This was a brilliant Vinous dinner tasting on April 27, 2016 led by Antonio Galloni, it was surely one of the most historically significant vertical tastings of Gianfranco Soldera’s Brunellos ever staged. It followed a similar format to the incredible Monfortino Magnums 1970-2006 event also hosted by Vinous at Maze. The menu, below, was expertly put together by Executive Chef Matt Pickop with the service orchestrated by Head Sommelier Arnaud Bardary.

In a point made by Antonio at both events the food was deliberately non Italian. This being the case as the wines should be seen in the overall context of superb wines rather than “just” Italian wines.

I know these wines well and was so very excited about this great dinner. A few other posts on the wines and the people (person!) behind them can be found here:Visits to Case Basse and experiences with the wines.

We started the evening with a glass of the Salon 2004 – my write-up of the Launch – which always sets the scene well, a little saline, nicely poised and almost in Grand Cru Chablis in taste profile.

Amuse Bouche

Cumbrian Beef Tataki, Smoked Ponzu

Roast Turbot, Orzo, Mussels, Saffron Sauce

Duck Breats, Truffle, Endives, Chanterelle Mushrooms

Saddle of Herdwick Lamb, Spiced Aubergine, Raw Vegetables

Selection of Cheeses

Flight 1 – The Early YearsMost of the wines were opened in the afternoon, Antonio did wait though, until just about an hour before dinner for the 1981 and 1987. He thought the wines might be a little delicate but he needn’t have worried. All these four wines came from the very same vineyard – Intistieti. There are two vineyards – Intistieti and Case Basse but you can drive yourself mad trying to get 100% on top of what goes where and when. Essentially, nowadays, there is one wine. The best place for more info is this bit of the Vinous site.

1981 – Lovely colour, lighter on the rim and browner at the core. A little grainy volatility. Bright fresh, ferrous and opulent all that the same time. Vibrancy always there, elegant, gentle palate, a little ginger note too, great start. Has no right to be this good really.

1982 – More even colour from rim to core here but overall a shade lighter. More degraded nose, more bricky, more mature Nebbiolo-like to my mind. Lovely lively acidity, moreish finish and repays time in the glass. Very proper and complete.

1987 – Good, firmer colour. A little woodier, though not from wood itself, there is elegance, a lighter more fragile palate. Given the year this is superb. I think I may have had a slightly less clean glass that my neighbour whose glass showed a little more. On an evening of 100’s of glasses this is bound to happen.

1988 – Transparent, slight bovril colour but bright. Exuberantly brilliant nose, high toned with a hint of “fishermans friends” (which I love). Extravagant, eucalyptus, resinous, has a medicinal concentration, herbal, an element here reminds me of Chinato. Just wonderful.

Flight 2 – Sleeper Vintages: I always love to see some younger vintages in these sorts of tastings as it really adds perspective. The 2006 comes later. The 2007 is minute and the 2008 and 2009 have not been bottled for very long.

2000 Riserva – A little whiff of volatility but it passes. Redder core in colour terms. Only a dash of colour change on the outer rim. This is airy, breezy, saline and juicy all at the same time. There is richness on the palate that contrasts, but doesn’t clash with, the nose. Terrific.

2003 Riserva – Colour like the 2000 but may be a shade redder still. Berry fruit and a leathery animal undertone. There are some herbs and good richness. You don’t feel the heat of the growing season but there is a sense of smaller more intense berries. This is elegant as well as quite bold, delicious and nicely decadent.

2005 Riserva – This is from Intistieti only. The fruit from Case Basse went into Pegasos. There is a pale yet vibrant colour here. There is a distinct note that I have often found on the 2006 as well and it is of washed beef and/or carpaccio – it is a very distinct thing, I like it, it’s like a meaty salinity. Then there is a strawberry fruit character which makes you think of fresh and lovely pinot noir. The weightless elegance is quite something as is the sweetness. I feel this will gain weight and intensity and is incredibly promising.

Flight 3 – The Mid 1990s: This flight was a tasting in itself…

1993 Riserva – This is a vintage that Gianfranco Soldera likes very much for drinking now. A superb colour then a stony minerality on the nose and then vibrancy. The palate has some grip but also a linear focus. The texture is then more rich with an almost toffeed edge. Just lovely.

1994 Riserva – Monica Soldera (Gianfranco’s daughter) is a massive fan of this vintage for now. This has good colour from core to rim. It is slightly herbal, very fine with a gentle persistence, it gained weight and structure with time and is something of a hidden gem.

