BdM Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy's Greatest Wines by Kerin O'Keefe

I read this book on my recent business trip so I thought I would give it a quick review for Brunello fans. It’s a very quick read with a nice history of the region from the very beginning through recent events like the Brunellogate scandal. The last half of the book is dedicated to producer profiles and some tastings notes. I thought the producer profiles were really well done and I have already sought out a few names that were new to me.

She admits up front to having a very strong preference for traditional brunello and pretty much shuns anyone using small French oak barrels. As such she doesn’t even profile some of the popular modern producers like Casanova di Neri, Valdicava and Siro Pacenti. I tend to lean more towards the Biondi-Santi style compared to the Casanova style these days, but my preferences are not as cut and dry as hers.

Some of the book was a little to wine geeky for me, like going into a lot of detail about rootstocks and grape clones. I skimmed those sections, but if you like to geek out there is plenty here for you.

Overall I thought it was a solid read for those wanting to learn more about the history of brunello and to help identify some new producers to try. Not quite as good as having a guided tour of the region by Longboarder though. Cool
Original Post
Simon, thanks but that's what I paid for it; and have already read it!
Regarding the book, any knowledgable Brunello fans, other than GlennK out there that have read this yet? Are your thoughts the same as his? My immediate reaction to the book was that I wish I had read it before I bought a number of 2006 Brunellos. Her thought on the vintage was 'over rated'. Ouch!
I think she likes taking the contrarian view of the mainstream wine press so you have to take statements like that with a grain of salt. What is interesting about that comment is for the producers that she really likes, she universally loved all of their 06’s that she provided tasting notes for.

I wouldn’t worry if you bought good producers as 06 seems to be universally liked.
I had good luck loading up on 2005s that she liked (you can find them here ) They are drinking beautifully right now and they were a bargain. As I live in Switzerland I usually drive down to fill up the trunk on wine, but last year I could not go so I have no experience at all on 2006. I am going next week to Montalcino and I plan to try a lot of 2006s and 2007s. I hope that I get the book in the mail before I leave as I did not see any article in Decanter this year on Brunello (can you believe those English editors?) and I would like to know what she liked. If the Swisspost betrays me I am glad to learn that the producers that she usually likes made an excellent 2006. Thanks Glenn for letting me know.
Bartolorules thanks for sharing the link. I love the way he puts it about RP: "The style of these notes often corresponds to the style of the wines their authors prefer. Robert Parker, for example writes loud and fruity descriptions of the loud and fruity wines that achieve his sought-after 90+ points." He puts Kerin O'Keefe in the Broadbent/Coates camp, but I think she just writes about the wines she likes. Fortunately she seems to have a good palate AND a good taste (the 2 things don't necessarily go together for a wine critic). Even though I was a bit disappointed not seeing some of my favorite small Brunello producers profiled in her book (Mocali, Castelli Martinozzi, San Polino) I have to admit that some of the producers in her book that I did not know and that I have been able to taste are truly outstanding and not too expensive (Le Gode and Lambardi for example).
You are welcome. It's interesting that you mention Lambardi as I was reading an old post
Originally posted by Longboarder:
The best '97 I have had this year was from Lambardi, which is a little known producer that may not export to the US (don't know for sure).

which mentioned Lambardi and I was wishing I could try it. Hopefully it is imported now.
Here in Switzerland I never saw Lambardi, I bought a few bottles last June on my trip to Montalcino. It was a top 5 in my personal ranking of more than 70 Brunellos I tasted. Very earthy and elegant with a wonderful balance, pure Sangiovese at its best.
The staff at Osticcio in "downtown" Montalcino was great as I was able to taste everything I wanted, even the most obscure producers mentioned in the BdM book that I did not know about, such as Aietta which is the smallest. If they did not have a bottle they would tell me: come back tomorrow and we will have it for you. They even had copies of the book for sale, something I was very grateful for, as I had forgetten my copy at home.
I am in Ravenna right now and I am heading to Montalcino next. I am planning to see at least one winery per sub-zone and this is my list:
Montalcino north Altesino
Montalcino south Fuligni
Bosco Castiglion del Bosco
Tavernelle Caprili
Camigliano Marchesato degli Aleramici
Sant'Angelo Scalo Col d'Orcia
Sant'Angelo in Colle Lisini
Castelnuovo dell'Abate Mastrojanni
Torrenieri Innocenti

