Today, wine lovers across the world know the name Brunello di Montalcino and it is easy to assume this has ever been the case. In fact, it is only in the last thirty years or so that Brunello’s fame has spread beyond Tuscany to connoisseurs from Birmingham to Brisbane. Much of its success can be attributed to the work of one family: the Marianis of Castello Banfi.
The Mariani family are an Italian-American family. John Mariani Sr founded the company shortly after the end of World War One, naming his new business Banfi after his Aunt, Teodolinda who headed the household of Pope Pius XI at the Vatican. Mariani made his name and fortune by being one of the finest importers of Italy’s finest wines to America, and the business grew into one of New York’s most famous wine suppliers. However, the leap from wine merchant to wine makers wouldn’t happen for nearly sixty years. In 1978, John Mariani Jr finally decided to act on his long held dream to make wine in Tuscany. He bought what is now the Castello Banfi estate and began to plant vines. The secret to his success was his patience.
Much of the estate had never been planted with vines and Mariani spent years working out which soils and sites were best suited to vines, and which grapes would perform best where. He pioneered the planting of noble French grapes, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, in Tuscany whilst also working to improve the quality of Sangiovese, the grape that makes so many of Tuscany’s best wines, including Brunello di Montalcino.
Mariani and his team identified 160 different clones of Sangiovese and set about working on which made the best wine. Eventually 15 were selected as the finest to grow in Montalcino and Banfi shared this knowledge with their neighbours. The result was a dramatic improvement in the average quality of the Brunello across the region.
Banfi’s knowledge and access to the US market also had a huge impact on Brunello. Armed with their new Brunello di Montalcino, made with the modern American wine drinker in mind, Banfi greatly raised the wine’s profile in the States. Suddenly the wine became a ‘must list’ for top restaurants and retailers. Brunello was big. The Banfi style of Brunello is definitely more approachable and enjoyable than some of the traditional wines made 30 or 40 years ago. Winemaking techniques have improved, as has the understanding of the science in the vineyard and cellars. The grapes are healthier and picked riper. The wines are aged for less time in barrels to keep them fresher.
The result is a Brunello di Montalcino that maintains the very best of Tuscany’s heritage and character whilst not being enslaved to how things used to be. The fruit is rich, the tannins are smooth, the oak subtle and refined. It is a wine that deserves its place amongst the elite of the wine world, alongside the top chateaux of Bordeaux, the best Californian Cabernets and the Grand Crus of Burgundy.
Brunello di Montalcino will be among the wines presented by Dante Ceccini, UK Ambassador for Castello Banfi, and served at Aalto Restaurant’s Banfi Wine Evening at Hotel La Tour Birmingham on Tuesday October 9. Diners who will enjoy a menu created by Head Chef Alex Penhaligon, will also be treated to Castello Banfi’s Le Rime Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio, Pinot Grigio Toscana San Angelo, Centine Rosso IGT Toscana, and Brachetto d’Acqui Rosa Regale.
Call Claire Smythe on 0121 718 8000 to secure your place and go to www.hotel-latour.co.uk to discover more.