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Italy’s short list of transcendent white wines is short, compelling and idiosyncratic.
It begins with three growers famed for their obsessive commitment to the indigenous grapes of their region, as well as to their individuality in expressing them. These men are Valentini, Gravner, and Miani.
But over the past 30 years, a fourth, far more obscure producer, Antonio Pulcini—of the Colli di Catone estate—has quietly been turning out white wines of similarly mind-bending complexity.
The obscurity of Pulcini’s wines is in part due to his reclusiveness and how he chooses to sell his wines, exclusively from his cellar door. (He has long eschewed importers and critics.)
He also stands nearly alone in holding on to his greatest white wine from his best vineyard, Colle Gaio “The Old White,” for 20 to 25 years before selling it, not only in sublime condition but at astonishingly low prices.
Pulcini works in an ancient villa overlooking Rome, whose 2000-year-old, catacomb-like cellar features a 300 A.D. Christian altar. The villa itself once belonged to the sister of Trajan—the Roman Emperor in the century after Christ’s death. And in the 1940s it housed Orson Welles and Tyrone Power, when they were filming on location in Rome.
But as one peels back the layers, the compelling character of Pulcini’s wines soon is understood.
Like Valentini, who tore out his modern clones of Trebbiano, Pulcini also works exclusively with ancient varieties indigenous to the area, Malvasia del Lazio and Grechello. His grapes are planted on southwest-facing slopes of volcanic tufa soils, rich in minerals.
His top site is the Colle Gaio vineyard, which has long been recognized locally as the viticultural Crown Jewel of the Castelli Romani hills. Here, more than 30 years ago, he planted the region’s greatest historic variety, Malvasia del Lazio.
But Pulcini doesn’t only turn back the viticultural clock 500 years. He also prunes the vines ruthlessly, to keep yields at 20hl/ha or below, achieving the concentration of fine White Burgundy. And after a long, gentle fermentation, five months on the fine lees, and early bottling, the wine is left to slumber in bottle, sometimes buried in sand, for decades in the estate’s labyrinthine cellars.
When released after 20 years of age, he labels his aged Colle Gaio masterpiece, “The Old White.” Though superbly balanced, and boasting a wondrous acid spine, its most exciting trait is the minerality and otherworldly tertiary aromas that Pulcini coaxes from this vineyard.
While one vintage may be Riesling-like in its complexity, another may be Coche-Dury-like in its leesiness. Another vintage may exude orange marmalade, while another intrigues with its intense scent of gunsmoke.
Though always made by the same methods, the same grapes and the same terroir, these wines are not only a study in vintage subtleties, they demonstrate with remarkable clarity how profoundly white wine can develop over decades in bottle.
Capable of standing easily among the great whites of the world, yet utterly singular in its character, it offers compelling proof of what is possible when a heroic vignaiolo takes the risks necessary to reveal hidden greatness.
And, while Pulcini continues to make and sell his wine out of the public eye, his Old White is beginning to be noticed. View from the Cellar’s John Gilman has reviewed the 1995, 1997 and 1998 vintages, giving them consistent marks between 92 and 93+ and pronouncing them “a completely new universe to me and most impressive!”
JancisRobinson.com’s Walter Speller has praised The Old White’s complexity and freshness, while marveling at its further aging potential.
In an era when so many wines have lost their individuality, the Colle Gaio “The Old White,” is nothing short of a revelation.
|1994||1994 Colli di Catone Colle Gaio "The Old White"||JG93||6||$74.95||add|
|1995||1995 Colli di Catone Colle Gaio "The Old White"||JG93||6||$79.95||add|
|1997||1997 Colli di Catone Colle Gaio "The Old White"||JG92||6||$74.95||add|
|1998||1998 Colli di Catone Colle Gaio "The Old White"||JG93+||6||$69.95||add|
|2007||2007 Colli di Catone Colle Gaio "The Old White"||9||$64.95||add|
|2014||2014 Colli di Catone Colle Gaio "The Old White"||12||$34.95||add|
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