Benvenuto Brunello 2023, Presenting the Iconic Elixir of Tuscany – Filippo Magnani

On November 28th wine enthusiasts and professionals in nine key cities worldwide gathered to celebrate Brunello Day. London, New York, Dallas, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, Zurich, Shanghai, and Tokyo all raised their glasses in honor of Brunello di Montalcino, the iconic elixir of Tuscany. This celebration is in fact the culmination of a 10-day event called Benvenuto Brunello, organized by the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium. Although Brunello Day is just a couple years old, this was Benvenuto Brunello’s 32nd edition and marked the release of the 2018 and 2019 vintages represented by 118 producers and 310 labels. These wines were evaluated by 90 Italian and international journalists and trade professionals, several of which were hand-picked by the Vinitaly International Academy, now supported by the Brunello Consortium.

During the inaugural weekend the 2023 vintage was presented and the 32nd Leccio d’Oro prize was awarded to five restaurants and wine retailers with an exceptional list of Montalcino wines: Ristorante Veranda at the Hotel Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, The Sistina restaurant in New York, The Il Quadrifoglio in Asti, The Berry Bros. & Rudd in London and the Osteria Il Bargello in Siena which also owns the Salotto del Vino, a wine bar and shop with nearly 100 Montalcino wines served by the glass.

A Story of Visionaries – The Rise of Brunello

After almost 50 years since its DOCG status, Brunello di Montalcino wines continue to grow in popularity and gain market share worldwide. To truly understand why, one must delve into its intriguing history. Montalcino was a very important stop of the Via Francigena, a road that ran from England to Rome and, therefore, it welcomed and hosted important men of power, nobles, politicians and popes. The great wines of Montalcino were crafted to satisfy the illustrious visitors who were traveling to reach the Eternal City, and that’s why the hamlet has displayed absolute quality winemaking for centuries.

The modern success of Brunello di Montalcino started in the late 19th century and is intertwined with the vision and passion of a few key figures who recognized the potential of the Sangiovese grape in a unique terroir. One such visionary was Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, a winemaker from the Montalcino region who experimented with the Sangiovese grape, selecting superior clones and implementing innovative winemaking techniques. He was one of the first to introduce the practice of aging Brunello di Montalcino in large oak casks for an extended period.

This patient aging process proved to be the key to unlocking the full potential of the Sangiovese grape. Over time, the wine developed a deep, complex character with earthy aromas, intense dark fruit flavors, and an impressive ability to age gracefully. Biondi-Santi’s wines gained recognition and set the standard for what Brunello di Montalcino would become.

As the reputation of Biondi-Santi’s Brunello spread, other winemakers in the Montalcino region started to adopt similar winemaking practices. In 1966, Brunello di Montalcino was first recognized as a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and in 1980 it was granted the highest classification in Italian wine, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). This prestigious recognition solidified Brunello di Montalcino’s status as one of Italy’s most exceptional and iconic wines.

The Sangiovese Grape – A Match Made in Montalcino

The secret behind the exceptional character of Brunello di Montalcino lies in its main grape variety – Sangiovese. This indigenous grape has been cultivated in Tuscany for centuries, and although it is Italy’s most widely planted black grape variety, many would agree that it finds its ultimate expression in the hilly vineyards of Montalcino.

The name “Sangiovese” is derived from the Latin words “sanguis Jovis” meaning “blood of Jove,” reflecting the grape’s deep red color. It is known by other names too such as Brunello and Sangiovese Grosso. The grape has a remarkable ability to express itself in a range of styles, from light and fruity to full-bodied and complex. Sangiovese is known for its distinctive aromas, lively acidity and tannic backbone. Closely associated with Sangiovese are fragrances of cherries – both fresh and dried – as well as ripe strawberries and plums that often intertwine with appealing herbal nuances like thyme, oregano, and sweet tobacco. This flavor profile captures beautifully the essence of the Tuscan terroir. Its vibrant and refreshing acidity preserves the wine’s balance, enhances its food pairing versatility and contributes to the wine’s aging potential, enabling it to develop complexity and maintain freshness over time.