Any suggestion about must-see wineries that I need to add is most welcome.
In addition restaurants suggestions, especially those where I can find old Brunellos.
Hi Bartolo rules, in case you are still in Montalcino in addition to Giglio (I agree with Glenn, good food and excellent wine list) you might want to try Al Giullare, owned by Padelletti a producer profiled in O'Keefe's book. Food is good and they have really old Padelletti Brunellos, I tried a couple of them and they were excellent (I do not have my notes handy and I can't remember the vintages). For the same reason you might want to eat at La Vineria, owned by Gorelli of Le Potazzine. It is one of the top 10 producers in my view, and they have old bottles. They also have some old Brunellos from other producers as the place is also an enoteca. Have fun in Montalcino!
Its probably way to late now for any advice, but when its about restaurants/old Brunelli I second Glenn's advise.
Il Giglio's wine list is second to none when it comes to aged Brunelli.
Grappolo Blu and La Vinera are nice options too. As in fact most restaurants in Montalcino have some older Brunelli on their list. But none of them offers the choice of various producers for most relevant vintages way back to the seventies as Il Giglio does.

Please let us know about your experience!
Thanks for all the suggestions, much appreciated. As I got to Montalcino I soon discovered it was not the ideal time for cellar/tasting visits as grape picking was in full force. It worked out well as walking the vineyards, sometimes even at random, and seeing the results of a full year of work, the excitement of producers and their employees after many worries, makes me appreciate even more those wonderful Brunellos.
I did not get Albert and Simonbeve suggestions in time, so I will have to try Grappolo Blu and Al Giullare next time, but I did try La Vineria and I loved it. It is ideal for lunch, the food is classic and I love to check out the labels before buying a wine, something you can easily do in an enoteca/ristorante. Il Giglio was excellent (thanks GlennK), with amazing food and a cellar you can only dream about.
The question I had for several years about Brunello di Montalcino was the following: Sangiovese is grown across Italy (the first grape variety by volume) and in other countries, why is it that Sangiovese-based wines are much more complex in this small part of Tuscany?
I was pleased that I was finally able to answer my question thanks to O'Keefe's book. Not only she gave the usual "this is what I like", but there are also the tools to understand what is going on in terms of history, geology, soils, climate, viticulture and cellar practices.
This makes it possible to appreciate jewels such as my favorite wine in my latest trip to Montalcino even more.
Il Marroneto 1999 BdM: great balance and solid tannins on the palate, with berry flavors and tertiary aromas developing in a long finish. Still a long life ahead.
What old BdM impress you the most?
The oldest bottle I had while I was in Montalcino was a BdM Riserva Col d’Orcia 1985. The color was darker compared to brunellos from the classic sub-zone at a much higher altitude and was initially closed, but opened up beautifully with tertiary notes of leather and tobacco, with an impressive freshness and a long finish.
BdM Poggio di Sotto 1999 was the best wine of my trip with intense cherry aromas and a long licorice finish, combined with lively acidity and strong but graceful tannins. Still youthful with a long life ahead.
I read a previous book by Kerin O'Keefe on Franco Biondi Santi, the grandson of Ferruccio and son of Tancredi, the inventors of Brunello di Montalcino. The book was published in 2004 at first in italian and then in english by Veronelli Editore, the publishing house of the guru of Italy's food and wine, the great Luigi Veronelli. It seems incredible to say it now, but at the time the book first came out nobody was talking about Biondi Santi positively. I got the book in italian after reading an excellent review (in italian), published in 2005 and still available on the internet by Franco Ziliani. He said that Franco Biondi Santi was considered as "an old fogey, a stick-in-the-mud, a man incapable to understand the present and the necessity, for Brunello, to evolve and align towards the needs of today's consumer".
If the French had somebody like Franco Biondi Santi they would have put him on a pedestal, instead he was mocked by the notables of italian wine. A few years have gone by and, fortunately, many things have changed as many observers changed their tune and recognized the greatness of Biondi Santi, such as Gambero Rosso in Italy.
There was also Brunellogate which exposed all the contradictions of Montalcino and its producers. But the battle for authentic Brunello, as the expression of a unique terroir is not won yet, as demonstrated by the recent attempts to change the production code in order to allow other grapes in addition to Sangiovese.
I was hoping for an italian edition of her book, but nothing came out so far, so I guess I will have to read it in english.
Excerpts from Kerin O'Keefe Brunello book about Gianfranco Soldera:

