01st Jun 2023
01st Jun 2023
Casanova di Neri make some of the most powerful, long-lived, and highly rated Brunello di Montalcino in the whole of the DOCG.
Giacomo Neri recalls of his father, “He was a little crazy, but he had a vision, passion, and hope.” In 1971, a family of wheat and grain growers arrived in Montalcino from Arezzo to try their hand at making one of Italy’s most prestigious red wines. Casanova di Neri has succeeded in becoming one of the largest and best producers in the DOCG. The first time I met owner Giacomo Neri, he was puffing away at a cigar, as I recall, talking intensely on his mobile phone, and seemed to be brokering deals from his tiny office. The visit went very smoothly, with a tasting followed by a quick look at their large, no-frills, underground winery. I remember turning my back to the estate for a moment and gasping at the view of the town of Montalcino, breathtakingly beautiful, seen from the Casanova di Neri estate – a “picture perfect” postcard photograph of a walled, medieval hill-top town.
Casanova di Neri sits on the northeastern side of the town of Montalcino on the road to Torrineri. The northeast subzone of the area is often, and perhaps unfairly, considered one of the less prestigious parts of the Brunello di Montalcino zone, yet at Casanova di Neri, they make some of the most powerful, long-lived, and highly rated Brunello di Montalcino in the whole of the DOCG. Another surprise is that the average quality of their wines is so high even though the Casanova di Neri estate is one of the larger producers of Brunello di Montalcino. Banfi is by a long way the largest producer, followed by Frescobaldi’s Castello Giaconda, but with a total production of around 300,000 bottles, Casanova di Neri is not small.
Giacomo’s father, Giovanni Neri, had a successful business in and around Arezzo growing grain and wheat for pasta, but he had a dream to make great wine, and at the age of 48, he decided to follow his dream. At that time, the Brunello di Montalcino denomination, then a DOC, now a DOCG, had existed for just four years with only 30 producers; there are now more than 250. In 1971 Giovanni bought the 200 hectares of Podere Casanova, a working farm of mixed agriculture east of Montalcino town, at a time when wine was only a small part of the farm’s production and was sold in bulk, but because of the galestro soil - a type of friable clay and shale which Sangiovese loves - and the altitude of the location at 420-490 meters, he felt that he could make great wine there. And so, Giovanni moved his family to Montalcino, changed the name of the property to Casanova di Neri (the new house of the Neri family), hired some of Tuscany’s leading winemakers, and set about making great Brunello. Casanova di Neri Brunellos are powerful, darkly colored, concentrated wines with a dark and black fruit character with firm tannins, although the tannins in recent years have become much more refined.
Their first wine, in 1977, was a “Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello” - Rosso di Montalcino did not at that time exist as a legal category of wine - and their first Brunello was produced in 1978. This wine later became known affectionately as Etichetta Bianca or White Label. It was made from a selection of grapes from three vineyards in the northeast part of the DOCG. Giacomo started working with his father in 1986 after he had completed his military service, but sadly in 1991, his father died, leaving Giacomo in charge of the family estate. More recently, he has been joined by his two sons, Giovanni, who is responsible for the vineyards and winemaking, and Gianlorenzo, who looks after sales and marketing.
Over the years, the family has acquired more vineyards, making a total of seven today, with Podernuovo, Fiesole, Collalli, and Cerretalto spread out across the north and east of the appellation and Cetine, Pietradonice, and Giovanni Neri in the southeast. They were one of the pioneers of single vineyard Brunello with the Cerretalto vineyard, which they bought in 1981, and releasing a wine of the same name that year. Cerretalto is east of the main family estate and sits in its own natural amphitheater bordering the river Asso. This is a place where white truffles grow, which means that it is a very pure and clean environment, and the family even has their own private truffle reserve here. The red soil in this vineyard is rich in minerals such as iron and magnesium, and their Brunello Di Montalcino Cerretalto often has a distinctive bloody meat and earthy mineral quality. Cerretalto became Casanova di Neri’s flagship wine and is released only in the best vintages, the first in 1981, but the second not until 1986. According to Giovanni Neri, grandson of the founder, they decided to make a single vineyard wine here because
In the south and southeast, Casanova Di Neri has three vineyards: Cetine, Pietradonice, and Giovanni Neri, the last named after Giacomo’s father and founder of the estate. Petradonice was once an onyx quarry and retains many fragments of the stone, hence the name Pietradonice – “stone of onyx.” This is where they grow their Cabernet Sauvignon and make the Pietradonice IGT Toscana wine. Most recently, in 2017, the family purchased the Giovanni Neri vineyard and in 2018 made their first two wines: 2023 saw the exciting first release of the 2021 Rosso di Montalcino di Giovanni Neri and a 2018 Brunello di Montalcino Giovanni Neri. The Giovanni Neri vineyard is situated in the southeast sub-zone near Castelnovo dell’Abate and has vines that are almost 50 years old. The 2018 Brunello Di Montalcino Giovanni Neri was one of the most exciting discoveries for me at the Benvenuto Brunello event in November 2022. “We acquired this old seven-hectare vineyard at the end of 2017,” says Giovanni. “We have always looked (at it) with interest, knowing that it could give us another pure Sangiovese wine of great personality and quality. Less tannin but vibrant and intense, aromas of cherry, strawberry, subtle but great complexity and persistence.” With this wine, they ferment it in “open wooden vats with part of the bunches not de-stemmed. It remains in 500-liter barrels for about 36 months and another 15 (months) in the bottle.”
With the release of the 2018 Brunello di Montalcino Giovanni Neri, Casanova di Neri has taken a big leap forward into making wines with much more polish and finesse. This may be the result of the age of the vines in combination with the soil, or the result of a much gentler extraction regime in the winery, or both. Whichever is the case, they have produced a wine with clearer and more transparent aromas and flavors with a much more refined quality of tannins. If this is the first vintage, I cannot wait to see how these wines will develop in the future.
Article & Reviews by Susan Hulme MW
Photography by Svante Örnberg
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