Visiting Casanova di Neri

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

View up towards Montalcino from Casanova di Neri
One of the first wines I noticed when I started paying close attention to Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year program was the Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova. Their 2001 was named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2006 ($70/97WS) and at the time I didn't care enough to understand why they picked this specific wine. I just knew that they thought it was a really good bottle of Brunello.

In hindsight it was clearly a nod to a producer leading a renaissance in winemaking in Montalcino. Wine Spectator wanted to feature them because they took a traditionally well-regarded region to the next level by applying contemporary winemaking techniques to make wines that compete at the very highest level on the world stage.
Casanova di Neri in Montalcino, Italy
Today, Brunello maintains its reputation as one of the great appellations in the world. But critics suggest it is at risk of losing its prominence if too many producers rest on their laurels.

From Antonio Galloni's Vinous Media:
Montalcino, like most of Tuscany, is fairly insular and cut off from easy access to major cities and other regions. I see an alarming lack of intellectual curiosity about the world’s great wines among many of Montalcino’s producers. To be fair, this critique is not limited to growers in Montalcino, but also applies to producers in many other regions throughout Italy. How many winemakers truly love wine?
Their tasting room was one of the more public we visited in Tuscany
I wasn't in a position to buy the 2001 Tenuta Nuova when Spectator named it Wine of the Year, but a few years later the 2006 garnered a perfect 100 point rating from James Suckling. I brought it to a BYOB-friendly Italian bistro last year. The wine was incredible - truly one of the best I've ever tasted.

I bought the 2006 immediately after tasting the 2005 at Wine Spectator's Grand Tour Boston. What impressed me about this bottling was that in good vintages it was great. In great vintages it was amazing.

So when I was trying to decide which wineries to reach out to for a visit on a recent trip to Tuscany Casanova di Neri was at the top of the list.

Casanova di Neri was founded in 1971 by Giovanni Neri then passed on to his son Giacomo in 1991. Their flagship wines are their Brunello di Montalcino (~$51) and Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova (~$80). Like all Brunello, these wines are 100% Sangiovese grown near the town of Montalcino.

For some reason I've always thought Italian wineries had a much longer history than Napa wineries. Vineyards in Italy are indeed very old but in reality the history of high quality Brunello production, with the exception of a few producers, isn't tremendously long. In the 1970s there were about 30 Brunello producers. Now there are more than 200. Just like in Napa/Sonoma many of the best producers weren't in existence 50 years ago.

I emailed the winery inquiring about a visit and Giacamo quickly responded. After a beautiful drive down from our villa about an hour north we arrived for a morning visit and tasting. Giacomo greeted us an introduced us to his son GianLorenzo who would be our guide.
Gravity feed winery established in 1999
Their first production vintage was 1977. As things shifted from Lorenzo Neri to Giacomo Neri a new gravity-feed winemaking facilty was established in 1999. Today Casanova di Neri produces 200,000 bottles annually.

The Casanova di Neri story is an evolution of winemaking styles.

To this day, the classic Casanova di Neri Brunello (~$50) embraces a traditional style. We taseted the 2009 at the winery then again later that night at our villa after buying a bottle at the supermarket. It's aged in very large (10,000 liter) neutral oak barrels for 45 months. The 2009 shows pretty red fruit. Cloves. It's light in color and elegant.
Classic Brunello aging in large ~10,000L barrels
The 2009 Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova ("new estate") was the wine that I came to taste and it didn't disappoint. Although 2009 wasn't nearly the vintage 2001 nor 2006 was it provided a chance to taste the wine in a non-spectacular vintage. And it showed very well.
Tenuta Nuova aging in small ~200L barriques like you'd find in Napa
The 2009 Tenuta Nuova feels lower in acidity than the 2006. GianLorenzo felt it wouldn't have the long life the 2006 will, but for immediate/early consumption it's showing very favorably in my opinion. It is very pretty on the nose with effortless power. Silky, slightly sweet tannins. A great combination of characteristics that make this wine a joy to experience.
Tenuta Nuova: A spectacular Brunello made in a modern style
The most important market for Casanova di Neri is the United States. They produce several other wines you might find here. The affordable Irrosso is simple but fresh with firm Italian tannins. Pietrodonice (~$70) is 100% Cabernet with appealing brilliant fruit and bright acidity. Cerretalto (~$190) goes in a different direction with iron notes, hoisin sauce, a little bit of salt and earth. In weaker vintages it is blended in with the classic Casanova di Neri Brunello bottling.

Conclusion and Recommendations

If, like me, you're more of a new world wine enthusiast but you're interested in expanding your palate to embrace traditional old world regions, one way to ease the transition is to explore modern producers. To visit Casanova di Neri is take in the story of a family whose roots are firmly planted in Montalcino producing wines known on the world stage by applying the best modern winemaking techniques.

Their Tenuta Nuova is a wine you have to taste. And it's especially interesting to compare it to their more traditionally made classic Brunello.

Look for it on Wine-Searcher

Their tasting room open to the public and right along one of the main roads that leads up to Montalcino, but call or email ahead for an appointment.

Check 'em out:

A visit to a modern producer like Casanova di Neri provided a perfect comparison point to the more traditional La Gerla later that afternoon.

I'd love it if you subscribe to The Wellesley Wine Press for future updates.


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