Soldera Case Basse Brunellos back to 1981

Gianfranco Soldera and his daughter Monica came to the UK recently under the auspices of Zubair Mohamed of Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh who invited me to a great tasting of his legendary Brunellos (£100+ a bottle for the youngest vintages) over lunch at Harry’s Bar. (Palm Bay import his wines into the US.)

Doubt doth not assail Signor Soldera whom I have met on three occasions now, once on his famous estate, once at Vinitaly and now in London. He was ever so slightly discombobulated this time because his suitcase had been lost by Lufthansa en route so he had to go shopping for clothes smart enough for Harry’s Bar in South Audley Street. At least he was in the right part of Londonn for gentlemen’s tailoring and he looked splendid in his brand new pale blue shirt, blue and yellow striped tie, mustard cords and wide blue (and much-needed) braces/suspenders.

He planted Case Basse’s original vineyard, Vigna Intistieti, in 1973 and has been making wine since 1975, Vigna Intistieti Brunello since 1977, although his standards are so high that he didn’t make any wine in 1976, 1989 or 1992 (when he admits it was his and not Nature’s fault). Mind you, in the rain-sodden vintage of 2002 for instance, he produced only 6,000 bottles from his eight hectares when he could by law have produced 10 times that amount (not that he was the only producer to make such sacrifices in 2002). His average production is just 15,000 bottles.

“I’m looking for elegance, balance, pleasure, lots of aroma and above all longevity,” he says. “I don’t hold with big tastings. Wines need time to develop in the glass as much as the bottle. I don’t believe in opening the bottles a long time before serving them but the culture and knowledge of a wine begins from the moment you pull the cork and lasts for 10 days. I can still feel the wines 10 days after tasting them.”

Accordingly we spent a long lunchtime watching the development of the wines below, all served in his specially-designed, near-spherical glasses brought over from Italy, and woe betide us if we spat a drop.

The wines are aged for at last 48 months in large old oak and to give you some idea of their ageability, he says he’s drinking the 1979 now.

The Vigna Intistieti vineyard is generally more mineral, on higher poorer soils than the subsequent planting sold simply as Case Basse (although clarity in labelling is not Soldera’s strong point). Case Basse wines, made from 1990, are generally fuller and richer than the Vigne Intistieti bottlings, although the latter have generally provided his Riservas. From the 2000 vintage however both wines will be released as Riservas apparently. The youngest wine we tasted was a preview of the 2000 Vigna Intistieti which indeed seemed a long way from drinkability.

A man of firm views, Soldera told us that the Maremma “is fit only for potatoes”, pepper is the enemy of wine, and that the only red wine producers he approves of are Giuseppe Rinaldi and Giacomo Conterno in Barolo and Giuseppe Quintarelli in the Veneto. Josko Gravner of Friuli also passes muster.
So how were the wines? Exceptionally good, I must say. Not especially deep coloured, especially when young (shades of DRC, literally) but extremely vivid and pure – very different from the common more modern style of Brunello. (See my report on Brunello 2001) The older generation in Montalcino say that if you can see a fingernail through the glass, then it’s proper Brunello.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 18 Drink 2012-25

Relatively light ruby. Autumnal scents, some moss. Though at the moment the richness is underneath. Relatively light nose. Masses of acidity! Surely needs lots of time? Very long though. Developed concentration. Acidity diminished in the glass or rather the fruit increased. 54 months in cask. A vivid increase in quality as it sat in the glass, just like the man said.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 19 Drink 2010-25

Deeper crimson. Great freshness and vivacity on the nose – more lift. Very mellow and intriguing nose. Mouthfilling. Great balance though still very youthful. Very firm tannins. Great substance and length. So long. Rich and sparkling. Lovely.

Gianfranco Soldera, Case Basse 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 18.5 Drink 2009-25

Very deep crimson. On the cusp of mulch and mould. Great lively mouthful. Very aromatic and lively. Dances and again exceptionally long. Full of life. Very rich and deep. Vivid. Sturdier than the “Vigna Intistieti”.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1998 Brunello di Montalcino 18 Drink 2010-25

Light ruby. Light nose and lots of development – fully mature spread of aromas. Marked acidity, recalls the 2000. Great life. Lighter than most at the moment. Very, very long. Very good with risotto.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1993 Brunello di Montalcino 19.5 Drink 2003-15

Exceptionally deep, almost blackish crimson. Stunningly intense, almost like a mature port. Wonderful intensity and subtlety of aroma and power on the palate. Tannins seem more robust than in later vintages? They are still present here. Only 48 months in cask.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1991 Brunello di Montalcino 18.5 Drink 2001-12

