Brunello di Montalcino Uncorked: Pian Dell' Orino
I ran across this quote online"Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” Ashley Smith. I thought this quote fit nicely with the reasons for our trip, besides the obvious need for some downtime (vacation) of which it was and wasn't, a strange paradox indeed.
It has been many years since I've returned from my first trip to Tuscany and I still think about that trip, as often I pull the cork on a bottle of Italian wine. I was reminded of what is now one of my favorite wineries in Brunello, who may not be the most significant [regarding case production] or the best [because they don't buy ad space] but in my mind and more importantly on my palate those wines are freaking fantastic.
I was reminded of Jan, the winemaker of Pian Dell' Orino today as I got into the back of my copy of Wine Enthusiast Mag and there was a great score for his baby, the 2004 Brunello, Pian Dell' Orino Riserva which was in barrel number seven if I remember correctly. I am surprised that it didn't score higher, perhaps the SRP of $135 and limited availability or other factors may have played a small part in the point deductions. Be that as it may, having tasted it first hand I would have given it at least 95 points. Yes, folks, it was that good, nearly on the cusp of perfection.
As I mentioned earlier, looking through my notes about the trip to Tuscany; the journey while a bit arduous at times, it was filled with many new discoveries. This journey was one of my first visits to Italy and my first time to officially visit Europe. A few hours here and there at different European Airports during my military service doesn't really count. But it is a place my palate and my mind have both longed to discover; both were equally rewarded and as it has been famously said, "I'll be back."
We (that's my wife and me) were only in Montalcino just one day from the early morning until late afternoon, as I really didn't relish the thought of driving around Italy in the dark. They don't have the same standards of roadway illumination as we do in the U.S. and with me driving as well as visiting there for the first time, I thought it would be wise to not to push my luck.
Before we left for the trip, I had made or requested four appointments for that day, and three of the four responded in the affirmative that they would be happy to show us around and talk with us a bit about their winery and maybe give us a tour of their facilities and taste some of their wines. One of the wineries told us, paraphrasing "no we don't cater to individual wine writers, but that we were more than welcome to stop by their tasting room if we were inclined to do so," after that diplomatic snub, we focused on the other three generous invitations we had in hand.
The three which responded in the affirmative and said that they would be glad to receive us were Poggio Antico, Col D'Orcia and Pian Dell' Orino and all three made us feel very welcome and respected, the fourth which basically dismissed our request will remain unknown. It's worth noting how funny that with time comes changes in attitude and that the winery which rebuffed my request back then is now sending samples for the review process.
For anyone who may not be familiar with Brunello, I'd like to highlight Pian Dell' Orino. A producer who is "blazing a new trail in Brunello." It's in the viticulture and the wine-making style where you will find my meaning. If on the contrary you're already a fan of Brunello but are not familiar with this label, then you really owe it to yourself to grab a few bottles today and become well acquainted. This is what I would call a small estate (compared to let's say Col D'Orcia) and while small in scale it is not small in producing world-class Brunello. Their property is located directly next to the father of Brunello, Biondi-Santi (which should be grabbing your attention just now) just a mile or so out of town from the downtown center of Montalcino.
My wife and I had an opportunity to stop by and visit with their [who is the other half of the team with his wife Caroline Pobiter] winemaker Jan Hendrick Erbach, who was very gracious and informative, we really only intended to stay a short time as Jan had another appointment in town. But as our conversation about his wines and his beautiful winery took flight, we spent a good part of the afternoon, not feeling rushed, and never realized it until it was time for him to depart. After tasting through his wines of which only three of their labels make it stateside, which is too bad because their Rosé is very unique and quite enjoyable.
After having been so thoroughly impressed with his wine, one question came to mind, and so I asked Jan, "what are you doing differently here?" This question was anchored in my comparisons of the other wines I had tasted that day. His reply deflected away from our praise as he said, "really it's about the viticulture, and that's the real story because you can only make great wine from equally great grapes" a statement which finds me in complete agreement.
He went on to say further, "that our winery is a Biodynamic Estate and explained that those farming techniques involved in the process, along with their unusually shaped, winemaking facility built on circular gravity flow basis gives our wines an advantage others would love to emulate." Since his duties at his own winery have increased Jan [pictured above] has had to let go of some of his other consulting positions only because of time constraint, as he has become a very popular consulting enologist in Tuscany.
Pressing him further he admitted to me that while raised in Germany and learning his winemaking at the prestigious Geisenheim Academy he says, "I had really honed his wine-making skills in France, and it was that influence which he has brought into his winemaking style." A style which differs from some of the other projects he regularly consults on for other vintners in the area, who of course have their own style and desired outcome for their wines.