"...Soldera, one of the most plainspoken and colorful winemakers states: Barriques are only for deficient wines that don't get enough tannins and flavors from the grape and need to make up for this lack with oak sensations."

"...pointed finger at him as being the whistle-blower that led to the investigation known as Brunellogate, Soldera adamantly denies the accusation."

"...widely credited by other producers as having helped guide the Consorzio into the crucial 2008 vote that threw out any proposed changes to Brunello's production code."

I looked them up after learning about the evil vandalism that destroyed years of work. I was convinced it was a classic mafia-related crime, but now I have my doubts, perhaps local police in Montalcino should look elsewhere.
Good point Simon and thanks for sharing the excerpts, I will receive Kerin O'Keefe book in the next days.
I listened to a taped interview Gianfranco Soldera gave to web site after the attack, so I can contribute back some highlights which I think are very significant.

"I always said what I thought and I always fought what was wrong"

"evidently those who did this did not understand that I would never bow"

"those who did this were not crooks"

"I asked the police that the investigations will be at 360 degrees"
I knew it was not mafia-related but I have to admit I was wrong not dismissing right away conspiration theories about vendettas from other producers. It was simply a former employee, the carabinieri have done a good job nailing him down, they seem to have a strong case against him, with phone tapping and even a pair of wine-stained jeans which will be tested to see if they can match the stains with Soldera's wine
As an update to the book, which covered up to the 2006 vintage, here are Kerin O'Keefe favorite 2008 Brunellos, as published in Wine Searcher: Biondi Santi, Costanti, Gianni Brunelli, Il Colle, Salvioni, Uccelliera, Il Marroneto, Caprili, Le Potazzine, Donatella Cinelli Colombini, La Fiorita, L’Aietta, La Gerla, Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Il Palazzone, Col d'Orcia and Canalicchio di Sopra.
Thanks Simonbeve for update, 2008 looks like an interesting vintage for Brunello, but wines need to be chosen carefully.
I just finished the book and my impression is very positive. In a world where there is an abundance of superficial analysis and self-published opinions it is refreshing to see in-depth research published by the University of California. Working in the academic field myself I know quite well the pain involved with dealing with an editor, peer reviewers, editorial committee, etc. The author's pain turns, in most cases, in a better, more rigorous work for the benefit of the readers. There are also constraints in the process, for example it would have been nice to see color maps and pictures in the book, but these days how many books do you know that are manufactured (on recycled paper) and printed in the US? It costs more but it gives you comfort knowing that jobs are maintained in the US with the added benefit to rest assured that the ink is not toxic.
Kerin O'Keefe book is well researched, both through in-depth analysis of historical sources and academic research, as well as extensive foot work by means of interviews, vineyards and cellar visits. Relevant aspects of history, geology, pedology, viticulture and enology, together with an excursus into the so-called Brunellogate (in Italy we called it Brunellopoli) are presented in a way that makes it attractive to read, not an easy feat. About 100 pages are dedicated to those subjects and they cover about one third of the book. The author loves pure Sangiovese expression and her arguments are quite convincing: Montalcino proves to be the best terroir for Sangiovese, but it has been planted in many unsuitable vineyards, which contributes to explain the heavy handed approach of many wineries in the cellar.
The other two thirds of the book - about 200 pages - are covered by 58 producer profiles of variable length, from one page to several pages. The choice, aside from the top producers by size which are included because of their relevance, is made by O'Keefe based on what she thinks are the best expressions of Sangiovese. So there are some tiny producers which are only turning out a few thousands bottles a year, which have a cult following in Italy, that I know are very hard, if not impossible, to find as personally experienced in my frequent visits to the US. The profiles are packed with information, but are written in a style that is pleasant to read. Tasting notes of recent and old vintages are at the end of each profile.
The Wine Spectator reviewed the book and, while praising it ("...well-researched, detailed work, is a must read for Brunellophiles.”), was somewhat critical as the author “...does the reader a disservice by not discussing several reputable producers whose wines are highly regarded by both American and international critics”. I find the logic of this argument tenuous at best, as it is auto-referential. It is like saying I do not like your choices as you have not included the wines I like. Kerin O'Keefe, an American wine critic based in Italy, has been writing for Decanter and World of Fine Wine for many years. Isn't she entitled to have her own preferences?
In addition, I find that WS tastes are getting closer to O'Keefe's tastes anyway, as Biondi Santi have moved from being “tired and acidic”, one of the few bad wines in “The greatest Brunellos ever” report published in WS in 2002, to getting high 90s scores for its recent vintages. Was 1997 Biondi Santi really that bad and the house that invented Brunello has now dramatically increased its quality, or has WS changed its mind on Biondi Santi's wines?
What do you think?
Interesting discussion. I think Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate and Gambero Rosso in Italy were wrong in their evaluation of Biondi Santi's wines. They all seem to love their wines now, but that is due to change in personnel in each organization.

