Sunday, July 10, 2011

Visit to Altesino Winery, Montalcino, Italy

This is Italian week on the blog.  More specifically, it is Montalcino week on the blog.  But you knew that when I posted the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG review last Friday, didn't you?  Italian Week begins with a tour of the Altesino estate, a visit that was a part of my Tuscany escapade with Bordeaux Index earlier this year.

The night preceding the trip to Montalcino was subdued in relation to the night preceding our trip to Bolgheri. We had a nice dinner and then retired to bed in preparation for an early start the following day.  After breakfast at the hotel, we piled into our transport and made our way to Siena via the Superstrade and then towards Montalcino via SR2 Cassia.  Upon our arrival at Altesino, we were welcomed by Sabine, a Danish transplant who led the early part of the tour.  Tour leader responsibilities were later transferred to Claudio Basla, General Manager and winemaker.

According to Sabine, the estate is located on the northern border of Montalcino and extends over 80 hectares, of which 42.5 are planted to vines.  The estate is owned by Mrs. Elisabetta Gnudi Agnelini who purchased the property in 2002.  At the time of my visit the estate had 20 full-time employees.

Altesino has always been a trendsetter in Montalcino and was one of the first wineries to introduce a "cru" Brunello di Montalcino from its Montosoli vineyard.  Three of the estate's five vineyards are located on the north side of Montalcino and two on the south side.  Montosoli is a south-facing vineyard and, as such, reaps the benefits that I mentioned in the Brunello di Montalcino post.  The average age of the Montosoli vines is 35 years.  The estate utilizes cordon spur for vine training and does not allow any grass between the rows.  According to Claudio it is very important to turn the earth in order to kill the grass.  The estate practices sustainable farming and limits density to 5000 plants per hectare.

Winemaker Claudio Basla discussing viticulture

According to Claudio, harvest begins five to eight days earlier for the south side vineyards than for those on the northern side.  Harvesting is by hand and begins in mid-September.  Between 15 and 25 people are involved in harvesting the grapes.

Unsatisfactory fruit is weeded out at sorting tables with post-sort product making its way to stainless steel tanks for fermentation.  Juice is pumped over during fermentation to ensure full engagement of the must and juice.  "Crus" are vinified separately and blended later.  Post-press residue is sent off to make grappa.  Malolactic fermentation takes place in the stainless steel tanks.  The estate does no fining but filters the wine with wide-guage mesh.

The estate produces approximately 200,000 bottles of wine annually.  The Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Rosso di Montalcino, and Palazzo Altesi are all made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso.  The estate also produces two Super Tuscans -- Alte d'Altesi and Rosso di Altesino (20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and 80% Sangiovese) -- a Vin Santo (Trebbiano and Malvasia), and a Bianca di Altesino (60% Vermentino, 20% Chardonnay, and 20% Viognier).  The Super Tuscans are aged in barriques -- used for three years -- while the Brunellos are aged in large Slavonian oak barrels.  These barrels are used for between 15 and 20 years.

In addition to the wines, the estate also produces olive oil (filtered and unfiltered), grappa, and brandy.

At the conclusion of the tour we repaired to the dining room for lunch.  The meal was traditional Tuscan fare (indicated below) accompanied by the range of the estate's offerings.

My wife's birthday fell on the day of the tour and the chef surprised her with a cake.  No, she is not 1 year old.

We dragged ourselves away from the table sluggishly and asked our tour guide if we could go to the hotel to sleep off the food.  He said no.  On to the next winery.  Cruel.

No comments:

Post a Comment