Brunello, you were always on my mind

It’s hard to believe that we were in Montalcino just a few short weeks ago! That’s Tracie P, above, atop the Fortezza in the historical center of the town, where Benvenuto Brunello begins today — the appellation’s annual grand tasting, where producers present their new vintages, this year, the 2004 2005 Brunello di Montalcino, the 2003 Brunello di Montalcino riserva, the 2008 Rosso di Montalcino, and the Moscadello di Montalcino (which I’ve never seen in the U.S.).

Tracie P and I tasted some great 2004 Brunello (not an easy vintage and certainly not a spectacular vintage for those not blessed with superior growing sites) and one phenomenal 2003 riserva.

I don’t have time to pen a decent post today: we’re busy moving into a little house we rented, our first home together! But I will post on the wines we tasted and the different terroirs of Montalcino next week.

Even though I love wines from many different regions of Italy, Brunello will always be my first romance: my enophilia grew out of my first visit to Bagno Vignoni, just south of Montalcino, when a friend and student of mine lent me the keys to his apartment there in 1989.

Brunello, you were always on my mind…

My writing partner Franco Ziliani is attending Benvenuto Brunello (where, unfortunately, it’s next-to-impossible to get online!) and we’ll be posting his impressions next week over at VinoWire.

Italy day 2: desperately seeking Sangiovese

Above: in my book, penne should be rigate di rigore (obligatorily ridged as opposed to smooth). Otherwise, the pasta doesn’t absorb the sauce properly. Yesterday at Il Poggione in Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino), we were served penne from Gragnano dressed with a rich ragù.

Yesterday, My Life Italian wrote a post about that “epiphany” wine where it all got started. Wine, she wrote, is a “stained-glass window to the world, a way to touch another culture… a way to travel that is much more visceral than vicarious.” The post got me thinking about my own “epiphany” wine.

Above: lunch began with classic Tuscan antipasti — prosciutto toscano, salame, chicken liver and spleen crostini, and a slice of saltless Tuscan bread drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

It was nearly twenty years ago that I first came to Montalcino, to stay in my friend and composer Michael Convertino’s apartment in Bagno Vignoni, a small village in the south of the township, where a Roman hot springs bath still dominates the main piazza. I became friends with Riccardo Marcucci and his brothers Leonardo and Andrea. Riccardo ran the wine program at his family’s hotel and he took it upon himself to teach me about Tuscany’s grand winemaking traditions. It sounds unbelievable now but every night we opened bottles of Sassicaia, Solaia, Ornellaia, Tignanello, Pergole Torte, and every other Bordeaux-inspired wine under the Tuscan sun. The year was 1989, the Super Tuscan craze had not yet begun in the U.S., and the wines didn’t command the prices they do today.

Above: next came stewed wild boar and beans. Not very photogenic but delicious.

But my “stained-glass window” wine was the wine their father Augusto used to make. 100% Sangiovese vinified in a natural style (natural yeasts and no temperature control) and aged in large old oak casks. I’ll never forget the night (it was 1994 by then) that my then band was invited to dine at Augusto’s home on the hill above the village. We ate fried wild boar liver (from road-kill boar that Augusto had collected and frozen), drank Sangiovese, smoked and told jokes late into the night. Augusto couldn’t understand a word we were saying but he laughed and clowned with us all through the evening. We played a show the next night in the town piazza.

Above: the stars of lunch were a 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and an 18-month pecorino. What a fantastic pairing. We tasted the ’97 side-by-side with the 2003. Both vintages were warmer than usual in Montalcino. The 2003 is still very tight and will need many years in bottle to come around. The ’97 was showing beautifully. It will be great to come back to the ’03 in 5-10 years or so.

The same way a junkie seeks forever to recreate that same first high… I’ve been looking for the flavors and aromas of Augusto’s Sangiovese since that day.

Epilogue: in May, Eric le Rouge and I had a chance to taste Il Poggione going back to the 1970s. I’ll do a post on our tasting when I get back Stateside.