Saturday, November 13, 2010


Brunello di Montalcino... cobwebs and all
Its Fall in Tuscany and Its glorious. The colors and calmness of this place warms my soul. I've arrived in the wonderful city of Siena. This is one of my favorite towns I've been to in Italy. But before arriving here, I spent two nights in Montalcino, about 45 kilometers south of Siena. The hills surrounding Montalcino host the vines of what is locally called Brunello and is more commonly referred to as Sangiovese. Brunello di Montalcino is considered to be the most prestigious of Italian wines. It was the first to receive DOCG status. The hills of Montalcino are also home to Sesti. Its a small estate (8 hectares of vines... thats small) and the estate shares the grounds of Castello di Argiano. Its a 12th century castle that has a wealth of history. I wish I had more time to discuss the fascinating tale of this little Hamlet. Its extraordinary. For now, I am going to fast forward to the present and discuss the amazing things going on there. In all my time in Italy, yesterday's visit to the estate has stood out as one of the most engaging, educational, and truly-enjoyable days. I really can't say enough about this place.
I had arranged to visit Sesti during a Kermit Lynch wine tasting at the Wine Loft. Kermit Lynch (KL) is a wine importer of mostly French and Italian wines. I am a big fan of KL and some of the Sesti wines are available to us in Flagstaff. Lyle, who was pouring from KL and I had a discussion about my trip and I inquired about possible vineyard visits. He immediately recommended Sesti and the location (about 15 km south of Montalcino) was perfect for my itinerary. He arranged it all with Elisa, who is the daughter of Giuseppe Sesti, who founded the vineyard in the seventies.
Brunello aging in medium sized oak barrels
I stayed in Montalcino the night before. I highly recommend going here. Its a quaint town on top of a hill in eastern Tuscany. The views of the morning fog and the surrounding landscape is captivating. I decided to go on a little self-guided tour of the local vineyards before arriving at Sesti. My appointment was at noon so I planned a 50 km loop to end there. Well, it was hilly and I got a flat tire... I felt bad showing up 30 minutes late and I was also rather filthy after having to change my flat, but Elisa was most welcoming. Elisa's mother is English while Giuseppe is Italian. She speaks perfect English and this really made the visit great as we were able to have in-depth conversations about wine and recent trends, the history of Argiano, terroir, Italian and American life, cycling, pizzicletta, life, relationships, etc. I was at Sesti for about 4 hours and I feel I could have stayed a lifetime. I was completely taken by the passion that Elisa exuded about Sesti wine and the history of the her family and Argiano.
Elisa first gave me a tour of the estate. We went to the fermentation rooms. We also visited the aging cellar which is under the tower of the castello. The views from the estate were breathtaking. The entire estate is actually 102 hectares and they have chosen to keep about 90% of it to the forest and wildlands. This helps buffer the vines from the other vineyards that may be using chemicals on their vines and it insures a natural environment for the grapes.
We ended the tour back at the tasting room. This was a room filled with wine barrels, a big oak table, and bottles of earlier vintages. Its kind of what you think of when you picture a Tuscan farm house. Elisa opened five bottles for us to taste. I felt entirely spoiled... and then she brought out a board of cheese and bread. "You've been biking, you must eat."
I will go through the wines in the order we tasted.
We started with the '09 Rosato I.G.T. Its a rose made with 100% Sangiovese... very untraditional. In fact, Giuseppe decided to make this mostly because 2008 (the first Rosato vintage) was a hot summer and the family was craving a rose. When the wine was shared with others at VinItaly, it was a hit. It was chewy and very crisp. The acidity of the Sangiovese was shining through at the finish. It hit the spot after the long bike ride.
All vinticulture at Sesti is done in relation to the cycles
of the moon. This is a book Giuseppe wrote on the subject.
We next moved to the '08 Graniovese I.G.T. (in the US it will be called Monteleccio). A quick sidenote. I.G.T. wines must be named by the vintner and cannot simply take the name of the grape. Therefore, Elisa and Giuseppe have very much enjoyed the play on words with there wines (Grang = big, -iovese = from sangiovese) and (Monte = mountain, leccio = a local tree). They try to derive the name from the landscape and the grape, which is, after all, what they want to express in the wine. I liked this as pizzicletta is its own play on words. Okay, so the wine. The Grangiovese is 100% Sangiovese. Its aged for 12 months in medium-sized oak barrels. Its the everyday wine of Sesti. It was nice and easy drinking. Medium-bodied, transparent in the glass, and having subtle tanins. Yum.
Now we moved up the '05 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. I ended up buying a bottle of this. This is a classic wine. Some say the best in Italy. By law its 100% Sangiovese, aged for 4 years (in medium-sized barrels at Sesti), and one year of bottle aging. It was a full-bodied wine, still transparent in the glass, but the tanins were still subtle and the acidity nice and sharp. The subtle tanins contrasts with other full-bodied wines (e.g. Cabernet or Merlot) that typically have more tanins.
one of the prints from the 1999 phenomena...
hey, I'm a Leo!
Taking it up one notch, we had the '04 Brunello di Sangiovese Riserva DOCG. This is called the Phenomena by Sesti. Each vintage label is a tribute to a celestial phenomena occuring during the same year. They are beautiful labels. This wine is the cream of the crop folks and wow did it impress. Its aged for 5 years in medium-sized barrels and 1 year in the bottle. Again, it was transparent in color but had still more body to it than the color would suggest. Crisp tanins and a tad-bit more oak, which I pointed out. Turns out, they used a new oak barrel for the 2004 vintage, which the wine can extract more vanilla flavor from. Again, there was a nice acidity in the finish. With the greater oak aging, its likely to improve in the bottle over time.
Finally, we had the '06 Castello Sesti. Its a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot. Giuseppe grew up drinking wines with these grapes and he wanted to see how they would do in Montalcino. It was a traditional full-bodied wine. This time not transparent and lots of tanins.
the olive oil on the left was picked and pressed yesterday
All and all, these were some of the best wines I've ever had. It was one of the most pleasant experiences to share with Elisa. She is clearly amazingly knowledgeable and passionate about Sangiovese. I could go on, but I will have to share more with you later, perhaps over a glass of Brunello.
We did one more tasting before I left.... the estate olive oil. This was an entirely new experience for me. They had just picked and cold-pressed a batch the day before so I was really in for a treat. We also tasted last year's pick. Wow, talk about a mouthful. So creamy and then a nice peppery kick at the end. I stated that I felt I could actually taste the color green. "Freshness" is just not enough to explain the flavor.
Elisa gave me a final tour of the church and the two farmhouses. There is so much detail and history here. The different shapes and cuts of the stone corresponding to different eras, the patterns in the flooring, the arch architecture... I felt so humbled by a place with so much history and I felt so encapsulated by Elisa's passion for her home and Sangiovese. The final stop was at the wood-fired oven. Elisa knew I would like this. It was built in the Renaissance and is still used today by the family. I wished so much for my peel and dough, but my time to depart was nearing as the light was fading and I had about 15 km of uphill riding to do. Hugs and kisses were shared and a most sincere goodbye. The memory of this place will be one I will constantly return to, especially when I toast a glass of Sesti.
the wood-fired oven at Sesti

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