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Jancis Robinson MW is not hyperbolizing when she stated that Gianfranco Soldera was Brunello di Montalcino’s “most celebrated producer.” Even though Soldera had long since dispensed with the appellation name and DOCG collar on his bottles, his wines were the most revered in the region. The Soldera mystique is a product of many variables, including the famously paradoxical and cantankerous Gianfranco himself. Ever dismissive of hierarchy and elitism in the wine business, Soldera often refused to take visits from critics or fellow legends of the trade. He even went so far as to vocally and publicly attack his Brunello di Montalcino DOCG neighbors for illegally adding Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to help pander to critics and modern palates. Still, he will be remembered for his kindness and generosity towards aspiring young winemakers in the region and “regular joe” visitors. He was also an active philanthropist, proudly supporting children's charities across the world.
As a viticulturist and master of the cellar, Gianfranco was renowned for his obsessively scientific approach. For almost half a century, Soldera farmed his small parcel of Sangiovese vines with microscopic attention to detail and never one drop of chemical herbicides or fertilizer. He employed elaborate underground soil monitoring and above-ground cameras to observe and track vines’ health and evolution. The property could easily be managed by a few workers, but a small army is employed to help realize his vision. As a result, his estate in Montalcino is as verdant and thriving a landscape as one will ever encounter in Tuscany. I visit dozens of organic vineyards each year but only a handful are stewarded with the extreme care and hyper-attention seen at Soldera. And the same goes for Gianfranco’s cellar happenings too: long, indigenous fermentations and aging for 45 whopping months in large, Slavonian oak botti.
Soldera is not a dark, sweet-oak-and-alcohol Super Tuscan. Frankly, it’s the exact opposite. They are built to steal the heart of those who crave elegant Grand Cru Burgundy and the most delicate, antique Barolo and Barbaresco. You will never find the heavy-handed chocolate or berry liqueur aromas that dominate many high-priced Tuscan reds, but instead a detailed, pointillist masterpiece of black truffles, dried flowers, wild herbs, and a fascinating diversity of savory red fruits. True terroir—a palpable sense of soil and site—is felt deeply in each sip. Another reason why Soldera remains one of the most recognized Italian investments of the boutique wine world is its ability to improve for decades in the cellar. I’ve enjoyed bottles dating back close to the property’s inception in the 1970s, and they only seem to get better with each passing year. Gianfranco used to say his wines can easily last 50-60 years, and one of his polarizing opinions was that the bottles should be aged upright, not on their side. Whenever you do decide to open this 2017, enjoy it over a multi-day journey with your closest wine friends.
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