Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Gianni Brunelli

Gianni (and Laura) Brunelli

Elvira with a hatThe wines of Gianni Brunelli are particularly well known in the English market. That is partly because of the quality and commercial success of the wines, and partly because of the highly memorable label – the lady with the hat.  This in itself has an English connection in that it is a drawing by the American scholar Richard M. Goodwin who, when he was in post at the University of Cambridge, became something of a fixture at the important restaurant and place of cultural exchange, Le Logge, close to the Campo in Siena, which was run by Gianni Brunelli. ‘Elvira with a hat’ has made these bottles instantly recognisable: Elvira has been a point of continuity in a changing world.

The company Gianni Brunelli is now being taken forward singlehandedly by Gianni’s widow, Laura, who has a palpable commitment to the place, the land and the company which she helped to build with Gianni – along with the restaurant and no doubt much else too.

Because of the recognisable label, it is easy to think that this is a large company.  Nothing could be further from the reality.  The vineyards are in two places on either side of the town of Montalcino, with different microclimates.   Le Chiusi di Sotto is just two hectares in the magical little kingdom of small vegetable gardens, olive groves and vineyards under the old Porta Buselli  immediately below the town of Montalcino.  (We stayed in the nearby Hotel dei Capitani for four days without realising what lay through that ancient gate ….) Once you go through the gate, you leave the tourists and the wine business of Montalcino behind and are plunged into small-scale farming on a family scale.  It is relatively cool on this north side with clay soils and good water retention.  The vines have been in production since 1987, with a small plot of old Sangiovese planted by Gianni’s father, Dino, in 1947.  These old plots have assumed a new importance as viticulture has become more homogenous with the understandable spread of new, often improved, clones. The danger is that everyone will plant the same limited genetic stock. As a result, these old, mixed, plantings are important reservoirs of genetic diversity.

Porta Buselli, MontalcinoLe Chiuse di SottoLe Chiuse di Sotto - house over the winery
The second set of vineyards, together with office and tasting room, is at Podernovone, planted to Sangiovese and Merlot (for the blend, Amor Costante) in 1997.  Here the vineyards are at around 320m above sea level (120m higher than the Le Chiuse) and face south west: it is hotter but better ventilated.  Thus, in total the vineyards only amount to six hectares.  But it is quality which counts, not size.

The vineyards not only look beautiful but are worked by hand in the main with great intensity – working the land, selecting the right number of shoots and bunches of grapes and harvesting of course.  In the middle of the heat wave and drought of early August 2012, the latter which has lasted for three months, the vines looked pretty healthy with bunches of small grapes.  The winery at Le Chiuse is tiny and cramped – plans for a new winery have been put on hold for the time being. But the old one is perfectly functional and a testament to ingenuity in the use of space.  Laura calls the room piled high with medium sized barrels a ‘barrel park’ with the sort of humour which is a sign of her fortitude and positive attitude to life.

Vigna Olmoparco delle botti

After giving Janet and I most of a Saturday morning to show us round, we sit down to taste:

Rosso di Montalcino 2010 – lovely pale ruby in colour, subtle red fruit on the nose, developed by six months in 20hl casks, light, elegant, refreshing palate with very good persistence. It is easy to see how the comparison can be made between a Rosso of this type and good quality Pinot Noir – if with a different set of aromas. A superb light and concentrated wine.

rosso, brunello, riserva

Brunello di Montalcino 2005 – of the available vintages I chose this one to see how a wine from a good, but not great year, develops with a little time in the bottle.  This year is overlooked as it is squeezed in between the great 2004, 2006 and 2007 vintages.  The 2005 is now showing dark liquorish and coffee notes, blackberry fruit and the classic herb (mint) / tea notes of Sangiovese. With less fruit on the palate, the minerality shine through even more clearly.  Pronounced acidity and fine, chalky tannins complete a crisp and long finish.  This wine had spent 36 months in the large barrels, a mid-point on the spectrum of 2-4 years in wood required by the regulations.  A really worthwhile example showing the potential of Sangiovese Grosso to express the characteristics of the year.

Finally, we get a hint of Brunello Riserva 2004. I say a hint, because it is still so closed and will no doubt develop over the next 5-20 years into a great wine.   Gianni Brunelli are properly concerned only to make a Riserva in great years; this decade has seen 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007 only.  It is a feature of these wines that there is a marked difference, a step up in concentration between the levels, Rosso, Brunello, Riserva.   Initially the wine was still a bit woody but after a quarter of an hour in the glass some of its potential began to emerge – dense, full and surprisingly soft in the mouth, with an array of fruit, herb, and spice notes to develop in years to come.

With many thanks to Laura Brunelli for your kindness and your time.  It was a great pleasure to learn directly from you about your approach to making fine wines and to see how you are taking the Gianni (and Laura) Brunelli name forward.

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Page created 7 August 2012

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