It’s getting harder and harder to find an Italian red that doesn’t taste like it was made in California. This is partly due to the widespread inclusion of “foreign” grape varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) and the equally popular use of new oak barrels. Gripped by a desire to sell their wines in the U.S., traditional Italian producers are becoming an endangered species.
Against that background, finding a winery such as Mastrojanni is refreshing. The estate is known for their classic versions of Brunello di Montalcino. True, they do make one wine with a majority of Cabernet (San Pio), but it is clearly labelled as an IGT and serves as a counterpoint to the rest of their production.
Mastrojanni is owned by the Illy family, the coffee giants who first introduced the pod system in 1970. The family had been fans of the wine for decades, and in 1997 purchased an estate named Podere Le Ripi that just happened to border the Mastrojanni property; they became friendly with the winemaker, and learned that the estate would be offered for sale. They became the owners of Mastrojanni in 2008, and are making significant investments in the property. Ricardo Illy, the third generation of the family, serves as a roving ambassador for both the coffee and the wine.
The two entry-level wines couldn’t be more different. The Rosso di Montalcino ($25) is truly a “baby Brunello” in both style and substance. It is bright and fresh on the palate, with tart flavors of red plums and mouthwatering acidity. The San Pio ($30) is rich and mouthfilling, filled with nuances of black raspberry and melting chocolate. It is a pleasure to drink on its own, just as the Rosso would be an excellent match with a bowl of pasta in red sauce.
Mastrojanni’s 2006 Brunello ($55) spends three years aging in older barrels, with an additional six months of bottle age prior to release. Medium-bodied, supple and elegant, with overtones of earth, red fruits and smoke, it is 100% Sangiovese Grosso and textbook Brunello. The apex of their production is the single-vineyard 2006 Schiena D’Asino. Full-bodied yet delicate, with prominent acidity and vibrant flavors of cherries and red plums, it is beautifully crafted and delightful to drink.