“Patiently and phlegmatically”: Giulio Gambelli, more remembrances…

Photo via Decanter.

A few more remembrances of Giulio Gambelli, whose transcendant personality galvanized a generation of Sangiovese growers, bottlers, shippers, and lovers…

From Lavinium, a passage quoted from Carlo Macchi’s hagiography of Gambelli (in Carlo’s voice; translation mine):

    A few years ago I was with Giulio at the Isvea Laboratory. A woman approached us with a printout of analysis results in one hand, a glass in the other.

    “Giulio,” she asked, “What’s the acidity [level] in this wine?”

    Giulio took a sip of the wine, spit (with his signature radial spitting technique), and then declared, “5… 5.2 at the most!”

    The girl read her results on the printout and then grumbled peevishly, “I must have done the analysis wrong!”

A heartfelt and very Tuscan tribute by friend and Montalcino great Fabrizio Bindocci:

    A highly capable man but at the same time a paragon of modesty who believed in the potential of Tuscan wines produced using only Sangiovese. He always said that winemakers are the ones who make the wines together with the land and the vine. He was a simple taster who gave his advice to winemakers on what to do in the cellar without forcing them to denaturalize their wines.

    He made his first visit to Montalcino in the early 1970s when the Consortium of Brunello di Montalcino asked him to visit all of the producers in the appellation. He drove his famous Renault 4 from winery to winery, tasted the wine from the barrel or vat, and then he would patiently and phlegmatically explain the importance of cleanliness in the cellar, precision in vinification, the importance of racking, etc. But always with the humility typical of the greats in the world of wine.

Patiently and phlegmatically… Words to live by…

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.

Jancis Robinson: “Syrah di Montalcino”

From Jancis Robinson’s blog, yesterday, “Montalcino votes for modernism”:

“After dramatic last-minute machinations, it has just been revealed that the secret ballot to elect the new president of the Brunello di Montalcino consortium revealed that arch-modernist Ezio Rivella of Banfi garnered most votes and will now direct the fortunes of this controversial wine.

Until very recently it looked as though the most prominent woman in Montalcino, Donatello Cinelli Colombini, would win, but at the eleventh hour, in a move that took many by surprise, she withdrew her candidacy and threw her weight behind Rivella. Concerned that this would be the final nail in the Brunello coffin, and that Piemonte-born Rivella would encourage the use of grape varieties other than Brunello (Sangiovese), veteran winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci of the respected estate Il Poggione declared his own bid for the presidency yesterday. …

It seems as though the juggernaut rolling towards the likes of Syrah di Montalcino is unstoppable.”

Nightmare in Montalcino: Fabrizio is our only hope!

I just saw a retweet in my Twitter feed and am literally feeling ill after what I just read over at Montalcino Report: Donatella Cinelli Colombini has “stepped aside” and is giving her support to Ezio Rivella in his bid to become president of the Brunello producers association (if you haven’t been following events there, just scroll down on my blog to my most recent posts).

A nightmare is unfolding in Montalcino and Fabrizio Bindocci (left, in a photo I took probably 6 years ago) is our only hope. Fabrizio had not officially announced his candidacy for the presidency but Cinelli’s “abdication” has led him to speak out finally. He did so today in an open letter he wrote to Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani. Fabrizio’s son Alessandro has published an English translation at Montalcino Report.

In it, his father writes:

    It is, however, with a certain dismay that I have learned — in a meeting that we held yesterday with some of the councillors — that Donatella Cinelli Colombini wishes to give way (and to give the presidency) to the very person, in my opinion (and in accordance with my own sense of propriety), who is the farthest from my land and the wine that we steadfastly wish to continue to produce (perhaps by improving our tradition but certainly not by bastardizing it). He is the farthest from it in his actions, his feelings, and his interests.

    I am referring to Cavalier Rivella, whom I have known since his earliest days in Montalcino and whose bluntness I appreciate.

    Therefore, I believe that it is my duty, on the eve of this most delicate of appointments, to ask all of my fellow councillors and all of those who hold dear the reputation (and success) of this wine to banish from our behaviour any interest that does not correspond to that of the producer Consortium members.

    This — and only this — is what I would wish to do if I were to be President!

However distant this election may appear, it is the front line in the battle to save traditionalism and indigenous winemaking in Italy. I know Fabrizio well and as outspoken as he is (in the true Tuscan tradition), he is also a very humble man who would not have taken such a brazen stance if the situation were not grave.

