Castles, Stones and Glass
Poggio alle Mura today means “Banfi” to most people. Soaring majestically above 2,400 acres of vineyards in an estate encompassing 7,100 acres on an elevated benchland above the Fiume Orcia about one-half hour south of Montalcino (give or take a century or two), the Poggio is highlighted by a magnificent Castello begun in 1483 and often modified since, sited on the core of a fortress first erected soon after 1000AD. The Castle was restored by the Banfi consortium beginning in 1984.
The castle tower can be seen for kilometers, and provides the focus for arrival down a long, stately, tree-lined drive to the Borgo, a small village on the approach. Today, the 1700’s era Borgo serves as a collection of stone bungalow rentals near other outbuildings that contain tasting rooms, restaurants and estate operations.
A sea of white stones glisten in the fields and vineyards, evidence of the calcium rich soil and heavily laden with fossilized sea shells and sea mammal bone fragments widespread 1000 feet above sea level and many kilometers east of the Ligurian Sea.
The “Museo del Vetro e del Vino”, a magnificent collection of winemaking related ancient glass objects, is well presented in a fine ground floor area of the Castle. The quality of glasswork created even more than a millennium ago, as represented here and in the Museo del Vetro on the island of Murano in the Venetian Lagoon, is outstanding. Do not expect a glistening sea of primitive attempts, for the quality of much of glassmaking so long ago is seldom exceeded today!
Although Banfi today produces many varieties of wine from its Estate and from lands controlled elsewhere but primarily in Tuscany, Brunello is the crown jewel. “Brunello” is actually vinified from cousins of the familiar Chianti or Sangiovese grapes, the clone called Sangioveto Grosso. Everything about Brunello is codified by the legal Conzorsio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, currently composed of 222 growers and vinters who are exclusive to the Montalcino area and must meet exacting standards of viniculture and production.
Brunello is truly a “Reserve” wine, the best grapes and best wine aged an extra year in wood over most merely superb ones, traditionally to be held “in reserve” for a bad year of low production. In the case of Brunello, the next step down is Vino Rosso di Montalcino, aged four years. In great years, that wine is among the world’s best, at a lesser cost. Local table wines a further step down the ladder are wonderful in their own right, not to be disdained.
Wine “experts”, lovers and vintners will argue forever over who has nurtured the superior Brunello in any vintage year, and many are equal to or superior to Banfi’s offerings. As you “consider” one of the superior wines of Italy and the world, in addition to being a great wine, also anticipate that it will also create a great void in your wallet!
There is no other home of Brunello and no other wine like Brunello.
When you find yourself in “Brunello country”, perhaps visiting the extraordinary hilltop fortress town of Montalcino, enjoy a day of freedom from the modern world and wend your way down a winding white road or two towards the south to visit the outstanding Castello Banfi, historic Poggio alle Mura. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop at a few other fine wineries (Mate comes immediately to mind and palate) and historic villages along the way. And…
Don’t forget to taste the Brunello (as if you would…)!