Stella di Campalto: Brunello and Rosso with Exceptional Character

Stella di Camplalto’s vertical tasting last week was proof positive that each of her wines has its own exceptional character. She doesn’t label “good” vintages or “bad” vintages. Like children or friends, each is fascinating because each has a different personality. (This is true of all of the natural/terroir wines on this site.)

Stella has five vineyards with twelve different soil types (sandy, rocky, quartz, limestone, volcanic, etc.) on the edge of the Brunello di Montalcino zone, above the Ombrone River and at the foot of an extinct volcano, the Monte Amiata. The vineyards are also at different altitudes with different microclimates. In any given vintage year, each vineyard has “her” own character.

Every year Stella harvests the five vineyards separately and keeps the wine in separate large barrels until bottling. That’s when she decides which wine will be mixed with which in order to make her Rosso di Montalcino DOC and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. This is notably different from the normal practice of delineating certain vineyards for Rosso and others for Brunello.

Last week, while the annual Benvenuto Brunello event sponsored by the Brunello Consortium was overwhelming the tiny village of Montalcino, Stella set up a vertical of all of her odd year vintages. (In 2009, Stella courageously left the 250-member Brunello Consortium to form Sangiovese Per Amico with two other wineries that wanted to collect data and do scientific research on making terroir wines with organic/biodynamic viticulture and natural methods in the cellar.)

There is a common thread of elegance, vibrancy and subtlety among all the wines. None of Stella’s wines will ever hit you over the head with a dense power punch. In the glass, there is a similarity…a classic Sangiovese garnet red with transparency.

But, then each vintage year of each kind of wine has something different to say. (Time to move beyond your Wine Spectator vintage chart.) I first tasted through the Rosso di Montalcino DOC (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013) then, the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (2005, 2007) and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG (2009, 2011 Beatrice, 2011 Benedetta). NB: All of Stella’s Brunello could have been labeled Riserva because she met the aging standard of at least 62 months (a combination of barrel and bottle aging).

The Rosso ranged from lovely and light with lots of acidity (2003) to more structured and tannic (2005)…to rich and more persistent (2007)…full of noble tannic grip (2009)…a complex, explosion in my mouth (2011)…to a young and boisterous adolescent with tannins just beginning to soften (2013).

Tasting the Brunello was to move into a different level of richness and complexity in terms of both aromas and taste. It ranged from very persistent with lots of expansive aromas and tannins (2005)…to the clear, linear much more contained (2007) and the more energetic, complex (2009). In 2011, for the first time, Stella was not happy with blending grapes from two of her vineyards. They just didn’t go, so she bottled two cru Riservas, named for her daughters, Beatrice and Benedetta. Beatrice comes from Vigna Bassa, the sandy vineyard closest to the river and is crisp with lots of acidity. Benedetta comes from Vigna Leccio, the highest vineyard, and has more grip and persistence.

Stella’s consultant for working the vines with biodynamic methods, Dr. Leonello Anello, was at the tasting. He and Stella were methodically going through the wines together. (She has used biodynamic methods since 2003 and has been certified since 2005.)

This kind of “time travel” via a vertical wine tasting is truly an amazing opportunity….and the proof was in the large bowl of corks. Regardless of vintage, Stella’s Rosso and Brunello wines always spark the desire to pour another glass.

The exceptional nature and small production (about 20-35,000 bottles depending on the year) of Stella’s wine mean that you’ll need to look for it and pay a little extra. (Prices range from about $50 for the Rosso $80 to $500 for the Brunello on Wine Searcher depending on location and vintage year.)

Read More: Soul, Soil and Biodynamic Brunello

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