acidity underneath.  You then swallow it and you get an extra flavour, pepper in the throat and, as a general rule, the more pepper you find when you swallow it (and you must swallow it to get the pepper-in-the-throat sensation) the fresher the oil.

There are two ways to press olive oil, cold press and hot press.  Of these a cold pressing produces the better oil because it’s easier to separate out the water element, but it’s labour intensive and correspondingly expensive.  Hot pressing (and you’ll never see it on a label – you might as well print the words “mass produced”) is the more commercial because it’s cheaper and faster, but more water remains so the oil is less fine.  Some producers (including our own Felix Gasull from Spain) opt for a low temperature (but not completely cold) pressing at night which still produces a high quality oil, but helps keep to a reasonable price too.  Prices for the finest oils can be pretty high.

Olive oil consumption is the UK is increasing, but an average Italian family of 2 adults and 1 child consumes about 50kg of olive oil each year.  An average American probably consumes the same in cheeseburgers… at least we in the UK are now starting to recognise the benefits of olive oil and the nature of its friendlier fats. 

Whilst on the subject of America, did you know that in the USA and Canada it is legally permissible to dilute olive oil with up to 20% of sunflower oil and still call it Extra Virgin?  Sneaky eh?  As indeed is the fact that you can import olive oil from (say) Spain to Italy and, as long as it’s bottled in Italy, it can be called Italian olive oil.  You could argue that this is no different to buying a Japanese car that’s been made in Sunderland, but surely labelling should be about clarity?  So, please remember that any country of origin on your olive oil refers only to where it was bottled/canned and not necessarily where the olives were grown.  That’s also pretty sneaky in my book actually come to think of it.  To get round this you need to decode the label.  Look at the label and you should find no more than 2 names on it.  These will be the grower’s name, and the producer’s name (who presses and bottles it).  They may be the same chap of course in which case you’ll only find one name. Marvellous.  But if you see 3 (or more) names you’re probably looking at a product that’s going for the cheaper end of the market and has been imported from another country and is trying to cash in on the perceived prestige of being from a different country.

Our Felix Gasull olive oil is Spanish and comes from Reus which is near Tarragona, just down the coast from Barcelona.  It’s Extra Virgin (the highest quality grade characterised by not more than 0.8% acidity) and made from “Arbequina” olives. The olives are hand-harvested and transported to their mill to be milled at a low temperature during the night. The hand-harvesting is important since it enables more effective removal of the leaves which can adversely affect the flavour of the final oil if too many left in.  The result is a single varietal oil of low acidity, with a slightly fruity taste and almond, fennel, nuts and anise notes.  It’s great for salads, dipping, frying, roasting, anything in fact as it’s a good all-rounder.  Yours for only £7.95 a litre.  Order now here.

Prices correct as at 2nd December 2016 

Fattoria di Fugnano, San Gimignano, Tuscany

Up a steep, winding track to the west of the hilltop town of San Gimignano sits the Fattoria di Fugnano.  The estate was originally bought by the current owner’s grandfather who fell in love with the area and wanted a property here.  Back in those days Fugnano made acceptable bulk wine, but on the passing of her grandfather, and given her parent’s desire to sell up, Laura decided to leave her studies at university and take over the estate.  Her first vintage was 2002 and she has never looked back since!
Laura checking the grapes on their way to the crusher.
Today Fugnano has land of 200 hectares which are a mix of vineyards (26ha) olive groves and woodland.  The vines are mostly Sangiovese (red) and Vernaccia (white) though there is a sprinkling of other varieties including Merlot and Syrah.  The whole area is now a protected UNESCO site with considerable restrictions enforced on buildings and renovations.  The undulating hills provide various different microclimates all of which require separate management. Most vineyards sit at 350m above sea level. Wild boar inhabit the adjoining woodland and the vines are historically trained quite high out of their reach though nowadays the vines also have the protection of a small electric fence!

2011 has been a very hot year and the grapes ripened early.  Merlot and Syrah were the first to be picked, followed by the Vernaccia.  The younger, earlier-ripening, Sangiovese followed and finally the older Sangiovese grapes were picked.

