This week's guest post is by my handsome husband (and wine lover) Jonathan Plazonja. It seems only fitting that days before the East Coast is ravaged by what Italian newscasters are calling a “sandy hurricane,” Mother Nature reveals her kinder side at Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto in Turin. I am at a vertical tasting of Poggio Al Vento Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino. Poggio Al Vento translates as “the windy hillock” because the vineyard benefits from dry Mediterranean breezes even in the hot Summer months. The fabled offspring of this perfect microclimate? One of the most mythical of all Brunellos.
The tasting is led by Edoardo Virano, president of this legendary estate, a man who is very experienced in the care and growing of the Sangiovese grapes which by Italian law must comprise 100% of any Brunello di Montalcino. This afternoon, we taste the 1990, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001 vintages from magnum bottles, which he claims offer the ideal proportions for aging, and which “celebrate the Sangiovese grapes in all their majesty and beauty.” My taste buds quickly concur.
Col d’ Orcia is on a slope overlooking a hill, one of the driest places on the vineyard, which basks in the southwestern sun throughout the day. The estate has been transitioning towards biodynamic certification, and is soon to become the largest biodynamic winery in all of Tuscany. As I hear often in our time at the Salone, biodynamic methods aren’t just better in theory, but they actually yield a better crop.
We begin with the most recent vintage and work our way backwards. 2001 was a watershed year for wine growing, with the climate permitting the correct sugar content at the time of the harvest. This wine is "good on the nose, spicy, floral, with the slight pungency typical of a Montalcino." This trait underscores why these wines stand up to a variety of foods and command a pretty penny to boot.
Edoardo admits that the 1999 was not immediately received as a great year, but it’s delicious, at once “elegant and austere, a little bit like a Barolo.” Yum. The 1998 is nice on the nose, but is overshadowed by the sublime 1997, which shows a touch of mint and herbs in its aroma. It is elegant on the palate, benefiting from every minute of 53 months of aging in oak casks. Brunello must be aged a minimum of three years, but at Col d’Orcia, they lovingly age it more.
Eduardo explains that this wine was aged in Slovenian and later French oak when the war in Yugoslavia interrupted production. I think a ‘Make Wine Not War’ tee shirt is in order, don’t you? Is the 1997 the “vintage of the century” as some have critics have described it? Perhaps. All I know is it’s insanely, lip-smacking good and about as far from box wine as you can get.
The 1995 exhibits a taste of orange peel with the “rough tannins that mark the characteristics of a young Sangiovese.” Finally, we arrive at the 1990, which Eduardo observes has notes of “wood, mushroom and tobacco yielding to macerated fruits and apples.” There’s a bit of a Balsamic note to this scrumptious wine as well, as if it demands to accompany a great meal. (We are, after all, in Italy.)
The Romans said In Vino Veritas, and today, Col d’Orcia has again made believers of us all. We sit like dutiful worshippers in the church of viniculture--learning, sipping, marveling at the many flavours and subtleties of these beautiful wines. I suppose it would be rude to ask for seconds.
(Oliver voice): “Please, sir, may I have some more?”
Photos of the vineyard courtesy of the winery's website.