Although the Gaja name is more synonymous with Nebbiolo in Piedmont, this iconic producer also owns 27 hectares of vineyards dedicated to Sangiovese (or Brunello, as it is locally known), Italy’s other great variety. Angelo Gaja initially bought 16 hectares of vines in the southern side of Montalcino in 1994, adding a further 9 hectares in the northern side, near Torrenieri, in 2007. The estate has a long history of viticulture dating back to the very early middle ages, being owned by the clergy for 1,600 years until it was sold to Montalcino winemaker, Roberto Bellini in 1972, when it was named Chiesa di Santa Restituta, after the church adjacent to the site.
Essentially there are three Brunellos made on the estate, all expertly made by Gaja’s long-term oenologist Guido Rivella:
- Sugarille, a single vineyard version notable for its soil which is rich in lime and Galestro (a type of decomposed schist) and produces wines with immense structure built for long ageing
- Rennina, which is also made at the site in the southern side from vines planted in sandstone, clay, marne and pebbles, producing a rich style but less austere than the former when it is young
- The straight estate Brunello, simply known as Pieve Santa Restituta made from the plantings at Torrenieri and the remainder of the vineyards in the South
(barrel sample of proto-Brunello Pieve)
Gaia describes this is as a cold and rainy vintage, however the wine has a lovely, deep ruby-purple colour. The nose is very much dominated by black fruits, like pure essence of morello cherries. It is a real treat to taste such a young version of Brunello, yet it is already showing the earthy sottobosco notes typical of this region. Quite high acidity but the tannins are round and fully formed. An excellent effort for a difficult vintage.
(barrel sample of proto-Brunello Pieve)
Another cool vintage, shows less expression on the nose than the 2014. More ethereal in style and there are notes of red fruits to go with the black cherries. The tannins are more apparent but have the chalky, mouthfilling texture of a young Brunello. Another great effort.
2010 Brunello di Montalcino Pieve
This is the current release and has come to the market with much hyperbole with many commentators stating this is the greatest vintage of Brunello in living memory. I can just about remember the 1985s when they were young and that vintage has always been my benchmark, and I certainly can’t argue with the praise being lavished on this vintage. Already quite profound on the nose, beautiful and silky on the palate. Although the grapes were harvested well into October this doesn’t feel top heavy, there is still a vein of acidity and the tannins are palate enveloping. Quite an extraordinary wine and it would be great to watch this develop over ten years.
2010 Brunello di Montalcino Rennina
Made from a blend of varying soil types, Gaia comments that this has more balance and the capacity to be approachable in youth than the more austere Sugarille. The name of Rennina is taken from the old name of the parish of Santa Resituta. On the day itself, the wine was slightly more backward than the straight Brunello but its concentration was impressive. Very black fruits, with hints of liqueur cherries. If I were to draw comparisons to their Piedmont wines then this would be their ‘Sperss’ for its impressive control of power.
2010 Brunello di Montalcino Sugarille
If Rennina is Sperss, then this is certainly their ‘Sori San Lorenzo’; the most concentrated, backward and austere wine. It has real a ‘Grand Cru’ nose which suggests at the beautiful, latent complexity locked in tannins for the moment. Despite its depths being obscured at the moment, I just couldn’t bring myself to spit any out. This is a lesson in tannin management: despite the quantity of them you cannot fault the quality which is simply is just superb, with the silkiness that you should get from a young Musigny and the fierceness of Gaja’s northern counterparts. A classic in the making.
For me, this was the most enjoyable wine on the day. A wine which is still in its youth, but just starting to reveal its depths. Ripe and sweet but without the volume turned up as high as with the 2010s. It has kind of aromas that you could get lost in, just sniffing your half-filled glass for hours, not wanting to drain it.
2006 Brunello di Montalcino Sugarille
Despite being older that the semi-mature Rennina, this still has more to give. Terrific poise and elegance rather that the power and awe of the 2010. Greatly enjoyable on the day for its almost Bordeaux-like cedary notes but I would wait another year or two if I had any in my cellar.