Gianfranco Soldera is an icon—often mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Romano Dal Forno, Giovanni Conterno and Bruno Giacosa.
He helped pioneer Brunello’s “new wave,” founding his Case Basse estate in 1972. By the early 1980’s his intensely concentrated, yet highly aromatic, Brunellos were already turning heads; yet, production of just a few hundred bottles kept the lid on his reputation until the stakes were raised with his 1990’s.
Today, of course, along with Diego Molinari’s Cerbaiona, his wines are widely regarded as Brunello’s Holy Grail. While other producers’ wines live and die by ratings—with wide swings in demand from vintage to vintage—Soldera’s small production sells out quickly each year.
Sometimes this occurs well before any ratings appear. This is because he releases his wines later than everyone else in Montalcino and doesn’t give journalist “sneak previews.” Often, his wines are missing from the early vintage rundowns, like those published by the Wine Spectator.
While each of Soldera’s releases generates a good deal of excitement, what Soldera will be remembered for is not a great 2004 or 1990 or 1985, but the amazing run of wines he has made since the 1980’s. In fact, a strong case can be made that his less well-known wines from 1991 and 1993 are just as exciting as the more famous vintages.
One explanation lies in the fact that great winemakers don’t need a freakishly ripe vintage to make great wines. There are intangibles in Soldera’s wines that transcend the year and make it possible to make wines of power, complexity and longevity virtually every year.
Soldera has been famous over the years for his “rules.” It’s long been said that he will welcome your visit to his Case Basse estate only if you share his “production and sales philosophy of enlightened agriculture.” He will sell wine to you, but only if you are approved because you “share the principles that have inspired his entrepreneurial policy.” Skeptics are unwelcome.
While some see this as arrogant, the fundamental truth is that his self-confidence breeds great wines. He knows exactly what he wants to achieve in both the vineyard and the cellar, and his techniques are an interesting blend of modern and ancient.
His methods for restricting his yields are state-of-the art: short pruning in the winter; a green pruning in the summer; and grape thinning and limited leaf stripping in the fall to maximize ultimate ripening.
But in the cellar, he sounds more like Giovanni Conterno or Bruno Giacosa. While the modern-era Montalcino has seen a rush to French barrique and less time in wood, Soldera continues to age his Brunello for five years in large Slavonian oak tanks and vats, much as Biondi Santi might have done in their glory years. In fact, when you ask him who the other great Italian winemakers are, they are virtually all names from the past, including the fathers of Conterno and Gaja.
Soldera’s wines combine great concentration, richness and aromatic complexity with classic structure. For us, along with Diego Molinari’s tiny Cerbaiona estate, they truly are the elite wines of Brunello.
All Soldera wines are subtle variations on the same theme. His most famous wines are his Brunellos and Brunello Riservas. But in some years, he will select part of his production to spend a year less in barrel. These he calls “Intistieti.” And in 2005, he decided to bottle one early-maturing barrel as Pegasos.
Due to the small production of all of these wines, combined with their devoted following, Soldera Brunello’s are among the most sought-after, and difficult-to-find, wines of Italy.
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