Vertical Tasting of Il Poggione's Brunello di Montalcino

In many respects, there is no better Brunello di Montalcino than Il Poggione.  This statement may surprise some, but given the stellar level of quality here, the impressive quantity of wine made (now 200,000 bottles a year of the Brunello normale alone!), the wine's track record for ageability, and the pristine reputation of the estate, it is logical enough.  It's one thing to make 5,000 bottles a year of a top-quality wine, but quite another to make a couple hundred thousand.  Moreover,  Il Poggione's reputation has never been soiled by rumors of using other grape varieties to make what is supposedly a 100% sangiovese wine.

This is also one of the oldest estates of Montalcino, an area where Brunello has only been produced recently, at least by the standards of the world's great wines. Brunello was essentially created by Clemente Santi in the 19th century, when he isolated what he believed to be a special clone of sangiovese, and by his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi (the son of Clemente's daughter Caterina and Jacopo Biondi) who is generally credited with perfecting Brunello in the 1870s.  In fact, Il Poggione is one of the earliest Brunello producers.  In 1890, Lavinio Franceschi travelled from Florence to S. Angelo in Colle, a small village in the Montalcino production zone, and so fell in love with the area that he bought the estate.  At the Siena wine exposition of 1933, Franceschi's Brunello (not yet called Il Poggione) was one of only four Brunellos being produced at that time. 

In 1958, Lavinio Franceschi's sons Leopoldo and Stefano divided up the large property into two and thus the modern-day estates of Il Poggione and Col d'Orcia were born.  Leopoldo loved agriculture and took work in the vineyards seriously, so much so that the large Italian nursery of Rauscedo selected his sangiovese for propagation and has since sold it all over the world.  Initially there were only 40 hectares planted to Brunello, then another ten were added in 1975.  Today there are 125 hectares of Brunello under vine from which the Brunello normale is made, with a single vineyard called I Paganelli serving as the source of roughly 30,000 bottles of year of stellar Brunello riserva.  The Riserva Vigneto I Paganelli was first made in 1995, although the designation I Paganelli does not appear on the label until vintage 2003; all riserva bottlings prior to the 1995 vintage represented blends of the best grapes and lots grown all over the estate.

Another important advantage enjoyed by Il Poggione is that its vineyards are situated in the area of Sant'Angelo in Colle, located southwest of the town of Montalcino.  Insiders know that the Sant'Angelo in Colle subzone is not just one of the highest-quality areas for sangiovese in all of Montalcino, but also where Brunellos with the greatest balance and breed are made.  The microclimate here is warmer than that of Montalcino and the northern side of the hill but not quite as hot as that of Castelnuovo dell'Abate.  (The northern side of the Montalcino hill can yield lean wines in cooler vintages, while Castelnuovo dell'Abate may actually get too hot in some years to produce truly refined wines.)

Interestingly, in the 1990s Il Poggione began planting its new sangiovese vines at higher altitude, roughly at 400 meters above sea level.  Before that, most sangiovese was planted at around 250 meters in an effort to benefit from slightly warmer temperatures.  Another characteristic worth mentioning about Il Poggione is that it has always benefited from the contributions of some of the most enlightened wine figures in Italy.  Cellarmaster Pierluigi Talenti, a highly respected viticultural expert and an extremely talented winemaker who was with the estate from 1959, was intimately linked with many of the great wines made at Il Poggione.  Today, Fabrizio Bindocci runs the show with equal aptitude and passion, helped by son Alessandro.  Bindocci took over from Talenti in 1976 and the estate has never been in better shape.

The wines in this vertical are a mix of riserva and normale bottlings. (Unfortunately, analytical data was not available for the older vintages.) The tasting was conducted in Rome in February 2010 and again in March 2011, with more vintages from the '80s and '90s tasted at the second event to give IWC readers more information on wines they are more likely to hold in their cellars. As always with these vertical tastings, when it comes to older wines not all bottles will prove as wonderful as those I report on here, as oxidation and cork issues are always a possibility. For instance, I have recently had some 1999 and 1995 Riserva wines that were hopelessly oxidized.

Show all the wines (sorted by vintage)

-Ian D'Agata