I am turning the clock back to 1988, springtime in Tuscany, and I am knocking on the door, of a pretty much unknown then, Milanese insurance broker’s house. Mrs Soldera opens the door and invites me in. I have come to see her husband Gianfranco and talk (and hopefully taste of course) about the possibility of shipping his Brunello di Montalcino back to London. We went for a walk in the most extraordinary rose-garden, having shared all the names of the roses (mainly in English thank god) with me, that Gianfranco will be along in a moment. After a coffee and a biscuit, a chubby little man wearing khaki shorts and heavy boots, donning a floppy hat came in from the vineyard and presented himself. He told me that he had no wine for sale, but please come back at the end of the year, and we can talk more about it then. So off I went.
The following spring (1989) I sent a facsimile to his office in Milano (where all the wine admin was done) asking for an appointment to visit him in Montalcino and taste. A reply followed within minutes, and we had a date set for May 1990. Cutting a huge story short, my first child being born in February of that year, I bundled the 3 month old boy, and the mother into our banger, and off we sped to southern Tuscany. Arriving a day or two early for my Soldera meeting, I visited the Napoli Rampolla family in Panzano. And secured the first Sammarco shipment to London from Castello dei Rampolla. Later that day, I found a young couple, Japanese wife and local husband, making a wonderful Chianti that no longer exists, Cispiano. Of course shipped both Riserva and their non-Riserva back to London aswell. Then, making our way south to Montalcino, tasting all sorts of wines and Brunellos (in those days of course there were not so many as there are produced today). At the bottom of the hill (by the lake) of Montalcino I found Val di Suga (in those days owned by a Canadian, I believe) and even enjoyed their Vigna del Lago Brunello d M. It was the first time I had ever seen wine bottled in an elongated glass wine bottle. Very sexy, fashionable and very new indeed. I shipped some back and sold the whole palate in one go to what was then the best Italian restaurant in West Kensington, Cibo! (I imagine this has also now gone). I think Gino really bought the wine for the shape of the bottle rather than it`s contents. Either way, it was a hit.
Dear reader, if you have gotten this far, thanks for keeping up, now here is the peach. I meet Ganfranco Soldera, as planned. We tour his land, both ‘Case Basse’ and ‘Intistiesti’ vineyards (23 hectares in total and producing around 15,000 bottles of wine a year). It is very very hot, so he suggests we take shelter inside an olive tree. Nope, I am not kidding. The two of us fit inside a huge 1,000 year old olive tree, two glasses appear from nowhere and two vintages of his wine poured. The 1987 Case Base BdM and a vintage of Intistiesti VdT, that I cannot remember. He asks me if I like the wines. I tell him that i do, a lot, we shake hands and I have my next wine order to send back to London. Over the next years I continue annually to order the next vintage available to me, right up until 2000. Now, maybe the point of this blurb is to explain that something happened in our fair Montalcino D.O.C.G. of which Soldera, quite sensibly, was apart of. If you are to be a serious producer you need to be a member of the Consorzio. Leaping now ahead to the year 2009. Some of the BdM producers decided that if they were to blend a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon (and other varieties) into their BdM, not only would it taste better for the American market but there would also be more production. (No names mentioned as it was all hush hushed). Needless to say, this episode was called ‘Brunellogate’ and now up-to-date, all has been swept cleanly under the carpet as most of the offenders made a deal with the Consosrzio to basically keep themselves out of prison. Soldera was of course not apart of this scandal and neither were many of the other top BdM producers.
Soldera, again super use of integrity here, has now come out of the D.O.C.G. system and since his 2006 vintage only labels his wine as I.G.T. (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and not D.O.C.G. Brunello. Showing the wine world that his name Soldera is a better guarantee for customers of Brunello, than relying on the Consorzio’s guarantee (I of course agree 100%). For those not in the know, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is made of 100% Sangiovese Grosso, grown in the land of this demarcated zone. The legal use of I.G.T. allows producers to be more creative, if they need to use other grape varieties, but should state what is in the final blend, and also they can govern for what period of time the wines spend in barrel. Not the Consorzio.
Now, not to throw fuel on the fire, but anyone aware of the price increase with top fine wines, such as Gianfranco Soldera’s BdM, would sometimes shrug at the new prices being asked. They can be from £300-£400+ for a bottle (which from one of the world’s greatest winemakers is not so unusual) but events took another swing at this Milanese wine-giant based in Tuscany. The availability of his wines from vintages made between 2007 to 2012 became rather limited. Unfortunately, an (now former of course) employer had a grudge towards his employer, reasons to us know, and he drained all six vintages from their vats in the year 2012. WTF! One night he just opened the taps on six barrels. he must have been pretty peeved about something.
An amazing story. The fellow, of course, is now doing porridge. And the great 2010 vintage (a little like the great 1985 and 1990 vintages) is simply not available, as it was so severely affected by the vandalism.
Even though I have been lucky enough to taste over the years, practically, all his 1980s and some 1990s vintages. The current stocks that we have of 2008 and 2009 Soldera I.G.T. I have not tasted. They are for selling to the few who will appreciate one of the world’s greatest red wines. I have very few bottles in the bond…..so if anyone wants to taste them, with or without me¿ please drop me a line.
Saluti y presto!