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Wine Shop Happenings: A Visit with Luca Martini di Cigala

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Luca Martini di Cigala - Bottle Signing at The Wine Cellarage

Luca Martini di Cigala – Bottle Signing at The Wine Cellarage

Here at our wine shop, we were lucky enough to enjoy a visit and tasting with Luca Martini di Cigala of the prestigious San Giusto a Rentennano, a family owned wine estate that lies in the southern most area of the Chianti Classico region. San Giusto a Rentennano is a certified organic wine producer and practices careful hand harvesting. The estate has been in the Martini di Cigala family since 1914, passed to Enrico Martini di Cigala in 1957 and then inherited by Enrico’s nine children in 1992. Today, six of the nine children are partners in the estate, including Luca.

Luca Martini di Cigala was a wonderful guest and brought us the estate’s 2010 vintage ‘Percarlo’ to taste! Among Tuscany’s most prominent red wines, Percarlo sits within the top tier and has consistently surpassed expectations since its inaugural release in 1983. Pure, 100% Sangiovese has perhaps never tasted so good. Percarlo is crafted from the estate’s very best Sangiovese grapes, which are hand selected bunch by bunch from the best areas of the family’s vineyards.

The precious grapes that make Percarlo are chosen from low-yielding vines, then pressed and macerated for a lengthy 18 days before an additional 20 months in barrique plus 6 months in bottle. The resulting nectar is bottled unfiltered for a truly pure expression. In the best years, only 1,600 cases of Percarlo are produced…The 2010 vintage for Italy is considered one of the best vintages ever.

My tasting note for 2010 Percarlo: A beautiful bouquet of rich red fruits, roses, exotic spices and herbal notes. On the palate, the texture is velvety with fine grained tannins. There is a mineral presence in the wine that gives great depth and energy. Approachable now, the classic structure makes this one for the ages!

Not only did we taste with Luca Martini di Cigala, he was kind enough to sign some of the large format bottles that we have for sale in our New York based wine store. In addition to signing our bottles, he also signed the original wood cases for our magnum bottles. These photo taken here in our temperature-controlled wine warehouse, where our entire retail wine shop inventory is stored in perfect conditions. More photos from the signing below…

Percarlo Signing

Percarlo Signing

Luca Martini di Cigala signing large format bottles of Percarlo

Luca Martini di Cigala signing large format bottles of Percarlo

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Brunello: Montalcino’s Fine & Rare Wine

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the recently released 2006 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, and for good reason.  2006 was indeed a spectacular year for Brunello, one of the best of the past decade, right on par with 2001 and 2004 in exceptional quality.  And so, it only seems appropriate to spend some time reflecting on this great wine, one of Italy’s shining stars.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Brunello di Montalcino is one of twenty Italian wines that have garnered the prestigious Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status, and was in fact the first to receive the title.  In Italy, this is the highest quality classification bestowed on wines, a step above Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status, which is similar to the French Appellation Contrôlée (AC) qualification, stipulating the geographical area, grape varietals and quantities of production among other requirements.  In addition to meeting the DOC criterion, DOCG wines must be bottled in their region of production and must be tasted and approved by the Ministry of Agriculture.  One of Brunello di Montalcino’s definitive requirements is that it must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, a rule that the Italian government takes very seriously, as do the wine’s producers. Brunello is among a small handful of well-known and collected DOCG wines, including Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Gavi and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano.

Superior Sangiovese

Amidst the rolling, sun-kissed hills of Tuscany, south of Siena and the Chianti region, lies the commune of Montalcino and the home of Brunello.   The town of Montalcino is perched high on a hilltop and is surrounded by vineyards of Sangiovese grapes.  Brunello is made from a clone of Sangiovese, the Sangiovese Grosso grape, which is also called Brunello in the local dialect.  There are a total of four Tuscan DOCG wines, including Brunello, that are made from the Sangiovese varietal.  The others are Chianti, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Carmignano, however, Brunello is the only DOCG that must be made from 100% Sangiovese.  The result is a wine that is comparatively more distinct, denser and darker, the purest expression of the grape.

While Chianti typically displays a red cherry flavor profile with herbal, earthy notes, Brunello is known for aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and black raspberry, with characteristic notes of violets, cocoa and leather.  Rivaling the great Barolos of Piedmont, Brunellos have intense tannins and high acidity, placing them among Italy’s most age-worthy fine wines.  Brunello must be aged for at least four years prior to release, two of which must be spent in oak casks, and a minimum of four months in bottle.  Like Barolo, these wines benefit from lengthy cellaring and need significant ageing time in order to reach maturity and their full drinking potential.

