Playing with Barbi

By Celia Strong

Playing with a Barbi wine. Not a Barbie doll. Phew! So we get to travel some more this week. Learn some more. Drink some more. All good things. And fun things and good prices too, which you’ll see when we get to the end. Only bad news is that what we are going to learn about and taste this week is a limited quantity. There’s enough for us all to try some, but after that it’s first come, first
gets. Darn.

So we are traveling to Italy this. Tuscany to be exact. To a town called “Montalcino,” which is located about one hundred twenty miles south of Florence. The town is an old medieval village, in the province of Siena. There are only about three thousand acres of vines planted in Montalcino, compared to Chianti’s forty-one thousand acres. This area is one of the warmest and driest in all of Tuscany. It receives about one third less rain per year, about twenty-seven and a half inches, than Chianti does with over thirty-five inches. Vineyards on northern facing slopes ripen more slowly, it’s cooler with less sunshine each day, and the wines are racier and more aromatic. Vineyards on southern and western facing slopes get more intense sunlight and more winds blowing across them and these wines have more power and complexity. The best Brunello producers (more on this wine in a tiny second) use grapes from both types of vineyards. The Sangiovese grapes from this area are a particular clone which has adapted itself to the area’s specific “terroir,” soil and climate.

There are several wines that come from this town. Brunello di Montalcino which is a DOCG level wine since 1980, their top, top level. It is made from all Sangiovese grapes, even though they used to be called “Brunello.” In 1879, it was determined that Brunello and Sangiovese were the same variety. The name “Brunello” was the diminutive of the name “Bruno,” which means “brown” in Italian. It’s not clear, though, if the name meant brownish colored grapes or brown-ish colored wine. (Not too sure I really want to know what was brown-ish. Ugh!) Brunellos are aged wines, so who knows. The first record of Brunello red wines is from the early fourteenth century. In 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was the first wine awarded DOCG status.

Another wine from the town of Montacino is the Rosso de Montalcino. Basically, this is a lesser version of the Brunello. Less expensive, not aged as long, nor does it need to be, made from grapes from younger vines. All those sorts of things. But, no scoffing. This is our wine! The Rosso di Montacino DOC was established in 1984. It was meant to give Brunello producers some options and flexibility. Brunello wines require long aging times, at the winery and at home, and all the grapes were not always as good as they needed to be to make Brunello. (The Biondi-Santi firm, the first and still one of the very best Brunello producers, has been making Brunellos for several generations. When World War II ended, they had only declared four vintages – 1888, 1891, 1925, and 1945. By the 1950’s, there were only eleven Brunello producers. And, when Brunello got DOCG status in 1980, there were just over fifty producers.) Seems clear they needed some relief.

Anyhow. Rosso di Montalcino, the DOC, was established in 1984. Specifically so that Brunello producers got what they needed. Options for less than the best grapes to still be used, flexibility to make younger, less aged wines, and, the big thing, to make some income while their longer-aging Brunellos were not yet ready to sell. Rosso di Montalcinos are still made from one hundred percent Sangiovese grapes. And these grapes must be grown in the same marked land where Brunello grapes grow. The Rosso di Montalcino wines must be aged in oak for a minimum of six months and one year total aging before released for sale. Meaning in its bottle. In some vintages, like the ones that are not that good, producers sometimes choose to make just Rosso wine, no Brunellos. Some cash right away and no mediocre, or worse, wines to detract from their reputations. Or, another option, if a Brunello wine has been aging for two or three years and it just isn’t getting as good as it should, producers can “declassify” these wines to Rossos and sell them immediately. Stylistically, Rosso di Montalcino wines are lighter and fresher than Brunellos. And they can be drunk younger.

Recently, there has been a bit of a scandal with Brunello wines. And, don’t we all just love good gossip! In September, 2014, a man in the Montacino area was investigated, with other wine workers also. Seems the police found almost twenty thousand gallons of wine that were labeled Brunello and almost twenty-four thousand gallons of what was supposedly Rosso di Montalcino. And a bunch of fake labels, too. Apparently, large quantities of fake wines were allegedly sold between 2011 and 2013. Because the Italian wine laws for the production of Brunello wines are very strict, the culprits were caught. There was a paper trail at one winery that showed it had produced way too much wine. The owner knew nothing about it and he and the Brunello Consortium Committee went to the police!

And, now, it’s time to learn about our wine. The Fattoria dei Barbi Rosso di Montalcino, 2010. The Fattoria dei Barbi was founded in 1790 by the Colombini family. They had owned their land since 1352. Barbi is one of the oldest, continually functioning winemaking estates in Montacino. A twentieth generation heir still owns and runs it – Stefano Cinelli Colombini. Barbi made their first Brunello wine in 1892, not far behind the Biondi-Santi. Their wines received top awards across Europe. Today, they own just over seven hundred-fifty acres, with one hundred ninety-three of them planted with vines. One hundred and ten of these in Montalcino. They make about sixty-seven thousand cases total – seventeen thousand of Brunello, eight thousand of Rosso di Montalcino, and other DOCs from the area. They are one of the most respected of the two hundred or so Brunello producers that exist now. Our wine is sourced from the younger vines on this estate. There are about one hundred acres located in the southeastern part of Montalcino. The vines are planted five thousand two hundred per acre on two types of soil. Gravel and clay, which gives the wines power, and sandy soil which enhances the wines’ aromatics. After harvesting, the grapes are cold-soaked before fermentation, for about forty-eight hours, under a CO2 blanket to avoid oxidation. This augments the color intensity, softens the astringency and tannins of the finished wine, and adds more body and aromas to the wine. Then, the temperature is raised and the alcoholic fermentation starts. It takes twelve to thirteen days. And malo-lactic fermentation is done. Then, the wine is aged in small, oak barrels for six months. The 2010 Barbi Rosso di Montalcino is a ruby red color, and aromas of cherries, red currants, red raspberries come popping out of your glass. The wine is medium bodied, has smooth tannins and a long, long finish. And bit of spiciness on the very end. Because this Sangiovese is not quite the same as the one grown for Chiantis, these wines are quite different. And, what can we eat with this great new wine? Meat sauces for pastas. Roasted meats of all kinds – pork, chicken, beef. But game birds and venison, too. Stews. Seafood. Asiago cheese. For $17.97. Ok. Hungry now. And thirsty. Forget the dolls, gotta go play with my glass of Barbi. Enjoy.

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