Last month, I had the privilege of sitting down with the affable Enrico Viglierchio, the General Manager of Castello Banfi, to chat over a relaxing dinner and taste through some of the estate’s most recently bottled wines. Enrico helms the operations of the Castello Banfi estate and is intimately involved with the inner workings of the property and the wine production. If there’s a decision to be made, Enrico is involved. Yet this talented man, humble and so softly spoken as to present an almost reserved nature, is filled with a determined passion to strive for excellence at all levels. Having interviewed Enrico in 2016, I wanted to take a different approach for this article. Therefore, I reached out to my followers on Twitter in advance to solicit questions to raise during the course of the dinner. There were lots of interesting queries and even some funnier replies. And of course, we tasted some wine. So let’s get to it!
We began the dinner with a variety of antipasto that we left to the whim of the chef. Out came prosciutto di parma, grilled octopus, burrata over arugula and assorted crostini. With the antipasto, we opened two vintages of the estate’s Vermentino, which is produced with grapes from their Maremma property.
La Pettegola is almost predominantly Vermentino, though both of the vintages tasted contained about 5% Chardonnay. The 2016 Castello Banfi La Pettegola is a pale straw color that is slightly darker than its 2017 sibling given its one year of seniority. On the nose, the wine displays lemon, lemon grass and petrol notes that are intriguing. Oily and viscous on the palate with flavors of ripe citrus, lemon and white peaches, this is a bit fuller in body than it’s 2017 counterpart. Finishes softly with mineral and lime notes. Very enjoyable and although I think I preferred it now compared to the 2017, I’ll be curious to see how the 2017 evolves a year from now. 88 points. Nice value around $15. Find this wine.
The 2017 Castello Banfi La Pettegola could not have been more different, at least aromatically. It was very interesting to compare the two wines side by side; a sort of theme that permeated the evening. Crisp and nearly colorless, the 2017 is highly aromatic and abounds with floral tones of white and yellow flowers. Fresh and lively on the palate, the flavors are centered around grapefruit and pineapple with flinty, dusty minerals adding complexity. Very delicate and feminine. One pairing note: this really complimented the prosciutto. Different style at the moment, but identical quality. 88 points. About $15. Find this wine.
As we waited for the pasta course, we poured the first two reds of the evening and began playing with and discussing them. Again, in comparing these two wines in such close proximity, the stylistic nature of each vintage is accentuated. While the two estate Brunello aired, we began our Twitter provided questions.
Actually, the first question belonged to me. When I was with Enrico last at Castello Banfi, he hinted to me, with a wry smile, that one of the things Castello Banfi was considering was the release of another single vineyard Brunello. In fact, having tasted the Castello Banfi vineyard select wines before they were blended, I was very excited by this possibility. So I asked him for an update and an estimate of the production to be bottled.
“I think yes, most likely Giovanni. I think the trend is to bottle more single vineyard wines, both to show the differences in the soil but also to illustrate how the different clones of Sangiovese can produce such dissimilar wines. This will probably not happen until the 2016 vintage and will likely be just from one vineyard. However, from year to year the vineyard we choose could change. As far as production, I would guess no more than 500-1,000 six bottle cases.”
The 2012 Castello Banfi Brunello has changed much at all since I reported on it as part of our Exclusive 2012 Brunello Coverage. This is a concentrated, full bodied wine, with aromas of crushed cherry, fresh flowers, vanilla and tobacco on the nose. Since my earlier report, this seems to have gained more pronounced floral notes which is very attractive. Well balanced on the palate between fruit, acid and tannins, the wine shows no effect of the warmer vintage and in fact, is fresh and lively on the palate. Long, fruit driven finish is tinged with coffee. Really well done. 94 points. Price varies but easily available from about $50. Find this wine.
The 2013 Castello Banfi Brunello is a different wine altogether compared to its older sibling. The vintage characteristics become so amplified in a case like this when wines are tasted in such close proximity. This Brunello displays lots of meaty, earthy and “funky” character on the nose at the moment, adding fresh raspberry and sandalwood notes on the back end. More “classic” in style, as are many wines of the vintage generally speaking, the 2013 is elegant, with notes of ripe berry, mushroom and spices. Not overly complex at this young stage, but as Enrico counseled, “it will be interesting to taste this wine 3-5 years into the future.” I think right now, I prefer the 2012 slightly. I’ll report on this again as part of our 2013 Brunello coverage coming this Fall. 92 points. About $50. Find this wine.
The next few questions came across from Twitter….
