Giovanni Neri, perfection making Brunello

Giovanni Neri

Originally published in 06/04/2017.

Recently we talked about Brunello di Montalcino and one of our favorite wineries, Azienda Agricola Casanova di Neri, a family–run winery located in the outskirts of Montalcino. Founded in 1971 by Giovanni Neri, nowadays they own 63 hectares of vineyards. Today we will talk to Giovanni Neri, the grandson of the founder, who is the winemaker of the house.

Buongiorno, Giovanni, and grazie mille for your collaboration. We are diehard fans of Brunello wines and yours come always on top. You produce three different Brunello wines: The Brunello Di Montalcino (45 months in Slavonian oak barrels), the Brunello Di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova (27-36 months in oak) and the Brunello Di Montalcino Cerretalto (a bit over 2 years in oak). All come from different vineyards. What do you look for to offer with each wine?

More than wood we rather speak about the single vineyards. Montalcino is a small town but a very big and heterogeneous territory. We try to give three different expression of the same grape, Sangiovese. We work in the same way for all the grapes but at the end each glass shows a different personality.

How’s the process for each one? How are they elaborated?

We harvest all our grapes by hand. Usually we started from the Tenuta Nuova in the South part of Montalcino. Then in the first week of October we pick the White Label and in the second week of October we harvest the Cerretalto vineyard. Each grape is selected by hand to have only the best clusters in the tanks. The fermentation takes place in open conical stainless steel vats with controlled temperature. Usually the maceration for the Brunello grapes is between 20 and 35 days. Then the Brunello white label goes to the Slavonian oak, the Tenuta Nuova and Cerretalto to the Tonneaux.

Tenuta Nouva was selected as Wine of the Year in 2006 by the Wine Spectator magazine. Then James Suckling gave 99 points and Robert Parker gave 100 points to the Tenuta Nouva 2010. What this vintage had to be so special?

The 2010 vintage is considered one of the best vintages of the last 20 years. In 2010 we had a cool and fresh summer, so the growth of the grapes was very slow and balanced. The 2010 Tenuta is really young right now, it’s a perfect vintage for put in your cellar and wait few years.

You own seven different vineyards: Fiesole, Poderuccio, Podernuovo, Le Cetine, Pietradonice, Cerretalto and Spereta, and you have Sangiovese planted in all of them. Which of them offers the best grapes for the Brunello?

It’s not easy to give only one answer. It depends in the season: in the fresh summer the vineyards located on the South give us very balanced grapes. In the hot and dry season we have a better performance in the vineyard on the Northeast. But every year is different and is not easy to have specific rules.

What do you look for in the Sangiovese and the soil of each vineyard to translate into the wine?

The white label is our most fine wine. It’s a very classic Brunello, no so big, typical from the East part of Montalcino. Usually it’s our most approachable Brunello. The Tenuta Nuova is a different style of Sangiovese. The soil is very rich of stones, in the nose is more balsamic than the white label. In the mouth it’s powerful but at the same time elegant and good for cellar aging. The Cerretalto is a completely different wine. It’s sourced from an amphitheater on the Asso creek in the East side of Montalcino. The soil in very rich in iron. In this single vineyard the grapes of Sangiovese are really small.

How the character of the variety is shown?

The Sangiovese grapes are really sensitive to different soil and microclimate. You can put the same clone in another soil and you can have totally different grapes and wines. I think this is one of the features that makes Montalcino so unique

The wine stays in oak from 24 to up to 45 months, depending on the label and the vintage. How do you balance the ageing process to keep intact the character of the Sangiovese?

We believe that wood should only accompany the wine in the long years of the cellar aging. When you smell one of the our wines we don’t like that you feel the oak. You have to understand the nose of the grapes. When we have a big vintage we use more new oak , when the vintage is lighter we use less percentage of new oak.

You did produce a Brunello di Montalcino Selezione 2005. Is this a one-year wine or do you produce it in special vintages?

The Brunello Selezio (or Figuranti) it’s a special label for some market , in the last few years we produced in all vintages.

We have a bottle of the Tenuta Nouva 2008. How long can we cellar it and still enjoy it at its best?

The 2008 is one of the undervalued vintage of the last years. It’s a tipycal vintage for Montalcino, very balanced and elegant. I think the Tenuta Nuova 2008 will be at it best in two or three years.

What’s your winemaking philosophy?

we believe that each of our vineyard is unique. Starting from this we try to obtain every single character that can increase this difference. I think that the 80% of the work is in the vineyard. We have to understand what each vineyards needs to produce the best grapes. Than in the cellar we have only to maintain the result of the vineyards.

Which kind of wine you do like to drink when you are not working?

I’m a big fan of Nebbiolo and pinot noir. And I also really love the champagne and the white wines from the Wachau

Grazie mille, Giovanni!!

Photos © by Azienda Agricola Casanova Di Neri