Given the upcoming Fabulous Favourites Festival Lenn and me are hosting, I though I better exercise my somewhat rusty wine writing skills. No better occasion than that of opening a good bottle, in this case one of 2000 Sassoalloro from Jacopo Biondi Santi.
To anyone even remotely interested in Tuscan wine the name Biondi Santi evokes immediately Brunello di Montalcino. It was Ferruccio Biondi Santi, grandson of the founder of the original winery, who isolated and produced wines from a particular clone of Sangiovese grapes in 1880: the famous Brunello, also called Sangiovese Grosso. This clone is now used throughout the Montalcino area to produce the famous local red wine and the less expensive, simpler and younger Rosso di Montalcino. The Brunello di Montalcino wines produced by Biondi Santi in the estate called il Greppo have always been known for their impressive structure and rich tannins which give them an exceptional longevity. A couple of 1891 vintage Riserva bottles are still out there and the a few lucky people who have had a chance to taste this wine describe it not only as still drinkable but as fascinating and still vigourous. Biondi Santi's wine also stand out among its fellow Brunelli for its very conservative in style (long maceration times, big barrels, etc.) that can disappoint some, especially when the wines are still young and the tannins too exuberant. I have always had the curiosity to taste one of Biondi Santi's Riservas, but, given the price of the bottles and my limited knowledge of Montalcino wines, I always end up waiting a bit more, at least till I know Brunello better.
For those, like me, that would rather turn to something slightly less challenging there is quite a range of Biondi Santi wines to choose from. Apart their Rosso di Montalcino, also from the Il Greppo estate, there is a line of Supertuscan wines sold under the brand Jacopo Biondi Santi.
Supertuscans, should you be wondering, are not some kind of Chianti plonking superheroes in renaissance costumes, rather a certain group of high quality Tuscan wines sold outside the protected denominations of origin of the region. The first of these wines appeared in the mid 80s, where producers who wanted to test new grape varieties (often the Franco-International Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) were forced to sell their wines as simple table wines. In the 90s there was a real explosion of Supertuscans, with both international and local wines used alone or in an assemblage to produce wines that aimed at the top of the range: not all succeeded, but those who did developed a cult status (with according prices) and, in one case (Sassicaia), were ironically awarded an ad hoc protected denomination of origin to recognise their quality. While some of these wines retain luxury prices, others have become more affordable, after the crazy drive to price increases that quite a bit of Italy's wine producers practiced in the 90s.
Jacopo Biondi Santi's most famous wine is certainly Sassoalloro, a red made of pure Sangiovese Grosso grapes, aged in barriques for 14 months (after malo-lattic fermentation) and 6 in bottles before going on sale. I stumbled upon a bottle of the 2000 vintage in an Italian supermarket last month –quite surprised to find that there– at a bargain price… it was just an offer I could not refuse. The wine itself was quite a pleasant surprise: I had read, on a couple of Italian wine web-pages, that the 2000 was very woody compared to other vintages, but my impression was as far as that as possible.
The ruby turning to garnet wine had an enjoyable and very defined nose, absolutely not marred by excessive wood aromas in any way, opening on fruity tones of amarena cherry and damson, followed foremost by tobacco, with liquorice, coffee and earthy tones playing a supporting role, and finishing with an unexpected but extremely pleasant minty note. It was also fun to drink, with a medium bodied and balanced structure, maybe missing just a tad of acidity which would have made it more vivid and with the aged (resolved) tannins contributing to the increase the rounded feeling in the mouth. These six years seem to have had a good effect on those tannins. Definitely a pleasant, well made and enjoyable wine: I should have bought at least another bottle!