Brunello di Montalcino VIP Style

For me, the true benefits of traveling transcend the history, geography, scenic beauty, the sense of freedom of being “away” and the comeraderie shared with those traveling. Instead, it's the people I meet. And while I've probably not done justice to the dozens of people I've met and shared experiences with on this trip, I can't underestimate the sense of joy I revel in when getting to know someone who lives in a place so far from me geographically and culturally.

While it's no secret both Tim and I share a passion for wine. And our trip here to Italy is focused on learning more about the culture, history and of course the wine and cuisine of Tuscany. And after a great visit with Piero Palmucci, we returned to the tiny village of Castelnuevo del'Abate to understand more about the great wines from Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello.

Compared to many of the Brunello di Montalcino estates Ciacci Piccolomini D'Aragona is fairly young. And the story of Giuseppe Biancini and how he came to build Ciacci is amazing. For 30 years Giuseppe Biancini worked as an administrator to the estate of countess Piccolomini who lived in the 17th century bishop's palace built for Fabio De Vecchi, Abbot of Sant'Antim, Count Palatine and Pontifical Advisor, 400 hectares of land which at the time this story begins only had 2 hectares planted in vineyards.

In 1985 the countess died and Giuseppe Biancini was called to the notary office. Perhaps Giuseppe was more preoccupied with dealing with the estates eventual fate. Or maybe he was preoccupied with thoughts about finding his first new job in 30 years so he could continue to support his wife and two young children. Whatever Giuseppe was thinking, I'm confident he wasn't mentally prepared to deal with what happened in the notary's office that fateful morning in 1985.

That morning he learned that he was the new owner of the Ciacci property. The countess left him no money, but all the property. Why? Because he was the only person she felt truly loved the land. As the adage goes, the rest is history. Giuseppe had to sell off part of the property to raise the money to pursue his dream. That is, to make a first class Brunello di Montalcino. And nearly 20 years later the wines of Ciacci have received critical acclaim including joining the ranks of the best 100 wines in the world by Wine Spectator last year (#21 and 97 points for the 1997 Brunello).

In our usual fashion, Tim and I showed up late for our appointment. According to Jenna, the USA-born hostess for Ciacci we would be joining 7 others for a tour and tasting of the ancient estate. After meandering around the small town and wedging the Fiat into what could be considered a parking space, we burst into the door of Ciacci a bit red-faced and embarrassed. We were met immediately by Jenna. And it turns out that there were only two other visitors who'd be joining us. Even better, these visitors included a friend of hers from Brooklyn, Andy Shernoff, the bass player from the 70's NY punk band, The Dictators who had played a gig in Rome a few days earlier. And according to Jenna, this would turn out in our favor because we'd get the VIP treatment. That is, tasting wines and visit parts of the property not normally available for casual guests.

I really wanted to met Giuseppe Bianchini. I had read his story in a book that Tim had purchased in Montepulciano titled SuperTuscans. Ciacci makes such a wine called ATEO. So I wanted to get Giuseppe to sign the book and hear more about his amazing story. Unfortunately, Giuseppe was no where to be found. Jenna detected my disappointment. Just then an Italian man walked by the tasting area and Jenna pulled him into the room. We were introduced to Paolo, Giuseppe's son. Paolo didn't speak much English show Jenna translated. The mood loosened from the great wine, smiles and casual manner in which this VIP treatment was going. Soon I was attempting to joke and make word play with Paolo. Finally, I withdraw my Lonely Planet Phrase Book (no not the Indonesian version, the Italian) and I tried to impress the crowd with my Italian.

To try to explain what happened next isn't easy. Simply the facts. The LP Phrase Book has a section for everything. If you're at the dentist you have the phrase to tell the doctor you don't want an extraction. In the vegetarian eating section you have the phrase to establish your a vegan, if so. There's even the section on car repair. But the section I flipped to simply by chance was called “getting closer”. Ah. More specifically. On sex. So in my best Italian I read the phrase “I only will do it with a condom.” Laughter permeated those who spoke Italian. Andy and Tim were wondering what was so funny. Anyway, the book goes into explicit phrases of how to express oneself during a sexual encounter. Even on how to suggest such an encounter.

After the laughter subsided we were treated to jeep ride to remote vineyards and a tour of the new barrel room, wine making facility and bottling area. Upon returning to the palace we learned that the office crew was very curious about my phrase book. One older woman was so taken by it she wanted to make photo copies so she would know how to say such things in English.

We were supposed to have a short stay at Ciacci and then get on the road early to Siena. But we were having too much fun. Oh. The wines. We tasted a Syrah that was in its third year of release called Fabius. Great. A bit of oak cause of a tough vintage so Jenna admitted that the prior years' were more expressive in terms of terroir. But the wine was viscous, complex and very interesting. The Brunello. It's actually only one of two wines that received the coveted “three glass” rating for 1998 Brunello. For 1998, I think it's the best Brunello value – probably available in the states for $50.

Photos: (1) Jenna from Ciacci at the wheel of the company jeep; (2) Andy Shernoff as photographer but still in that bass playing pose seen on stage with The Dictators. (3) Paolo Bianchini with Jenna and the woman who smiled so much but I forgot her first name, oooops. (4) The new Slovenian Oak Casks at Ciacci's new facility.