Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Montalcino - A trip up my personal Congo River to the (mother of all?) Brunello vineyards

The owl was singing outside my room, at midnight. Fog shrouded the mountain. My hotel had turned off the internet connection. And I couldn’t sleep. I'd snuck in under the fog for a quick tasting of 2011 Brunello.

Admittedly, I’m no expert on these matters. But I have a good sense about things that lie beneath the rational explanation. And at Le Chiuse I sensed a powerful epicenter for one of the most important wines to come out of Italy, maybe the world.

Humble little site. No guided tours or electric golf cart limos, like at Mouton. Just a knock on the door and Nicolò Magnelli, the proprietor of Le Chiuse, comes out to welcome me and my traveling mate. We had just driven from Parma, and he was fried and not amused by the mist falling from the sky. “Can we get inside out of the rain?” he pleads. But Nicolò doesn’t hear this and leads us around the winery to an open and bleak field. This is the birthplace of Brunello?

“We are planted to the BS clone,” Nicolò explains. I couldn’t quite understand what he meant and my travel mate, tired from jetlag and a harrowed from driving a faulty Fiat, asked him what the clone was, repeatedly. Patiently, Nicolò explained “BS” meant the Biondi-Santi clone. He moved us around the eight hectare vineyard where an entrance to the winery sheltered us from the bone-chilling mist.

Inside we went into a tasting room; warm, dry and filled with history of the Biondi-Santi family, of which Nicolò’s wife is a part of. “This was the vineyard that they used for their reserve wine,” he said. And indeed in the collection room there were bottles upon bottles of Le Chiuse and Biondi-Santi. An odd vision of sorts, but families aren’t always the stuff of neat tidy solutions.

Once he led us to the table with wines, ranging from the latest 2011 on through to the 2000 Riserva, I knew we were in an historic place.

The only intact memory I have of Biondi-Santi was back in 1980, when I had the chance to taste the 1955 Riserva. It was early in my tasting life and I was impressed. I was equally smitten by the 1964 Costanti I’d had a year before. Brunello hadn’t quite gotten into my bloodstream, but by my first trip to Montalcino in 1984, I was getting a slow transfusion.

Le Chiuse is my voyage up the Congo River. Montalcino is part gentry and part savage. Maybe that’s the thrill Brunello has for me. It isn’t Mouton, but it can be as compelling, and often as confounding. There is that tinge of wildness that makes the great wines sing for me like the little owl outside my window. It’s really the essence of beauty, unaware of itself. Simply expressing its nature. Call it the source, call it the mother of Brunello, or not. But what a gift to listen to the song, see the fog lift and have Montalcino reveal itself after all these years. Finally.

Lovely wines... Thank you Nicolò.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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