Our next destination was south of Florence, the small fortress town of Montalcino, located in the heart of Tuscany, just south of Siena. Montalcino’s fame is inextricably tied to one of the greatest wines of the world, Brunello di Montalcino. Back in the mid- to late 19th century, the Biondi Santi family isolated a specific clone of sangiovese grape that they found thrived and showcased their area and terroir like no other planted in the region. It was a grape that showed great potential, balance, expression, depth, complexity and aging ability. Up until that point no Italian wines could rival the great French wines, but this all changed with Brunello when Ferruccio Biondi Santi named this clone Sangiovese Grosso BBS11, and it became the benchmark and, eventually, a DOCG regulation for all Brunello production.
Biondi Santi was a leader in a movement in the area, but later down the road, another leader and trailblazer would make his way onto the scene. This man, American at that, was John Mariani, not the writer (who happens to be my father, though our family has known theirs for decades). The Mariani family had run an importing business under the Banfi label in New York, and made its fortune importing wine from the cooperative Riunite in Italy that produced the highly popular Lambrusco in the '60s, which became the number one imported wine. In 1978, Banfi had already bought land in Tuscany and had purchased vineyards in Montalcino, soon to produce their very own Brunello.
What has made Banfi such a prominent and important name in the region and the wine world is not just that they make great wines, but that they have been integral in maintaining and developing the region as a whole, preserving and upholding the highest level of en vironmental consciousness and dedication to the betterment of the DOCG. The company financed ampelographic research to isolate the best, healthiest clones for production of Brunello, narrowing 650 clones down to 15, which they openly shared with their neighbors. Castello Banfi has won International Winery of the Year four times and Italian Winery of the Year nine times.
Leaving Florence, we headed down SS2 until we reached the entrance road to the winery. Navigating our way through vineyards and roads lined with cypress trees, we pulled up to the Castello Banfi Estate (above), a sight nostalgically familiar to me as I had been here before, almost twelve years ago. Much has changed since then but much has remained the same. I remember back then seeing along the entrance road barren soil being prepared for new vines soon to be planted; now they were healthy bountiful rows of vines. When I had first visited the estate, we had stayed in their farmhouse, isolated in the vineyards with a corral in the back harboring donkeys, including one, Aristotle, who is still there.
Now, after spending millions of euros, Castello Banfi has built a full-blown resort of luxury suites and accommodations called Il Borgo. Rooms are dressed in a modern and elevated farmhouse motif (right) that provide the ultimate Tuscan Wine getaway.
When we arrived, we found a small, gated parking area for guests. We pulled in, and as I crept through the lot I noticed that there happened to be a club of Ferrari owners staying the night. So, with no choice, I parked my Fiat 500 between million-dollar vintage Ferraris. Of course, I was excited to see these cars, but all of a sudden my super cool, 101 hp Fiat wasn’t as much fun anymore. Nonetheless, when I was greeted by the concierge and hotel managers, I was treated just as if one of those Ferraris were mine. The hospitality was genuine and abundant.
We were walked to our room and, as we stepped out from a covered staircase, we entered into a white rose garden with vineyards in the background (right) that sat at the footstep of our room’s door. After settling in and getting our second wind, we headed to the restaurant, set just off the castle, for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of food and great wine.
The following day, we had the luxury of taking a wine tour of the estate, an amenity offered to all guests of Banfi. To kick off the tour, we started in the tasting room with lineups such as the Rosso di Montepulciano, Poggio alle Mure, their single vineyard production, and their top bottling, Poggio all’Oro, each showcasing Banfi’s commitment to constant development and increased used of modern wine making techniques. The wines had balance, persistence, power and identity, all the while showing finesse.
Castello Banfi is not just a place to visit while driving through this prominent wine rich region but also a place where you can splurge, be taken care of and indulge yourself within the world of vino. There aren’t many resorts that can offer the extensive experience Castello has. Or so many Ferraris in the parking lot.