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Montalcino's Poggio di Sotto: Still in Good Hands
By Jim Clarke
Feb 28, 2024
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There’s always a certain trepidation when a highly regarded “cult” winery changes hands, especially when a larger company snatches it up.  Such wineries often seem to derive as much of their character from the owner’s force of personality as they do from their vineyards, and one worries that whatever that passion brought to the wine will disappear.  Such was the case when the Brunello di Montalcino property Poggio di Sotto changed hands in 2011.  After a recent vertical tasting, I’m very much reassured that Poggio di Sotto is in good hands.

I first visited the property when it was still in the hands of its founder, Piero Palmucci.  The 48-hectare estate is in the southeastern corner of the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, on a hill situated between Mastroianni and Ciacci Piccolimini d’Aragona – in fact, the property had been part of the latter until Palmucci purchased it in 1989.  His choice was dictated by several years of microclimate research and soil studies.  Palmucci’s background was in international shipping, but he approached vineyard preparation with a rigor that underlines the seriousness of his approach.  He hired Giulio Gambelli as a consultant; the reclusive Gambelli had already established himself as the leading advocate for Sangiovese in a period when its virtues were less-well understood, consulting at wineries like Soldera and Montevertine.

Palmucci resolutely ignored the trends of the era, never pursuing the deep color or over-extraction that was typical of the era—if also inimical to the essential character of Sangiovese.  Nor did he embrace the kiss of new oak so loved at the time, which often showed as a slobbering snog rather than a sensuous smooch.  The wines were remarkable.

I first visited the property in 2011, a stop arranged by an importer friend who was attempting to convince Palmucci to change importers so my friend could share the Poggio di Sotto wines with a larger audience.  At the time, the wines here in the hands of a notoriously difficult importer and very hard to find.  The visit was hard work, divided as it was between gleaning information and insights into the wines, both from tasting and from discussion with Palmucci, while at the same time trying to answer his questions about my friend’s company.  

In retrospect Palmucci’s questions were probably not as rigorous as they could have been.  The current owners had first approached Palmucci a few years before, and the sale of the property was likely already in the works.  I doubt Palmucci was planning making such a major change with the sale on the horizon, and by the end of the year the sale was complete.

The “new” owners were the brother-sister team of Claudio Tipa and Maria Iris Bertarelli, putting Poggio di Sotto in a portfolio including Colle Massari and Grattamacco.  I had the chance to visit again five years ago.  That visit was less stressful, and I had more chance to appreciate the setting and vineyards.  The property is home to twenty hectares of vineyards, stretching from 150-meters elevation, overlooking the Orcia River, up to 470 meters; oenologist Leonardo Berti says the lower soils have the classic clay, galestro soils and contribute finesse to the wines, whereas the higher vineyards are rocky, red, and richer in organic matter.

 Given the range of elevations, exposures, and clonal variety the property is broken into over twenty plots.  It’s also managed organically, which oenologist Leonardo Berti says is relatively easy to manage thanks to the winds that sweep over the hill, blowing away the insects and fungal spores that would otherwise cause trouble.  When Collemassari purchased the property they made a survey of the vines, they found over 180 biotypes of Sangiovese on the property and planted an archive vineyard for replanting purposes in 2014.  Changes in the vineyards have mostly been a matter of course-correction, replanting areas that weren’t performing as well as they might.

In the winery, grapes are destemmed but not crushed when they come in.  Long but gentle extraction remains the norm, and aging is still conducted in larger barrels.  However, in 2018 a shortage of barrels revealed that concrete tanks also suited the wine, and those have become part of the regular aging process as well.  Selection for the Rosso, Brunello, and Riserva tiers is done later.

Tasting the Brunello di Montalcinos as a vertical this year the continuity with the Palmucci years is clear.  The tasting went back to 2010, wines that were harvested during Palmucci’s time but finished by the Collemassari team, up to the most recent, 2019 release.  There are some hot vintages in there – 2011 was so hot that harvest was conducted berry-by-berry; these vintages tend to show more anise and darker fruit notes, but the freshness and energy of the Poggio di Sotto wines is a constant.            

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