We called in to Brunello producer Il Palazzone in Montalcino. I'd previously found their NV Rosso over here and blogged about it. Needless to say I was eager to taste the big brothers, so we wound our way right to the top of the hill in Montalcino to meet manager Laura Gray in a rather stunning spot on the western side of the town, with the vines facing northwest down the hill:
Il Palazzone holds three contrasting vineyard sites in different spots around the town, producing around 1000 cases a year. The estate has seen serious investment over the last decade, with a whole new cellar being built and a lot of work being put into the vineyards. There is no Riserva here - just a Brunello and the NV. 2009 was a ripe and forward year in Montalcino, and Il Palazzone's Brunello is an immediately delicious wine, with plum skin, dried fig and clove spice upfront and touches of anise and mint adding fragrance. There's quite a friendly sense of fruit sweetness here but still plenty of grip and balancing acidity. We went on to try the 2008, which strikes immediately with a slightly more sultry character of ripe black cherry and prune fruit, walnut and black tea; the liquorice/clove element remains but the palate is more savoury and concentrated with the berry fruit complemented by touches of tobacco and tar and quite a mineral, slate-like focus to the structure. More fruit was taken from the lower vineyards here than in 2009 (I'm guessing that the freshness of the high altitude vines was very welcome in 2009). My notes sort of tail off on this one, which usually means I stopped thinking and started drinking - usually a good sign.
We then headed off to Montepulciano. On the agenda were two vineyards near where we were staying. Firstly, Cantine Dei was quite a large operation in the midst of being modernised. They had quite a stunning barrel hall:
Here in Montepulciano, the Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), sometimes in combination with other common Chianti grapes, makes wines that sit somewhere in-between good Chianti Classico and Brunello. They tend to be a little easier-going than the most intense Brunellos, but at their best offer just as much interest and depth.
A slight problem at Dei was that the tasting room is equipped with Enomatic machines. It would seem a sensible idea to prevent wastage, but, in practise, these machines aren't infallible and unfortunately I felt a couple of the wines weren't at their best. Nevertheless I really enjoyed the entry-level Rosso here - lively, grippy and fresh but still with a pleasing fruit intensity - and the very classic Vino Nobile, with which I came away with a few bottles. I'll write proper notes on these when I open them here.
A contrast from the size and imposing architecture of Dei was the family atmosphere of Tenuta Valdipiatta, a winery I'd come across through drinking a very fine 1999 Riserva a number of years ago bought from Theatre of Wine in Greenwich.
This is a medium-sized, family-run operation and the wines are full of integrity and character. The Rosso here is everything you could ask for - real aromatic interest and generosity of flavour for an 'entry-level' wine. A shame it's not available in the UK. The Vino Nobile is benchmark stuff of savoury finesse and quiet intensity. It's the two top-level wines that really shine - the fascinating 100% Sangiovese Vigna Alfiero 2004 is a single vineyard wine with real mineral elegance that belies intensity of flavour and age-worthy tannic structure. It was a very warm day but I could tell this was a top-notch wine and I'll write a good note on it when I open it here at some point soon....The 2004 Riserva (at least I think it was 2004 - didn't make a note) was also excellent; the essence of fine Sangiovese to me with its leather and spice-tinged ripe cherries, woodland aromas and almost tomatoey sweet-savoury balance of flavours. This is a top-notch estate; the wines show impressive harmony and a confident sense of identity.
I filled my bag about as full of wine as Easyjet would permit on the way home, so expect some more detailed notes on some of these wines in months to follow.