In my humble opinion there is no better producer of Brunello di Montalcino than Gianfranco Soldera. His wine is the essence of traditionally made, unadulterated wine. I had the pleasure of meeting Soldera at his Case Basse estate in 2008 and was completely captivated by the man’s passion and convictions. He firmly believes that high quality production requires a complex ecosystem that constitutes an ideal habitat for natural cultivation. Thus the Case Basse estate pays attention to preserving the stonewalls where birds, small mammals and insects nest and reproduce. For the same purpose, he creates artificial sanctuaries to attract animals in the hope that they become permanent residents, and also establishes beehives. What does this have to do with wine? Well when you taste his wine you will know. It is pure, round and delicious, a pure product of the grape, soil and climate.
|Loose stone walls|
Soldera, and his wife Graziella, an avid botanist who tends to 1500 varieties of roses at the estate, first discovered the then-abandoned Case Basse property in the early 1970s. They set about restoring the estate to full function, following a strict and intriguing philosophy of “enlightened agriculture” to create a singular Brunello of the utmost quality.
He limits his production to 15,000 bottles a year. The wines spend six years or more in large, very old, neutral oak casks with minimal rackings. Sodera’s wines, always expensive, have become even more so recently, the result of a former disgruntled employee who destroyed 60,000 liters of wine in 2012 from vintages 2007 through 2012.
At a Soldera dinner I attended last year, he spoke about how his bottling techniques and cork quality obviate the need to store his bottles on their side, as is usual for all wines that are aging. He says, “stand them up”. I have followed his advice. Who am I do challenge a master.
More information on Intistieti and Casa Basse distinctions can be found here http://www.italianwinemerchantstore.com/investing/landmark_wines/soldera_brunello_intistieti.html
2002 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. 2002 was a very difficult vintage in Montalcino. In fact Gianfranco did not want to pick the grapes, but his wife insisted, so along with her sister, they selected the grapes. Only 6,000 bottles were made. The wine turned out to be Gianfranco’s son’s favorite vintage. The wine, while lighter than the other bottles we drank, had a beautifully freshness on the palate and silky finish. Proof once again that when a great winemaker chooses to make wine in an off vintage, the results are usually very good.
2004 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. 2004 was an exceptional vintage and Soldera made an exceptional wine. Antonio Galloni, founder of Vinous says of the wine, “...might be the single most elegant wine ever made at the estate. Silky tannins, soaring aromatics and finely sculpted fruit elevate the 2004 into the realm of the truly sublime.” I could not agree more with his comments. This was elegance in the glass. The wine soared with each sip and finished with great length. It was my runner up to the 1995 as the WOTN.
2005 Soldera Case Basse Pegasos Toscana IGT. The 2005 Pegasos is not a new wine, per se, but rather a barrel of 2005 Brunello-designated juice that Soldera thought was ready to bottle and drink sooner rather than later, but not up to the qualitative standards of his top Brunello labels. The wine displayed a gorgeous clear red hue reminiscent of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. A light bodied wine with an extremely pure and balanced palate. In my opinion it is an amazing wine for a “declassified Brunello”, albeit a bit pricey.
2005 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. An average vintage, and again Soldera made a terrific wine that I have enjoyed 3 or 4 times before. Unfortunately, tonight’s bottle was not a good one.
My good friend Gino, who I invited as a guest to the dinner, brought a 2008 Marco de Bartoli Passito di Pantelleria "Bukkuram" for dessert. Made at the de Bartoli property on the island of Pantelleria in the Strait of Sicily, it is fashioned from 100% Zibbibo grapes. Half of the grapes are dried in the sun for three weeks on special racks within an area delimited by black stone walls. The remaining grapes are left to mature and partially dry out on the plants. These are picked and vinified; when the fermentation is well advanced, the dried raisins are added to the wine and left to macerate for three months. The wine is aged for 30 months in 225l French oak barrels, then 6 months in steel vats.
The wine has a deep amber color with a palate of raisins and honey that was delicious and the perfect end to a perfect evening.