In Montalcino: Canalicchio di Sopra

I knew I would like Francesco Ripaccioli when he professed his deep love for Champagne. Francesco, cellar rat / managing director / international marketing is third generation to oversee these hallowed grounds tucked next to Montosoli and in the shadow of Montalcino’s famed tower. Along with his siblings Simonetta (running the agriturismo), and Marco (handling the vineyards), they work and live on / near the estate, connected to the lands, since 2001.

In 1962, Primo Pacenti, Francesco’s grandfather, founded Azienda Agricola Canalicchio di Sopra, on the Northeast side of the famed Montalcino hill. He was one of the original 12 founders of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, in 1967. Their first vintage was in 1966, with 600 bottles. In the beginning, all the wines in the Consorzio featured the same label, that of Montalcino’s imposing clock tower. As a leading advocate of the appellation and its wines, Primo was granted the right to use the iconic tower on their Canalicchio di Sopra labels.

In 1987, Primo’s son-in-law Pier Luigi Ripaccioli started working side by side with Primo, and the Pacenti family’s estates joined the Ripaccioli estates, adding Montosoli and Casacchia vineyards into the 60 hectare estate. Highly regarded winemaking consultant Maurizio Simonelli has been working with them since 2018.

Francesco Ripaccioli (video credit Bernard Stramwasser)

Today they have nearly 20 hectares under vine, with 6 in the galestro studded Montosoli (1962 originally planted and replanted 2009), and 13.5 surrounding the winery proper, in the brown clay-dominant Canalicchio subzone. They also have 2 hectares of olive groves. The vineyards are in their final year of organic certification, though they have been farming the same for years.

They make a series of Brunello di Montalcino, which Francesco sees as equal quality. The flagship Brunello is 50/50 between Montosoli and Canalicchio, and there is the La Vigna single estate series, in addition to a Riserva, produced in certain years. All the wines are fermented in stainless, and moved into foudre when all fermentations are finished ‘and wine is clean’ and stable in early January. They are left almost entirely untouched (maybe 2 rackings in 3 years). Their style is reductive, with large format, thick walled, steam bent, older barrels. 

This year, with the clay soils humidity was an issue, ‘as everywhere’, according to Francesco. Quantity will be reduced, but quality of remaining grapes seem high. I was incredibly impressed by the first tastes of the unreleased Brunello 2019s, which have a bright freshness and energy within.

Rosso di Montalcino 2021
Produced mostly from their youngest vineyards, this Rosso represents their calling card for Canalicchio di Sopra wines: a young, fruity, and versatile expression of their estate Sangiovese. This comes mainly from vineyards located in the Canalicchio Cru, with ample clay, magnesium, iron and Manganese soils. It was macerated and fermented in stainless over three weeks, before resting one year in Slavonian Oak Barrels (50 hl and 25 hl), and French oak barrels (750L). Very floral, with fragrant raspberry, cherry, with graphite and gravels underlain. Tightly wound tannins are firm and savoury, with time to unfurl ahead. Lovely taut and crunchy fresh acidity. The year gave them 15% alc but there’s a crazy bright acidity to counter, leaving this quite balanced. Ample Brunello fruit gets declassified into here, making their Rosso a hot ticket. 91/100 

Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Unreleased. This, their flagship Brunello, is equal parts Montosoli (galestro) and Canalicchio (brown clay). Fragrant black cherries, black raspberry are structured with long, fine, firm tannins, seasoned with darker florals and scrubby herbal balsam, rosemary, and anise, scrubby. Very elegant and well knit, finishing so fresh and saline. Really striking, and so charming. 93/100 

A preview of the unreleased 2019 Brunellos

Brunello di Montalcino Vigna La Casaccia 2019 
Unreleased. La Casaccia has been part of the single vineyard program, La Vigna, since 2018). Only 500m from Montosoli, but entirely different shape and dimension, thanks to the brown calcareous clay soils. Fragrant red florals, cherry, raspberry is interwoven with ferrous notes, herbal mustard seed and pencil shavings. There are present, grippy tannins, quite long and well knit, with a tightly wound energy finishing with a lingering salinity. Much more time ahead. 94/100

Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Montosoli 2019
Unreleased. The Montosoli cru has much more galestro in the soils here, and less clay. This opens with subtle reductive notes off the front, translating as candle wax. Wild black cherry, black raspberry turn into crushed florals on the palate, with ample fine, long and well knit tannins. Quite structural and muscular at present, with a surprisingly supple palate buoyed with freshness and lift to carry through a saline and lingering floral kissed finish. This savoury, layered wine has a long future ahead. 94/100

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Vecchia Mercatale 2019
Unreleased. The Riserva was always meant to be something special, and not tied to a single place. However, their Vigna Vecchia Mercatale, at 290m, replanted in 1987 in mineral laden clays proves to be the winning site for this wine year over year, so Francesco has resolved to make this the single site for the Riserva going forward. Treated the same as the core Brunello, and bottled around the same time, this spends another 18 months in bottle before release (will be in 2025). Heady pencil shavings are woven with crushed red florals, cherry, and ferrous notes. The structural palate is velvet plush, but surrounded by ample, well-integrated tannins. Elegant and muscular, with easy freshness this very smart wine has a long way to go. 94/100 (TR)

See here for the rest of the series.

Treve Ring

Treve Ring is a wine writer and editor, judge and speaker, and perpetual traveller. [She is also Correspondent Anorak.]