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The wines of Gianfranco Soldera, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany

Website: www.soldera.it

This was a remarkable tasting: a chance to try a vertical from one of Italy’s most celebrated producers, Gianfranco Soldera. The wines are very expensive and hard to get hold of, made in tiny quantities, so it was wonderful to be able to try them just after I’d come back from a quick holiday in the region. Even better, the tasting was set in the context of a lunch at The Square, one of London’s very best restaurants. It was a memorable experience.

The wines were presented by Zubair Mohammed of Raeburn (www.raeburnfinewines.com) who imports them into the UK. Gianfranco’s daughter Monica was supposed to be coming over, but some problems at home meant that sadly she was unable to travel. So Zubair gave an introduction to Gianfranco Soldera, as well as presenting the wines.

‘Brunello is a very mixed bag with a variety of styles from traditional to new barrique style’, says Zubair. ‘For me it should be Italy’s greatest wine; I’ve had the privelige to taste a lot of old vintages and this has the potential to be Italy’s longest-lived wine.’ He adds that, ‘Sadly, it doesn’t live up to its potential very often.’ 

Gianfranco began working in Brunello in the 1970s. ‘He’s quite dogmatic,’ says Zubair, ‘but with the kind of product he has it is not a bad thing to be confident!’ Intistieti was the first vineyard he planted in 1971, from which he made his first Brunello in 1977. In 1972 he planted another vineyard, Casse Basse, which is slightly lower with heavier soils, making wines that are richer and more tannic. Casse Basse is also the name of Gianfranco’s estate. Intistieti is poorer soil, higher up, and makes wines that are perhaps finer in their youth but which have no problem with staying power. Both age remarkably well.

Initially, the Casa Basse grapes were used to make a Vino da Tavola Rosso, and only with the 1988 vintage did Gianfranco use this vineyard to make Brunello. Altogether, he has some 8 hectares, and with phenomenally low yields this results in some 15 000 bottles annually.

The vineyards are managed naturally, as an integrated ecosystem where refuge areas are set aside for natural predators. No herbicides are used and the fertilizers applied are organic. Gianfranco’s wife Graziella is a world authority on wild roses and the Casse Basse estate has a large collection of these. The vines themselves are clones Gianfranco isolated from old vineyards, which he propagated himself.

Zubair says that Casse Basse is his ‘favourite estate anywhere in the world’. And he’s visited a few…

Interestingly, Gianfranco sets aside a certain amount of his turnover (10% according to Zubair) for research in viticulture and winemaking. He’s a great believer in tradition, but also has a scientific approach. The cellar is constructed naturally with no cement or foreign materials. Zubair describes it as ‘very beautiful and very simple’.

Soldera has been good friends for thirty years with Giulio Gambelli, who is celebrated as one of the greatest experts on Sangiovese. Gambelli is now in his 80s and still consults for Soldera. Zubair says that he’s a remarkable man, and is an important part of the way that Soldera works. Winemaking here is traditional, with a long maceration with some pumping over before ageing in large Slavonian barrels (botti) for 48–65 months. He uses very little sulphur dioxide.

Soldera Vigna Institieti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Aromatically rich, brooding, complex sweet red fruits with some spicy warmth. There are hints of earth and herbs, as well as a bit of vanilla. The palate is very spicy and quite tannic with warm, earthy notes and amazing density and brooding complexity. A powerful, youthful wine in a traditional style. 95/100

Soldera Vigna Institieti 2000 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Cherry and berry fruit on the nose with some spiciness. Complex and dense with lovely purity. The palate is earthy and spicy with firm tannins that really grip the mouth. Lovely acidity, too. A really dense, tight, complex wine that’s really structured. Needs time, but will probably be for earlier drinking than the other wines here. 93/100

Soldera Vigna Institieti 1998 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Very warm, rich and spicy with lovely richness and aromatic lift. The palate is fresh and earthy with vivid spiciness and some sweet cherry fruit. Really lively and spicy. Lovely warmth and thrilling complexity. A traditional style. 96/100

Soldera Vigna Casse Basse 1999 Brunello di Montalcino
Very warm, open and rich. Quite sweet on the nose with floral, sweet cherry and tar notes together with a bit of raspberry fruit. The palate is dense and powerful with some spicy tannins under the ripe fruit. A dense, robust, tannic wine with some earthiness. Thrilling. 95/100

Soldera Vigna Casse Basse 1994 Brunello di Montalcino
Smooth and pure with warm spicy red fruits and a hint of tarriness. The palate is fresh and spicy with a bright middle and fresh, acidic, slightly metallic finish. Complex and beguiling, and a little wild. 94/100

Soldera Vigna Institieti 1994 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Lovely complex aromatics with warm, spicy, subtly earthy red fruits. The palate is complex and beautifully balanced with an earthy spiciness and smooth yet firm tannins. Lots of presence here and a fresh acidic finish. Serious stuff. 95/100

Soldera Vigna Institieti 1987 Brunello di Montalcino
Relatively deep coloured. Fantastic lively aromatic nose is spicy, earthy, herby and slightly tarry. The palate is complex and earthy with a dry, dusty character, lots of freshness and good tannins and acidity. Dense and earthy with lovely freshness. 95/100 

see also: Visiting Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Brunello di Montalcino

Wines tasted 06/08  
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