Even more than their french counterparts, the top Italian red-wine appellations often require great patience from us. Five years ago, Elisa Sesti and her father, Giuseppe, sent word about their just-completed 2015 vintage, saying, “The harvest here at Castello di Argiano was perfect in every sense, with the grapes balanced in color, perfume, and above all the organoleptic quality of the must. In Montalcino, everyone is convinced that we are talking about an historic vintage.” This statement tantalized just about every Sangiovese lover in our shop, who would have to wait half a decade before getting to taste the magic. In a sense, we’ve gotten to enjoy hints of this prophecy, first in the domaine’s rosato, then in the Monteleccio, followed by the Rosso di Montalcino. Remarkably, these are all made with grapes that could qualify for Sesti’s Brunello di Montalcino, but are excluded because Elisa uses only the most immaculate grapes for that wine. As you might imagine—or perhaps experienced firsthand—these bottlings were real treats. But Sesti’s masterpiece is undoubtedly the Brunello, which represents the pinnacle of how complex Sangiovese can be and how thoroughly it can translate terroir. Now, in 2021, with the 2015 Brunello just off the boat and in a glass in front of us, we can finally validate, and vociferously endorse, Sesti’s early judgment that 2015 was indeed an outstanding year. The conditions were pretty much perfect. Those of us who prize finesse and elegance over power may have bitten our lips for a week or two in late summer, watching anxiously to see if water reserves from the spring showers would last long enough to prevent heat-induced stress on the vines. Fortunately, Sesti is situated in a relatively cool microclimate in Montalcino and also practices extremely judicious viticulture. In warmer vintages, they keep more leaves on their vines to shield the grapes from the sun, and they also work the topsoil with the rippatura technique, preserving moisture in the soil when it rains without drastically altering the soil structure. On top of this, Montalcino received perfectly timed, scattered showers in September 2015, which, Elisa and Giuseppe say, “refreshed the vines and above all the olive trees, which had begun to need the rain.” The resulting Brunello di Montalcino is a remarkable bottle of Sangiovese: complex, succulent, and slightly savory, with notes of red fruit, spices, and earth, and a long finish. It is versatile enough to pair with your favorite cut of meat, though I find the wine’s layers of flavors, texture, melting tannins, and acidity are perfectly suited to fowl: roast chicken or turkey, or a pan-seared duck breast.
Giuseppe Sesti didn’t initially choose a career in wine. Instead, he was inspired to study music, art, and astronomy, the latter becoming his profession. He met his future wife in Wales while writing his first book, and in 1975 moved to Tuscany, purchasing the abandoned castle of Argiano, slowly restoring the breathtaking estate later planting his vineyards around the castle. In 1999 the Sesti’s daughter, Elisa, joined the estate full time, becoming a partner in all aspects of production. The Sesti lineup includes a white Sauvignon and a Rosato, but their Brunello, Brunello Riserva, and Rosso di Montalcino provide traditional expressions of the appellation, robust and powerful yet refreshing, with great aging potential.
Perhaps no region is tied to Italy’s reputation as a producer of fine wine as much as Tuscany. Since Etruscan times, viticulture has played a prominent role in this idyllic land of rolling hills, and the Tuscan winemaking tradition remains as strong as ever today. With a favorable Mediterranean climate, an undulating topography offering countless altitudes and expositions, and a wealth of poor, well-draining soils, conditions are ideal for crafting high-quality wines. Add to that the rich gastronomical tradition—Tuscany is home to some of the country’s finest game, pastas, salumi, and cheeses—and you have the blueprint for a world-class wine region.
This is Sangiovese territory; in fact, it is arguably the only place in the world where Sangiovese reaches a truly regal expression. In spite of a rocky history with fluctuations in quality, traditionally produced Chianti has reclaimed its status as one of the country’s most reliable, food-friendly reds, while the rapid rise of Brunello di Montalcino shows the grape’s potential for grandiose, opulent reds allying power and finesse. Traditionally-minded growers have stuck to using only indigenous grape varieties and employing techniques like aging in massive wooden casks known as botti, creating wines of terroir that shine at the Tuscan table.
Tuscan wines have had a place in our portfolio since Kermit’s first visit in 1977. While the names of the estates have changed, the spirit of those first unfiltered Chiantis he imported live on through our current selections.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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