~ The Tower of Castello Banfi aglow at midnight ~

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Montalcino many times; but on each of those occasions, all have been of the day trip variety.  Whether I was staying at a villa in nearby Umbria, visiting with friends in San Gimignano, or relaxing at a secluded villa near Vagliagli, the trip always ended with the knowledge that there was a long, winding drive home.  Now, I’m not afraid of driving in Italy at all.  And really, the drive from Montalcino to Chianti isn’t that long.  However, after a day of walking the steep hill town, driving the countryside tasting Brunello and lazily eating amid the medieval fortress in town, it’s still an excursion that’s wonderful to avoid.  So the last time I began making plans to visit Montalcino, my friend said to me – instead of going all the way back to Chianti, why don’t you just stay at the Banfi Borgo?

Stay at the Castello?  At night?  A castle a night?  I was once a little boy that actually played with Knights, so yeah, this was going to happen!   A few phone calls later and the plans were set.  We had spent the day tasting at several vineyards, shopping in Montalcino and having a wonderful lunch at Trattoria Sciame but as the afternoon waned, it was wonderful to make the short 15 minute drive toward San Angelo Scalo and Castello Banfi.

~ After dinner and grappa, we strolled around the entire Castello and the estate.  If you’ve never experienced the quiet charm of a Tuscan vineyard under the stars, you are missing something. ~

We arrived at the castle’s gate in the late afternoon and after being welcomed with a glass of refreshing Pinot Grigio, we were shepherded off to the “Poggio All’Oro” suite to rendezvous with our luggage and freshen up.  We had arranged 8:30 dinner reservations which left us plenty of time to do some barrel tasting with winemaker Rudy Buratti and General Manager Enrico Viglierchio.

The suites at Borgo Banfi have been spared no expense. Only one time in my life have I experienced a resort with such attention to detail and unparalleled customer service and that was Walt Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.  That’s what Borgo Banfi reminded me of and they should be commended for their excellence.

~ The sitting area in our room was comfortably arranged and overlooked a rose garden. Outfitted with an espresso maker and a chilled bottle of Banfi Brut, this was the perfect spot to relax before heading out for the evening’s festivities. ~

~ The large open floor plan of the room was spacious and decorated in typical Tuscan decor; vaulted ceilings with exposed beams, terra cotta tile floors, and oak shuttered windows that overlooked the courtyard and vineyards. A half bottle of 2012 Brunello was at the waiting along with bottles of Spring water and a gigantic king sized bed ~

~ I decided to open the Banfi Brut and relax a bit while my wife went to shower. Once she disappeared, I wandered around the rest of the suite only to find that it was appointed with a second full bathroom! With shampoo made from wine must and the softest bathrobes you could imagine, I have to admit,  it was going to be hard to get me out of here. Especially considering the digital selection for the water temperature in the shower which was, as you can see, large enough to accommodate calisthenics ~

~ Adjacent to one of the bathrooms was another sitting/reading room. Although I came to appreciate it as the “tasting room”. The wooden furniture piece in the left foreground is actually a Euro Cave holding Castello Banfi Brunello Riserva bottlings all the way back to 1978. ~

After freshening up, we headed to the Enoteca to meet Enrico for a ride down to the tasting area in the Castello Banfi aging cellars.  There we met the Cellarmaster, Gabrielle along with winemaker Rudy Buratti.  Who knew at the time this would my last chance to see Rudy?  Riposa in Pace my friend.

We barrel tasted six individual vineyard lots for what will eventually become 2015 and 2016 Brunello.  With Gabrielle dashing from botte to botte,  he quickly returned with enough drawn wine in his glass “wine theif” for us to adequately assess the progress of these two outstanding vintages.

~ Imagine a young, spry Italian man dashing about these botte like a firefly on a mission. Each time he returned with wine in his “thief” for us to taste ~

We began with three samples from 2016; each destined for Brunello but each from a different vineyard.   I asked Rudy what the main difference between each wine was.  He explained that although the Sangiovese Grosso clones were identical across all the vineyards, the soils in each vineyard are different.  Couple that with slight differences in exposure and the resulting nuances come through in the wine.

