I have always enjoyed Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona's wines, from the first time I visited them a number of years ago, and was given a quick tour of the cellars by (I think) Giuseppe Bianchini, who inherited the winery when the last of the Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona died in 1985. I remember being greatly impressed by the botti used to store the Brunello, and while I have seen a great many more since then, their cellar remains one of the nicest I have seen.
Much has changed since then, for better and worse.
Giuseppe was an extraordinarily dynamic winemaker, and wasn't completely satisfied by the setup in the basement of the family home: It wasn't practical. So he laid out the plans for a new winery, to be made mostly underground to guarantee temperature control, with temperature controlled steel fermentation tanks, many more botti for the Brunello, and lots of space to store bottled wine too -- remember, that though Brunello still must age for 4 years prior to release, the regulations governing its production now allow producers to bottle it after two years if they want, and then store it in glass until release.
Alas, Giuseppe sickened, and though he did live to see the tanks in the new cellar, the task of finishing the project has fallen to his children, Paolo and Lucia, who have done a remarkable job.
We tasted the Brunello Pianorosso, which is a vineyard selection from an 11.69 hectare (about 26 acres) vineyard whose altitude ranges from 240 to 360 meters ASL; the grapes are fermented in steel, where the resulting wine also undergoes the malolactic fermentation, after which it spends 3 years in large wood prior to bottling and bottle aging for about 4 months.
Brunello di Montalcino 1990
This is a Vigna di Pianrosso, but they didn't say so on the label. The wine is almandine ruby with almandine rim tending towards orange. The bouquet is powerful, and haunting, with elegant green leather and leaf tobacco mingled with balsamic notes and considerable graphite shavings, with underlying brambly tart acidity. Demands and gets attention. On the palate it's full, with rich lacy red berry fruit, sour cherries in particular, supported by lively sour acidity and tannins that have a velvety lining over a slightly astringent core, and flow into a warm clean tannic finish that lasts and lasts. Quite nice, and vibrantly young in a distinctly traditional key; it has a lot to say, and though quite nice now is still climbing. I would enjoy it with a meal -- a porterhouse steak, and we'd be nearing perfection.
Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 1993
Almandine garnet with orange rim -- it's paler than the 90. The bouquet is a bit wild, with stable straw and wet horse mingled with balsamic acidity and some underbrush, and herbs, a mix or rosemary and a little mint; it's mature in a robust traditional key. On the palate it's full, and much softer than the 1990, with fairly rich slightly sour cherry fruit that has a languid feel to it, supported by smooth sweet tannins that are velvety, and smooth -- none of the aggressiveness of the 90 -- and it all flows into a clean long soft sour cherry finish. It's from a lesser vintage than the 90 -- I recall that it rained heavily from September 20th on -- but I found it growing upon me as time passed and I continued to swirl it in my glass. If you like the more traditional expression of Brunello, it is a wine well worth seeking out.
Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 1995
Deep black almandine ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly bright, with balsamic notes mingled with hardwood ash and some dried herbs, in particular sage and rosemary, with swishing it opens nicely, revealing saddle leather and leaf tobacco with some dried floral accents. Quite a bit going on. On the palate it's moderately full, with elegant slightly sour red berry fruit supported by smooth velvety tannins that have a distinctly cedary burr, and flow into a clean smooth fruit laced finish with tannic underpinning. It's elegant, though there's an emptiness to it too -- the summer was quite wet, and the grapes, which had sucked up a great deal of water, would have been ruined had the September sunshine not shrunk the bunches; though they did ripen well they weren't as balanced as they might have been, and this is reflected by the wine. It will nicely complement foods, though it's also round enough to be appreciated far from the table.
Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 1997
Deep garnet with black reflections and some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, with rich red berry fruit laced with heather and herbal accents -- rosemary and a hint of sage, not greenness -- and some underlying balsamic notes. Quite elegant, and extremely harmonious; it's rather like listening to the play of notes in a Mozart sonata. On the palate it's full and rich, with elegant cherry fruit supported by ample tightly woven velvety tannins, while there is deft acidity to provide direction, and it flows into a chewy fruit finish with deft tannic underpinning. It's quite elegant, in a softer, less aggressive key than some of the earlier vintages, especially the 1990, and is thus more approachable; it would almost rather drink it far from the table rather than with a meal, though it will work nicely with hearty red meats too.
Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 1999
From a magnum. The wine is lively almandine cherry ruby with some orange in the rim. The bouquet is deft, and beautifully balanced, with red berry fruit, sour cherry with some black currants, supported by rosemary and sage with some underlying spice and pleasant alcohol. On the palate it's full, and deft, with intense red berry fruit supported by clean smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean fruit laced finish with tannic underpinning. Quite nice, though it's still very young, and has a long way to go -- you could drink it now, but it will reward those who have the patience to wait at least 5 years.
Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 2001
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is rich, and very young, with bright red berry fruit supported by spice and powerful chewy ripe yellow peach that's unusual in a red wine but nice, and is likely attributable to the phase the wine is passing through (peaches do occasionally appear in young Brunello); one has the impression of looking in on a toddler. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful red berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have a youthful bitter burr to them, and flow into a clean rich berry fruit finish with bitter underpinnings; by comparison with the older wines, and especially the 1990, it is much less acidic, and is consequently much more approachable, though it does need time. It will drink very well now with succulent red meats, e.g. roast beef cooked rare, but will richly reward those with the patience to wait another 5-10 years, and hold further. In short, a wine to set aside.
There is a stylistic progression in the wines, from frankly traditional with much more marked acidities and balsamic overtones in the older wines, to a smoother, richer, more fruit driven style in the more recent wines. Some of this change is certainly attributable to a greater understanding of ripening -- in the past, people waited until the sugars were sufficient to provide the desired alcohol content, while now they wait for the grape skins to ripen, producing more substance (i.e. fruit) and smoother richer tannins. And some of the difference may be age-related: as fruit fades with time the underlying acidity becomes more apparent.
They are, in any case, very nice wines, and I especially liked the use of large wood, which allows the grapes to come through, without the oaky overlay that comes with the use of barriques. If you want to get a handle on Brunello, Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona is a good place to start.
Want to know more? Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona's Site
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