The 2010 Vernaccia di San Gimignano is pale straw in colour and has a distinctive aromatic and slightly herbaceous nose.  It receives a long, slow fermentation which is followed by a short time in French oak to make the most of its flavour.  It is dry, gentle and subtle in the mouth.  I have to be honest and admit that Vernaccia tends to be a variety that I have struggled to like, producing what can be rather unremarkable dry white, but Fugnano’s is more concentrated and has a pleasantly “sappy” feel to it and a crisp, dry finish.  Its main problem is not in the quality of the wine, but rather in the wealth of competition that exists at its £10+ a bottle price level.

The towers of San Gimignano dominate the view from Fattoria di Fugnano
The 2008 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva is darker in colour suggesting a higher degree of concentration and perhaps more oak.  The nose is a combination of herbs with a slightly resin-like edge.  It has more about it than the straight Vernaccia and, very briefly, my mind skipped to white Rioja.  The trouble is that as a variety Vernaccia seems to promise so much with its looks and nose which perhaps leaves one expecting more from the palate in return.  Fugnano have made a good job of these though.

The DOCG for red wines here is Chianti Colli Senesi and the 2009 Chianti Colli Senesi from Fattoria di Fugnano is garnet red in colour with a fresh cherry nose.  It is a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia (very much the traditional Chianti blend though Chianti Classico does not permit the use of white varieties any longer).  In the mouth this is fresh and juicy without the game & leather notes so often associated with Sangiovese.  It is immediately approachable and has a ripe cherry character which makes it very drinkable!  At less that a tenner it’s cracking stuff.

Also tasted though not available in the UK:
2006 Toscana Rosso “Donna Gina”
Made from 100% Sangiovese this has a long maceration and is then aged in oak for 8 months.  Its colour is a clean ruby garnet red and there is a textbook Sangiovese nose with notes of violet.  In the mouth there are hints of ripe cherry and barely noticeable oak.

2006 Toscana Rosso “Legami”
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Sangiovese.  This is much denser and darker with a mint-and-eucalyptus edge to the nose.  In the mouth it’s quite firm and rich but with obvious ripe hedgerow fruit and a dash of vanilla oak.  The tannins are well integrated but this could do with another year or so in bottle.

We can obtain the following wines from Fugnano should you be interested – please contact us for details:
2010 Vernaccia di San Gimignano  £10.75
2009 Chianti Colli Senesi  £9.75

Vintages and prices correct as at 13th October 2011 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Azienda Agricola Verbena, Montalcino, Tuscany

Luca Nannetti and his wife Elena own Azienda Agricola Verbena which sits just over halfway up the south side of the hill of Montalcino in the south of Tuscany.  The Verbena farmstead’s lands extend to a total of 23 hectares along the Via Traversa dei Monti at about 400m above sea level and comprise a mixture of vineyards, olive groves and woodland offering complete biodiversity.  From their 10 hectares of vineyards Luca and Elena make about 50,000 bottles of wine each year.

Their grapes are all Sangiovese Grosso (there are about 14 different clones of Sangiovese but Grosso is the one planted around Montalcino) and the Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino made here are therefore single varietal wines.  There are some who would change this; moves by some of the larger producers in the region to allow other grape varities to be used were recently defeated in a growers’ vote – much to the relief of smaller producers like Verbena – and thus the particular identity of Brunello is secure, at least for the time being!  “To allow the use of other varieties” explains Luca, “would remove the unique character of Brunello.  You might as well call us Chianti di Montalcino if other grapes were permitted!”

Everywhere at Verbena there is evidence of an almost obsessive attention to detail; the cellars are bright and modern, the casks aligned in serried ranks like an army on parade, as are the vines in the vineyards.  The harvest was brought in less than a week before our visit and beneath most vines lay bunches of discarded grapes, not considered of sufficient quality to allow even as far as the crusher.  Even after the green harvesting in July and August where maturing bunches are removed to concentrate each vine’s efforts into those that remain, not all of the remaining bunches make the final grade.

In some vintages several leaves are removed from each vine to allow the sun to reach the grapes and encourage air circulation to keep the threat of damp-induced problems away, but 2011 looked like being a warm year so these leaves were left in place to afford a decree of protection to the fruit.  This can be something of a gamble from vintage to vintage since the decision whether or not to manage the vine canopy in this way really needs to be taken before a grower knows just how hot the summer will be!  2011 was very hot though; grapes ripened quickly and the harvest was almost a month earlier than normal.  The fruit was no doubt glad of the extra shade!

