Day 6 – Castello Banfi
Today was the pilgrimage to Mecca…..errrr Castello Banfi.   We were all looking forward to this trip but it goes without saying that I was perhaps the most eager to see the estate and the surrounding Montalcino area.
My friend Larsino had graciously arranged a tour for our party which was to begin at 11:30, conclude with an apperitivo in the enoteca and then finish with lunch.  We decided to set out early, owing our only source of direction from the Umbria area to Mr. Roger’s GPS.   It turned out not to be a confusing ride at all and what a gorgeous ride it was.  There were vast stretches of treacherous narrow roads winding around the rolling hilltops which was followed by the extreme of a lengthy straight shot across the subsequent valley.  There were times when it seemed as though we traveled rather far, but realized that we’d only gone a mile or so despite the 10 or 12 turns we’d made.
Even before you realize where you are, it is obvious that you are getting into serious wine country.  And despite not following up on every turn you could desire, it is something to see sign posts that read like a hall of fame of Brunello producers.  We passed vineyards of Tenimenti Angelini, Tenuta Friggiali, Casanuova di Neri, and Poggio Antico.  Then we begin to see the Castello Banfi signs on vineyard land even before we had the Poggio Alle Mura castle in sight.  Just prior to turning down the dirt road for the Castle, I saw the familiar sight of Argiano , Banfi’s next door neighbor, which I recognized from their famous Solengo label.
The road up to the castle is Tuscan picturesque. Framed by cypress trees, there are vineyards on all sides as far as the eye can see. There is a farmhouse in one of them.  There is a small chapel at the bend in the road. We parked the cars under the shade of olive trees and headed into the Enoteca to meet our host for the tour.  While we waited the kids were intrigued by a running video of the Etruscan Legacy which occupies one end of the Enoteca.  
The tour began with a ride back down the dusty road near the entrance to the estate where the Banfi winery lies. Here modern innovation clearly meets centuries old practices. The first thing we saw was a new section of the winery which was completed in time for the 2007 harvest.  This portion will be used for the premium Banfi wines (all 3 Brunello and the Super Tuscans).   The grapes will be individually selected by hand, and then belted up to the top of the fermentors. The fermentors sit atop storage tanks and everything will be driven by gravity.  The fermentors themselves are new to the winery.  Over the last three vintages Banfi has experimented with three different types of new fermentors, finally settling on the design in place to put into production.  The chosen model is a hybrid of French oak and stainless steel. It appears similar to one gigantic barrel, with oak staves separated intermittently by large stainless steel hoops. Optimum balance is the key here.  In a phrase: Traditional Elegance.
The tour continued down below the modern winery, into a dark, dank area that rivals what I’ve seen in the oldest Champagne houses. The floor is constantly moist. The smell of wine, damp stone and wood is everywhere. Rows upon rows of lovely red wine age in barrels, the centers turning slightly red. Stainless vats hold pristine whites, duly marked by hand with chalk listing vineyard and vintage.  Then there is a side anteroom, known as the “cask room” which features gigantic botti filled with Brunello.  These barrels stand easily 15 feet high and are made from Slovenian and French oak. Oh to have had a tap handy!
Vintage upon Vintage of Brunello Aging Gracefully
We then continued to the Balsameria, where Banfi makes what they call a labor of love, Salsa Balsamico Etrusca. Since Banfi is not in the defined Modena area, this cannot be legally called Balsamic vinegar. But to call it vinegar would not be appropriate. This is a sauce – almost syrupy in consistency.  I’ve had it many times and it excels on grilled meat and swordfish, drizzled on reggiano, and even on unsalted bread. I’ve been told it’s glorius on strawberries too, but have not tried that.  I was very much looking forward to buying some, but they were completely sold out.  We managed to have some with lunch.  However, the production is so limited that it is not imported to the United States. 
As we were touring the Balsameria, our guide’s cell phone rang and it was my friend Larsino.  We chatted and he was following up to be sure they were taking good care of our group. After I assured him, we both got back to the business at hand.  Little did I know that upon exiting the Balsameria, the joke was on me. There stood Larsino, having made the trip to see everyone and share lunch. A very cool surprise indeed!
