The principle of tradition is such an axiom in Italian winemaking, that for some in the industry, it might produce a sort of obstinacy. This can be true for both government authorities, who are reluctant to change regulations, or for insistent and stubborn vintners who cling to a hard line.
Alessandro Bindocci, winemaker for the famed Montalcino-based Il Poggione, is not bound by these obstacles. To be sure, he’s reverent toward the example of his winemaking father, Fabrizio, and Tenuta Il Poggione’s historic mastery of Brunello. But Bindocci is always on the cutting edge of both oenology and technology – and not merely because his trusty smartphone monitors the minutiae of the winemaking process. His blog, Montalcino Report, is unique to the region. He has also introduced critical winemaking techniques that have dovetailed nicely with the bevy of traditional practices.
“When we started making white wines, it was important that we use cold fermentation – fermenting for 25 days at 8C degrees,” says Bindocci. “And, my father and I made the decision in 2004 to introduce submerged-cap fermentation for red wines. This is a practice in Piedmont, but not in Montalcino.”
Global climate change has also drawn out the inventiveness and spirit of the Bindoccis. They have long argued that irrigation will be necessary in future vintages, with prolonged heat droughts more likely. Montalcino’s bureaucracy has, until recently, been reluctant to change the regulations involving irrigation. But recently, emergency irrigation was finally allowed.
More inventive oenology is on display in how the soil and roots around the vines are worked and fertilized, especially right after harvest. Pellets of organic fertilizer are buried 40 centimeters below the surface with a subsoil tiller. The shallower roots are cut from the topsoil.
“We want to facilitate the roots’ ability to grow deeper into the ground instead of around the surface,” says Bindocci. “We’ve have always used natural bi-products to fertilize, but the pellets make it easier, because you can get them deeper into the ground.”
Being true to one’s roots is a maxim for many families and businesses. It therefore made sense that Il Poggione and its Lake Bluff, IL-based importer – who have partnered for more than three decades – would form a joint collaboration: Mazzoni. This line of wines – with all fruit sourced from Tuscany – combines Il Poggione’s longtime expertise with Tuscan Sangiovese and Vermentino, with importer’s historic association with Pinot Grigio. Mazzoni is also a great value-priced lineup to become familiar with Italian winemaking.
“Our goal with Mazzoni is to be loyal to the authentic Tuscan style,” says Bindocci. “Mazzoni wines are great first step to understanding our traditions. Vermentino from Tuscany has beautiful mineral characteristics, but it can be lean. We decided to blend with unoaked Chardonnay (25 percent of the blend) because it adds structure without covering the minerality. And, Mazzoni Pinot Grigio, being from a warmer area, adds something unique to the market: intense color, versatility to hold up with many foods. But the freshness remains intact; its acidity is still notable because of the cold fermentation.”
As both the Mazzoni and Il Poggione wines continue their journeys after the harvest, Bindocci stresses basic tenets, the things that winemakers – regardless of vintage or region – would be wise to remember.
“You have to work the soil,” he says, “and to be mindful of pruning and grape bunches. Really, you have to be a farmer more than anything.”
Mazzoni and Il Poggione Tasting Notes:
Mazzoni Vermentino-Chardonnay ($19, average retail)
A blend of the traditional Tuscan white grape, Vermentino (75 percent), and internationally acclaimed Chardonnay (25 percent). Aromas are intense and rich, with a notable element of tropical fruit. The palate shows great balance, displaying ripe pear, lemon curd and a distinct savory note. There is great acidity for pairing with raw seafood, plus structure to pair with decadent sauces.
Mazzoni Pinot Grigio ($17, average retail)
Uniquely Tuscan Pinot Grigio, with intensity and complexity. In the glass, it is deeply yellow in color. Aroma is compelling blend of floral and melon notes. On the palate, it is bright, with fine minerality, but also a lovely note of white peach.
Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2011 ($17, at Binny’s)
Made with 100 percent Sangiovese from the youngest of the estate’s vineyards. Aroma has a tremendous depth of both current and rose petals. Red fruit dominates the palate at the start, with a juicy buildup transitioning to a darker licorice note, and a long finish. Pair with dishes that have aromatic or tomato-based sauces, and with braised meats.