Azienda Agricola Simonelli-Santi, Orcia, Tuscany (24/9/2011)

The regions of production of two of Tuscany’s finest wines – Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montpulciano – are separated by a strip of land where the River Orcia flows.  You can stand in the main town - San Quirico d’Orcia - and see the hill of Montalcino to the west while over the hills to the east, across the next valley, sits Montepulciano.  Sangiovese is the dominant variety everywhere which makes wines like Simonelli-Santi’s Malintoppo (100% Sangiovese) cracking value when compared to its more famous neighbours; a few kilometres east and you could easily double the price.  Move a few kilometres west and you ought probably to triple it.  It is interesting to note that producers in Orcia often receive approaches from growers of Brunello di Montalcino for their “surplus production” when their own vines leave them short of wine.  It is perfectly legal for Brunello producers to buy from Orcia, but they are only allowed include Orcia production in Rosso di Montalcino and not Brunello.  ‘Nuff said…(ahem).
The entrance to the old town of
San Quirico d'Orcia
The Simonelli-Santi winery sits on the outskirts of San Quirico d’Orcia.  They make two red wines here:  Malintoppo is 100% Sangiovese made from a 4 hectare plot about 400m above sea level.  The wine sees about 3 months in oak.  Antonio is 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and sees about 8 months in oak.  Grapes for Antonio come from just 1 hectare of vines.
Simonelli-Santi
In the winery we were guided through several vintages of Malintoppo by Ilaria Simonelli who makes the wine as well as being a busy wife and mum.  Her energy and enthusiasm for her products (she makes Vin Santo, Grappa and olive oil as well) is infectious!  As I write we are on the last few bottles of the fantastic 2004 Malintoppo here in the shop and about to move to 2005 which is also good, a little fresher and fruitier and perhaps less savoury.  Younger vintages, already queuing up to follow on when the time is right, are looking good!
Tasting several vintages of Malintoppo
The 2006 is delicious with lovely richness in the mouth.  There was disagreement amongst the group on when to drink it though; some thought it needed longer to settle down and soften some of its grippier character, while others thought it ready now.  Personally, though approachable now, I’d prefer to see it in a year’s time.  At least there is plenty of 2005 to be going on with!  If anything the 2007 is even better.  It has a purer and more characteristic Sangiovese character and a balance that perhaps gives it the edge on the 2006.  The 2008 is much deeper and darker and, though the tannins are ripe, they need time to integrate.  The alcohol is quite evident here and we notice a rise from the 2004 (13%abv) through the 2005 (14%abv) to the 2006 and 2007 (both 14.5%abv) to 15%abv in the 2008 (yeah, I know - more on this in a bit).  The 2009 is enormous with notes of liquorice, chocolate and tobacco.  It will be wonderful, but not for a few years yet.
Ilaria
Many of our number report comments from customers that alcohol levels in wine generally are on the rise.  Ilaria agrees, but explains that winemakers have a choice to make about whether to interfere with nature or not to address this.  Her approach is simply to let nature get on with it and riper grapes (and as a result higher alcohol levels) are the result of the current climate.  How much rain falls and (perhaps even more critically) when it falls has a direct influence on final alcohol levels.  It is possible to irrigate of course, encouraging the vines to take up water that might not have otherwise been available, which will proportionately reduce sugar (and therefore alcohol) but the resulting wines may lack concentration and depth.  “You could always add the water to the final wine!” suggests one of our number.  Ilaria’s wry smile suggests that this may be an option employed by other, less scrupulous, producers!  Hot climates are getting hotter and the message here is that we either we poke up with higher alcohol, or we buy different wines because it’s more important to producers like Ilaria that her wines are as natural as possible.  As a customer, you might not like that, but it is an approach worthy of respect.
Our tasting at the winery concentrated solely on vintages of Malintoppo (vin santo, grappa and olive oil) but bottles of Antonio 2005 were attacked without mercy at several points during our time in Tuscany.  Antonio is a more modern style with the addition of the Cab.Sauv.  It’s still leathery and savoury with underlying black fruit and is fuller and richer but the critical thing here is that although the Cabernet fills out the Sangiovese in a modern way, the wine firmly maintains its Italian identity.  If you don’t know what I mean, just buy a bottle or two…
Ilaria hands out the 2003 Vin Santo
The 2003 Vin Santo is made from a blend of 20% Trebbiano and 80% Malvasia.  The grapes are picked before the main harvest and then dried until late February.  The wine is matured for 5-6 years in oak casks after which time only 30% remains of its original volume (can you imagine the concentration)!  It is raisiny and rich with a soft, velvet feel in the mouth.  Utterly captivating!
We can obtain the following wines from Simonell-Santi should you be interested – please contact us for details:
2005 Malintoppo  £12.25 (already on the list)
2005 Antonio  £16.50 (shortly to be added)!
2003 Vin Santo  £29.00 per 50cl
Vintages and prices correct as at 25th October 2011 

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