|~ The Due Porte Vineyard at Il Palazzone ~
It wasn’t long after winding away from Montalcino Centro that I decided to eschew the GPS in favor of more colorful local directions. Although it was a hot sunny day, the trees lining what was now a strada bruta cast their shadows menacingly over the road requiring me to remove my sunglasses in order to dodge the bumps and divots.
The vines seemed to be soaking in the warm sunshine. It hadn’t rained in weeks, an odd fact that would prove ever so ironic just a few months later. Immediately after exiting my car, my Merrills began kicking up dust on the path that leads to Il Palazzone’s office and the Due Porte vineyard.
We had an appointment with Laura Gray, the charming estate manager, to tour the vineyards and taste some of Il Palazzone’s recent releases.
|~ The local directions I mentioned above. This is a good shot, as you can see the shadows being cast on the road ~
Il Palazzone’s vineyards have varying exposures and elevations. The Due Porte vineyard, nearest Montalcino Centro is one of the highest. As we toured the vineyard, the surface soil is covered with wild grasses and small pebbles that make you double check your footing before taking your next step. This is only compounded by the slope of the land.
|~ In this photo, you get a better sense of the grasses growing between the vine rows ~
As we walked the vineyards, it became obvious how dusty and dry the topsoil was. The sun felt stronger in the openly exposed vineyards and we began discussing the latest Brunello releases, the 2009’s. Laura Gray recollected the heat of that vintage and how difficult it was since by law, Brunello producers cannot irrigate their vineyards. They are subject to the vagaries of weather in every way. Back in June, they were hoping for some rain. Alas, Mother Nature can be cruel; and only a few months later the region would be mired in a grey, rainy weather pattern that is threatening the imminent 2014 harvest.
|~ The view from the top of the Due Porte Vineyard on the Il Palazzone estate. The Villa in the distance, at the end of the long visible road, is Brunello producer Castello di Romitorio ~
From there we headed inside to tour the Il Palazzone’s new winery. As we discussed during my Interview with Marco Sassetti the new winery was completed in 2012 after a painstaking two year process that paid careful attention to natural and energy choices. Marco told me then:
“The cellar was designed by a young local architect, Marco Pignattai. It is very simple and unobtrusive and, because it uses Tuscan materials and shapes, it fits right into the landscape. Many of our visitors assume that it was a renovation of an existing building rather than a new build which is very satisfying for us. It is a 5,500 square foot (500 square meter) space and it is quite reminiscent of a church. The acoustics are amazing. There is a complete system for recovery of rainwater and all water used in the cellar we can reuse for irrigating the gardens and cellar work. We used 90% recycled bricks for the roof and the walls, and sourced all the stone for the landscaping from an on-site quarry. We were very careful about our energy choices.”
|~ This portion of the new winery houses several of the new wooden fermentors being used at Il Palazzone ~
We made our way into the barrel aging cellar where we tasted the three most recent bottled Brunello from the estate. It was very dark in the cellars ante-room, so I did not take pictures of the wines in glass. However, I did take detailed notes.
|~ Trio of Brunello for Tasting: 2007, 2008, and 2009. The blue vessel in the left background is the cup we used to taste the Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil ~
2007 Brunello: This is deep ruby in the glass. On the nose, there’s ample crushed berries with flowers, asian spices and cracked pepper. On the palate this is ripe and structured with lots of wonderful red fruit notes backed by sandalwood, wild underbrush and fennel. This is delicious and will age very well. 93 points.
2008 Brunello: The difference here, stylistically from the two riper vintages is distinct, but the wine is nonetheless compelling. In my 2008 Brunello report from last year, this was one of the top wines. It’s still firing on all cylinders. This is a bright medium violet colored wine with intense aromatics. Lots of flowers, spices and red fruits on the nose. On the palate the wine is elegant and packs flavors of crushed berries, red licorice, and rosemary. Almost shows a hint of mint. I’m not backing off on my earlier review one bit. 93 points.
2009 Brunello: Dark crimson red. On the nose the wine is very ripe with soy sauce and balsamic notes backing the smell of ripe cherries; almost a cherry liquer note. On the palate the ripe cherry flavors are primary and somewhat one dimensional at this moment. My least favorite of the three. 90 points.
|~ Large Botte in the Aging Cellar ~
We also sampled the estate produced extra virgin olive oil. We were instructed to smell, taste and swirl the oil just like you would a wine. It was an educational experience and I suggest you try it with a premium estate oil. We could actually feel the soothing properties of the oil in our throats as we swallowed it. It’s a great oil and I’m glad I have a bottle to treasure. Marco Sassetti then joined us and we were off to lunch in Montalcino at a small enoteca called Drogheria Francia; where my favorite cache of Tuscans calls home.
|~ Part of the Enoteca’s cellar; a converted well. Visibile are, Castello Banfi Poggio All’Oro, Poggio di Sotto, Costanti, Biondi Santi, Masseto, Sassicaia, Solaia, Le Pergole Torte, Flaccianello, Altesino and Casanova di Neri. And yes, they are MAGNUMS! ~
Marco wanted to feature the past and present at lunch so that we could get a sense of the diversity and evolution of the Il Palazzone estate. He grabbed two wonderful wines from the cellar, and off we went. The lunch menu was “limited” but there was no shortage of excellent food. We shared a great plate of prosciutto, speck and assorted other cured meats with olives and crostini to start and then followed with somewhat of a mystery steak that we all got a chuckle over: “Diaframma Hanging Tender” declared the menu. We figured it pretty much to be Hanger Steak and it was, perfectly grilled with charred zucchini. The stage was set.
1999 Brunello Riserva: This wine was made under the tenure of the previous owner of Il Palazzone, Mario Bollag, now the proprietor of TerralSole. You can note homage to Bollag on this late labeled wine, which bears both current owner Richard Parsons name as well as Bollag’s.
This is a deep, rich ruby color with some brick colored tones at the rim. The nose is rather perfumed with dark cherry, chestnut, and savory herbs. On the palate, this is a beefy, meaty wine with notes of dark red cherry, leather and earth. Still rather tannic, it plumped up more with the meats, but this is brawny and rustic and leans toward the more muscular side of Brunello. 92 points.
|~ Note the label of the 1999 Riserva. In the glass furthest right, is the 1999 ~
2010 Brunello Riserva: While not “technically” a Brunello yet, as the wine has not completed the requisite aging, Marco brought a barrel sample of what will become the 2010 Riserva. This is the first Riserva Il Palazzone will bottle since 2006 – a testament to their insistence of absolute excellence for a wine so labeled.
This barrel sample is nothing short of amazing. It’s already richly aromatic with abundant floral notes and tons of crushed wild berry on the nose and palate. In the mouth, the full bodied red fruits are elegant and lively, with vibrant energy and a cast of supporting characters that include spices, powdered minerals, and fresh anise. Rich, long and packed with tannins and acids, this was delicious on its own and with the meal. This is a must have wine for lovers of Brunello. Since this is such a young barrel sample, I’ll provide a score range: 95-98 points.
|~ The barrel sample of what will become 2010 Brunello Riserva ~
After lunch, we said goodbye to our gracious friends secure in the knowledge that we’ll see them again the next time we come to Montalcino. We took our afternoon passeggiata – and fortunately found a Fernet Branca. What a day!
|~ Some of the beautiful gardens that dot the Il Palazzone Estate and frame their vineyards ~