Canalicchio di Sopra – Mapping out the vineyards of Montalcino

When Franceso Ripaccioli visited F&R headquarters last week, he provided us with the most generous and welcome break from Bordeaux EP releases, and a chance to escape in our minds and taste buds to the sun-soaked hills of Montalcino.

The line-up of wines he presented was astounding. We tasted a total of 11 Rosso, Brunello and Riserva from wonderful vintages, including 2013, 2010, 2006 and 2004. And the selection perfectly served Francesco’s aim of demonstrating the individual character of the different sites that make up Canalicchio di Sopra, and their expression in various vintages.

Francesco’s grandfather bought a small podere and planted his first hectare of Sangiovese in 1958. Francesco speaks with great reverence about the influence of the Biondi Santi family in leading the way for farmers to become part of the Brunello di Montalcino tradition. The Biondi Santi family invented Brunello di Montalcino as a wine that had Sangiovese as its king, thus focusing attention on terroir – soil, climate and human experience. Francesco’s grandfather later became a founding member of the Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino in 1976, and Canalicchio di Sopra has been at the heart of Brunello tradition ever since.

The idea of terroir is of great importance to Francesco. With vineyards in both Canalicchio and Montosoli, both in the north of the Brunello region, Canalicchio di Sopra tend some of the finest vineyards in the Brunello zone. The vineyards in Canalicchio are located on the north east side of the hill of Montalcino, facing Siena at 300m altitude above sea level. With its brown, mineral-rich, clay soils, the wines strike the balance between the coolness of a northerly latitude and elevated climate, and the warm opulence that the soil provides, with a roundness and silky sweet tannins.

Montosoli – an addition to the family through the marriage of Francesco’s mother and father – is located on the only other hill, situated to the north of Canalicchio between Montalcino and Siena. On the west facing hill, with soils base on Gallestra – alluvial, rocky, sandy and well-draining – the vines are particularly deep rooted and display a salinity and what Francesco calls ‘sapidity’ – or a savoury minerality.

Most of the wines made at Canalicchio di Sopra are blends from the two sites, but Francesco is increasingly interested in letting the individual terroirs speak for themselves. The 2013 Riserva was composed only of grapes from Montosoli, whilst the 2012 Riserva was a pure Canalicchio.

He is planning the release of his first single vineyard wines in coming years – the Vigna Casacchia from Canalicchio and another single vineyard wine from Montosoli – which will be small productions of no more than 4,000 bottles a year. Together with some other forward-thinking producers in the region, Francesco wants to draw much more attention to the individuality of different sites, rather than having the whole region grouped under one brand. We can’t wait to try them.

Tasting across the vintages was fascinating, from the elegant, more savoury 2014 Brunello to the ripe and ample 2010 and 2006 vintages. 2014, the latest Brunello di Montalcino vintage to be released, received muted press reviews. It was a challenging vintage and production was down by about a whopping two thirds. This meant that no Riserva was produced, but it was a terrific vintage for the Rosso as all the fruit was declassified from the best sites. Indeed, for Francesco, the 2014 vintage compares to the 1993 vintage, which is now drinking beautifully, debunking any suggestion that cooler, more elegant vintages don’t age as well.

All in all, the wines are big and generous in their aromatic power, but never heavy. They display beautiful perfumes with high notes and deep notes, layers of flavour and texture, purity of fruit and mineral elegance. Look out for offers on some of the wines tasted in coming weeks.

Tasting:

2017 Rosso di Montalcino – crunchy red fruit, strawberries and raspberries, black cherry, spicy liquorice. Fine tannins and a long finish.

2016 Rosso di Montalcino (from purely Canalicchio sites) – amazing nose, already sophisticated and complex with meat and cola, herbs, black and red cherry and very mineral. Wonderful fruit purity with a very dry finish and fine dusty tannins.

2015 Rosso di Montalcino – slightly closed at this stage, intense and dark, with deep suggestions of a warm minerality, ripe fruit and sweet spice on the palate, and more weight in the mouth.

2014 Brunello di Montalcino – smoked meat, red cherry, violets, that sapidity – like pine and earth – saltiness, beautiful focus and length with fresh acidity and great elegance.

2013 Brunello di Montalcino (high percentage of Montosoli) – very concentrated, balsamic nose, liquorice, red and black cherry fruit, amazing lift and surge of energy, very elegant.

2008 Brunello di Montalcino – wonderful aromatic nose, crushed roses and powdery talk, dried cherries, plums, tobacco, liquorice, mushrooms, meat, sweet tannins and amazing acid. Extreme elegance.

2006 Brunello di Montalcino – super sweet spice, cherries and cinnamon, dried fruit, truffle and smoke, with the start of some gaminess. Very dense and concentrated with a perfect mouthfeel. Wonderful!

2012 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (only Canalicchio) – sweet, luscious, delicious, meaty, concentrated fruit, mushroom, umami and searing acidity.

2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (only Montosoli) – makes you melt, floral and salty (terroir of Montosoli!), concentrated, balsamic, sweet – just a never-ending exploration and so stimulating.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – deep colour, extreme concentration, amazing acidity, sweet dark cherry, lavender and thyme, pepper, cedar and tobacco, spice, sweet tannins.

2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – so deep and complex, wonderful nose, cola, all the fruit, but especially black cherry, liquorice, super elegant, profound, expressive.