Sangiovese wines often exhibit a pronounced tannic structure, delivering a firm and grippy texture that can be attributed to both the grape variety and the extended skin contact during fermentation. These tannins not only contribute to the wine’s structure but also bestow it with excellent aging potential. With time, the tannins soften, allowing the wine to evolve and develop greater complexity while retaining its inherent elegance. This is why the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG requires a minimum of 4 years aging, including 2 years in barrel and 4 months in bottle. The Riserva takes another year of aging which includes an additional 2 months in bottle.

The Terroir of Montalcino – A Sublime Expression of Complexity

The terroir of Montalcino is a tapestry of diverse microclimates, soils, and altitudes that contribute to the distinctive character of Brunello di Montalcino.
The vineyards of Montalcino are nestled on slopes and plateaus at varying elevations, ranging from 250 to 600 meters above sea level. This diverse topography results in different microclimates within the region, allowing winemakers the opportunity to express different facets of the Sangiovese grape.

The soils in Montalcino are rich and varied, giving Brunello di Montalcino its multifaceted personality. The northern region of Montalcino has soils dominated by limestone and shale, bringing finesse and elegance to the wines. In the central part, clay and marl prevail, imparting structure and depth. In the southern areas, volcanic soils contribute to wines with power and intensity.

The climate of Montalcino plays a crucial role in the ripening of the grapes. Summers are warm and dry, while winters are mild, providing the perfect balance of sun and rainfall. The significant diurnal temperature variation during the growing season helps to retain the grapes’ natural acidity, resulting in wines with vibrant freshness.

These factors, combined with the expertise and dedication of the winemakers, shape the flavor profile of Brunello di Montalcino. The wines are characterized by their remarkable complexity, intense aromas, lively acidity, and structured tannins that contribute to their exceptional aging potential.

Preserving Tradition, Embracing Innovation – The Future of Brunello di Montalcino

While rooted in centuries-old traditions, the producers of Brunello di Montalcino embrace innovation and strive for excellence in their winemaking practices. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on sustainable viticulture and organic farming methods. Many wineries in Montalcino have adopted practices that respect the environment, ensuring a healthy balance between vineyard management and the preservation of the unique terroir. Over half of them are now certified organic.

Modern winemaking techniques have also allowed winemakers to refine their craftsmanship further. Advances in technology have made it possible to control temperature during fermentation, ensuring optimal extraction of aromas and flavors from the grapes. Precision in oak aging has also become a focus, allowing winemakers to strike a perfect balance between the fruit purity and the subtle influence of oak.

Experiences Around Montalcino – A Perfect Blend of Culture, Gastronomy, Wine, and History

For visitors and wine enthusiasts, a journey to Montalcino offers much more than just a tasting experience. Here, you can immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage, savor delicious culinary delights, explore the ancient history, and indulge in the stunning beauty of the Tuscan landscape.

For those with a passion for culture and history, a visit to the medieval fortress that overlooks Montalcino is a must. The fortress, known as the Rocca, offers panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and the charming town below. Inside, the Museo Civico showcases archaeological finds and artifacts that tell the story of Montalcino’s past. The main street and square are lined with boutiques, restaurants and wine shops perfect for a day of shopping, eating and wine tasting.

Gastronomy connoisseurs will find themselves in heaven as they explore the local cuisine. The traditional dishes of Montalcino are a perfect pairing for Brunello di Montalcino, from hearty wild boar ragù to Pecorino cheese made from the milk of sheep that graze among the vines.
Many wineries in the area welcome visitors, offering guided tours of their vineyards and cellars. The winemakers take great pride in sharing their knowledge and passion, allowing visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the winemaking process and the philosophy behind their wines. And of course, the tastings of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino are an absolute highlight, immersing visitors in the flavors, aromas, and history of these exceptional wines.