2016 Biadaioli Vineyard:  This vineyard provides fruit that will ultimately be used for the Poggio Alle Mura bottling.  Very aromatic on the nose with lots of fresh violet and black fruit character.  Black fruits on the palate are joined by spicy pepper.  This is elegant, graceful and feminine.  The vines here are 16 years old.

2016 Santa Costanza Vineyard:  Interestingly, the profile here was almost identical.  Lots of violets and black fruits on the nose and palate which are joined by pipe tobacco.  However, the fruit here is much more assertive.  Lots of structure, massive tannins and very masculine.  The vines here are only 6 years old and this (2016) is only the second vintage to be used from this vineyard.  At this time, it is unknown which Brunello will receive this fruit.

2016 Mandrielle Vineyard:  This vineyard supplies fruit for the estate Brunello.  Very lively on the nose with lots of flowers, loads of anise and plummy black fruits.  But on the palate, this is the most austere of the three samples with the fruit hiding behind dusty tannins and acidity.  Clearly designed to be an interesting component of the blend.

~ The passion of Rudy Buratti comes through as he explains the traits and personalities of each clone and vineyard we tasted ~

Next up were barrel samples from the same three vineyards, but from 2015.

2015 Biadaioli Vineyard:  Loads of violets and ripe black fruits on the nose.  The palate is replete with black fruits, sea shells and minerality and the fruit is lovely. Long, long finish is spicy and juicy with sweeter riper fruit. A stunning barrel sample.  Enrico said that Banfi is toying with the idea of bottling a few more single vineyard Brunello in the near future; especially from 2015 and 2016.  This vineyard, along with the 20 acre Poggione vineyard planted in 2004, could be stand alone bottlings.  Expected production would be 2,200-2,500 cases.   If so, I am a buyer.

2015 Santa Costanza Vineyard:  Very bright fruit on the nose and palate with lots of sweet pipe tobacco and loads of dusty white pepper.  Long, fruity and rich.  Amazing complexity for a sample whose vines were only 5 years old when it was harvested. This is the first vintage from this vineyard.

2015 Mandrielle Vineyard:  This has loads of flowers, fruit, pipe tobacco, and vanilla on the nose and palate with a long, anise laced finish. So complex and expressive.  Spicy and really nice with a long, round finish.

When we made it through all the barrel samples, I went back to get some more of the 2015 Biadaioli vineyard.  It really is a stellar wine.  Hopefully it will be bottled separately.

~ The Taverna inside the castle walls serves lunch and the full array of Castello Banfi wines ~

With the barrel samples behind us, we began tasting three of the finished, bottled wines.

2012 Brunello di Montalcino:  An outstanding vintage which I have chronicled through my numerous reports on the vintage.  Bright violet in color with red fruits, fresh flowers and spices on the nose.  Classic flavors – berries, vanilla, spices and fresh herb flavors mark the palate.  Long, elegant and smooth with refined tannins, this has a bright future.

2012 Brunello Poggio Alle Mura:  As of this tasting, this wine was bottled but not yet released.  Tightly wound and closed on the nose and palate but after decanting and vigorous swirling, tobacco, pepper, vanilla and red fruits appear.  Very difficult to judge at the moment, but typically a Cellar Selection.

2011 Brunello Poggio Alle Mura Riserva:  Deep garnet color. Longer, smoother and approachable with a silky palate.  Ripe cherry, tart and mouthwatering cherry flavors are delicious.  Though tannic, this is well integrated but will still benefit from 4-6 years in the cellar.  With about 30 minutes of air, it fleshed out even more, so decant it or cellar it.

~ Botte illuminated by a wine bottle Chandelier ~

After tasting through these, we were ready to savor some wonderful food and some mature wines.  After a slow walk across part of the estate, we arrived at the Risorante within the Castle;  the Sala dei Grappoli;  a bunch of grapes.   Formerly a Michelin starred restaurant, the dinner was presented with a casual but elegant flair.  Each course carefully chosen to match the wines and all flawlessly executed.