+1. Also, Biondi Santi's wines, from my limited experience, tend to be a little unyelding when tasted young. Not crowd pleasers at all.
RIP Franco Biondi Santi. He passed away Sunday, he was 91 years old.

In the flurry of comments I noticed this tweet by Eric Asimov: "Biondi Santi Brunellos were subject to fierce criticism, but they are among the most beautiful wines I’ve ever had. They set the benchmark."
Originally posted by Simonbeve:
I knew it was not mafia-related but I have to admit I was wrong not dismissing right away conspiration theories about vendettas from other producers. It was simply a former employee, the carabinieri have done a good job nailing him down, they seem to have a strong case against him, with phone tapping and even a pair of wine-stained jeans which will be tested to see if they can match the stains with Soldera's wine

Simonbeve, Soldera himself seems to think you were not wrong.
Those who read Kerin O'Keefe profile on Soldera in her book, as well as what was behind the Brunello scandal will not be surprised by this wild turn of events in crazy Montalcino.
In an interview with leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera Soldera said that he does not think that his former employee opened the taps just in spite of him but that he must have had other motives. He does not say that he might have been pushed by other producers, but what other motives could there be?
Then he talks about Brunellopoli (or Brunellogate) reviving his suspicions of foul play.
Finally, the Consorzio's producers wanted to gift him with some wine to make up for his loss and perhaps make a special bottling. He turned down with disdain the offer saying it would have been a "fraud to the consumer". Producers and Consorzio got pissed off - rightly so I think, as they were just trying to help - and they expelled him from the Consorzio (even if he already had voluntarily left) and sued him.
Crazy, isnt'it? Hey but what do you expect from us, a country where comedian Grillo won the elections? Bear with us Italians though, we are a bit nuts but our wines are the best in the world.
Mostly agree with what Giovanni said (in particular about Italians!).

I am not sure that the other producers were just trying to help, though. Together with this very respectable aim, I can't avoid imagining some marketing intent in their move. Nonetheless this is not necessarily a malicious thing, as the public image of Brunello needed some help after the recent issues.

So, I can understand that a wounded man like Soldera could be suspecting that this generosity act is not really done to help him; saying that this is a fraud against consumers is not correct, though.

Also, please consider that we are not just in Italy, but in the Provincia di Siena. Here none agrees with others about anything, not just Siena against Firenze, but even any contrada of Siena against all the other contradas. Part of the charme of the place...

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