For those who are captivated by the natural beauty of the region, a drive through the rolling hills of Montalcino is an enchanting experience. The vine-laden landscapes, dotted with rustic farmhouses and charming villages, create an idyllic setting that begs to be explored. Hiking and biking are great ways to fully appreciate the picturesque scenery and immerse yourself in the soul of this incredible region. In fact there are two famous events that take place every year here: the Brunello Crossing for walkers and hikers and L’Eroica for cyclists. Among other scenic landscapes, both will take you through Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage site that embodies the best of the Tuscan countryside.

In Conclusion

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is not just a wine; it is an embodiment of the passion, dedication, and the magic of the Montalcino terroir. The Sangiovese grape nurtured in this exceptional climate and soil produces wines of unrivaled elegance, complexity, and longevity. A visit to Montalcino is an opportunity to experience the rich heritage, indulge in the gastronomic delights, immerse yourself in the mesmerizing landscapes, and uncover the secrets of Brunello di Montalcino. With every sip, you will taste the rich history, feel the love and respect for the land, and be transported to the heart of Tuscany’s winemaking excellence. Cheers to a truly unforgettable wine experience!

Pernod Ricard UK Launches New Wine Brand “Greasy Fingers”

Pernod Ricard UK Launches New Wine Brand “Greasy Fingers”

Pernod Ricard UK is disrupting the wine category with the launch of a new wine range “Greasy Fingers” which challenges traditional boundaries of wine and food pairings by ripping up the rule book and delivering two, bold wines, expertly crafted to cut through greasy food and provide the perfect match for gourmet fast food.

Greasy Fingers is a wine for moments of pure indulgence with friends and the brand is launching two varieties within its range. First up is Greasy Fingers Luscious Red 2022, a medium-bodied, fruit-forward blend of Shiraz and Grenache, with luscious cherry and strawberry flavours, as well as soft, approachable tannins. Second in the line-up is Greasy Fingers Big Buttery Chardonnay 2022, which boasts refreshing flavours of peach, vanilla, and cinnamon spice with a buttery mouthfeel.

Lucy Bearman, wine and champagne portfolio director at Pernod Ricard UK, said: “The wine category is ripe for disruption and Greasy Fingers goes back to the heartland of wine by pairing it with food in a way that breaks the traditional conventions of the category”.

She further added: “We believe passionately in a wine and food match made in heaven, but it doesn’t need to come with a white tablecloth and a qualification. This simple yet hugely effective pairing is about whipping up some burgers for friends to eat together at the weekend or indulging in a mid-week takeaway and putting your feet up, whilst enjoying a bold and unpretentious glass of wine.”

Launching in Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda from this month with a £10 RRP, the brand will also be going live on Amazon and Ocado later this year. The launch comes at a time when Pernod Ricard UK has driven positive value share results in the Off-Trade for its top three wine brands, Campo Viejo, Brancott Estate and Stoneleigh, with all three brands delivering value share growth in the last 12 weeks. Greasy Fingers complements the wider Pernod Ricard UK wine portfolio with a disruptive proposition that aims to re-engage and recruit a young adult shopper into the category at a time when the number of wine drinkers under the age of 34 has been reduced.

A Territorial Concordance – Pairing Sistina Pecorino Terre di Chieti + Summer Truffle Risotto

For tonight’s wine pairing dinner, I decided to pair Sistina Pecorino Terre di Chieti with Mushroom Risotto. This pairing is “A Taste of Authentic Italy” more specifically, Abruzzo, a territorial concordance: the pecorino grape varietal and summer truffle.

Citra Vini, Abruzzo – Italy’s Inception was in 1973 and since that time, its mission has been represented by some of the most important grape varieties including indigenous varieties, in the province of Chieti.

The Wine: Sistina Pecorino Terre di Chieti
This pecorino is aromatic and bright; soft and elegant at the same time being complex, with an array of nuances – evoking tropical splendour interwoven with delicate floral notes; being full-bodied and a robust structure, it concludes with a long lingering finish.

