October 2010

Castle on a Hill

By: Anthony Dias Blue
Untitled Document


When Siena defeated its bitter rival Florence in the year 1260 at the Battle of Montaperti, the hero of the day was Count Placido Placidi. As a thank you, he was given the fortified hill nearby, known as Poggio alle Mura (the Italian version of the Latin podium muris, or walled hilltop), a vantage point that had first been secured by the Etruscans in ancient, pre-Roman times.

Tenaciously Tuscan, Placidi’s descendents remained in possession of Poggio alle Mura for nearly 700 years. They finally sold the castle to Gianni Mastropaolo in 1954 as the estate’s traditional sharecroppers departed for jobs in the cities. The enterprising Mastropaolo began producing Brunello di Montalcino under the Poggio alle Mura label, subsequently becoming a founding member of the Brunello Consorzio. A few years later, in a handshake agreement with a young Italian-American wine merchant named John Mariani, Mastropaolo’s wine became the first Brunello di Montalcino imported to the U.S., through Mariani’s company, Banfi Vintners.

Castello Banfi overlooks the Poggio alle Mura vineyard.

The Mariani family invested heavily in Montalcino, purchasing neighboring land and building their own winery. In 1984, they added the crown jewel, the castle itself, which they renamed Castello Banfi, becoming just the third family proprietors of the noble property in the course of seven centuries. The silhouette of the castle still forms the brand’s logo.

Mariani brought a new, science-backed approach to winegrowing in Montalcino, identifying more than 29 distinct soils at Castello Banfi and more than 600 variations of Sangiovese in Montalcino. It took ten years to narrow the selection to 12 suitable clones, which Banfi registered with the EU.

Three complementary clones that worked ideally in Banfi’s soils were planted in pre-determined percentages in each vineyard. The first plots dedicated to the new clonal mix happened to be the estate’s most historic and picturesque sites—the slopes immediately surrounding the noble castle. The resulting “cru” was given the hill’s historic name: Poggio alle Mura.

Sangiovese has become a hallmark for Castello Banfi, expressed in a myriad of styles, including zesty value brand Centine, fruit-forward BelnerO and the Supertuscan cuvée SummuS. But it is in Brunello di Montalcino that Sangiovese is enshrined, and Castello Banfi offers three stylistic executions: the sleekly classic Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, the cru Poggio alle Mura and the single-vineyard reserve Poggio all’Oro, released only in the finest vintages. The 2004 Poggio all’Oro is the first release in five years and one of only nine in the past quarter century. Its release this year coincides with the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Montaperti—a fitting time to remember and raise a toast.

Here are my notes on the current releases:

Castello Banfi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino ($55)
Ripe and dense with supple licorice and plum flavors; long and balanced. 90

Castello Banfi 2004 Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino ($82)
Rich and dense with complex flavors of plum, raspberry and spice; juicy and bright with notes of leather, earth and oak; lovely balance and a long, lush finish. 93

Castello Banfi 2004 Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($150)
Rich and exquisite with amazing plum and black raspberry fruit; earthy, juicy and complex, deep and complete. 95

Castello Banfi is imported by Banfi Vintners.


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