Montalcino is a tiny medieval town, immersed in one of the most beautiful regions of the world, Tuscany, surrounded by vineyards, olive trees, and breathtaking views wherever you look at. As many others, Montalcino lies on top of a hill and it is famous for the production of one of the most prestigious wines in the world, the Brunello di Montalcino.
For the International Finance Academic Excursion I chose two wineries, both with successful stories, although very different ones: Banfi and Biondi Santi. And this choice is not casual. Once arrived at the Chiusi-Chianciano train station we found our small bus waiting for us, and being a little early for our first visit, we stopped in San Quirico d'Orcia for a cappuccino. One among so many wonderful medieval towns, San Quirico is famous for its outstanding extra virgin olive oil, produced by Simonelli Santi.
A few more miles and we arrived at the Banfi production site. Founded in New York in 1919 by John Mariani, Sr., today is owned and operated by his grandchildren. The winery was founded in 1978 thanks to the will of the Italian-American brothers, John and Harry Mariani. The company is focused on the production and import of wine. The Banfi business doesn't begin with wine making but with its distribution in North America. During the '70s they decided to make their own wine and started to buy a great quantity of land in Montalcino.
Today Castello Banfi’s award-winning wines are exported to over 85 countries around the world, and it is the first winery in the world to be awarded international recognition for exceptional environmental, ethical and social responsibility. Their production reaches about 10mln bottles per year, including Brunello, Rosso and the so called Supertuscan wines. In the late 60s some enlightened wine makers began to think of a new way to exploit the land and Tuscany became an alchemical laboratory for every possible blend. Using the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, among other grapes, the territory was completely reassessed and subjected to a thorough analysis, which led to an awareness of the potential of the lands of Bolgheri but also an objective appreciation of the potential of Chianti itself. Banfi philosophy joined the Supertuscan market, thus producing excellent wines made of different grapes: Belnero, Cum Laude, Summus, ExcelsuS. Banfi also embraced the market taste changes, thus joining a modern technique of the aging of the wine. Their huge wine cellar is fulfilled with hundreds of barriques and barrels. Large, clean, old oak barrels yield little or no oaky flavour, while small barriques produce the most. Coming from specific woods in France, the barriques are selected for their quality and flavour, which is deliberately left to modify the final result of the Brunello. After the visit of the wine cellars and the production site, we went to the Castello Banfi wine shop, where we had a light lunch and a wine tasting. A great succession of flavors and fragrances of a land offering amazing emotions.
Early in the afternoon we moved to visit the History...We arrived at the Biondi Santi estate and our guest Yana was ready to take us into an amazing journey, made of ancient traditions, a unique approach, top quality grapes and above all passion for the land. Their wine making process is exactly the same used to make the Brunello back in 1888, and their philosophy remains untouched and unique. First of all they only produce four different types of wines: the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, the Brunello di Montalcino Annata, the Rosso di Montalcino red band, and the Rosso di Montalcino. All of these wines come from the Sangiovese Grosso (big) type of grapes. The Riserva is made from the older, more mature plants, aged for 6 years; the Annata is made from the plants younger than 25 years. Do they produce the Brunello Riserva or the Brunello Annata every year? No way. Why? Because the Biondi Santi family submit to the will of nature. Not every year is in fact equal to each other, rather every year is different, meteorologically speaking. Therefore, in order to keep its unique quality, the Brunello Riserva is only produced when and if the weather conditions are perfect. Without meeting these conditions, quality can't be guaranteed at its highest level, therefore the older plants grapes are used for the Annata bottles, standard permitting... And so forth towards the Rosso Red Band and the regular Rosso di Montalcino. The Biondi Santi Riserva ages in big, ancient, oak barrels, some of which are 110 years old, selected in Croatia for their neutral or very light flavour, which disappears with the passing of time, letting the only star be the grapes in their perfection.
One more aspect that tells it all is the labelling process. Every bottle is handmade labelled, with a simple wood tablet used since the beginning of last century! Every bottle is gently rotated on the sticking label, exactly positioned on the tablet. Another unique feature of the Biondi Santi bottles is that... they're best bottles of Riserva are the subject of important wine auctions around the world, and anyone can consider it as a perfect alternative investment. One example? The Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Greppo of 2006, sold at its birth, at the beginning of 2012, for €160/bottle, was worth €440 one year later.
Finally, we headed towards Florence, where we had the chance to see the unique night view of the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Giotto Bell Tower, The Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria. A sense of lost, impressive, majestic culture pervaded my thoughts...Why can't we make such masterpieces anymore?
The next day we went to see the Mercato Centrale di Firenze. The press of the XIX century described the most famous food market in Florence, the Central Market of San Lorenzo, the place from which the same Florentine restaurants and food lovers supply. All around, a succession of shops and stalls seamlessly makes the area a natural market that offers all kinds of goods, while the traditional workshops of winemakers and reasonably priced taverns, allow anyone to enjoy traditional Florentine flavors while sitting in one of the most lively and picturesque squares of the city. The market, as once was, is the landmark, immediately recognizable, around which develops a daily life, made up of social and cultural relations.