Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taste-Through of Casanova di Neri wines with Giacomo Neri

Stacole Fine Wines recently hosted Giacomo Neri, winemaker and owner of Casanova di Neri,  at its Boca Raton headquarters for a seminar and tasting of selected Casanova di Neri wines.  I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to this event and took full advantage of the opportunity to meet this respected winemaker and hear, directly from his lips, the story behind his wines.

Brunello di Montalcino has grown rapidly from its roots as a Biondi-Santi-family-introduced clone of Sangiovese Grosso.  Brunello became a DOC in 1966 and became the first red DOCG in 1980.  It has grown from 11 producers in 1968 to 300 producers today with over 2000 hectares currently under vine.  Legal requirements for Brunello include 5 years aging (6 years for Riserva) with a minimum of 2 years in wood and a minimum of 12.5% alcohol.  Stellar Brunello vintages include 1990, 1991, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2004.

Casanova di Neri was founded by Giovanni Neri who bought the property in 1971.  The winery currently consists of 60 hectares divided among five vineyard sites: Fiesole, Pietradonice, Cerretalto, Podernuovo, and Le Cetine.  The estate is site-driven, using these five sites to produce three distinctive Brunellos, a Rosso di Montalcino, a Rosso di Casanova di Neri (called Rosso di Sant'Antimo outside the US), and a Cabernet Sauvignon. 

@wineontheway and I drove from Orlando to Boca for the event.  It was a wet, rainy Monday morning and we looked like drowned rats as we squelched into the lobby. We were early so Steve Sink took us on a tour of the Stacole warehouse.  The seminar was held in a mezzanine-level classroom with the tables running perpendicular to the speaker's table which was located at the west end of the room.  Giacomo, who was accompanied by Vittorio Marianecci, was introduced to the audience by Steve Sink of Stacole.

The entry-level Brunello is the White Label, a 100% Sanigovese which is crafted from 35-year-old vines and aged in Slavonic oak for approximately 45 months and in bottle for 6 months.  The 2005 vintage showed cherries, blackberries, violet, and graphite (from decommisioned Cerretalto grapes) on the nose.  Very elegant on the palate with good acidity and a long finish.  This wine can be drunk today but will be better in 10 years.

The second wine is the Tenuto Nuova, a 100% Sangiovese made from 35-year-old vines sited in the Fiesole vineyard.  Maceration and fermentation for this wine takes 25 days after which it is aged for 29 months in French 500L tonneaus and then in bottle for 18 months.  The quality of this wine is reflected in the fact that the 2001 vintage was designated as the 2006 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator.  This is a Brunello with great character.  It is hand-harvested and fermented in open tanks.  The 2005 vintage showed rosemary on the nose and was rich and full on the palate.  This wine will require 10 years of cellaring.

Cerretalto is a 100% Sangiovese drawn from a vineyard of the same name located at 750-900 feet elevation.  Maceration and fermentation takes 20 days and the wine is aged for 30 months in French barrique and bottle-aged for 30 months.  This wine is produced only in the years when the grape quality is outstanding.  The winery produces 25 hectoliters/acre from the 13-acre vineyard.  Giacomo described this wine as having a "big personality" and being an "emotional wine" which "needs a lot of attention."  The '05 Cerretalto exhibited graphite on the nose and was rich and long on the palate with hints of blackberry, licorice, and vanilla.  This is a long-lived wine.

The Pietradonice is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pietradonice vineyard.  The wine is macerated and aged for 15-18 days, aged in small French oak barrels for 18 months, and then bottle-aged for an additional 18 months. Giacomo said that 2006 was a great vintage in Montalcino and that that was reflected in the '06 Pietradonice.  The soil where the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown has a high onyx content and this shows as a marked minerality in the wine.  The wine exhibited dark black fruit, earth, a metallic minerality, round mouthfeel, and a long finish.  Gioacomo feels that this wine will be ready to drink in 7-10 years.

The Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Casanova di Neri are both Sangiovese wines built for approachability.  The Rosso di Casanova di Neri is, according to Giacomo, blended with Colorino (10%) to give a violet florality on the nose and soft tannins to the structure.  The 2008 vintage showed violet and cherries and exhibited good balance.  The initial attack was underwhelming but the wine showed good weight and finished well. According to Giacomo, the wine was good now but would be even better in three years and would pair well with foods such as cheese, pasta, and meat.

The event was fully subscribed and the earnestness and passion for his craft was very evident in every aspect of Giacomo's actions.  He consistently referred to himself as just a farmer, self-deprecatingly, I am sure, but boy what excellent produce this farmer brings to the market.

It was raining cats and dogs outside but for 2 hours that day we were in a veritable wine oasis listening to the siren song of the one of the great Montalcino winemakers.

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