“Sangiovese’s specificity to be exalted and a return to the use of barrels”, these are the indications given by the French wine maker Valérie Lavigne for the perfect harmony of the greatest Brunello.
This type of affirmation is one that gets people talking, mostly because it comes from a French person and the barriques which have populated Italian wineries for the past ten years are French too. It is Valérie Lavigne speaking, the new extraordinary wine maker in Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s Tuscan wineries.
She teaches winemaking in the most famous wine making university in the world, Bordeaux, she is consultant together with Denis Dubordieu and Christophe Olivier, in some of the most important wineries in the world such as the Châteaux d’Yquem, Margaux and Cheval Blanc.
“The more a wine is concentrated and rich in phenolic components the better its resistance in small wooden casks. But even if a wine can resist an excess of wood it does not mean that it is right to impose such an ageing on it”. From this starting point Valérie develops her philosophy for the great red wines from Montalcino. “Brunello must age in barrel at least two years. For such a long ageing process the maker must choose a container which permits it to benefit from the advantages associated with the use of wood (oxygenation, clarification, bringing aroma and taste) and at the same time maintain the personality of the wine (fruit, freshness and balance). The wood must not dominate the wine, it must remain an aid, an “épice”. Here is her opinion “This result is obtained best using barrels”.
The French wine maker intends privileging perfect harmony in the Brunello; this is a distinctive trait in great wines. To obtain this harmony she proposes some golden rules: if a wine must change container during its ageing in wood it is preferable to start with smaller ones and then continue with the lager sizes. The necessity for oxygen in fact decreases with time. But once again she insists on tonneuax (5 hl) and barrels which “permit more than barriques (especially if old) the preservation of the aromas of the Sangiovese from Tuscany and avoiding that the dryness of tannins disturb the balance of the wine”. This refers to the slightly bitter finish which Ms. Lavigne calls “dry”, present in many Tuscan wines made with Sangiovese and not very appreciable from a quality point of view.
So it’s “Hurray for barrels”! An affirmation which seems a return to the past yet contains new elements in its increased respect for the cultural identity of the wine, it also comes from some scientific motivations which are irreproachable. This approach is on the same wavelength with Valerie Lavigne’s enthusiasm for the autochthonous grape varieties –Sangiovese e Foglia Tonda.
During her last visit to Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s wineries, from November 23rd to 25th, the French winemaker has tasted the wines from the 2010 vintage giving them an amazing evaluation. Her last discovery is the Sagrantino imported from the nearby Umbria (18 km) to the Fattoria del Colle vineyards in Trequanda which, in her opinion can be an excellent partner for the Sangiovese in the wines produced in southern Tuscany.
Barrels and Italian autochthonous grape varieties have consequently a new standard-bearer and we are very satisfied that these positive opinions come from a French woman.