Terroir in Brunello (Castelnuovo dell’Abate, the Ramones, and James Brown)

February 25, 2010

I have a lot of posts lined up from our trip to Italy: this is the next in chronological order… A lot of folks have written me about our visits to Rinaldi and G. Mascarello (organized thanks to our extraordinary guide Franco) and as soon as I “move” through Tuscany and Emilia, I’ll post those tasting notes as well… but first some Montalcino terroir… thanks, everyone, for reading!

brunello di montalcino

Above: On our last night in Italy, in Rome, where we ate at an excellent if cantankerous Roman trattoria, we treated ourselves to a 2000 Brunello di Montalcino by one of my favorite producers, Poggio di Sotto, which lies in the southeastern sub-zone of the appellation, where the wines have an earthier and more pronounced mineral character in my opinion.

Our second day in Italy, we spent the morning in the farmhouse where we were staying (more on that later), sipping stove-top coffee and munching on cookies. After a quick visit to Montalcino proper, we headed south to Castelnuovo dell’Abate to visit one of my favorite people in Montalcino, Federico Marconi. As Fabrizio Bindocci said to me later that evening, when Federico walks into a room, you just can’t help but smile and be in a good mood. It’s really true.

brunello di montalcino

Above: Federico is one of the coolest dudes I know in Montalcino. We have a dream of creating a rock band called the Ramontalcinos (for our shared love of the Ramones; I think that we might also need to recruit McDuff for the project).

Le Presi, where Federico works, is a tiny winery and estate, founded in Castlenuovo dell’Abate by Bruno Fabbri in 1970. Bruno learned about winemaking and developed a passion for Brunello because he worked as an electrician in the legendary Biondi-Santi winery in the “Croce” subzone of Montalcino (just south of Montalcino proper).

brunello di montalcino

Above: One of the things that makes the Castelnuovo subzone unique is the presence alternating layers of sandstone and volcanic subsoils, as illustrated by this cross-section. Le Presi lies on the edge of Castelnuovo (literally newcastle) and one of its walls coincides with the ancient wall of the hilltop town. The volcanic deposits come from the nearby Mt. Amiata, to the south, once an active volcano.

I love the wines of Le Presi, which I first tasted at Vinitaly in 2009: they’re old-school Brunello, sourced from two small growing sites, just south of the town, vinified in a traditional style and aged in large cask. Like Federico, Bruno Fabbri (below) and his son Gianni (who now runs the winery and makes the wine) will tell you that the high concentration of volcanic subsoil (as you can see in the image above) gives their wines their distinctive minerality (and earthiness in my opinion). They call their top growing site “Muro Forte” (literally, strong wall, named after the wall in their cellar that coincides with the ancient town wall).

brunello di montalcino

Above: Tracie P and I really enjoyed talking to Bruno, who seemed happy to share tales of his earlier years, working at Biondi Santi, and making wine in Castelnuovo.

When I mentioned to Bruno that we were staying at the Il Poggione estate in Sant’Angelo in Colle (one of the southwest growing zones), he pointed out that Castelnuovo doesn’t have the same “maritime” influence (i.e., ventilation arriving via sea breeze) that Sant’Angelo has. Some would argue that the one or the other is better (can you guess which subzone Bruno favors?) but one this is for certain: the wines from Castelnuovo (at least those made in a traditional style) have different flavors from those produced in other subzones.

In the words of James Brown:

    Some like’em fat, some like’em tall
    Some like’em short, skinny legs and all
    I like’em all, huh, I like’em proud
    And when they walk
    You know they draw a crowd
    See, you got to have a mother for me

Let me just put it this way, the wines of Le Presi have a mother for me.

Next on deck, the terroir of the southwestern subzone and the fantastic farmhouse where we stayed.

Thanks for reading!


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