Vertical Tasting of Col d'Orcia's Brunello di Montalcino Poggio al Vento Riserva

Col d'Orcia is one of the leading estates in Montalcino, famous not just for its ageworthy Brunellos but also for its much above average Rosso di Montalcino and Moscadello di Montalcino bottlings.  In fact, the latter wine, called Pascena Vendemmia Tardiva, is generally considered to be one of the two best moscadellos of Montalcino.

The Col d'Orcia estate was originally part of the much larger Azienda Sant'Angelo, which belonged to the Franceschi family, one of the four original Brunello producers.  With the death of Comm. Franceschi, the estate was divided up between the two sons, Stefano and Leopoldo.  And so two of Montalcino's most famous modern-day estates were born:  Il Poggione, owned by Leopoldo, and Col d'Orcia, owned by Stefano.

In 1973, Col d'Orcia (the first wine so labeled dates back to 1965) was sold to the Cinzano beverage company and is now run with competence and flair by Count Alberto Marone Cinzano and his estate management team (Edoardo Virano, director; Giuliano Dragoni, viticulturalist; and Maurizio Castelli, consultant winemaker).  Much like at Il Poggione, one of Col d'Orcia's biggest strengths is its management team, undoubtedly one of the best in all of Italy.

Col d'Orcia owns 550 hectares, 142 planted to vineyards, of which 108 are sangiovese.  Half of the sangiovese is devoted to the production of Rosso di Montalcino, the other half to Brunello.  One of the most interesting and least-known facts about Col d'Orcia is the intense ampelological work that has been undertaken here over the years.  Thanks to Giuliano Dragoni, one of Italy's top viticulturalists, and Maurizio Castelli (who followed Pietro Rivella as winemaker in 1985), an experimental vineyard was created along in conjunction with the University of Florence in which 22 different sangiovese clones were followed closely over the years.  Two have since been officially recognized and two more are about to be certified as well.

I should also note the research performed on the local strain of moscato bianco.  After obtaining permission, Col d'Orcia personnel actually walked through the vineyards of almost all the other estates in Montalcino, hunting down the rare old vines responsible for the once highly acclaimed Moscatello di Montalcino wine, a very different animal from that made in modern times.  This was due to the fact that it was a different biotype of moscato bianco that had adapted over the centuries to the Montalcino terroir.  It is unlike the moscato bianco planted by most other estates, who simply obtained it from Piedmont nurseries.  It is this kind of attention to detail that explains the quality in the wines made at Col d'Orcia.

This high quality is undeniable when it comes to the Poggio al Vento Riserva Brunello di Montalcino.  The Poggio al Vento Riserva is a single-vineyard wine and the estate's top release, a specific bottling born 39 years ago (the first vintage was the 1974, though it wasn't called Poggio al Vento at the time) from a massale selection of old vines that always gave the best grapes.  Therefore it was an easy decision to bottle the wine made from those vines separately.  The name of the wine and the vineyard stem from a centenary oak tree, officially named a patrimony of the Regione Toscana the leaves of which are perennially in movement thanks to a breeze that never stops blowing (Poggio al Vento means "hilltop of the wind").  Wine lovers know only too well that vineyard names often have no relationship with reality, but I have walked the Poggio al Vento vineyard countless times over the years and the breeze is always apparent.

The first official vintage of the Poggio al Vento Riserva was the 1982, and while the estate also makes a Brunello di Montalcino Riserva wine, the latter bottling is usually far less interesting.

I tasted the following wines in a session organized for the IWC in May 2011, in the presence of Maurizio Castelli and Edoardo Virano, who also provided relevant data.  All wines were provided by the estate and were tasted from magnum only, the first ever such tasting of Poggio al Vento held in the world.  I have since retasted all of these wines from 750-milliliter bottles from my own cellar, in a session held at my home in Rome late last fall.  I have therefore included a few older vintages that were not part of the original tasting.  The notes below refer to the second tasting, and, encouragingly, I found very few discrepancies between wines in the different formats.  Where there were meaningful differences, I have pointed them out in my notes.