It’s not hard to find. It’s hard to know *when* you’ve found it.
As you drive along the winding via Cassia on the way to Montalcino, one of the first areas you pass is the Montosoli hill. Along this route lie some of the region’s best wineries. Valdicava, Val di Suga, Altesino and Baricci among others and all are clearly marked with directional road signs. As I wound my way up the bending, dusty trail toward Baricci, it began to look less like a road and more like an overgrown path. Was I in the right place? Was the signage wrong? There was no way to blame the British Wench for this one.
After a few hundred yards further on this strada brutta, I hit a dead end. Where was the Wench when I needed her? Damn Brexit! Turning around wasn’t the easiest of tasks, especially given that the back of my car was caked with dust. However, I manipulated my A3 successfully and headed back the way I’d come.
Finally, I decided to stop at the only building around; a sort of mechanical shed across the road from a small typical Tuscan building. As I was walking toward the house, a man emerged. “Buon Giorno, io sono Giovanni Fodera. Sto cercando Francesco.” Ah, si si, Francesco. And with a motion of his hand, I knew I was in the right place. I later recognized this gentleman to be Pietro, Francesco’s Dad.
I’ve known Francesco Buffi for years. We met at a Slow Wine event years ago courtesy of Giampaolo Tabarrini. That first day, even around Giampaolo’s boundless energy, Francesco’s passion for Brunello was tangible. I remember asking him about Gianfranco Soldera’s opinion that only he and Biondi Santi made true Brunello and he laughed aloud before firing into a passion filled dissertation about the wonders of the Montosoli Hill. Brunello is life at Baricci. Life is provided by the land. It’s that simple.
For over 60 years the Baricci family has tended their 5 hectares of vineyards on the Montosoli Hill. What began with Nello now rests in the capable hands of his grandsons Francesco and Federico. Additionally, the sentinel of the cellar keeps a watchful eye.
While Francesco prepared some bottles for tasting, we began talking about many different subjects. To start, he mentioned that he has sold out of Brunello! This is great news for the family if not also a bit of a relief. There are no back vintages for sale and he was finishing the packaging of 2014 Brunello for shipment while we tasted. Given the frenzy surrounding 2015, he was thankful because as he said, “Once 2015 is released, no one will want anything else.”
It was hot and humid the day I visited and Francesco was visibly concerned. With an almost dismissive wave of his hand, he seemed to be chastising the recent weather of the past few vintages. “Giovanni, it seems to be something different every year. Too hot, too dry, too wet, too cold, too much rain, no rain….. I feel a sense of angst almost. I feel uneasy, as if we may never have a “normal” vintage again. This year we had the coldest, wettest May ever in Tuscany. Ever! And now with this heat and humidity; the air lacks freshness. This is the weather of late July, not early summer.” It was a sentiment that I’d hear repeated time and again on this trip from numerous winemakers.
We began tasting the latest releases from the winery and both of them reflect the difficult vintages that gave them life. I tasted both of these wines in May at the Vias Portfolio Tasting. However, these bottles, which have never left the farm, were fresher and more enjoyable. Again, I’m reminded that “Everything tastes better in Italy”.
The 2017 Rosso di Montalcino is a dark ruby red in the glass. Nice cherry based aromas are accented by menthol notes. On the palate this medium bodied Rosso displays good concentration of cherry fruit and runs a fine line up against notes of over ripeness. The blistering heat of this vintage is evident in the wine but the acidity here is fresher than at Vias. 87 points, drink now.
The 2014 Brunello di Montalcino is a medium ruby that fades to a classic copper rim at the edge of the bowl. The aromas are attractive with focused berry, flower and soft wood notes. Medium bodied on the palate with a good core of cherry fruit, soft dusty tannins and fresh acidity. Not a lot of complexity here but that’s as expected. Nicely elegant. 89 points, drink now.
As you can see from the pictures above, Baricci employs only large cask for aging their wines. After three green harvests during the growing season, the grapes are hand harvested, rigorously inspected and brought to the basement of the Baricci home. After being fermented in stainless steel for 20-25 days, the wine is transferred to large oak casks ranging from 20-40 hectoliters. Brunello typically ages for 36 months in wood, while Rosso ages for 12 months.
After tasting and chatting, we went outside and briefly walked through some of the family’s vineyards. The growth was already impressive compared to some of the higher elevations in Chianti Classico. Francesco was concerned that if the dry weather and excessive heat persisted too long, the vines would slowly begin shutting down; retarding their growth. Subsequent to my visit, the heat actually worsened though as I write this, the weather in Tuscany has moderated and some much needed rain has arrived.
Later this summer I should be meeting up with Francesco to re-taste these new releases and also some of his Library wines. Stay tuned! As that meeting progresses I will reach out via my Twitter Account to once again solicit your questions in advance.