Luca and Elena make up to 4 different red wines each year:  Their mainstay is Brunello di Montalcino, but cuvees that are considered good enough may become Brunello di Montalcino Riserva which requires longer in both cask and bottle before release – the wine needs to be considered good enough to take this extra age though – particularly in cask since Verbena’s Brunello di Montalcino Riserva only sees new oak.  Verbena own about 220 barriques (225 litre casks) of French oak which each receive a light toasting when new.  Each barrique is retained for 5 years with Verbena replacing one fifth of their stock of casks annually.  This represents a considerable annual investment.

The ageing process for Brunello di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva wines means that they are ready to drink when they are released.  The current vintage of Riserva available in the UK is the 2004 of which only 4,500 bottles were produced.  Wine for more immediate drinking will become Rosso di Montalcino and the wine from Verbena’s younger vines will be released simply as Sangiovese or Rosso di Toscana, the latter of which may be made with the addition of other varieties.

We tasted the 2008 Brunello di Montalcino from cask.  This is a youthful deep cherry red colour with a wonderfully pure nose of ripe fruit, mellow oak and slight leathery notes.  In the mouth the tannins are ripe but chewy, with the gentle oak adding concentration and depth.  The finish is long and rich and, although this wine needs more time, it should be super.

The 2009 Brunello di Montalcino (tasted from cask) is a different beast altogether.  It is more closed on the nose and less giving on the palate with a slightly hotter flavour; perhaps something of a problem child as the result of a hotter summer.  Elsewhere in Tuscany it rained in September before the grapes were picked which enabled winemakers to keep alcohol levels in check, but the rain did not fall in Montalcino.  This is still a good Brunello, but has a very different character to the 2008.  It will be interesting to see how it has developed once it is released.  The more approachable 2009 Rosso di Montalcino (now in bottle and available) has a gamey nose with authentic Sangiovese notes of violet with just a hint of chocolate and eucalyptus.  Again the fruit is wonderfully pure and accessible yet there is still good structure and length.  Drinking well now.

The 2010 Brunello di Montalcino (tasted from cask) is enormous.  It has bags of fruit on the nose with gentle hints of chocolate and is already strangely attractive in its youth.  The tannins are ripe and round.  Time in cask will temper and mellow its exuberance.  This should be a wonderful wine.  The 2010 Rosso di Toscana is very fresh, clean, easy and direct.  The nose is almost sweet but the fruit is pure.  This has 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot included.

The current vintage of Brunello di Montalcino available in the UK is the 2006.  Some thought this still too young but I felt is drinking beautifully now.  Such things are, of course, subjective, but it has an earthy note which balances well with the ripe fruit (which had a slight raisin note to it) and makes it delicious now - balanced and rich.  The 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva still has a few months of its bottle age to go but it too is utterly delicious.  It’s full, rounded and again shows Verbena’s characteristic well-judged use of oak with concentrated fruit.  Further time in bottle will help.  The current Riserva available is the 2004  which shows marked age through orange hints in the colour and its full, gamey nose. There is a real perfume here with depth and penetration.  The palate is fully developed and amazingly together.  Perfect for drinking now.

The 2007 Brunello di Montalcino still has 3 months to go until release and seemed to me to be much gamier than the 2006.  Leather again on the nose with mellow fruit and ripe, round tannins in the mouth and well-integrated oak.  The hint of chocolate is there again too.  A lovely wine.

Verbena (like the majority of Tuscan producers) also produce an olive oil, a Vin Santo and a Grappa, though these are not available in the UK. The Olive Oil is clean and grassy, fresh and light.  The Vin Santo is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, picked and then air dried and crushed several months after the vintage.  The wine is left in cask for 5 years.  It has a nose of concentrated raisins with a hint of toffee and vanilla.  The palate is clean, fresh and nutty with a fresh bite of acidity.  Verbena’s Grappa di Brunello (42% abv) is crystal clear with a clean penetrating nose.  The palate is delicate and elegant with no bitter edge and a ripe grape finish.  Clean and pure.

We can obtain the following wines from Verbena should you be interested – please contact us for details:
2009 Sangiovese Toscana  £10.95
2009 Rosso di Montalcino  £16.75
2006 Brunello diMontalcino  £31.00
2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva  £41.50

Vintages and prices correct as at 6th October 2011 
 Luca and Elena Nannetti
Luca in his vineyard.
Note the discarded bunches of grapes on the ground.