BRUNELLO MAKER INTERVIEW: LIFE AT THE PALAZZONE VINEYARD

Right in time for Benvenuto Brunello 2013, this blog inaugurates not a new vintage, but a new feature -  a series of interviews with my very personal selection of Montalcino's best winemakers. 

Deciding which Brunello producer to start off with was easy. Laura Gray from the Palazzone winery is one of the great communicators when it comes to Brunello making (be it during a winery visit or via her blog on the Palazzone website). Scotland born and Oxford educated, Laura is married to Montalcino thoroughbred Marco Sassetti. Together they run Richard Parsons' Il Palazzone, a small winery close to Montalcino's town center. In occasion of Benvenuto Brunello 2013, the Palazzone team proudly presents the 2008 vintage together with their handsome new wine cellar. 


Palazzone vineyard's new cellar  (by Montalcino born architect Marco Pignattai

Are you a 100% Sangiovese gal or do you think Montalcino wines should open up to Cabernet and co.? 
What a blasphemous suggestion! 100% Sangiovese all the way. We’re doing something special and specific here, with over a century of history – why compete with the rest of the world?

A favorite Brunello vintage or one that has been under- (or over-) estimated? 

2006, with its pinpoint acidity and lean muscular frame, is a wonderful vintage for Brunello. 2005 and 2008 were, in our case, undeservedly over-looked vintages. This is beginning to change as you can see from this recent review. The fanfare that greeted the 2007 vintage in general was in my opinion exaggerated, many of the wines from this year are so ripe and opulent as to be atypical.

Any suggestions for travelers looking to get to grips with Brunello before coming here? 
Kerin O’Keefe has recently published a wonderful book, Understanding Brunello, which I cannot recommend enough. The Consorzio del Brunello has a free app. And I have also written a few guidelines, based on the questions I hear most often from visitors, for example regarding vintage evaluation or the obligatory dry-farming.

Why not Chianti or Montepulciano? I.e. how did you end up on that particular Tuscan hill? 
My parents introduced me to Montalcino at an early age and there was never any alternative.


Tuscan restaurants, bars, wineries - where can you be found hanging out?
It’s not often that I leave the estate, but on the rare occasions that I do, Il Silene and Villa Armena are my top fine-dining haunts for special meals. Otherwise wonderful Pino at S.Angelo Scalo for delicious everyday fare or Il Leccio in S.Angelo in Colle, a restaurant which is dear to my heart because I was part of its previous incarnation.

A Tuscan drive or walk that never fails to turn a dreaded Monday morning into a weekly highlight?

The walk from Montalcino to S.Antimo goes right past Il Palazzone. I can do a part of it, through the woods, and loop back. 

Your favorite view?
Walking from Castelnuovo dell’Abate towards Castello La Velona where the view opens up towards the sea. Or at the bottom of Il Travaglio, below Montalcino, looking back at the town and down over the Val D’Orcia.


View towards Montalcino's historic town center
Montalcino's historic town center seen from the bottom of the Travaglio neighborhood

Should you ever get tired of Brunello, where will you open your next winery? Or will it be beer?
It would be great if it would be whisky but I have a feeling that we’re staying put.

Any area in Tuscany you couldn't do without?
Monte Amiata, a reassuring landmark, visible from a multitude of angles and places. This wilderness in Southern Tuscany contrasts with the rest of a region that has been modified and developed by human hand for hundreds, probably thousands of years. It’s hard not to think of that emblematic cypress-lined road from La Foce to Montichiello, planted by the Origos. Fifteenth century Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Pope Pius II) used to admire Monte Amiata through windows he had cut into the garden walls of his palace at Pienza; an early example of taking pleasure in landscape for its own sake.

Any Tuscan town, food or sightseeing attraction you feel is overrated?
There’s a saying here, "non sputare nel piatto dove mangi"…

A seaside secret?
Put your sunscreen on before you go to the beach… and try to be there at sunset when everyone else has left. That’s not what you meant, is it?

Are you a museum goer? If yes, where and why?

Bargello in Florence, to see Donatello's androgynous David (circa 1440), probably the first free-standing bronze statue made by the lost wax method since Roman times, and possibly one of the most beautiful and puzzling statues in the world.

If not Tuscany, where would you want to live (and why)?
It’s hard to say, I have never lived as an adult anywhere else. After the last 18 years of living in a postcard I might be ready for an urban period. Apart from the obvious increased variety of cinema, theater, activities, ethnic food and so on, I often find myself longing for the anonymity of a big city.

A summer festival, classical concert or sagra (village festival) you're never missing out on?

Musica Reale in Montalcino for world class chamber music, the Sagra del Tartufo at San Giovanni D’Asso for truffle with everything.



Brunello wine barrels
What a relief: barrique free Brunellos. 


What to do with teetotallers in Tuscany (like in kids or grandchildren)?

Podere Il Casale in Pienza seems to satisfy both categories, another great spot is the Spoerri Garden at La Pescina or Il Bosco della Ragnaia. I recently heard that Why Not Gelateria in Montalcino is doing ice-cream making workshops which sounds like a fun way to spend a morning. (editor's note: Laura has written two great blog posts which provide more details about the above mentioned places Keeping Kids Happy under the Tuscan sun - part one and part two).

Any favorite Tuscan hot springs, churches or roadside bars?

Hot springs; I’m not a fan, so no favourites I’m afraid.
Churches are another matter. The cloister at Monte Oliveto with the Signorelli and Sodoma frescoes and S.Anna in Camprena for more Sodoma. I also love the Piccolomini Library in the Siena duomo, particularly its imaginative depiction of Scotland.
Bar dell’Orso for a sandwich near Monteriggioni or Da Begname just before Arcidosso and Castel del Piano.

Anything else, you'd like to add (political propaganda against Berlusconi is more than welcome)?

This is too painful a subject for anyone living in Italy with children destined to grow up here.

A Tuscan producer, Italian wine region or rediscovered grape variety that we should keep an eye on?

The wines from the south and Sicily in general are very interesting. In particular Nanni CopĂ© from Campania. This Terre del Volturno IGT is a blend of Pallagrello Nero 85%, Aglianico 12% and Casavecchia 3%. I discovered this wine thanks to my internet “friends” Jeremy Parzen and Anthony D’Anna (the importer for our wines in Australia).

Last but not least - any Italian book, blog, film or piece of music (or art), that will take the average traveler straight into the heart of this messy boot called Italy?
Italy’s addictive combination of sensuality, aesthetics and Machiavellian manoeuvres has been puzzling and captivating visitors here for centuries. 
Cinema Paradiso? The Dark Heart of Italywww.italiannotebook.com?


IL PALAZZONE FACTS AND FIGURES
First year of production: 1985
Bought by current owner: 2000
Hectares under vine: 5, in 3 different parts of Montalcino territory
Aging: traditional large barrel aging for 40+ months for all Brunello
Fermentation in wood from 2011 vintage
Number of bottles produced: 6 - 12.000
Number of bottles 2008 vintage: 4348 (http://www.ilpalazzone.com/il-palazzone-2/2008-brunello-di-montalcino-d-o-c-g/)
Wines produced: Rosso del Palazzone VR, Lorenzo & Isabelle IGT Toscana, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva
Twitter id: @ilpalazzone



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