The Food Paring: Summer Truffle Risotto

Why this pairing works
Firstly, both the wine and truffle are from the Abruzzo region, thus a territorial concordance or harmony. Secondly, the wine is rich in aromas, but without excessive body which will destroy the delicate character of the truffles – great pairing !!

“Barolo Week” with Fontanafredda Wines

Some lunches are just a bit more elevated than others, and this one was one of them! A group of us celebrated “Barolo Week” last week with Roberto Bruno, COO of Fontanafredda Wines at One Restaurant, The Hazelton Hotel, Toronto.  Roberto came from Alba, Italy for the exquisite food and wine pairing lunch, organized by Galleon Wines.

A great selection of Fontanfredda Wines were paired with some exceptional cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Darby Piquette.

Roberto walked us through the history of the wine estate; and the technical notes, vinification, aging, and tasting notes of each wine.

The wine and food pairing included:

  • Amuse bouche, belini with caviar, tuna sashimi bites – Paired with Alta Langa Contessa Rose Brut 2017
  • Beet salad with whipped chevre, granola and baby spinach – Paired with Gavi di Gavi 2020 and Timorrasso 2022
  • Tatlietelle (housemade) with shaved truffle – Paired with Barolo Platinum label 2019
  • Beef tenderloin, garlic pomme puree sauteed spinach, au jus – Paired with Barolo Seralunga d’Alba 2018 and 2019
  • Montebello pasteurized cheese – Paired with Barolo Vigna La Rosa 2013

The best pairing for me was the last one.  First of all tasting notes for the Barolo, include:

Medium garnet in colour; developing nose of dark red fruit, strawberry, black pepper, licorice, some smokiness, and leather; closely woven tannins almost velvety; offers firm structure and elegance; medium length finish.  An excellent Barolo!

Excellent pairing with this mature cheese due to its smokiness and strong flavors.

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 Exploring Ligurian Riviera’s Enchanting World of Vineyards and Villages – Filippo Magnani

Italy has many picturesque wine regions, but the rugged dramatic coastline known as Liguria, or the Italian Riviera, is an improbable treasure trove for the traveling wine enthusiast. Curved around the Mediterranean, the small, terraced vineyards of Liguria dot the landscape from the French border along the west coast of Italy down to the famed Cinque Terre.

The region’s geography plays a significant role in shaping the distinctive characteristics of its wines. Located between the Ligurian Sea and the Maritime Alps, it is a land of both rugged landscapes and a harmonious climate. The unique combination of warm coastal breezes and mountain influences creates an ideal environment for viticulture. The cool maritime influence helps retain acidity in the grapes, while the sun-drenched slopes provide the perfect conditions for grape ripening. The steep grades of many slopes create challenging conditions for grape growing. Some vineyards are isolated on terraces that have been carved out of the cliff and are only accessible by boat. Winemaking traditions in this area can be traced back 2500 years to the Etruscans and Greeks.

The indigenous grape varieties in Liguria have adapted to the region’s particular terroir over centuries. High concentrations of limestone give them a distinct minerality. The region produces mostly white wines (75%) and its most prominent white grape is Vermentino, referred to locally as Pigato meaning ‘spots’ that develop on the grapes as they reach maturity. This aromatic variety thrives in Liguria’s coastal areas, producing wines with vibrant acidity, crispness, and a bouquet of citrus fruits and floral notes. The best examples are praised for their refreshing and mineral-driven profiles. Vermentino is often blended with two other white grapes called Bosco and Albarola.  Bosco gives structure and richness to these wines whereas Albarola can express notes of honey, flowers and perfume especially when made in the sweet style under the unique Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà DOC. For those who like rich and charismatic white wines the Cinque Terre.

As for red wines, Rossese and Ciliegolo and Vermentino Nero take the spotlight here. They create subtle and fruity wines that can show notes of herb and spice. Rossese wines are usually light-bodied and elegant, with red fruit flavors, floral nuances and delicate tannins. These wines capture the essence of Liguria’s terroir, reflecting its maritime influence and mountainous landscapes.

