Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Biondi-Santi Brunello

Biondi-Santi Brunello Reserva: a wine for cellaring

Biondi-Santi Brunello

I am not sure why I have never visited Biondi-Santi, where the idea of Brunello was born as a dry, 100 per cent Sangiovese wine that could  be, and needs to be, aged for decades. Perhaps it was a fear of an average tourist visit? I was therefore thrilled to get one of 32 seats at a presentation of four vintages going back into the 1980s in London (part of Sangiovese Reset, March 2020). Sometimes booking and then just turning up to and seeing if you get in, despite being on the waiting list, does work.

The Riserva concept

At Biondi-Santi, the Reserva is a wine made genuinely only in the very best years; there have been 38 releases since 1865. Riserva means that the wines have to be aged for six years before release but at Biondi-Santi eight years is now more typical, to allow extra time in bottle. The grapes come from older vineyards (more than 25 years). The wine is both fermented and aged in oak, rigidly Slavonian oak large casks. There is not even a hint of a barrique here. The Reserva wines are chosen by the palate of the winemaker.  The aim is to make truly great wines that will age positively for decades. 

Our four Riservas were chosen by Franco Biondi-Santi. There was an additional poignancy as the youngest wine, the 2012, was his last. He died at the ripe old age of 91 in 2013, mirroring the famous longevity of his wines.
All the wines below were Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. All but the 2012, latest release, were from ‘La Storica’ reserve held at Il Greppo estate. 


An absolute baby and a perfect demonstration why it is infanticide to drink these wines on release. Pale garnet in colour, notes of tar, earth and dried cherry with lovely acetic highlights, covering ripe red cherry and plum fruit. Tight, grainy tannins. Certainly drinkable now but so much less than even another five years in bottle will bring. 


At the young age of 14 years, you can fully appreciate the aim of these wines. Mid garnet in colour, looking much older that it is (probably due to those three years in a mildly oxidative environment of a large cask), there are now layers and layers of coffee, leather, dried fruit, spice and tar but with a invigorating freshness. Firm, unyielding tannins promise a very long evolution over the coming decades. From a beautiful, warm, vintage, this was definitely in the ‘too good to spit’ category.  


Nearly deep brown in colour, fully tertiary (leather, mushroom, smoke) with a fine, lifted fruit fragrance, so refined on the mid-palate, tannins now tucked in under that full body and developed fruit, and a very long and fine savoury finish. Outstanding.  My rule of thumb is that I prefer great red wines between 10 and 20 years old, not older, but I might have to extend that Brunello Riserva of this quality. 


Approaching the end of its fourth decade, this wine was nearing pale garnet in colour with superb chocolate and coffee aromas, a huge mid-palate and for me, some drying tannins on the finish. It apparently was a low acid year but still doing magnificently well.  

After this remarkable, ‘only the very best’ introduction to the Biondi-Santi project, I feel I can visit the estate without fear of being let down in any way. The estate continues to be a beacon of Brunello made in the most traditional way. While the Rosso and the standard Brunello are now being made with a touch more fruit for early drinking, the Riserva is rigidly and wonderfully meant for long term cellaring and those most special drinking occasions.  

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