AG decided at the last minute to add the “Case Basse” Riserva next to the “Intistieti” Riserva for the purposes of comparison. The bottles can be seen above. This is not done today despite the fact that the wine is still bottled botti by botti and essentially what the above labels show is what happens now just without the identification.

1995 Riserva Intistieti – Translucent yet rich, darker colour. A fuller palate than many so far, a richer more masculine wine. There is a balancing savoury side of leather and a little mellow tobacco.

1995 Riserva Case Basse – This is also a richer wine than many but not with the fruit intensity of the Intistieti bottling. There is a lightly more pronounced secondary side. Good.

1996 Riserva – Very clear if developed colour. The nose has a soy element to it but with sweetness, a wine of degraded brown sweetness rather than red fruit. This is strict and very 1996 in character, masculine but a man in a suit not casual clothes. Sweetly savoury and very moreish…super.

Flight 4 – Reference Points: I got myself in a right old mess trying to score the wines in this whole dinner. I gave up in the end. In this flight everything was 18.5 out of 20 and above. Staggering quality

1997 Riserva – Good mid colour, degraded sweetness and richness. Lovely decay but without any premature ageing. Extravagant rich palate with good grip and a red fruited character coming through. White pepper shows too. Wonderful.

1999 Riserva – So classically brilliant. Meaty, good colour, like the cold washed meat of the 2005. Savoury and masculine with a bold yet totally resolved structure. A big chap! There is a dash of saline to the finish, intense, serious and nicely uncompromising. 

2001 Riserva – Slightly lighter colour, good clarity, so complete, very special. Not that extrovert but so balanced so moreish. This is grippy and serious, a wine demanding more time but with so much to give, almost muted but showing enough. Serious.

2004 Riserva – Richer fuller colour. Outlandishly vibrant red fruits, washed meat, berries and intense freshness, so gorgeous that it is hard to write a note for this. What’s not to like. So full yet so focused, so fruited yet so intense. Immensely good.

Flight 5 – The Icons: The title here implies we might not have had any icons yet which frankly is ludicrous and we’d had at least 5!

Why the two 1983’s? Well, to quote AG directly, baring the bits in brackets “In 1983, Soldera bottled two Brunellos – one a straight Brunello (Stainless steel and with temperature controlled), the other a Riserva (traditional production) – that were essentially essays on different approaches to vinification. We tasted them both, from magnum.

1983 magnum – Fullish colour and delicious nose, decent richness but also a toastiness. Some good grip, a savoury side too. I put that it has a slightly less complete feel but scored it highly (18+?) as it is clearly a very good wine. 

1983 Riserva magnum – Fuller, richer colour, a little fuller of fruit too, more depth to it but may be not the precision of the non Reserva.

1990 Riserva – This is thought to be the first vintage with the Case Basse in it as well as Intistieti. It is a wine I have had once before and and whilst labeling a wine as one of the all time greats is dangerous I think it is almost impossible not to with this wine. There is a savoury sweetness and a weightless intensity that makes this special even in this stunning company. I firmly feel the 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2006 and possibly several others are as brilliant and potential peers but will they do what this wine has done? This has fruit, darker than many, saline from seaweed, degraded tobacco and soy, intensity and elegance. Wonderful.

2006 Riserva – AG commented that “The 2006 is a rock star” and I totally see where he is coming from. It is the Soldera wine I know, comfortably, the best. For me it is the best single example of how wonderful, and different from what many people think, Sangiovese can be. It does have the wet meat note as well as both red (always been there) and darker (just appearing) fruits. There is richness but also lift, the savoury side will come later. Persistence, drive and elegance are the watch words here as ever.

I came to this dinner with high expectations (always dangerous) but a possible feeling that the older wines may be a little hit and miss and that the younger wines would be where the excitement lies. I think the overall consistency and balance was staggering. The mature wines were a delight. The wines produced since 1999 are so incredibly brilliant though that I can’t help but think that this estate is still evolving and is still so clearly on the up. This is born out by the fact that the two vineyards, which run up against each other, are amongst the most monitored and studied of any anywhere.

Brilliant – well done Vinous and more than well done Gianfranco…

Amuse bouche
Cumbrian beef tataki, smoked ponzu.
Roast turbot, orzo, mussels, saffron sauce.
Duck breast, truffle, endives, chanterelle mushrooms.
Saddle of Herdwick lamb, spiced aubergine, raw vegetables.