Keeping my fingers crossed (and hoping you are, too)… thanks for reading…

Numbers point to Cinelli Colombini, while pundits stump for Bindocci in Montalcino president race

Above: Art historian and Siena native, Brunello producer Donatella Cinelli Colombini is one of Italy’s leading women winemakers and she has been endorsed by a number of high-profile producers in her bid to become Brunello consortium president. She also received the greatest number of votes in the general election for the body’s advisory council (which we reported today at VinoWire). Photo courtesy Susanna Cenni.

Why am I so obsessed with the election of the Brunello producers association’s new president? The answer is simple: the Brunello appellation has become the front line for the battle of traditionalist champions of indigenous Italian grapes vs. progressive proponents of “modern trends” and international grape varieties. What has happened over the last two years in Montalcino and what will happen in the wake of tomorrow’s election will surely inform the direction, objectives, and ideals of Italian winemaking in the next decade.

Many have considered technocrat winemaker, architect of Brunello giant Banfi, Ezio Rivella, to be a shoe-in. But at least one high-profile actor on the ground told me this morning that Donatella Cinelli Colombini (above) is the leading candidate, and, in fact, she received the greatest number of votes in the body’s general assembly (while Rivella fell near the bottom of the list of top-vote-getting advisory council members).

Above: Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci of Tenuta Il Poggione, a homegrown candidate from Sant’Angelo in Colle (and my friend), student of Brunello legend Piero Talenti and teacher to his own son Alessandro Bindocci, who will ultimately take his place when he retires. Photo courtesy Montalcino Report.

I’m not the only one to be watching the election so closely: today, Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti, contributor to the popular site Intravino, launched an appeal: “We want Fabrizio Bindocci [above] to be president of something, right away!” My partner in VinoWire, Mr. Franco Ziliani, author of Italy’s top wine blog, Vino al Vino, quickly signed on to and reposted Morichetti’s endorsement (and Mr. Ziliani has often pointed to Bindocci as an excellent candidate).

Me? I’m just an extracomunitario, an extracommunitarian, an alien (to Italy) as it were. As such, I can, however, with good conscience observe that among the three most talked-about candidates, two are from Montalcino and one is from Asti, Piedmont (guess which one). Local trumps alien in my book when it comes to wines that speak of the place where they are made and the people that made them.

Had any good 03s from Italy lately?

Above: Tracie P tasting at Giuseppe Mascarello with winemaker and owner Mauro Mascarello, on a crisp winter day in February 2010. We were invited to taste there with Italy’s inestimable wine blogger and wine pundit Mr. Franco Ziliani.

However lost in translation, my post on Monday led to an earthly discussion of who bottled good expressions of the 2003 vintage in Italy and a metaphysical dialectic on whether or not one should drink 2003 at all, when stellar vintages like 1999, 2001, or 2005 are within hand’s reach.

Above: Perhaps an anomaly, perhaps the child of a superior growing site and excellence in winemaking, Mauro Mascarello’s 2003 Barolo Monprivato was no fluke.

Was 2003 a forgettable vintage in Italy? Questions of taste literally aside, the wine punditry on both sides of the Atlantic has spent a lot of energy and time talking about the 2003 vintage (in part because of the controversy it stirred).

Above: Only a handful of winemakers made their top wines in 2003, but, man, what wines they were! Like this 2003 Brunello di Montalcino Paganelli by Tenuta Il Poggione (Tracie P and I tasted it over dinner with winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci in February).

Of course, 2003 was a poor vintage because of the aggressive heat that year, almost across the board throughout Europe. But that also means that many winemakers, who didn’t make their flagship wines, used their top fruit for their other wines. As Gary put it so well, “I think that 2003 presents an interesting opportunity to pick up some amazing bargains at the peak of their drinkability, but one must be very picky, and try before buy.”

I’m certainly not stocking my cellar with 03s but over the last months (and even the last few days), I have had some great 03s: like the Oddero Barolo the other night, 03 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco, 03 Barolo Monprivato by G. Mascarello, 03 Brunello di Montalcino Paganelli by Il Poggione, and 03 Barbera del Monferrato Perlydia by Valpane (the last three are all “flagship” wines, btw). While not all of these are going to cellar as well as 99, 01, and 05 (and 04 IMHO), they are by no means wines I’d turn down if someone happened to open one in my presence. In fact, they are more approachable and drinkable (as Gary points out) than their more cellar-worthy counterparts.