When it comes to tasting Ligurian wines, visitors will also be captivated by the region’s extraordinary food. The bright acidity of the region’s white wines complements the local seafood perfectly. Their citrus notes and hints of salinity provide a delightful pairing with dishes like seafood pasta, grilled fish, or even the Ligurian specialty, pesto. For red wine enthusiasts, their signature lightness offers a pleasant balance that doesn’t overwhelm the palate. They pair excellently with Ligurian-style pizza, salted cod dishes, or even a selection of local cheeses.

Of course, a visit to Liguria would not be complete without experiencing “The Five Villages of the Cinque Terre.” This string of ancient seaside towns nestled along the rugged coastline just northwest of La Spezia have earned themselves the coveted status as a UNESCO World Heritage site as a “cultural landscape” of extraordinary value.

Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five villages, and it is also home to the only expansive beach in the region. The village is divided into two parts: the new town, where modern buildings and amenities can be found, and the charming old town, with its narrow streets and colorful houses. Monterosso is a great place to start your Cinque Terre adventure, with plenty of hiking trails and panoramic views to enjoy.

Vernazza is considered by many to be the most picturesque of the five villages. Its colorful alleyways and charming harbor attract visitors from all over the world. Vernazza is also home to the Doria Castle, which dates back to the 15th century and offers spectacular views of the village and the sea.

Corniglia is the only village in the Cinque Terre that is not directly connected to the sea. Instead, it is perched on top of a rocky promontory, surrounded by terraced vineyards. Due to its unique position and the effort required to reach it (by climbing 377 steps), it is the least visited of the five villages, making it an ideal spot for those seeking a more tranquil experience. On the hiking path from Corniglia to Manarolo you will find one of the best local wineries, Cantina Cappellini. Here you can taste wines in the middle of the terraced vineyards with stunning views overlooking the sea. Luciano Cappellini and his family have been making remarkable examples of Cinque Terre wines for seven generations.

Manarola is a small village that exudes charm and character. Its tall, colorful houses rise up the hillside leading up to the 14th-century church of San Lorenzo. Manarola is also home to the famous Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane), a scenic path that connects Manarola to Riomaggiore.

Riomaggiore, the furthest south of the five villages, is a lively town with vibrant houses that cling to the steep hillside. Its bustling harbor is always busy with fishing boats that provide a steady supply of fresh seafood in its cozy restaurants. Riomaggiore is also home to the ancient Church of San Giovanni Battista which offers stunning views of the village and the sea.

Between Riomaggiore, Vernazza and S. Stefano Magra and Castelnuovo Magna, are 6 hectares of special vineyards cultivated by a talented winemaker named Walter de Battè. Leaving behind his life as a sailor he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and take up viticulture. In 2003 Walter founded the Primaterra label with a group of friends and local experts. His philosophy is to produce wines that express the union between man, grapes and terroir. Both his whites and reds undergo considerable skin maceration to capture the unique qualities of their territory.

If you continue a little further south past La Spezia you will reach the picturesque town of Portovenere, sometimes called the “Sixth Town” of the Cinque Terre which also has UNESCO World Heritage status. Overlooking the Gulf of La Spezia you can take in the same views and archipelago that enchanted the 19th-century writer Lord Byron. The natural beauty here is truly breathtaking. Enjoy the numerous hiking trails along the coast or take a boat out to Palmaria island where you can dine at the legendary Locanda Lorena seafood restaurant. Portovenere itself also has plenty to discover, from the Doria Castle to the numerous boutique shops and restaurants offering the best of Ligurian wine and cuisine.

If you’re looking for memorable places to visit while tasting these delicious wines and local dishes, there are a few places that stand out. In the north of Cinqueterre, Portofino is a traditional fishing village with sophistication and elegance that attracts celebrities and jetsetters, but its beauty and charm make it worth the visit. For a more laid-back ambiance, the village of Santa Margherita Ligure offers just as much charm with some nice beaches that are perfect for a swim after lunch.