Casanova di Neri

Casanova di Neri dates to 1971, when Giovanni Neri purchased vineyards in the best area of Brunello di Montalcino. His son Giacomo inherited the estate in 1991, and has taken it to another level. Despite the velocity and intensity of his success, he presents himself as a simple farmer. “This is a wine project,” he says bluntly, “not a commercial project.”

Winemaking is fundemental, a combination of traditional techniques and modern innovation. Grapes are harvested by hand, and moved by gravity in their journey through the cellar. There are long macerations, long slow fermentations, and the gentlest possible treatment. The result is some of the best Brunello on the planet. Even in the Rosso di Sant Antimo ($25), the entry-level wine, there is a soft, plump texture, supple tannins and expansive flavors of spiced plums.

The Brunellos have their own identity, each very different from the other. The White Label ($50), as it is called in the American market, is an “old-fashioned Brunello” with 10% Colorino blended in. It is ripe and mouthfilling, with good acidity and an intense core of blackberry and cherry fruit. The 2005 vintage, available now, is remarkably poised, fresh and approachable.

Things only get better from there. The 2005 Brunello Tenuta Nuova ($75) comes from a vineyard south of Montacino which Neri bought in 1985. It is full-bodied yet seamless, with soft tannins balanced against a strong mineral backbone. As good as it is, it pales next to the Brunello Cerretalto 2004 ($175), from a volcanic, iron-rich vineyard planted in 1951. It is a blockbuster of a wine, exhibiting crushed fresh herbs, essence of blackberry jam, strong tannins and a very long finish.

In 1990, Giacomo Neri defied tradition by planting Cabernet Sauvignon in part of his estate. The result is Pietrodonice, named for the “onyx stone” soil of the site. The 2006 ($95) is still a baby, with high-toned blackberry fruit, powerful tannins and an earty, mineral-infused texture. When mature, it should, as the estate hopes, “reconcile international flavor with local tradition.”

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