Have you had any good 03s lately from Italy? Please share so that I don’t have to feel so alone… ;-)

A big tree and a little tree in Montalcino

Above: Alessandro Bindocci (above) and his father are “on a roll,” wrote one of my favorite wine writers, Antonio Galloni in the April issue of The Wine Advocate published today. I took the photo of Ale in September 2008 at Tenuta il Poggione.

Alfonso does a series of posts on his blog about “big trees” and “little trees,” in other words, mothers and fathers and daughters and sons who work and live in the Italian wine industry. Alfonso’s worked in Italian wine for some time now and let’s just say that he’s seen a few big trees go and a few little trees sprout up.

One of the things that Tracie P and I thought and talked a lot about on our February trip to Italy was the relationships between mothers and fathers who make wine and their children. In some cases, the children aren’t interested in furthering the legacy of their parents, in other cases they are. Sometimes the conflict that arises thereof can lead to bitter quarrels. Other times there is a harmony — not always perfect but ultimately sturdy — that ensures the continuity of the parents’s legacy.

In March when I went back to Piedmont, I asked Enrico Rivetto’s father what he thought about his son’s newfangled blog. “I think he’s crazy,” he replied. “But, then again, my father thought I was crazy when I told him we should make a single-vineyard Barolo.” However reluctantly, the elder Rivetto supports his son’s blogging project.

My friend Alessandro Bindocci is a blogger as well. His father Fabrizio the winemaker at Tenuta Il Poggione (one of my favorite Brunello producers and my long-time friend), can’t even send an email. Alessandro can monitor vinfication using his blackberry.

I was thrilled to read Antonio Galloni’s glowing words for Fabrizio and Alessandro’s wines on Ale’s blog this morning.

As Tracie P and I talk about us making little trees ourselves, it’s a wonderful and warm thought to think that some day they may get to taste wines in the same traditional style Brunello that we love so much. By the time our putative children will be old enough to appreciate fine wine, the wines won’t be Fabrizio’s any longer. They’ll be Alessandro’s.

Mazel tov, Ale. Congrats on your superb scores from Galloni!


The second night and second dinner of our stay in Tuscany, we had the great pleasure of being invited into the home Stefania and Fabrizio Bindocci in Sant’Angelo in Colle. I’ve known Fabrizio, the winemaker at Tenuta Il Poggione, for many years now and Tracie P and I were thrilled to get to taste his wife’s cooking.

“We’re not having ‘Tuscan’ food,” joked Fabrizio when he invited us. “We’re having ‘mountain’ food,” he said. He met his wife, he told us, when he attended a dance as a young man on Mt. Amiata (to the south of Montalcino and Sant’Angelo in Colle). There were no women in the valley back then, he joked.


Dinner began with a nice light chickpea soup, accompanied by Sbrancato, a Sangiovese rosé produced by Il Poggione.


Next came a dish I’d never had before: chestnut flour polenta, a classic dish of the Tuscan mountains, said Fabrizio and wife Stefania. She used a string to slice the individual portions.


Fabrizio’s son Alessandro authors a blog about Brunello and life in Sant’Angelo, where he has posted about the pigs they raise at Il Poggione. We dressed the chestnut flour polenta with facial glands (above), butchered from the estate-raised pigs.


Next came the true “stick to your ribs” dish: pig liver wrapped in caul fat.


The liver was followed by sausage made from other organs, the darker of the two was spicy.


To my knowledge, Il Poggione was the only producer to make a “riserva” Brunello in 2003, an extremely difficult vintage throughout Europe because of the heat and lack of rain. Brunello di Montalcino does not allow irrigation (not even emergency irrigation). But the elevation of the vineyards and their age (and thus the depth of the roots, which allows the vine to find the water table even in drought years) made it possible for Il Poggione to make a superb expression of Sangiovese despite the growing conditions. This was my first taste of the 03 Riserva, which is the first vintage that the winery has labeled as its “cru” Paganelli (the oldest vineyard on the estate, with vines more than 40 years old, and the source of the clones that inform the estate’s identity). The 03 Paganelli was superb: its fruit was bolder than most vintages I’ve tasted from Il Poggione, but the surprisingly powerful tannin and acidity kept the fruit in check. Very impressive. The 2001? To my palate, that’s one of the greatest vintages for Brunello in recent memory. The wine was unbelievably good, nearly perfect I’d say, a glorious balance of fruit, tannin, and acidity, with many years ahead of it but already showing gorgeously — and what a wonderful opportunity to taste it a stone’s throw from the estate, with the winemaker, paired with his wife’s traditional cuisine!


