"You may be lucky and find some of the remaining bottles on your travels. I hope you do and I hope you will try them"by Barry Smith / March 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
From time to time, there are wines you fall in love with: unexpected, prized bottles that usually come with a story. The recent release of the 2010 Brunellos reminded me of one of mine. It was Poggio di Sotto, a spectacular Brunello di Montalcino, which has a Rosso di Montalcino as its younger sibling. I first came across these wines in the unlikely setting of a pizza restaurant—but this was no ordinary pizza restaurant. Otto’s, on Eighth Street in New York, is the casual dining venue of Mario Batali, whose many restaurants serve New York’s endless appetite for Italian food. It has an all-Italian list of more than 300 exceptional wines.
My introduction to Poggio di Sotto—the Rosso—came through a recommendation of the sommelier following a prolonged discussion. I had my doubts at first—for a Rosso, it came at an eye-watering price—but when poured my friends and I marvelled at the wine, a deep but not quite black cherry red with intoxicating aromas, ripe fruit and forest. On the palate, lush, dense and complex; one of those wines we like to call complete, with everything you are looking for and all the parts in the right place. It had a long satisfying finish, an assurance of something very finely made. This was the 1996.
A year later I made the acquaintance of the 1997. Happening to have some time in Manhattan before an afternoon flight, I decided on Otto’s once again for an early lunch. The sommelier remembered me and I asked about the Poggio di Sotto. Very difficult to source, I was told. But he had one bottle left of that year’s allocation: why didn’t I have some over lunch and take the rest of the bottle with me? I did—with a firmly inserted cork I took it on the plane with me as hand luggage: the story is easy to date. Arriving home in London, I happily drank the rest of the bottle with my evening meal.
It was many years later, when I progressed to the Brunello di Montalcino, that I learned more about the owner and winemaker at Poggio di Sotto. It was 2012, in a wine bar facing the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. I had not expected to find anything but tourist cafés, when suddenly appeared Gola, an elegant wine bar fashioned out of what had once been a bookshop; and there on the shelves was a 2007 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino. The very knowledgeable proprietor told me the story of Poggio di Sotto, of its fastidious owner, Piero Palmucci, and his winemaker, Giulo Gambelli. This small estate in Tuscany specialised in a rigorous regime in the vineyard with vigorous pruning and severe selection of grapes, all of which paid huge dividends in producing this beautiful wine. But I also learned that after repeated bids to buy the estate Palmucci had finally agreed to sell it. What we were tasting was some of the last stock of true Poggio di Sotto wines.
Since then I have discovered bottles of this fabulous Brunello in all sorts of places. I spotted the 2007 on a restaurant wine list in Venice. It was the last bottle they had and my companions and I savoured every sip. And in March, on a visit to New York, I came across a bottle of the 2006 at the well-stocked Chelsea Wine Vault—but this time my bottle’s journey to London was made in bubble-wrap, carefully cradled in the middle of checked-in luggage. Like all travellers after a long journey it will need some time to recover, and so my precious cargo sits sedately in my cellar. You may be lucky and find some of the remaining bottles on your travels. I hope you do and I hope you will try them. I’m going to hold on to my last bottle just a little longer.