A First Course in Wine: From Grape to Glass. Copyright 2013; Race Point Publishers, NY. 224 pages. Forward by Mario Batali.

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Interview with Fabio Giannetti of Azienda Agricola La Fornace, Montalcino, Italy

There is a saying in the fabled city of Florence that goes, “Tuscany is the garden of Italy, and Florence is the flower of Tuscany”.  If you’ve ever been to this part of the world, it’s hard to disagree with such a statement.  The people are warm, the buildings are enchanting, and around every corner there is an enoteca, or winebar, a perfect place to try the latest in local wines.

Tuscany is most famous for the wines from Chianti, a large growing area stretching from Florence to Siena where wines are crafted based on the grape, Sangiovese.  There is another very famous growing area further south based around the town of Montalcino.  In this locale, the grape Sangiovese, is referred to as

The quaint, hilltop town of Montalcino in southern Tuscany

The quaint, hilltop town of Montalcino in southern Tuscany

Brunello.  Many enthusiasts believe that Brunello di Montalcino is the best expression of Sangiovese, where the grapes produce light, powerful, and almost ethereal-like wines.

Fabio Giannetti is the third generation winemaker of La Fornace.  His grandfather was a farmer living off the land that was owned by a more wealthier family.  These sharecroppers, mezzadri, gave a portion of their crops to the owners and retained the rest for their own families.  Following WWII, in efforts to redistribute wealth, the government made it available for these working families to buy parcels of land for themselves, and Fabio’s grandfather purchased about 12 acres of land in the northeast of Montalcino.  The first vintage of wine was produced in 1987 with an output of roughly one thousand bottles of wine.  Ever since, the family has expanded production to fifteen thousand bottles of wine per year, while still maintaining the high level quality set forth by Fabio’s grandfather more than twenty years ago.

During Fabio’s latest visit to New York, I spoke with him regarding all things Montalcino.

DA:  Why is Montalcino considered the ideal place for Sangiovese?

The vinyards of Montalcino with the looming Amiata Mountains in the distance

The vinyards of Montalcino with the looming Amiata Mountain in the distance

FG:  The micro-climate is very particular in this part of Tuscany.  The Amiata Mountain in the east produces clouds that move westward distributing rain as they pass over Montalcino.  The area is primarily a dry place, and this periodic rain is crucial to proper vine development.

DA:  Rosso di Montalcino is basically a younger expression of Sangiovese from Montalcino.  Like many producers in Montalcino, you produce both wine styles.  What are the differences between the two wines?

FG:  The vines we use for the Rosso bottling are anywhere from 6 – 16 years old.  The wine is aged in large Slavonian barrels and is a more traditional style of wine.  The grapes used for the Brunello bottling come from vines that are anywhere from 16-36 years old.  For our Brunello, we use a combination of large barrels as well as used smaller barrels for maturation.  Our Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is the best selection of grapes and is aged for at least 4 years in newer, smaller barrels.

DA:  When do you typically harvest the grapes?

FG:  We usually pick the grapes during the first week of October.  We then take the grapes to the winery where we conduct cryo-maceration.  We use dry ice to keep the temperatures low while we macerate the skins.

DA:  What does dry ice bring to the equation?

The 2001 La Fornace Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is both inviting and captivating

The 2001 La Fornace Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is both inviting and captivating

FG:  It’s a practical way to keep the temperature down.  At lower temperatures, we can extract better color from the skins, prevent oxidation, and acquire very floral components during the maceration process.

DA:  How would you describe Brunello di Montalcino wines to the student?

FG:  The best Brunello wines offer many flavors and aromas.  There is a balance between spice, pepper, and leather aromas, with cherry fruits and sometimes a light hint of balsamic.

DA:  What foods do you pair with Brunello?

FG:  We like to pair the Rosso di Montalcino with affettati (cold-cuts), sandwiches, prosciutto, white meats, and cacciucco (fish stew).  The tannins of the wine are very elegant and the wine is light and mineral.  For Brunello, the classic pairings include bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak) and penne al cinghiale (pasta with wild boar ragu).

DA:  There is a lot of hype about different years and the wines they produce.  For Tuscany, the 1997 vintage is considered one of the best in the last fifty years, with many wines fetching top dollar at auction houses.  Why was 1997 so amazing?

FG:  It was just a great year because the weather was most accommodating.  When we needed rain, it rained.  When we needed sunshine and warmth, it was sunny and warm.  Whatever we needed from the weather, we received it.  There were also very drastic temperatures between day and night, crucial for acid retention within the grapes.

La Fornace is a unique producer in Montalcino producing wines that span the spectrum of flavor and balance.  The Rosso di Montalcino is light, fresh, and aromatic with soft tannins and bright cherry fruits.  The Brunello di Montalcino is slightly darker with creamier notes of leather and spice.  The Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is concentrated and powerful with layers of fruit, oak, and earth, ideal for the most celebratory occasions.

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