Last month I had the pleasure of covering an exclusive event held at the prestigious Lamborghini Lounge on Manhattan’s upper east side. The occasion was the 40th birthday of Castello Banfi and the event provided a rare opportunity to show case the estate’s new, but unreleased vintages, taste several back vintage wines and well, drive the Lamborghini simulator! Driving the simulator is not as easy as one imagines; especially after tasting a few wines. It’s actually physically taxing and involves all of your senses in addition to hands, eyes and feet. Give a try if you ever come across one. But onto the wines….
Castello Banfi was founded in 1978 thanks to the will of the Italian-American brothers, John and Harry Mariani. From the beginning, the goal of the two brothers was to create a state-of-the-art winery combined with the most advanced science in the vineyards for the production of premium wines. The Mariani’s enlisted the assistance Ezio Rivella, one of Italy’s foremost enologists, who understood that due to the richness of the soils and the privileged microclimatic exposition, the property would have great capacity for development. Rivella was instrumental in shepherding Castello Banfi through its formative years and along with the late Rudy Buratti and the efforts of the Mariani family, the estate was returned to glory.
The producer was pouring dozens of wines at the event loosely arranged in groups according to the decades they were first released. I did not photograph every wine that was tasted for this article.
The first wine that caught my attention was the Cum Laude sporting it’s newly designed label which is very eye catching. I have never been a great admirer of Cum Laude which is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah. To me, given that the blend is approximately 25% of each varietal, the wine has always struck me as lacking personality. Not surprisingly, in 2015 that changed.
The 2015 Cum Laude struts all the stuff that is making the wines from 2015 so wonderful. The fruit is pure, elegant, powerful and juicy. In this case, the tannins here are rather assertive so 3-4 years in the cellar will likely soften the package and allow for ideal balance. This is polished and graceful and while it may not be the most typical of Tuscan wines, it is very tasty and should provide nice value. Not yet released. 89 points.
The next wine I gravitated to was the 2014 version of Summus. I’ve been very critical of many wines from the 2014 vintage and can count the wines I’d willingly drink again on one hand. This one, makes the hand. The 2014 Summus is a dark, almost blackish purple in the glass. Displaying aromas of crushed black plum, fresh green herbs, castelvetrano olives and spices, you can get hints of the difficult vintage from the aromas.
On the palate, the wine is smooth with well integrated tannins that are slightly underripe. The cigar tobacco, black plum, cedar and cypress herb notes are interesting and medium bodied. Severe selection and reduced production saved this wine in 2014 and while it’s not the typical blockbuster that Summus often is, those wanting to continue verticals of the wine will not be disappointed in this version. In fact, I think 1-2 years in the cellar may flesh this out a bit more and enhance the balance of the experience. 89 points.
As you can see, sitting right next to the Summus was the 2012 Brunello Riserva Poggio All’Oro. Next! This Brunello Riserva is always one of the greatest wines to come from Montalcino as it is only made in the absolute best vintages. Already beginning to strut its stuff, the 2012 Riserva is a deep garnet ruby color with no lightening at the rim. Concentrated, ripe aromas of crushed flowers, berries, ripe pipe tobacco, smoke, grilled meat and leather are simply astounding. The slightly warmer 2012 vintage has lent itself nicely to this wine.
On the palate, full bodied flavors of crushed berry, tobacco leaf, smoked meat, Christmas spice and coffee are wonderfully presented and harmonic. Balanced well, with lots of structure for aging, this will cellar for 15 years easily. But I suggest it will hit stride before then and it will be hard to resist. 95 points.
To celebrate Castello Banfi’s 40th birthday, the winery commissioned a special limited edition wine from its wine making team. The wine, simply called “40”, was bottled only in magnums and will not be sold in any market. The history of the wine is very cool and mysterious. When I inquired as to what grapes the wine was made from, this is the answer I received.
“The actual blend is a top-secret formula. All we know for sure is that there are bits of wine taken from every vintage going back to 1978 (including 2017 juice from barrel). We actually uncorked old bottles from the historic cellar to contribute to the blend, and that some of the components were never released to the public; such as some “experimental” grape varieties and vineyards. It is, quite literally, a blend of mystery and intrigue.” Pretty cool.
After a while, my presence was requested to the lower lounge where the Lamborghini simulator was waiting. I’m sorry to say I’ve decided against buying one! The, how shall I say, space within the drivers cockpit isn’t that large and my 6’1″ frame didn’t exactly fit all that well. Still, it was an interesting experience and the ultimate in interactive video games if you will. Outside the simulation room waited three wonderful wines profiling consecutive vintages.
The 1998 Brunello is now amazingly 20 years old. The vintage was good and perhaps disregarded a little as it fell between 1997 and 1999, yet this wine acquitted itself very well that evening. Deep ruby red in color, there is little fading at all. Fresh, aromatic nose of dried flowers, warm cherry, spices, hints of toast and chestnut and underbrush. Very attractive. On the palate, this remains fresh and juicy with plenty of ripe red fruits backed by toasted spices, fresh tobacco and turned earth. Very pretty and drinking great if you’re still holding them. 91 points.
The next wine was the 1999 Brunello Riserva Poggio All’Oro. I’ve had this wine on several different occasions and it has never failed to utterly impress me. In fact, it’s all the more noteworthy now because I expect to be impressed and it consistently delivers. This is everything you’d expect in a single vineyard Brunello Riserva. Dark plums, cherry liquer, pipe tobacco, mint, eucalyptus and fennel mark the intriguing nose that adds roasted espresso and cured meat on the palate to compliment the flavors echoing the nose. Long, juicy, wonderfully balanced and still somewhat tannic. This has plenty of life ahead of it, so there’s no need to rush. I wish I had some. Stupendous. 98 points.
The 1997 Excelsus was the next wine of the three; a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot. These days, the blend varies somewhat. This was way tighter than anyone tasting with me expected. Dark plums, bell pepper and leaf tobacco dominate the nose. On the palate, this wine is shy. Lots of black plum fruit is there at the core, but there is not a whole lot else going on at the moment. Tightly wound, the tannins and acids seem intertwined somehow. Maybe a long decant would help. Hold this if you’ve got it. 89 points.
Overall, this was an amazing experience to taste wines across the Castello Banfi 40 year evolution. I can’t wait to see what they decide to do for the 50th anniversary!