~ Assorted breads, crisps, and grissini were on the table while we awaited the first course. The sun was setting fast and although it was May, it was too chilly at night for the outdoor tables to be set up. ~

The 2016 Castello Banfi Chardonnay Fontanelle was served while we waited.  A pale golden color with slight green hues, this wine is very pretty to sip on.  Pear, apple and lemon aromas and flavors dominate with hints of chalky mineral and a spicy round finish.  Clean and pretty, it was the perfect cleanser for the barrel samples.

~ We continued with the 2016 Fontanelle Chardonnay with the first course; wild asparagus and crab risotto. I’ve made risotto many times, but I have to say, I’ve never tasted anything quite as sublime as this. Nor have I tried this combination. Wow! ~

The next two courses provided amazing foils for the wines to come.

~ Ravioli “Carbonara” – Fresh pasta stuffed with fluffy ricotta and finished with crispy pancetta and white truffles ~

~ The next course was pork three ways: grilled rib chop, braised belly, and roasted tenderloin. Pork is a sublime match for Sangiovese and this dish was incredible ~

With these lovely courses, the following wines were served.

2004 Poggio All’Oro Brunello Riserva:  All the stars aligned here.  The vintage, the single vineyard, the selection.  I tried to be cautious with these reviews in light of the fact that the stars were out, the castle was lit, the food was phenomenal and the company great – but all that did was add to the package.  This 2004 Riserva is still a dark garnet red in the glass that is almost impenetrable.  There was a substantial sediment in the bottle, so the attentive but unobtrusive staff graciously decanted the wine for us.  The wine is an aromatic dream.  The bright core of ripe cherry fruit is still youthfully fresh, but secondary aromas are becoming easily notable and include dried porcini, roasted coffee, chestnut and leaf tobacco.  The flavors follow the aromas but this Brunello struts its stuff with its architecture.  Full bodied, with fresh and massive amounts of fruit,  this still has plenty of tannins that are velvety and integrated despite the sediment.  Long, ripe finish is tinged with anise and becomes slightly chewy without food. But we were not without food!  A glorious Brunello.  98 points.

2005 Poggio Alle Mura Brunello:  An interesting choice to pair alongside the Riserva.  Poggio Alle Mura is not a Riserva, but a single vineyard Brunello from specially selected clones of Sangiovese Grosso.   Poggio Alle Mura is also mostly barrique aged whereas the Riserva sees large botte aging.  Still, the wine is compelling, but different stylistically.  Almost identical in color, it has a slight fade to ruby at the edge of the bowl.  The expressive aromas feature bright black cherry, vanilla, pipe tobacco and sage.  There’s a more herbal aspect to this wine, perhaps reflective of the vintage.  But 2005 was very good for Brunello; its biggest defeat that comes between 2004 and 2006.   On the palate, the wine is savory with cherry, Christmas cake spices, vanilla, sandalwood and tobacco.  The long, ripe, fruit driven finish is loaded with mouth watering acidity.  A really great wine, but not to the level of the Riserva.  94 points.

~ The Poggio All’Oro Riserva is on the left in this image. The Poggio Alle Mura is on the right. ~

After dinner came dessert with espresso and grappa di Brunello.  Although it was late, we still took a passegiata around the estate to aid the digestion before turning in.

~ Flourless chocolate tarte, raspberry and red wine reduction, gelato. I’m not the biggest dessert eater, but the crisp on this plate was one of the best things I’ve eaten. Delicious! ~

After lazing around the next morning, it was time for a stroll to our breakfast with a view….

~ Our suite was just up the hill to the left from our relaxing breakfast spot in the sun. Across the walkway are additional suites and guest accommodations ~

~ Starters. Full breakfast items, both Italian and American inspired are also available. French Press American coffee is available in addition to all manner of espresso and cappuccino drinks ~

Breakfast views…..

~ Under the trellis on the right is the Castello Banfi Spa. ~

~ Vigneti from the breakfast area ~

~ The back gate leading to some of the estate vineyards just down the path from our suite ~

I have to admit, it was tough to pack up the car and leave this luxurious oasis.  But as long as the Castle stands, this “little boy” will eventually return.  If you’re looking to pamper yourself a mere 15 minutes from Montalcino and the splendors of the Val d’Orcia, do consider the Borgo at Castello Banfi.

Salute!

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