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When captains of industry own vineyards, I am usually made aware of this fact via said captain of industry or their henchpeople and their attempts to make me write about their wines. Here's a delightful exception to this rule. It was only by dint of careful sleuthing on my part that I learned that the owner of the estate that produced a wine I'd already decided to feature as a wine of the week is Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner until late 2007 and now chairman of Citigroup. This means that for quite a while he was in charge of the massive media group that owns, inter alia, Decanter magazine, but its editor had no idea which Montalcino estate was involved. Top marks for discretion. Yet according to www.ilpalazzone.com, the estate's owner, 'a New York businessman', is always there for the harvest.
I picked this wine out of a line-up of special summer offers from the London Jeroboams group of wine shops and was very taken by it, not least for the value it offers.
Rosso del Palazzone NV Vino da Tavola is in effect a baby Brunello di Montalcino at a fraction of the price of the real thing. Because it's a blend of Sangiovese from the highly successful 2006 and 2007 vintages, it has to be described as a table wine and foregoes the right to a vintage date on the label but it is what Il Palazzone produce instead of a Rosso di Montalcino. The blend I tasted is known as 01/08, the second version, but a third version, based on 2008, will probably be launched in January 2010.
The estate, west of Montalcino, is at a usefully high altitude, which seems to result in a certain delicacy in the wines, and presumably helps keep them healthy, for to judge from the photographs, the vines must experience quite a lot of ventilation.
The Gambero Rosso guide admits that quality has increased since New York banker Richard Parsons bought this small estate with its mere three hectares of vineyards in 2000. I was impressed by their Brunello di Montalcino 2001, giving it 17 points out of 20, and their current vintage also stood out in my extensive tasting of 2004 Brunellos in Verona in Italy. (I'll be publishing my tasting notes very soon.)
The only sad thing is that so little of this wine is produced that to get your hands on it, you will have to order it either direct from the estate or via one of the two retailers who sell it, both of them based in the UK. The wine is usually £10 for a single bottle in a Jeroboams shop but is currently on offer for £8.95. It is also available from UK online merchant www.fromvineyardsdirect.com at £9.75.
It is pure Sangiovese with a hint of the warmth of this corner of south-eastern Tuscany – much lusher than the average Chianti – but without any excesses of oak or alcohol. The wines, made with oenologist Paolo Vagaggini, are aged in varying sizes of cask. I would happily drink this any time over the next two years and would pat myself on the back for having found such an honest, pleasurable message in a bottle from Tuscany. It keeps well in an opened bottle for several days, by the way (a good sign that it migrated from tasting to dining table in my house). This wine won a bronze medal in the recent Decanter World Wine Awards, but I'm sure they didn't make any connection with head office, however tangential nowadays.
Contact details for the US importers of Il Palazzone's Brunello di Montalcino and olive oil can be found here.
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