This is my fourth attempt at writing this; each time so far I have come unstuck, or got stuck. It’s about a wine or, rather, two wines and it’s a commercial post too – the first ever in a “wine of the month” series. In the case of this wine, I can sell you some myself and – I’ll be clear here – I want to. Not because I’ll make a couple of quid but – you might not believe me – because I want to share something. I want to spread some good.
Attempt number one was all about the beauty of the Salicutti estate, which is a very pretty one. But there is no shortage of pretty wine estates and what has got me excited, excited in the same way that the last wine that I tried to sell from Salicutti got me excited, is the juice itself.
Attempt number two was similar, though the cast had more lines. Francesco Leanza – the man who made it; former colleague Catwoman (lithe, clever and, yes, scheming) and – the star of the show – Leanza’s huge and very vocal dog. But this, as with the beauty of the estate, is all just salt and pepper. The meat, again, is in the juice.
Number three? I’m bored now. Back to it.
In July 2014 I visited Tuscany for the first time. The word was that the 2010 Brunellos were going to be good, and we were putting in the groundwork. We visited a dozen or so estates including Mr Leanza’s Salicutti. The estate is beautiful and his dog impressive.
Having negotiated the dog, we found Mr Leanza. A quick tour ensues. He knows what he is doing – that is immediately clear – and a walk in the vineyards that surround the estate clarifies his skills and commitment further: rarely will you see such impeccably-tended vines. It’s all looking good so far, but visit enough wineries and you’ll learn that, whilst the best growers do generally have pristine vines, spotless cellars, clean wood and a soft voice, those traits do not necessarily make them what they are. So, we taste.
We taste the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino and the 2009 Riserva. Both make the cut though they both shine rather than dazzle. And then we taste one of those wines that is like falling in love, like the most beautiful woman smiling at you in the street or – sorry – like Darren Ambrose at Old Trafford. The 2011 Rosso di Montalcino. I am seduced. I check with Catwoman: “is that really as good as I think it is? Or is it just late in the day?” Catwoman confirms the former. We are both smitten.
Later that evening we dine in a cheap trattoria. I order something from a grower we would like to check out but it’s sold out. Our waiter lists a variety of subs, and the Rosso from Salicutti pops up. A done deal – we can verify our earlier verdict, which we do.
And that, as they say, was that. We returned, negotiated supply of the wine then tried (successfully) to sell it. Job done and – this is what I love, this is what floats my boat, why I do what I do – we put some brilliant wine onto some tables.
Last week I am invited to taste a selection of 2011 Brunellos. Including that from Mr Leanza: the big brother to the junior that so seduced me. I accept – I want to taste some 2011s (which are actually rather good and – much of the sales pitch is true – they are more elegant than the point-winning 2010s), I want to say hello to a couple of people and, though I’m being all offhand with myself about it at the time – I want to taste the Salicutti.
Making a repeat visit to a restaurant, a holiday destination – whatever – can be a gamble (I miss Zucca). Buying the latest album, or book, from an artist you love is the same. Rushdie’s latest has been lying next to my bed for six months – it’s like having a lottery ticket in your pocket; holding on to the dream may well trump the reality. This was similar. But the numbers came in.
Here’s my note:
“A typical, and very pure Brunello sweetness on what is a very elegant nose. Clean, focussed and precise. This follows in the mouth, with a hint of depth that prompted a “grand cru” in my note. I want to drink this. Very, very good, indeed excellent. Pure and sweet, and persists in the mouth. Nothing sticking out – immaculately made and quite beautiful.” JF
Properly good Brunello is hard to find. I reckon that about 20% of winemakers in Montalcino actually know what they are doing, and there is no shortage of over-done tosh. Sangiovese is a delicate grape variety, one that doesn’t stand up to heavy-handed winemaking. Growers have been known to spruce their wines up with a bit of Merlot in the same way that the Burgundians used to spruce up their Pinot with a bit of Hermitage. Mr Leanza makes properly good Brunello. Elegant, pure, weightless.
If you’d like to buy a case of this, and you really should, then drop me a line. The wine is currently lying at the estate; shipping expected in April. It wants two or three years in the cellar but is ready to go now. £220 per six bottles in bond. A bargain for brilliance.