Enrico, as part of your role you must have access to great wines from Castello Banfi’s cellar. What would you pour yourself to drink if not from Castello Banfi’s cellar? “I like to try other wines from our territory, but also from across Italy. I might enjoy another young Brunello and always with good cheese and good bread, with salt! Bread from Piedmont…. not the Tuscan bread without any seasoning! Lately if I’m choosing a Castello Banfi wine, I’ve been enjoying Excelsus. “
What does the future hold for Castello Banfi? Are you planning any new wines? Any new varietals for the estate? Any vineyard acquisitions planned? Does your thinking about any of this get impacted by climate change? (while laughing) “Jesus, is that all?” and more laughing…. “Well, definitely we are thinking about new wines, as we discussed the single vineyard Brunello above. I don’t envision any additional varietals being planted. As a result of our soil and clonal research projects, we are keenly aware of what varietals grow best and where they grow best on our estate. We have lots of flexibility already and that helps us even in the more difficult vintages. Climate change is a major issue and one that I could talk about for the rest of the evening. Already this year we saw a week of weather where the temperature swings within one week were 30 degrees. It impacts everything we do, every stage of the process. Over the last few years, we may have gotten enough total rainfall, but we’ve been seeing concentrations of rain where it will be dry for weeks and then we get 2 inches of rainfall in one day. This can impact the runoff on the soil, different root stocks adapt differently. Even different clones react differently to weather extremes. Canopy management becomes an issue as well when it’s dry and very hot. We need to protect the grapes that are on the plants. We used to cut the canopy away to allow the sun to reach the grapes and ripen them, now we leave the canopy in tact much more than ever to shade the grapes from getting sun burned. And as I mentioned earlier, the lack of rain for lengthy periods of time can also lead to the vines getting into a period of water stress. Now at least we can irrigate to a certain degree when it becomes “critical” but it takes some time to get to that point.”
While continuing to sip on the above Brunello between courses, we continued or Twitter fed dialogue.
Will Canada receive more or less wine from Castello Banfi as sales to China and Southeast Asia increase? “Very interesting questions and yes, the market in Asia is becoming more significant for Brunello as a brand on the whole, but also for fine wine in general as people’s wealth and accessibility increases. However, Canada is already more than Asia, it’s a very significant market for us. No way the exports to Canada will be less. In fact, I would like to see them increase. However, the monopolistic control of the system in Canada hurts availability. This can vary province by province. Ontario is a very good market for us. Quebec is much more difficult. But overall, no, I do not see it decreasing.”
With the arrival of our secondi we dove into the next pair of wines; one of which was released and one that is on the way.
The 2012 Castello Banfi Brunello Poggio Alle Mura is starting to show more complexity than it did the first few times I’ve tasted this wine. Typically slower to express itself than the estate Brunello, the Poggio Alle Mura displays a lovely, vibrant ruby color with violet highlights and a fade to copper at the rim. Classic, gorgeous color. Rich, ripe aromas of crushed berries, toasted spices, menthol and fresh blue flowers are attractive and persistent. On the palate, this is still a bit tightly wound, but the core of ripe wild cherry fruit is full bodied and juicy. Accented by espresso, fresh cypress herbs and turned earth, this has a long evolution ahead of it but with decanting should be approachable now. Very classy and elegant. 95 points. About $65. Find this wine.
The 2013 Castello Banfi Brunello Poggio Alle Mura represents a return to classicism. Not yet released in full, this wine is a brooding monster. Perhaps slightly darker than the 2012 – I’ll let you judge that by the photo below. The 2013 is similar to the 2012, but displays a cooler fruit profile that presents itself as more reserved and reticent. The full bodied palate displays some meat, leather and mushroom notes to compliment the large core of red fruits, but the tannins assert themselves rather notably on the back end. Not surprisingly, this needs some time which I think will be true of many 2013s. 93 points. About $70. Find this wine.
While we lingered over the wines further, we continued our Q&A.
Much has been written about the difficult 2014 vintage across much of Tuscany. How did the vintage impact Castello Banfi? “It was indeed a very difficult vintage; probably the most difficult since 2002. Overall, our production was down almost 40% across the board so there will be wines available, but clearly, we had to make some very strict selections and we declassified some of our fruit as well. For instance, there will be no Poggio All’Oro produced from 2014 and although Poggio Alle Mura will be produced, the level of that bottling will be down drastically. We did produce Summus and Excelsus too since they are made predominantly from Cabernet which ripens later, we were able to wait longer to harvest those varieties until the weather improved in September. But again, we did not produce as much as we normally would have.”
Finally, I closed the discussion asking about our mutual friend and colleague Rudy Buratti who passed away last January. What is the plan for Rudy? Whose decision will it be to replace him and/or restructure the winemaking team? “We all are still getting used to not having Rudy around. It is hard to replace that level of expertise, knowledge and familiarity. Rudy knew everything about the wines, the vines, the soils in each vineyard, when to pick and how to treat the fruit. It will be my decision as to how best to replace him moving forward. For now, we have 3 other winemakers on staff plus Cellar Master Gabrielle who is also very knowledgeable about the entire process. So we are in good hands through this interim period. Rudy’s last vintage was the 2016, though he passed before all of those wines were finished and bottled so that year will represent a crossover in many ways.”
We concluded our evening by tasting the 2013s side by side to gauge the difference in the style and the blended wine versus the single vineyard Poggio Alle Mura. It was difficult to discern a marked difference in the two at this young stage but as I mentioned above, I think time will serve them both well. As Enrico said?: “A classic, elegant vintage that will be very interesting to taste into the future.”
Thank you very much to my various Twitter followers who contributed excellent questions for Enrico and thanks of course to Enrico himself for joining us once again and allowing us an exclusive peek into Castello Banfi and their wines.