Francisco Mulanari L’Aietta Brunello di Montalcino 2012
Winegrower: Francisco Mulanari
Region: Montalcino (Tuscany), Italy
Grape: Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello Sangiovese)
Available: Fall 2017
“L’Aietta is the smallest Brunello estate in Montalcino, but… quality-wise this young firm is one of the denomination’s most extraordinary albeit little known gems. L’Aietta’s Brunellos and Rossos are quintessential Sangiovese from Montalcino, with mouthfuls of wild cherry and mineral, and impressive structure and depth. Intensely floral and bright with rich, ripe fruit and fantastic, uplifting minerality and hefty structure.”
- Kerin O’Keefe, Brunello Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines, 95 pts, Kerin O’Keefe, Wine Enthusiast
Ahhh, Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s, and the worlds, greatest and most revered wines. I’m not talking about an over-priced, inky black, fruit bomb that parades itself under the Brunello name but should have been relegated to some obscure sub-zone; I mean the real thing, a classically crafted wine that is ethereal and timeless – an Italian cultural icon. Welcome to today’s offer: L’Aietta Brunello di Montalcino 2012 from Francisco Mulanari. This is quintessential Brunello di Montalcino; a wine of intense perfume, harmonious, vigorous and elegant. Harvested from the smallest vineyard in Brunello, in the village of Montalcino, and from an alarmingly steep slope that is barely walkable, comes one of the top Brunello’s from one of the best vintages of the past 30 years. This wine is simply perfect. Bright garnet in colour, it’s gorgeous on the nose, with intense wild berry, leather, herb and spice aromas; on the palate you’ll find layer upon layer of complex bright cherry, spices, earthy mineral sensations, and refined tannins, with a finish that just seems to go and on. This wine is about finesse, balance and breading, all wrapped up in an incredibly delicious, mouth-filling package. It’s an exceptional experience now, but will develop more complexity in the years – no decades – to come. It’s also rare, only 180 cases were produced, and our allotment is small, so if you want an, ‘experience-of-a-lifetime’ wine, you must act now. This is a must try for Brunello fans, or for that matter, anyone who loves great wine. Our price is a remarkable $72. Yes, $72. Comparable wines will cost much, much more.
Brunello di Montalcino is not only Italy’s most dynamic and greatest wine zone and the country’s first DOCG, it is the spiritual home of the Sangiovese grape and represents its boldest expression. Located 50 kilometres south of Siena and east of the Mediterranean Sea, its 2,000 hectares of vineyards represent one of Italy’s greatest testaments to terroir, or as the Italians call it, ‘tipicità,’ and explains why this incredible wine can be produced only in certain parts of the denomination and nowhere else. Brunello is controlled by Italy’s most strict production codes. It can only be made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, a larger clone of Sangiovese, and it must be made, aged and bottled in Montalcino. It must have a minimum of 12.5% alcohol and 5 years aging after harvest vintage; 2 years minimum in oak and 4 months in bottle. For Riserva wines it is 6 years aging after harvest vintage with 2 years minimum in oak and 6 months in bottle. There are two schools of thought in regard to aging.
Traditional: This has the wine aged in large well-used Slavonian oak barrels called Botti from northeastern Croatia. These impart little if any oak flavours and are used to encourage tertiary flavour development through oxygen exposure. Wines aged this way will develop more dried fruit, leather and flower flavours, and have long aging potential.
Modern: Other producer’s use new, small French Barriques (Bordeaux barrels) that impart more oak flavours. These encourage the development of dark fruit, chocolate, sweet and vanilla flavours. Oxygen exposure is much higher than what would occur in Botti and produces wines which are ready to drink earlier.
On the flip side, Montalcino is also arguably one of Italy’s most controversial DOCGs. Unprecedented demand for its wines brought unchecked growth of new plantings in unfit areas. And the desire to produce an ‘international style’ made producers introduce new, invasive winemaking technologies. This resulted in the large production of big, black fruit bombs that taste as if they could have come from any grape from anywhere in the world. Production increased from 800,000 bottles from 13 producers in 1970 to over 9 million bottles from 250 producers today. Many local farmers who never grew grapes, along with some of the biggest names in Italian wine, began churning out wines of inferior quality and a plethora of styles that had little to do with the history and spirit of Brunello di Montalcino. Banfi alone mass produces over 700,000 bottles.
Brunello also suffered from the Brunellogate scandal (or Brunellopoli in Italy) in 2008. This was an attempt by producers to surreptitiously ‘improve’ their inferior wines thru blending with other grape varieties, which is not allowed under strict DOCG regulations; Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese Grosso. The goal was to produce a Brunello di Montalcino version of a Super Tuscan. Consumers and critics were encountering wines that were easier to drink earlier on, but could not age and did not have the characteristics of true Brunello di Montalcino. Some of the largest names in Italian wine were involved and millions of bottles were declassified from the prestigious DOCG designation down to the lowly basic IGT.
Brunello di Montalcino’s story embodies the quest for perfection. In 1842, on a steep Montalcino slope, Clemente Santi discovered the Brunello vine (Sangiovese Grosso). His subsequent cultivation of that vine created the wine we now know as Brunello.
Our winegrower, Francesco Mulinari, grew up in the old fortified town of Montalcino. L’Aietta, his 1-hectare vineyard located just outside the fortified walls of the town, is in prime Brunello territory and was bought by his parents for the sole purpose of holding family picnics. In 2001 when still in high school, Francisco discovered that the old family property where he had enjoyed many picnics not only had a patch of grape vines but was also in the DOCG of Brunello di Montalcino. Even though he had no family winegrowing tradition to refer to, he decided to turn these few vines into a winery. With an intense focus on his vineyard and grapes and religiously adhering to traditional methods he produced his first vintage in 2001, he was only 18 years old and still attending high school. Francesco went to oenology school after he graduated, took jobs at other wineries and worked on his steep, little vineyard with its 18 terraces. In 2004 he replanted the vineyard in the alberello (bush) method. This did not require poles to be driven into the ground, which was impossible because of its stony makeup. He also chose this method because it would help the vines become more resistant to drought. This method also makes the vines produce fewer more concentrated bunches of grapes and their proximity to the rocky ground and the heat it captures helps them develop. Along the way Francesco also built a small, one-roomed cellar out of stone.
In addition to the L’Aietta, Francesco acquired another 1-hectare vineyard, Castelnuovo dell’Abate, where he now makes Rosso di Montalcino. Because of the minuscule size of his vineyards, Francesco is able to do all of the work himself. While his production is small, his Brunellos and Rossos are classical, elegant renditions worthy of any of the old, established, traditional winegrowers of Montalcino.
Today’s L’Aietta Brunello di Montalcino 2012 was made from hand-picked grapes vinified with natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks with no temperature control. The wine was macerated for 21 days then aged for 40 months in old Slovenian Oak Botti. It was then bottled with no clarification or other filtering and with just a touch of added sulphur. Although still a little on the closed side, this is a pure, stunning, vivacious and glorious Sangiovese, with intense aromas and a supple, savory, and juicy mouthfeel, pulsing with energy from the vibrant acidity and an amazingly long finish. This wine is ready to be enjoyed now but will develop further over the next 20 years or more. Personally, I’d like to taste this wine in 30 years, there is just one problem, I’m too impatient! Besides, how does the saying go: “Life is uncertain, eat the desert first.” Decant this wine for a couple of hours then enjoy in a Burgundy stem at 17˚. I guarantee that after tasting this wine you’ll ask yourself how can you not love Brunello di Montalcino. Serve with sautéed duck breasts and wild mushrooms for a match made in heaven.