Deep crimson, Rich and broad and flattering. Mushrooms. Lovely depth. Very, very different vintage. Rich and reverberating. Dry end. But autumnal and fungal somewhow, almost burgundian with a dry finish.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1983 Brunello di Montalcino (magnum) 19 Drink 1998-2010

Very deep colour. Deeply agricultural, definitely Sangiovese! Pruney. Grandissimo in build for a Soldera wine. Some Italian writers said this was vinegar but for us it is a pleasure. This magnum was bought from an Italian collector on ebay! (A vindication.) Very, very rich and sweet after eggs with red wine and spinach.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1987 Brunello di Montalcino 18 Drink 2000-09

Another difficult vintage, it rained until October 8th then they waited for 15 days of sun and wind. They risked having nothing.

Very scented, bit chewy on the end. Quite dry but some lift. Not obviously of the vintage. Sweet and treacly.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1981 Brunello di Montalcino 19 Drink 2000-12

Perfumed, sweet, quite transparent. Dances. Very delicate, a hint of liquorice. Very rich. Peacock’s tail of flavours on the finish.

Gianfranco Soldera, Riserva “Vigna Intistieti” 1990 Brunello di Montalcino  Drink 2000-25

(Tasted blind)

Very, very rich and concentrated. Dark and sweet. Rich yet lively. Great, lively. (As you can see, this somewhat terse, ungenerous note was the end of an excellent meal.)


Sun 10 Dec 2006

Location, location, location by WILL LYONS

SANGIOVESE has always been a grape capable of assuming many different guises. This small Italian variety, which is probably best known for being the main ingredient in chianti and brunello, can produce all manner of wines – from palate-busting plonk to examples of the most exquisite concentration and acidity. But I have to admit that until I tasted Gianfranco Soldera’s wines I didn’t know just how good sangiovese could be.

Like his fellow Tuscan producer Paolo De Marchi, Soldera believes great wine is wine of origin. Its magic derives from the land on which the grapes are grown, the soil, the location and the native ecosystem. In Soldera’s vineyard you will find no chemicals, no filtration, no tweaking of fermentation temperatures to achieve more extracted, cosmetic flavours. “If you do not have a special terroir, soil and a natural ecosystem, it is impossible to arrive at a great wine,” he says. “We have made 32 vintages, and 29 of those have been great wine. But it is all based on the quality of the grapes. We only use the very healthiest, and if the harvest isn’t good enough we produce less wine – it’s as simple as that.”

Soldera’s estate has the capacity to make 60,000 bottles a year, but he rarely goes beyond 15,000 – in some vintages he will produce only 6,000. In an industry too often enthralled by technology and science, it is refreshing and heartening to find a producer making one of the most natural wines on the market – and arguably one of the best. His wines have a piercing purity, are hugely concentrated and possess an evocative earthiness that reflects the soil they have come from. But what makes this such a unique estate in Montalcino is the ethereal delicacy derived from near-perfect acidity and ripe, taut tannins.

In many ways these wines are reminiscent of the pinot noirs produced by the great estates of Burgundy. The purity derives from a vineyard where any fertilisation is organic. Soldera prunes the vines short in the winter and carries out another green pruning during the growing season. In autumn he combs through the vines, thinning out any bad grapes and stripping off the dense leaves to let in more light and help the grapes to ripen. He likes to think that his approach is best summed up as a philosophy of “enlightened agriculture”.

Wines from the Brunello di Montalcino region can be maddening, with wild fluctuations in quality. Too often they possess tannins that are too tough. But at Case Basse, Soldera has made a brunello that can sit alongside any of the great Italian wines. After tasting the 1998, 1999, 2000 and the now unavailable 1987, I can say that Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino may well be Italy’s greatest wine.

Tasting Notes

2000 Riserva Vigna Intistieti, Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy, 14%, £125

A hugely concentrated nose, with notes of cherry, baked raisins and an earthy minerality. The palate is bursting with fresh acidity. This graceful, stylish wine has an ageing potential of at least 25 years.

1999 Case Basse, Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy, 14%, £105

This is firmer, and will age into a hauntingly beautiful wine with an attractive nose of discarded cherry punnets and smoky nail varnish underpinned by exceptional freshness.

1998 Case Basse, Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy, 14%, £105

Power and grace sum up this wine. Exceptional ripeness is tempered by bolstering tannins and an astonishingly long and mouth-filling finish.