Being made solely from of the superior Sangiovese Grosso clone certainly contributes to Brunello’s character, but it is the climate of Montalcino that has the most considerable effect on these distinctive wines.  Montalcino is the driest of the Tuscan DOCGs, and has a much warmer climate than Chianti, which gets more rain and is cooler overall.  The Sangiovese grape achieves full ripeness in Montalcino and is harvested several weeks earlier here than in Chianti.  The harvest is usually completed by the end of September, whereas Chianti is still harvesting into October, when rains pose a constant threat.

Styles and Terroirs

In addition to being a unique expression of Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino is a unique expression of its terroir, which can turn this wine into a perplexing study.   Montalcino comprises many varied terrains and soils, factors that have an affect on the Sangiovese grapes grown here and the wine styles that they produce.  The situation is further complicated by different winemaking techniques and their influence on the finished wines.  Despite the resulting array of styles and potential for confusion, we can simplify things quite a bit by grouping Brunello into one of two categories, north or south.

According to many Brunello producers themselves, the different soil types and terroirs of the northern and southern parts of the appellation result in two distinct wine styles.  The vineyards that stretch north from Montalcino grow on mineral-rich clay soils known specifically as Galestro, which maintain a cooler temperature.  The altitude in the north is higher and the microclimate is cooler overall, factors that tend to produce elegant, aromatic wines that have more finesse.  To the south, the vineyards grow in sandy clay soils, receive more sun exposure and have a warmer microclimate.  Here, a shift toward the Mediterranean climate becomes apparent with the vineyards ripening earlier than those in the northern area.  The resulting wines lack the zippy acidity and aromatic nuances of their northern counterparts, but are fuller-bodied, more powerful, fruit-forward expressions.

Ascent of a Fine and Rare Wine

Although Brunello di Montalcino was the first appellation to gain DOCG status, it is actually the most recently established of Italy’s fine wines and was somewhat monopolized by a single family up until the 1950s.  Climente Santi is credited with singling out the Sangiovese Grosso clone in the mid-1800s, yet it’s hard to say that he was the only one who had done so.   It was in fact his grandson, Ferruccio Biondi who first bottled the wine under the Brunello di Montalcino label, establishing the Biondi-Santi brand in 1888.  The Biondi-Santi estate remained the only commercial producer of the wine for the next sixty years and it wasn’t until after WWII that other producers slowly began coming into play.  This combined with the fact that only four vintages were declared between 1888 and 1945, positioned Brunello as one of Italy’s fine and rare wines.

Brunello Buyer’s Guide

When shopping for Brunello, as with any fine wine, it is important to have a handle on the best vintages and producers.  Some of the best Brunello vintages of the past two decades include 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005 and of course, the talk of the town, 2006.  If you’re looking for that perfect Brunello that is ready to drink now, both the 1995 and 1997 vintages are a good place to start.

From one of our favorite producers, the 1999 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino is a great bottle to bring home and drink tonight!  Another exceptional Brunello from the 1999 vintage, but one that will benefit from more cellar time, is the 1999 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.  Brunellos that are labeled as Riserva are aged for a year longer than regular release wines and are only produced in the very best vintages from the very best grapes.

Castello Banfi is one of the best producers from the southern area of Montalcino, and among our personal favorites.  Both the 2001 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino and the 2001 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura are outstanding wines that are still developing, making them ideal choices for the cellar.  The former will be ready to drink in the next five years or so, while the latter will need at least eight to ten years before it reaches its prime.

From the outstanding 2004 vintage, the 2004 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso is only produced in the very best vintages and will make a great addition to your cellar.  A few more incredible wines from the 2004 vintage are the 2004 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, the 2004 Podere Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione Riserva and the 2004 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, which are sure to age beautifully over the next decade.

Altesino is one of the top producers from the northern part of Montalcino.  Why not stock up on a wine from both this great recent vintage and an all-star producer, such as the 2006 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli.  Others from the 2006 vintage that we’re excited about include the 2006 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino, the 2006 Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino and the 2006 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino.  Of course, these too will need cellaring and require a bit of patience, but will be well worth the wait!

A Food Wine

With its intense tannins and great acidity, Brunello di Montalcino needs food just as much as certain foods need Brunello!  Rich dishes such as braised short ribs pair perfectly with Brunello, as do more complex sauces and casseroles that are made with game meats (duck, squab and rabbit to name a few).  Another to try, Brunello with a wild mushroom risotto.  The earthy flavors and richness of the risotto make a great match for Brunello’s flavor profile, structure and acidity.

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