Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Twice in one year…Soldera...always a pleasure

Trips to Case Basse to see Gianfranco Soldera are fast becoming some of the most memorable of all my wine journeys (regular readers probably know where some of my other treats occur). To have been twice this year is wonderful, I wrote up the last visit back in February and am a little slow in doing this one.
Big and old botti
Having over-nighted in Rome - a nice humble supper at the charming  Trattoria Perilli - the two and a half hour drive up to Case Basse really gets one in the mood. The final arrival at this really quite isolated spot always makes me wonder how on earth Gianfranco found and identified it's potential. It is the core to what he does (nearly forgot my "bias warning"). I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that of all the winemakers who make wines from one variety he is further ahead of the pack than anyone else in their respective specialty. THE Grand Cru of Brunello to me. The real wonder of the wines is that from the moment they are bottled (generally after 4-6 years) they drink wonderfully. I do not find myself ever writing "needs time" or "what potential" because these wine whilst they age superbly and develop are just splendid from the off. Are they cheap? No. But they offer superb quality and therefore to my mind an experience of great, and lasting value.

On this visit we tasted - I should say drank as there is NEVER any spitting at Soldera - the 2009 (of which there is one barrel) and the 2015 also from barrel. I have put my notes below as I wrote them rather than making them into decent English.

2009 - Oranges, pith, then delicious fruit, deep and persistent. Red berry fruit with a little dash of black in the background. Some herbs and spices, very good, remarkably gentle almost raspberry. Lovely red fruits then continues in waves, gentle good acidity, some saline but less that the 2006 and 2008 from memory. 18+ 

2015 - Rich, blue red fruits and cold stones, a prickle of gas, full "primary", good, almost creamy, blackberry and cherry. Very fine, there is a really persistent cool minerality to this. 18.5-19

Before the tasting we had discussed the 2015 vintage of which there is likely to be about 22,000 bottles. There was at one stage, 70 days with no Rain, although Gianfranco stated that 90 days would be perfect. There was less of a canopy in 2015 than 2014 (which had been really quite wet). The wine went through a long fermentation of 35 days with harvest starting on the 19th September and lasting two days. We asked with interest which vintages it might have been like. This is normally a question met, at most estates through the wine world, with an intake of breathe and much thought. With Gianfranco you often get something a little different and this was no exception "it is a like 75, 78, 79, ,81 ,83, 85, 88, 90, 91, 94, 95, 98, 01, 03, 05, 08 and 12." he said. "Ah, right" we thought.
Post tasting we hoped into the car and went to Il Silene run by the charming and modest Roberto Rossi, a great friend of Gianfranco's. Mr Soldera was in fine form and intent on a proper luncheon (bend that rubber arm of mine again). This is not something you ever have to worry about with Roberto in charge of the kitchen. Course after course of wonderful food made it out to us to accompany the four wines.

First we had a bottle of a Prosecco I had never seen before - Cosa Coste Piane. This was bold and lively with pear drop and green apple aromas even potpourri. As it warmed up you got more apples, cinnamon and herbs. Complex for sure but possibly a bit of an acquired taste.

The white to follow was Ribolla 2007 from Gravner. If ever there has been a producer that I want to get my head around then it is this one. I love the story, the ethos etc. This was the best Gravner I have had, I've only had three others. There was a nose of straw and lovely woody aromas, varnish and dry raisins then took over, nuts then Bual Madeira, before amaretti biscuits and some apples and cinnamon again. The final aromas were spiced honey and marzipan. As you can see there is no lack of complexity here. My only concern is a much more basic one...do I like it? I am arrogant enough to say I get the idea but a bit like a flavour of ice cream you'd not pick yourself this just doesn't quite do it for me. I want to embrace them but I am not sure I can. I will continue to try Gravner whenever possible in the hope that the penny drops.

So then it was time for the "main course" in every sense.

Brunello di Montalcino 1994 - A gentle whiff of good volatility, some dry raisins, good focus, sweet leather, a lovely saline element, iodine gently at the edges. A note of wet beef just having been cut, a smell I love that somehow combines, salty, savoury and sweet with a sort of lush minerality. It is a bright wine with lovely balance, when you think there is more fruit the savoury side gets you and vice versa. It will surely continue to age well. I would though say it is mature. Lovely, so easy to drink.

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1999 - From a hotter and arguably more serious vintage. The fruits are immediately darker with spice and resin. This is delicious and whilst the 1994 might be easier and prettier right now the 1999 reminds me of the monumentally brilliant 1990 that I have only had once during this meal. This wine is serious with a lovely sweet & savoury beef-stock aroma. There is leather sweetness and fruit also but the fruit is in the wine. I really hope I get to try this again, if it only happens once I'd like it to be in 2022.

It was one of those lunches I hope to remember long into the future...lovely setting, food and special wines but so much teasing and laughter...I want to go back to Case Basse...three times next year!!
Gravner, what would you guess that is from the colour alone?

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