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Biondi-Santi Riserva 2016: The more things change …

Anthony Rose reports on a tasting of the celebrated Brunello di Montalcino.

By Anthony Rose

Anthony Rose hears all about the ongoing refinements at the great Montalcino estate at the launch of its latest, much-anticipated vintage.

Dinner in the swanky Wimborne Room at The Ritz in London would have been a fitting occasion for the launch of the 2016 Biondi-Santi Riserva alone, but it was not the only wine on the table. Over dinner, hosted by CEO Giampiero Bertolini, the much-anticipated 2016 was accompanied by a 44-year span of selected vintages beginning with a youthful but already approachable 2019 Rosso di Montalcino and ending with the 1975 Riserva, the oldest of five riservas, all of which had been stored in the quiet and dark of the La Storica bottle library at Tenuta Greppo in Montalcino. The booklet accompanying the dinner provided an apposite introductory quote from Franco Biondi Santi: “Nature is capable of creating great things; you just have to know how to wait.”

Giampiero Bertolini, previously with Frescobaldi and with Biondi-Santi since 2018, explained that since the French businessman Christopher Descours took a majority stake in the 150ha (370-acre) estate in December 2016, they had been keen to evolve the wines primarily through a change in the way the vineyards were managed by achieving a better understanding of the potential of the soils and maintaining vine health. With 27ha (67 acres) planted to vineyards over four sites within Montalcino’s undulating hills before the acquisition of new vineyards at an altitude of 1,640ft (500m), they had taken on the renowned Chilean viticulturist Pedro Parra in 2018 to create a parcelization study aimed at examining the different soil types to see which rootstocks and trellises would be best suited to each site.

Starting in 2019, the excavation of 32 pits in the vineyards (the beloved Chilean calicata) resulted in the identification of 12 parcels of distinct soil types from which the wines were vinified and aged separately. Parra returned in 2021 for another study in which three vintages would be analyzed and compared in an ongoing process. (For a detailed account of Pedro Parra’s project, see WFW 72, p.84). Meanwhile, the clonal selection that was carried out in the 1970s by Franco Biondi Santi (who died in 2013) and that culminated in the identification of the BBS11 clone, which was registered by the estate and replanted throughout Montalcino, is today continued by Biondi-Santi’s technical director, Federico Radi. Radi has begun a new massal selection of the vines in the oldest vineyard of the estate. In this vineyard, which is from the 1930s, about 16 mother-plants have been identified, and they will form the basis for the new vineyard plantings in the future. This selection will flank the already existing BBS11 vineyards.

Given the increase in temperatures since 2023, Bertolini confesses to being “very worried” about climate change and the effect it will have on Biondi-Santi’s trademark freshness, balance, and longevity. To that end, having acquired new vineyards near Tenuta Greppo at 1,640ft (500m) in altitude, taking the full complement to 32.6ha (80 acres), they have adopted a new trellising system with movable horizontal bars, allowing for improved aeration and a more protected environment for the grapes. At the same time, they are trialing nets to protect the vines from excessive sunlight and hail, along with the use of site-specific cover crops to enhance the soil’s microbiological life, the avoidance of herbicides and anti-botrytis sprays, the summer pruning of bunches, the meticulous hand-sorting of bunches after picking, and the use of natural yeasts. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or, as the Italians would have it, cambiare tutto per non cambiare niente.

2016 Brunello di Montalcino: So beguiling

Biondi-Santi people.
Biondi-Santi CEO Giampiero Bertolini at the estate with technical director Federico Radi. Photography courtesy of Biondi-Santi.

Tasting

The Ritz, London; November 8, 2022

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2019 Biondi-Santi Rosso di Montalcino DOC (13% ABV)

From a vintage that was wet and cold to start with but that culminated in a hot, dry summer refreshed by rain at the end of August, this youthfully bright, deep Sangiovese from the Tenuta Greppo, Ribusuoli, and Pievecchia vineyards is bright and fragrant, with an invitingly opulent cherry-fruit and herb quality, showing vigor and bite at this early stage of its development. And while still primary, the wine, rounded by 12 months in Slavonian oak, is approachable now, even if it will benefit from seven years plus further aging in bottle. 2023–32. | 92

2016 Biondi-Santi Riserva La Storica Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14% ABV)

After a rainy winter and spring, the favorable weather that set in over a warm, sunny summer was interrupted toward harvest by intermittent rains leading to a slow, later-than-usual harvest from September 19. Still remarkably fresh yet at the same time savory in aroma, this Riserva, the 42nd produced since 1888, shows the youthful energy of a wine of intense red-berry fruit and herbal aromatics, its youthful vigor displaying a richness of concentrated, sweetly ripe cherry and black fruit underpinned by savory black-olive notes and a backbone of sinewy yet elegant tannins and delightfully refreshing acidity. 2025–55. | 95

2008 Biondi-Santi Riserva La Storica Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (13.5% ABV)

After a long, hot summer and a relatively cold, wet harvest, starting on September 10, this Riserva—produced on Franco Biondi Santi’s watch and aged in Slavonian oak for three years—is still quite youthful in color, showing subtle aromas of cherry, dried herbs, pepper and sun-dried tomato, leading initially to subtle, sweetly ripe cherries and soon turning to a mouthwatering sour-savory quality as a firm spine of acidity kicks in, aided and abetted by a light grip of tannin. 2023–40. | 93

1999 Biondi-Santi Riserva La Storica Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (13.5% ABV)

Following a contrasting season of cold and wet weather in winter and spring, then a hot, dry summer and finally a dry, but cold harvest, the result is a wine, aged for three years in Slavonian oak, that is still holding its color well after 23 years. A lightly smoky, savory bouquet, with an enticing veneer of vanilla to it, then, tasting it, deceptively concentrated, sumptuously elegant cherry fruit and balsamic complexity, with a seamless texture of fine-boned tannins and beautifully balanced freshness. 2023–35. | 96

1985 Biondi-Santi Riserva La Storica Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (13% ABV)

After a favorable season that was mostly dry and warm with a few showers, this Riserva, released in 1991, celebrates the centenary year of the production of the historic 1891 Riserva (given 100 points by the late Nick Belfrage MW in 1994). Recorked in 2000, it is still youthful, with a complex bouquet of cherry, dried herb, and raisin. The leathery undertones are conveyed on tasting by evolved balsamic flavors combining characteristic sour cherry with mushroom and truffle, all underpinned by a surprising vigor that helps maintain freshness. 2023–30. | 93

1975 Biondi-Santi Riserva La Storica Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (12.5% ABV)

After a fine season of warm dry weather in the summer and during the harvest, this wine actually predates the formal recognition of the BBS11 Sangiovese Grosso clone in 1978. Nothing, however, detracts from the fact that the results are extraordinary in a Riserva aged, typically, for three years in Slavonian oak and recorked in 2000, with a gloriously smoky-sweet fragrance, mingling notes of citrus zest and nutmeg spice with game. This is followed by flavors whose cherry fruit and balsamic and gamey undertones add exceptional depth and complexity to a wine of seamless elegance and distinction. 2023–30. | 98

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