We made our way back to the enoteca to begin nibbling and relax a bit before our lunch.  We tried some locally made breadsticks, some reggiano and the estate grown prunes – stuffed with blanched almonds. These were surprisingly delicious, as I’m no prune fan.  All washed down with the 2005 Princepessa Gavi, a slightly frizzante white from the Banfi owned vineyards in Piemonte. Perfect for patio sipping.
The Castello Enoteca
On to lunch….. 
Menu Degustazione
Fennel Flan over mixed salad    2004 San Angelo Pinot Grigio  & 2005 Fumaio
Fumaio was poured as a treat from Larsino since I had never tried the wine as it has never been imported. That will be changing and I look forward to trying it.  Fumaio is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. The varietals marry well and play off the fennel in the salad nicely. It’s crisp and totally stainless. The sibling of Le Rime, this should be no more than $9 here in the states.  The San Angelo Pinot Grigio is more serious, richer and fuller in body, more viscous, but also very little oak treatment. We were off to a good start.  My oldest son finished half of my flan!
Tagliatelle with Pancetta and Zucchini  2005 Rosso di Montalcino
This pasta was so delicious.  People have asked me, what good recipes did you come home with?  Well, it’s hard to give them something special.  This was about as uncomplicated as it can be. But the ingredients were estate grown, the pasta fresh, the Rosso stupendous and the setting perfect. How can you top this?  I mentioned to Larsino that this was the best Banfi made Rosso I’d ever had. Of course he said “everything tastes better over here.”  This was a rich, red wine. Strong berry and crisp, new leather flavors. Perfect foil for the pasta.
Spezzatino maiale with snow peas and potato puree – 1998 Brunello Poggio Alle Mura
This was a slow simmered pork stew over a bed of delicious mashed potatoes which held the wonderful sauce that accompanied it, and topped with crisp fresh snow peas. The meat was so tender and amazingly flavorful.  The Brunello was super. Dark garnet in color, lots of different aromas. Pure, great expression of Sangiovese. This is a single vineyard wine, but not a Riserva. I’ve not had many ’98 Brunello, and I was wary of the vintage from what I’ve read. This didn’t seem affected by any of that. 
Selection of Cheeses    1990 Brunello Poggio All’Oro Riserva
Simply said, the best wine of the day.  Likely the best showing of this wine I have ever had. This was as powerful, and youthful as the ’98.  Much life ahead of it. As they say, a wine of meditation. Cheeses were local and excellent – accompanied by estate produced honey.  This was a new pairing idea for me. The honey was not cloying and sweet like you imagine honey to be.  It played well off the cheese and paired well with the wine in small quantity. I bought a jar after the meal at the enoteca.
Ricotta Tart – 2005 Florus, Moscadello di Montalcino
By this time I was way too full and only nibbled at dessert.  A nice light tart, not at all what you expect as it sounds like a cheesecake, but it’s not. It’s not nearly as sweet as dessert here would be. The Florus was very good. Akin to a good Vin Santo, though it was more floral and less nutty. I prefer Vin Santo actually, but no complaints here.
Espresso and Grappa di Brunello. 
No one in the states makes espresso like they do in Italy.  Enough said.  Yes, this grappa was smooth.  As Sherman T. Potter said:  “Not enough O’s in smoooooooooth to describe this!”
We stumbled our way back to the Enoteca.   I picked up a magnum of 2003 Summus, some honey, and some wine for the villa – notably the 2006 Centine Rose and the 2005 Collepino Rosso. Both wines were sub 8 Euro.    The Collepino is Sangiovese and Merlot and we drank that later in the week.  The Rose was had poolside with some melon and prosciutto.
Since lunch ended around 5PM, we said our goodbyes to Larsino and decided to head for home.  We arrived back around 6:30 and stayed in for the night. 
You can find out more about Castello Banfi by using the link on this sites homepage.  Of if you’re lazy, you can just click here. 🙂  Castello Banfi
Sunset over the Banfi Vineyards
More to come………

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