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Fattoria dei Barbi: A Journey Through Brunello History

Having a history worthy of a novel, the noble Colombini family traces its beginnings back to the beginning of 1000, when they were active in the Sienese government. In 1352, the family acquired its first estates in Montalcino. From saints [yes, they have 2 in the family] and poets, to soldiers and scientists, the Colombinis represent the heart and soul of Toscana.

The family founded the Fattoria dei Barbi estate in 1790, producing wine continuously since that time. The property is one of five that have operated consecutively for over 100 years in Montalcino. The estate takes its name from the Italian word ‘barbo’, a reference to the shells and fossils in the soil. The family is one of the original producers of Brunello di Montalcino; together with the legendary Biondi-Santi family, they are responsible for establishing the prestigious reputation of Brunello throughout the world. Dedicated and progressive, the family has initiated so many “firsts” in the Brunello world; opening the first Italian public wine shop [1936], the first mail-order selling of Tuscan wines, pioneering organic farming [1960s], along with the first Brunello to be exported to the US [1962].

Today, the 306 hectare estate is run by the 20th generation of the family, Stefano Cinelli Colombini. Following in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather, Stefano continues to expand the family’s holdings, along with experimenting and innovating viticulture practices. Highlights of a few of his achievements and contributions to viticulture are: creating the Museo della Comunità di Montalcino e del Brunello, an institution that preserves and communicates the great Brunello history, working with the University of Bologna, he is responsible for developing 4 Sangiovese clones from the oldest vineyard in Montalcino, leading the movement to preserve the typicality of Brunello, keeping it 100% Sangiovese, working with Pisa University, he patented a system of wine production without adding sulphites, and he is the Vice President of the Consorzio del Brunello.

For a deeper look into the history of the family and everything the estate has to offer, such as the historical cellars and Brunello museum, click here for their comprehensive website. Additionally, Stefano created a film, ‘Un Coro Unito’ on the history and significance of Brunello and Montalcino, to view this 12 minute short, click here.

I had the tremendous fortune to be invited to an intimate vertical tasting of 9 wines, spanning from 1971 to 2013, by wine educator, historian and writer, Jeremy Parzen. The wines were presented by the gracious and knowledgeable Raffaella Guidi Federzoni, Fattoria dei Barbi’s longtime export manager.

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013

The heart of the winery, ‘Blu Label’ has been made every year since 1892. The continuous challenge and goal with the ‘Blu Label’ is to craft a wine that is drinkable upon release yet can still be cellared for 20+ years. The 2013 is approachable now, yet showing a slow developing structure that signifies a classic Brunello.

Grapes are from 40 hectares of the best vineyards, with a mix of marl, alberese limestone soils at 300-500 meters in elevation. Aged for 3 years in very large Slavonian oak barrels.

Powerful and muscular, with robust, ripe dark fruit over layers of baking spice, earth and peppery spice, framed by fresh acidity and grippy tannins.
14.5% Alcohol

Fattoria dei Barbi ‘Vigna del Fiore’ Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

A single vineyard wine, the concept for ‘Fiore’ was born when Francesca Colombini, Stefano’s mother, wanted to craft a more feminine wine for her birthday. One of the oldest vineyards in all of Montalcino, this 5.7 hectare vineyard has been cultivated by the Colombini family since the 16th century. The first vintage was in 1981, it is only made in the best vintages, with only 5-6000 bottles produced. It is acclaimed for its elegance, harmony and approachability paired with the capacity for ageing.

Vines are on average 22 years old, with marl and alberese soils, at 350 meters in elevation. Aged in small-medium size French oak barrels for the first months, followed by 2 years in large Slavonian oak barrels.

Earthy and spice driven, with plum, blackberry and balsamic supported by a spicy backbone and silky tannins. Rich and plush with a stately, quiet demeanor.
14.5% Alcohol

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2011

A special selection of grapes from the best vineyards, the Riserva ‘red label’ is produced only in the best vintages. Vines are 20 years average age, in marl soil at 400 meters in elevation. Aged in small-medium size French oak barrels for the first months, followed by 3 years in large Slavonian oak barrels.

