In her Tuscany wine Journal FINE+RARE buyer Jess Bryans described meeting the great Gianfranco Soldera at Case Basse. Now, in this full-length article she recounts her visit with this winemaking icon in full detail – from touring the vines to a delicious Italian supper.
By normal standards, every day should be good when you work in wine – you’ll never get any sympathy from anyone for having a long, hard day tasting Burgundy at the office – but sometimes, days come along that are so outrageously great and remind you of everything that’s great about being in this industry. When you’re on location at a vineyard, tasting some of the best juice in the world and talking to the person responsible, the feeling is nothing short of profound, reminding you why you got into the business in the first place.
Meeting Gianfranco Soldera at Case Basse was one of those experiences.
The Case Basse Story
Nestled in the hills around Sant’Angelo in Colle, Case Basse has a stunning location that offers a perfect exposure to light. Gianfranco Soldera bought the estate in the early 70’s after an extensive search which saw him scour Piedmont and Tuscany for the perfect spot. He and his wife Graziella brought the abandoned property back to life, with the first development of the vineyard beginning in 1972.
The Fabled Vineyards
I arrive at Case Basse on a bright, crisp morning to a welcome from Gianfranco himself. He tells me how he loved working the land from scratch – planting vines where there was nothing but a few olive trees and scrubland – and how he knew very early on that incredible wine would come from the earth he cultivated. This prediction was confirmed with the excellent first vintage of Case Basse in 1975. Meanwhile, Graziella began work on what is now a 2 hectare botanical garden with a wide-ranging ecosystem of plants and flowers. As Gianfranco shows me around the vineyard I spot Graziella in the garden, she looks up with her hands in the dirt, and then continues digging the earth. Gianfranco is similar in his work ethic – at almost 79 years old he is still as passionate as ever and works every day, leading his team with the same philosophy as when he started – “nature is everything.”
Soldera believes that nature – and an ability to work within her confines – is key to the success of his wines. As a result, he takes meticulous care of his vines. He explains that the trademark delicacy and perfume of his wine comes from poor soil with great drainage, explaining that the roots have to travel deep into the ground without interruption to find water rich with minerals and salt. If this doesn’t happen you end up with Vino di Tavola, I am told.
Soldera is refreshingly humble for such a great winemaker. He tells me in no uncertain terms that nature is everything, a producer, nothing – and that understanding this imbalance is key to the creation of great wine.
The Winery and Cellar
Leaving the vines, we step into the winery. Only flawless fruit makes it through these doors where it is treated extremely gently, a lesson taken from Soldera’s grandfather, whose wines made in the Veneto region used to be pressed by foot – but only the feet of the children for gentle extraction. This is followed by long fermentations of around 32 days, using only native yeast and no temperature control; natural, gentle processes that are key to the house character, complexity and style.
We descend 14 meters underground into the cellars. Large casks of old wood sit within a wall framed on one side with rocks and soil; Soldera explains that the cellar needs to breath or the wines will die. They live here in cask for 4-7 years awaiting release. Soldera makes the final call for each and every one – religiously tasting each wine every 10 days to see whether it meets his high standards. With mindboggling accuracy he can name every harvest date since the inception of his winery. I throw out a vintage – 2003- and he immediately replies, “September 2.”
2015 Could be an Epic Vintage in Montalcino
We taste the 2013 and 2015 out of cask – both show impeccable purity of fruit and aromatics that jump forward before I even have the chance to put my nose in the glass. Soldera’s wines are great in any vintage but he cites 2015 as something special and thinks the wines will be particularly long lasting, meeting his holy trinity of requirements: elegance, perfume and balance.
Eating and Drinking
By now, the sun is high in the sky and we’re starving, so I jump into the front seat of Soldera’s truck he whisks me into Montalcino to have lunch at his favourite local restaurant. Soldera explains how he is particular about what he eats and drinks – a purist through and through –so he has prepared some “off menu choices” for us to share. I’m amazed as platters piled high with delicious cured pork appear, alongside two wines that are not Case Basse – an excellent Casa Coste Piane that challenged my personal aversion to Prosecco and one that Soldera proclaims “The Best White Wine in the World”: the Gravner Ribolla Gialla 2007.
After sipping these whites and finishing a delicious meal of cured meats, risotto and potato omelette, I get a chance to taste the piece de resistance – Soldera’s 1999 Case Basse.
It is hard to describe with words just how profound this wine is. I picked up the ruby/garnet glass and put my nose inside. All the noise around me went quiet and aromas of crushed rose petals, sweet violets, raspberry, cherry, lavender, sage, nectarine and earth surged my senses. The palate is equally sensational with structured layers of pure red fruit, herbs and spices seamlessly fused with fresh acidity and intoxicating perfume. Soldera’s three main objectives for any of his wines, elegance, perfume and balance are all here in perfect doses.
We finish the day a lot more jovial than when we started (maybe thanks to 3 bottles of wine) and Soldera sends me on my way with a list of restaurants to check out and a big smile on my face. The taste of 1999 Case Basse still lingers as I am halfway down the road.
Browse our current listings of Soldera’s wine here.