Roberto Cipresso is a very highly reputed consulting enologist in several parts of the world (e.g., Italy, Brazil). Originally from the Veneto, he first made his name in Tuscany and his heart lies there, at the Brunello di Montalcino estate La Fiorita, of which he is co-owner with Natalie Oliveros.
A devoted terroirist, he speaks with passion of the soils of the Montalcino zone and his desire to express them in his wines. A few weeks back, over a tasting lunch at La Masseria restaurant in New York, he explained his stance. “There are two main styles of winemaking,” he said. “You can choose to express the variety or you can choose to express the terroir. Montalcino is the perfect place to do the latter. My ideal wine is like a glass – transparent, so the soil shines through.”
To that end, Cipresso does what he regards as minimal work in the cellar, opting instead to cleave to what the vineyards give him. He has three of them to work with: Poggio al Sole, between the hamlets of Castenuova dell’Abbate and Sant’Angelo; Pian Bossolino, slightly further north; and a new vineyard, not yet fully on line, Podere Giardinello, west of the town of Montalcino. The latter has completely different soils and exposure from those of the other two vineyards, and Cipresso is very excited by what it will add to his basic Brunello – so much so that he is contemplating the possibility of bottling it as a cru.
At present, the grapes from each vineyard are fermented separately for 25 days in large Slavonian oak vats and then drawn off into tonneaux, one-third of which are new each year, one-third of second passage, and one-third of third passage. The wines stay in the tonneaux for just eight months, then finish their two years of wood aging together in large Slavonian vats again. All La Fiorita Brunello then receives extra bottle aging beyond the DOCG requirements: Cipresso prefers to do this so the wine will integrate more fully and be readier to drink on release. La Fiorita’s 2008 vintage, for instance, is just coming onto the market now.
Over lunch, Cipresso showed four of his wines: the two most recent Brunellos and his first two Brunello riservas.
Brunello 2008: The first things that struck me about this wine were its balance and elegance. This is the antithesis of fruit-bomb, in-your-face Brunellos. It starts light and grows on the palate, finishing big and persuasive. Dark cherry and tobacco in nose and mouth, with excellent acidity to keep it supple, and a long cherry finish. A thoroughly enjoyable wine with what tastes to me like true Brunello depth.
Brunello 2007: More tannic and tobacco-y than the 2008 but with equally fine balance. This wine shows a bit less fruit and a lot more structure than the preceding one, though this may simply be part of the normal evolution of the wine. Unquestionably as fine and elegant as the ’08, though the vintage difference is apparent.
Brunello Riserva 2006: This was La Fiorita’s second riserva bottling, and I found it initially still slightly closed, though it opened gradually and steadily in the glass. For sure, it will reward at least a few more years’ cellaring. It’s a big wine, balanced, and tasting emphatically more of earth and gravel than of Sangiovese fruit (though that is still abundantly present). An excellent example of the best that Montalcino can do, in my opinion.
Brunello Riserva 2004: This was La Fiorita’s first riserva. The vines, which had been planted in the 1990s, had just really come of age. It isn’t a huge wine, but it has great elegance and balance. It shows classic Montalcino dark cherry flavors and prominent acidity, with a very lively, long finish and overall great structure.
For all that, Cipresso doesn’t think this ’04 will live as long as the ’06 Riserva – and I’ve got to say, I kept going back to that 2006 all through the lunch, because it kept opening and changing in the glass in fascinating ways. All four wines were marked by the kind of great elegance and balance that Cipresso strives for, but each differed from the others in intriguing ways, expressing different aspects of Sangiovese, Montalcino climate, and Montalcino soil. What else can you ask of a great Brunello?