Winter means fresh chicory as a side dish in Tuscany, red and green chicory, dressed with the estate’s olive oil.


What Tuscan meal would be complete without castagnaccio, a short bread made with chestnut flour, topped with pine nuts and rosemary, for dessert?

Oops, I didn’t mean “Tuscan” food. I meant “mountain” food! ;-)

Thanks, again, Stefania and Fabrizio, for an unforgettable meal…

Tuscan Rooms with Views

One of the highlights of our honeymoon was the Tenuta Il Poggione farm house where we stayed on our first two nights of our trip. The old farm house, located in the middle of the estate, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, has seven guest rooms, all with air conditioning, heating, and kitchen. We stayed in the room called “Pero,” the pear tree.

farm house

This amazing olive tree is about 50 yards from the farm house. Il Poggione is one of my favorite wineries and I’ve been friends with the Bindocci family, who runs the estate, for many years now. Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci told me that some of the trees in this grove are nearly 200 years old.

farm house

Can you see why I love her so much? :-)

farm house

This is the view from the farm house, looking northward. That’s Sant’Angelo in Colle (where we ate at Trattoria Il Pozzo).

farm house

That’s the view from the farm house looking south. There are few signs of modernity here. Just looking at this photo, the mimetic desire kicks in and I can still smell the dolce aere tosco, the sweet Tuscan air that Petrarch reminisced about and longed for in his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, his Fragments of Vernacular Things (194.6).

farm house

The farm house seen from the south. The property also includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool (that was covered, of course, when we were there). The rooms are cozy and each one has a kitchen. I’m hoping that one of these days we can make a family trip there.

farm house

Even an amateur photographer like me feels like a Rembrandt in this immensely photogenic land. To get to the farmhouse, you have to drive about 10 minutes from the town of Sant’Angelo on a dirt road through woods, vineyards, and olive groves. And when you get there, you feel like you’re in a 19-century grand tour landscape… that’s some room with a view… I highly recommend it!

For more information and booking, email the estate at agriturismo@ilpoggione.it.

tracie parzen

Happy Friday, ya’ll!

Mr. Zaia goes to Washington (and lets Montalcino down)


It’s seems like it was just yesterday that I was posting a sigh of relief that the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau (TTB) was lifting its requirement of Italian government certification for Brunello di Montalcino imported to this country. Nearly every Italian news agency and feed (ANSA, Yahoo.it, etc.) had reposted agricultural minister Luca Zaia’s press release in which he announced — with cocksure nonchalance, I may add — that the requirement had been lifted following his successful meeting in Washington with TTB bureau head John Manfreda. Even Brunello producers association director Patrizio Cencioni issued a release praising minister Zaia and thanking him for a job well done. (You can read all of the press releases here.)

But it seems that minister Zaia was a little too quick to sing his own praises.

Late yesterday afternoon, another post hit the feed as the Italians were already sleeping: the TTB issued a press release in which stated plainly and clearly that the agricultural minister had falsely represented the agreement negotiated in the minister’s meeting with Manfreda last week. Despite claims otherwise, states the document, Italian government certification is still required. And it will continue to be required, according to the document, until the Italian government presents the Siena prosecutor’s final report on the investigation (the so-called “Operation Mixed Wine” inquiry into the suspected adulteration of Brunello and other Tuscan wines).


I spoke this morning to Brunello producer Fabrizio Bindocci of Il Poggione in Sant’Angelo in Colle and he told me that he and Il Poggione’s owner Leopoldo Franceschi were left dumbstruck when they read the news of the TTB’s clarification. “Maybe Zaia met with the doorman, not the TTB administrator,” Fabrizio wondered out loud with classic Tuscan wit. (Fabrizio’s son Alessandro has posted the entire series of press releases at his blog Montalcino Report.) “We feel that certification should be required and it should continue to be required,” said Fabrizio, whose wine has been certified by an independent Norwegian risk management firm since 2003, long before the controversy began.


In his post this morning, Franco published an image of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and asked: “Just for the sake of clarity, can somebody — in Montalcino, Rome, or Treviso — help us to understand what’s going on?” (Minister Zaia hails from Treviso.) And making reference to Zaia’s bid to become governor of the Veneto (his home region), Franco asks rhetorically, “is it so hard to understand that it’s not possible and it makes no sense to run an electoral campaign in the Veneto using the supposed great success obtained in the [minister’s] campaign in Montalcino?”

@Mr. Zaia you are no James Stewart: if you need an interpreter the next time you head to Washington, feel free to give me a call!