Glories and Vagaggini: Brunello di Montalcino’s “French Influence”
Beginning in the late 1990s, a handful of growers on the board of the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium took a comprehensive course at the University of Bordeaux. The course was taught by the late, legendary Châteaux Margaux and Haut-Brion consultant Yves Glories, and focused on the use of aging wine in French barriques. Convinced they needed Glories’ help in Montalcino, these Brunello growers enlisted his services for a major project that would span many years, and would ultimately dramatically elevate the quality of Brunello di Montalcino.
Glories would commute to Italy twice a year for close to a decade, but also needed boots on the ground — someone in the lab and in the vineyards every day. For that role, he tapped Paolo Vagaggini, a leading expert on cultivating Sangiovese, whose clients include Biondi Santi, Poggio Antico, Eredi Fuligni, and La Togata.
The most storied Super Tuscans in the world — Solaia, Sassicaia, Tignanello, and Ornellaia — have long taken cues from Bordeaux producers. The intense heat in southern Montalcino often resulted in wines with incredible body and richness, but lacking freshness, elegance, and finesse. Tuscan giants like the Antinoris thrived in mimicking French farming techniques — better pruning and canopy management — and aging in French oak. (The Antinoris, of course, went a step further, defying Italian wine law and blending in Bordeaux varietals.)
But you don’t introduce innovation in the isolated hills of Tuscany without stirring up resistance from traditionalists adhering to centuries-old, homespun beliefs. Like picking when the grapes stain your hands (isn’t that too late?) or aging the wine in the same barrels your father and great-grandfather used (at the risk of spoilage?).
It was a tall order, but Glories and Vagaggini worked with growers of the consortium to hone vineyard practices, to keep the cellar clean, and to employ the use of new French barrique aging — with an added focus on blending. The aim was to reduce Sangiovese’s harsh tannins and to coax out the more expressive, clean, fruit-driven aromatics of the variety, then to isolate vineyard blocks and different clones of Sangiovese and to vinify them separately for blending later. Glories also called for strict monitoring of sugar and tannin levels, and recommended picking sooner, before harsh, woody tannin developed — not waiting until the grapes stained your hands.
By the early 2000s, Glories and Vagaggini were being credited with raising the bar on quality production of Brunello — “L’influenza Francese” (“The French Influence”), as it was known around Montalcino. Their work so precisely identified ways of maturing Sangiovese in different terroirs and across multiple clones that producers who follow their farming and production principles today are able to churn out exceptional Brunello even in tough vintages.
The 2009 La Togata, made by Vagaggini, one of the architects of The French Influence, is one of the elite Brunellos of the vintage. Masterful canopy management tempered the effects of intense heat and sun in August that year.Twice-daily testing on Brix levels meant that when the call to harvest came, berries were perfectly mature, with concentrated complex flavors and ripe, structured tannin, while alcohol clocked in at a perfect 14.5.
Vivid ruby with garnet hues, voluptuous rose petal, crushed black cherry, and sweet cedar aromas leap from the glass. Supple and juicy on the attack, succulent red-cherry fruits, clove, and sweet tobacco spice. Firm, ripe tannins are buttressed by mouthwatering acidity. Decanter Magazine gushed over its “very perfumed” aromatics and “seamless texture and thrilling purity” of fruit, and rated it 93 points.
If you’ve been looking for the best possible 2009 Brunello, a model of The French Influence that’s drinking beautifully right now, look no further. At 93 points, and the jaw-dropping price of $35/bottle, this is the top of the heap, and a STEAL. Shipping included on 4.