Sunrise with a Brunello master: Sangiovese is safe in Montalcino

One of the most thrilling experiences of my recent sojourn in Tuscany was a sunrise ride through the vineyards of Il Poggione with the estate’s winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci (above). I’ve known Fabrizio for seven years now and I consider him a friend and a teacher. Born and bred in Montalcino, he is one of its top winemakers and one of the appellation’s greatest defenders and protectors. In recent years, he has spoken — passionately, eloquently, and very publicly — in favor of not changing Brunello appellation regulations to allow for grapes other than Sangivoese.

And I don’t think that Fabrizio would mind me calling him a toscanaccio: he has the sharp wit and the sometimes acerbic tongue for which Tuscan men have been famous since their countryman Dante’s time and beyond. I try to visit and taste with him every year and I’ve never known him to mince words.

I love the wines he bottles, for their integrity and for their purity, for what they represent and the people who make them, and for their honest and utterly delicious aromas and flavor.

Of course, my $48K question to Fabrizio was will the modernizers of Brunello succeed in changing the appellation regulations and obtain their desired allowance of international grape varieties in the wine?

Brunello as a monovarietal wine, i.e., 100% Sangiovese, is safe, he told me. And he doesn’t fear that the new and decidedly modern-leaning regime in the Brunello producers association will attempt to change the Brunello DOCG to allow other grapes. The body, he said, is currently studying verbiage for the soon-to-be unveiled “new” appellations under the EU’s Common Market Organisation reforms. (This summer, authority to create new European wine appellations passed from the individual states to the European Commission in Brussels.)

The bottler-members of the association are evidently considering a new appellation, putatively called “Montalcino Rosso,” that would allow for more liberality in creating blends raised in Montalcino. This would seem to represent a palatable compromise — my words, not his — between traditionalists who want to preserve Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino as monovarietal wines and modernists who what to cash in on the de facto Montalcino brand (again, my words, not his).

Daybreak in the vineyards of Montalcino during harvest is a sight that everyone should see before leaving this earth. There is a light that brings a transcendent clarity to the mind and the soul.

As the sun rose over this immensely beautiful place, I couldn’t help but think of Dante and the roles that light plays in his Comedìa as metaphor of knowledge and love.

I was relieved on that morning to discover that (it seems) Brunello has emerged from its selva oscura, its dark wood. (Observers of Italian wine will appreciate my paronomasia.)

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense and harsh
the very thought of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.
But to set forth the good I found
I will recount the other things I saw.

6 thoughts on “Sunrise with a Brunello master: Sangiovese is safe in Montalcino

  1. In 2008, my wife and I stood high on the hill in Buonconvento and took in the sight of Siena to the north and Montalcino to the south. The warm tones of the morning sun off the hills was one of the most thrilling images in my lifetime. I was moved by this post, Jeremy, and I salute the ethos and efforts of il Poggione.

  2. Pingback: Life Is Beautiful « Dawn’s Blog

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