In a nutshell, I would say that the wines made at Pian Dell' Orino offer excellent fruit concentration, lovely aromatics, and mouthwatering acidity. Even though I only visited two other producers of Brunello and maybe tasted a handful of others in the various Entecos, I would have to conclude once more for emphasis, I find Pian Dell' Orino Brunello to be silky smooth on the palate. Well rounded Brunello's with just an inviting mouthfeel and while quite rich, their wines are wonderfully balanced. Their wines really serve as a testament to Biodynamic farming practices and the quality of their grapes.
Their Wines: Brunello di Montalcino , Rosso di Montalcino and Piandorino we tasted all three that day and their Rosé which all them were beyond fantastic. I brought home one of each except the Rosé, the Brunello was 2004, and the other two were both 2007. If you are familiar with the current best vintages of Brunello overall, it's 2004 which is getting all the attention, and if their 2004 is typical of this vintage, then it would behoove the average consumer and collector alike to grab a few of these beautiful wines before they are gone.
Their Grapes: All their wines are 100% Sangiovese, even the Rosé which has a beautiful peach color and enticing aromatics which carry through to the palate and expresses itself wonderfully. The grapes from their self-described top-tier vineyards planted to Sangiovese Grosso. Also known as Brunello [little dark one], so named for the brown hue on the skin. Making wines that are big, deep colored and powerful, with enough tannins and structure which is excellent for long-term cellaring.
Historical Origins: The Sangiovese grape that we know today to supposedly a descendant of the Roman era and has led to theories that the grape's origins dated from Roman times and a translation of Sangiovese's name sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove" the Roman god Jupiter. These fun facts make for some interesting reading to "cork-dorks" like myself.
The Vineyards: The four estate vineyards are composed of -Pian dell’Orino, Pian Bossolino, Cancello Rosso and Scopeta – all producing Sangiovese grapes. The growth system they use is the single spur cordon system.
The Label: I only mention their label because it's very different from any other label you may encounter on the shelf, as you pass your hand over the Pian dell’Orino label it reveals the raised dots of the Braille alphabet. Which is a compassionate gesture that allows even the visually challenged to enjoy every single aspect of Jan and Caroline’s wines and to that I say, kudos!
Where to buy: If you want to buy their current vintages it appears you'll have to do most of your shopping online. If you follow this link Pian Dell'Orino Brunello di Montalcino 2007 you can find this wine for $85 and their Pian Dell'Orino Rosso di Montalcino 2014 selling for $39. Fair prices for the caliber of wine you will be drinking. You can, of course, look around the web yourself and find various prices, but seeing that wine for $85 it's a super reasonable price from K&L. But of course, the shipping may jack up the price, as there appears to be no standard in shipping prices charged by either online wine stores and or wineries alike.
Other Voices: Antonio Galloni from the (The Wine Advocate) scored the non-Riserva 94 Points and had this to say about their wine, "The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a powerful, muscular wine endowed with plenty of dark fruit, minerals, spices and French oak. The balance here is exceptional, has everything is in the right place. Firm yet silky tannins frame the finish with a classy elegance that is tough to find in Montalcino." This is one of the wines I gave high marks when I was there, a few years back.
I like when the folks at mainstream wine publications concur with my findings on superlative vino. This rating just came out from WE their October 2010 issue. Regarding the 2004 Pian Dell' Orino Riserva Brunello, they scored it 92 points, saying of this wine, "it delivers loads of intensity in the mouth, this is a big, thick and dense expression that is ready to drink now." Their wine is imported by Polaner Selections.
Here is how Jan and Caroline define their own new "Trail Blazing Difference" in Brunello with their own twelve-step program:
“Our” quality in 12 points
· We only grow the autochthonous grape, Sangiovese Grosso
· We are organic and certified by the ICEA
· Our maximum yield is a bottle per vine
· We respect the natural rhythms which influence the growth of every plant
· We regularly taste our wines as they age
· Our use of sulfur is kept to an absolute minimum so that the wines are readily digested
· The wine is not filtered and therefore retains its vitality
· Everything we do is here motivated by our continual search for quality
· Our grapes are picked and treated with great delicacy
· The fermentation is slow and spontaneous thanks to naturally occurring yeasts
· We follow the aging in wood scrupulously
· We are very attentive to the authenticity of our wines – and have never used any added aroma, grape concentrate or other industrial “devilry.”
You can think of the wines made at Pian dell'Orino - Montalcino - Toscana - Italia like one of the songs which Frank Sinatra sang, "the best is yet to come"! Which is why today after writing this article last year I wanted to dust it off and update it, as it has been brought to my attention by the recent praise lauded on their 2004 Riserva Brunello by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Please visit their website which is easy to navigate and is very smartly laid out. Until next time cheers everyone! Ciao!