Refined and elegant with floral notes accenting cherry, red currant, raspberry, dried herbs, and spice. Silky tannins and fresh acidity compliment fruit, earth and spice on the polished finish.
14.5% Alcohol

The trio of wines from the 1980’s naturally brought up the discussion of climate change and its impact on winemaking. During the 1970’s and 80’s winemakers were able to make a rather good approximation of the harvest and the likelihood that it will [or will not] develop into a good vintage. The seasons were more balanced, with foreseeable and expected weather conditions. Today, climate change has destroyed this climatic harmony, causing extreme and erratic conditions that make every harvest unpredictable.

Another factor impacting dependable harvests is the vineyard expansion that occurred in the 1980’s and 90’s in Montalcino. Traditionally, vineyards were in the best spots; with ideal elevation, soil and exposure. With the demand for Brunello increasing internationally, grapes began to be cultivated in not so perfect plots, contributing to the uncertainty of production. Fattoria dei Barbi, with its land holdings since 1352, are not affected by this, as their vineyards are in the prime areas of southeastern Montalcino. The fundamental concept of “producer over vintage” is responsible for crafting great wines even in not so fortunate vintages.

Fattoria dei Barbi wines from the 1980’s are renowned for their finesse and elegance. Many have observed the feminine character of the wines from this decade, citing Francesca’s lead in the estate. From the creation of the ‘Vigna del Fiore’, to her becoming the first woman to export Brunello, she is regarded for bringing a “feminine touch” to the estate.

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1989

Svelte and elegant, with silky black fruit, peppery spice, fried sage, leather, chocolate and earth. Super fresh acidity and velvety tannins highlight floral elements on the spicy finish. A subtle agility twists thru the silky layers.
13% Alcohol

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1982

Campfire smoke winds around rich plum, black cherry, morello cherry, licorice, black pepper and a truffle/porcini streak, accented by tangy acidity and silky tannins. Sandalwood and dark fruit saturate the lengthy finish. Sumptuous and plush.
13.5% Alcohol

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1981

Rich baked fruit, brambly berries with a drizzle of honey and balsamic edged by roasted herbs and licorice. Fresh acidity and velvety tannins fuse with red cherry, wildflowers, chocolate and a hint of earth on the lengthy finish. Refined and complex, with a delicate mystique.
13.5% Alcohol

Brunello from the 1970’s can be considered as the classic, “authentic Brunello”. These are wines that were crafted to be aged, made weighty, more austere and with lower alcohol. Wines that developed and matured with an accompanying “philosophical edge”, or as Raffaella explained, these are “soul experience” wines. As we discussed the privilege of tasting these 3 Brunello, the conversation centered around the concepts of complete sensory experience. These are wines that engage not just the palate, but the senses and the mind. Raffaella’s interpretation of an “identity that can’t be replaced” is perhaps the best tasting note for this 70’s flight.

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1975

An opulent fusion of black cherry, black currant, almond biscotti, licorice, herbs, good acidity and velvety tannins. Raisin, dark chocolate, eucalyptus and baking spice percolate thru the plush finish.
13% Alcohol

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1973

Intricate and dense, with myrrh resin, carnation, black cherry, forest and earth draping over a spicy framework. Silky tannins lead the way to concentrated dark fruit, spice and smoky earth on the sleek finish.
13% Alcohol

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1971

A graceful symphony of wildflowers, bramble, wild berry pie, summer woods, peppery spice, silky tannins and a wisp of smoke. Elderflower and raspberry liqueurs pour over the velvety finish. Complex, esoteric, enigmatic, spectacular.
13% Alcohol

From left to right, 1975, 1973, 1971. No filter, just candle illumination to show the stunning colour on the 1971.

3 comments on “Fattoria dei Barbi: A Journey Through Brunello History

  1. Pingback: “A graceful symphony.” Leading American wine blogger Cara Rutherford shares tasting notes on 89, 82, 81, 75, 73 71 Barbi Brunello | Montalcino Blog

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