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Wine Legend: Biondi Santi, Tenuta il Greppo 1975

Why Biondi Santi, Tenuta il Greppo 1975 makes the Decanter wine hall of fame...

Biondi-Santi, Tenuta il Greppo 1975: The facts

Bottles produced 14,646

Composition 100% Sangiovese Grosso

Yield N/A

Alcohol 14%

Release price N/A

Price today £1,200 at Mayfair Delivers Ltd

A legend because…

Biondi Santi is a truly iconic estate: in the late 19th century it was the first in Montalcino to select the most appropriate Sangiovese plants from its own vineyards and then bottle the finished wine under the name of Brunello. Some of the vintages from the 1880s and 1890s, tasted in the 1990s, were still in fine condition. The wines are no heavyweights, but have floral aromas, and in their youth can be dominated by the firm tannins and pungent acidity that allow them to age so well.

Looking back

In 1970 the late Franco Biondi Santi took over running the estate from his father Tancredi. He maintained the traditions set down by his father and grandfather, insisting on very low yields of about half the authorised maximum, and was resolutely opposed to the use of barriques to age the wine.

Although the quality of the riservas from years such as 1964 and 1975 is indeed the stuff of legend, the wines of the following decades would prove more controversial.

Light in colour and ethereal in aromas and flavour, they were denounced by many wine critics for their lightness. This coincided with the rise of rich, full-flavoured and powerful Brunellos – a style that found favour with many critics.

Biondi Santi remained true to its historic style, and it is still unclear whether there was indeed a lapse in quality in the 1980s and 1990s or whether the wines simply slipped from fashion until fashion came full circle again.

The vintage

The year was not exceptional in the rest of Tuscany but happened to be outstanding in Montalcino and Montepulciano. The harvest took place in early October.

The terroir

The vineyards are unusually high for Montalcino, rising from about 360m to 500m. The main vineyard is called Il Greppo, which lies just south of Montalcino and has marl soil and some schist, but there are other sites north of the town, with rocky clay soils. All the vines are massal selections produced from existing vines at the estate. Indeed, half the vineyard is planted with BBS 11, a clone specially developed by Florence University from old vines at Biondi Santi.

The contrast between hot temperatures by day and far cooler temperatures at night help to account for the refined and complex perfume of these Brunellos. No herbicides or pesticides have been used at the estate. The vineyards registered for Brunello have a surface area of 23ha but only vines at least 25 years old are used for the riservas.

The wine

On arrival at the winery, the grapes are destemmed and crushed. Only indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation of the riserva. This takes place in oak vats, unlike the regular Brunello, which ferments in concrete vats.

Temperature control was only introduced in 1983, so the 1975 would have been vinified without it. It was then aged in wooden casks for three years. Total acidity in this vintage was unusually high at 7.5 grams per litre.

The reaction

In 1995, Decanter‘s Michael Broadbent tasted the wine at the estate: ‘After 1955 [this is] the best of all the riservas, impressive, plummy; rich appearance, immediately fragrant, spicy, with good fruit, holding back then accelerating with fabulous bouquet, more fig-like, great depth; a gloriously rich mouthfiller. Perfect structure and balance.’

In the same year, Italian wine specialist Nicolas Belfrage MW reported in Decanter on a vertical tasting of the riservas back to 1888: ‘Relatively deep colour, still youthful, hint of orange on the rim. Distinct change of character on nose.. mushroomy, gamey, some goudron (tarmac).  Muscular, strong and tannic, but with plenty of fruit to back it up.’

In 2004 Belfrage attended another vertical tasting of the riservas: ‘The 1975, still boasting a youthful hue, a forceful aroma of tea leaf, rose petal, and dried fig, plenty of concentration, yet subtle, very long and capable of several more decades if kept well.’

American writer Kerin O’Keefe, author of a book on Biondi-Santi, tasted this wine most recently in 2011: ‘Still magnificent, with an intense bouquet of spice, flint, pepper and tobacco. Rich berry and fig flavours are balanced by still fresh acidity and supple, silky tannins. Incredibly youthful and focused. Will continue to age smoothly for decades. A gorgeous, glorious wine.’

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