Tasting Brunello di Montalcino at La Gerla

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Alberto Passeri overlooking La Gerla's gli Angeli Vineyard in Montalcino
To provide a point of comparison to the more modern-leaning Casanova di Neri we visited, I was looking for a traditional producer with international acclaim. I consulted historical ratings from Wine Spectator and Antonio Galloni's Vinous Media and a producer that popped up on both which I wasn't previously familiar with was Le Gerla (pronounced "la jer-la").

Wine Spectator rated the 2007 La Gerla gli Angelia Riserva Brunello ($75) 97 points. Antonio Galloni rated the 2006 La Gerla Brunello ($55) 94 points. Both of these sounded like terrific quality-price-ratio wines, but digging a bit deeper I found La Gerla to be regarded as a more traditional producer so I was looking very much forward to visiting.

After having lunch in Montalcino we popped in the address for La Gerla into my iPhone. For the most part driving in Tuscany was a breeze. But this route took us through narrow passageways and down dirt roads our trusty Fiat 500L might never forget. It was a wild ride!

But just like other wineries we'd visit, just when we thought we were totally lost we pressed on a little further and found our target.

The La Gerla winery is situated just north of the town where the hills of Montalcino begin to flatten out. It's the site of their famed gli Angeli vineyard ("vineyard of angels") and they own an additional vineyard south of town. Depending on the vintage, grapes from the two vineyards are used to compose their Brunello.

La Gerla was founded in 1974 by Sergio Rossi who purchased the land from the well-regarded Brunello producer Biondi-Santi. Unfortunately Sergio died in 2011. His family continues to own the property and Alberto has continued to manage the property in addition to serving as winemaker and agronomist. Vittorio Fiore (Podre Poggio Scalette) consults.

The vistas and site are absolutely gorgeous.

We arrived (in July) shortly after hail damaged some of the vines at gli Angeli. I'd read about this phenomenon (hail during growing season) in WSET courses. But it was fascinating to see the effects of hail tangibly, first hand, on the vines. It's hard to believe it would hail in Tuscany in July. It's hot during the day.

Alberto explained that the timing of such an event determines its impact. Not only are the leaves undermined, but direct impact from the hail on young grapes leaves them susceptible to rotting.
But since the grapes were green when the hail fell, and some did indeed take a shot, they'll have time to heal up and still produce fruit worthy of production.

gli Angeli is indeed a cooler vineyard than their other property to the south, due in part to the its northern exposure. The combination of terroirs provides flexibility in blending their classic Brunello. In cooler vintages gli Angeli isn't produced at all and it's entirely blended into their classic Brunello.

Traditional Brunello is aged in big barrels. 5,000 - 10,000 liters. And this is how La Gerla's Brunello and gli Angeli Riserva are indeed produced.

They also make a wine called Birba ("smart ass") that's also 100% Sangiovese but aged in 200 liter barriques.
Big barrels for traditional Brunello in back,
barriques of "Birba" up front
We started off tasting the 2012 Rosso (~$19). Fresh and juicy with nice acidity.

Next up, the 2010 Birba. 100% Sangiovese. 15% alcohol. Nice stuff. I'd definitely check it out if I see it here in the states.

But I was here to taste the gli Angeli and the Brunello proper.

Since the gli Angeli sees more time in oak (due in part to the size of the barrels it ages in) we tasted the 2009 La Gerla Brunello and the 2008 La Gerla gli Angeli Riserva.

The 2009 Brunello (~$50) was ripe and round. Ready to go. But not terribly dense. Alberto explained that their wines do very well in restaurants. With an offering like this I can see why. It's a "buy" for me.

The 2008 gli Angeli went in an entirely different direction. Earthy, tarry notes. Firm, but tolerable tannins. A wine built for aging?

Conclusion and Recommendations

La Gerla is a terrific producer to visit in Montalcino. Their wines are produced in a traditional style but they're well-regarded and relevant on the international stage.

Going strictly off scores, one might conclude that the La Gerla Brunello was going to be "good" and the more expensive gli Angeli Riserva "great". But as is often the case - the more affordable wine is just flat out better suited for immediate consumption.

These 2008s and 2009s aren't the massive tannic beasts that I've sometimes wrongly stereotyped Brunello as being. There's a lot of vintage variation in the region and in years where wines aren't as well-suited for the long haul they can often be truly better for early enjoyment.

Find the 2009 La Gerla Brunello on Wine-Searcher.

Check 'em out:
La Gerla

Related reading:
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