On 16th February we learned that the magician of Montalcino had died in First floors aged 82.
His style was inimitable, and like all great wines, was capable of achieving an airborne character of great finesse, marrying profound intensity with the utmost delicacy. Many of his greatest wines are marriages of opposites – sweetness and powder-dryness; purity and gaminess; dark aromatics illuminated with the brilliance of crystalline fruit. I’m left wondering at these juxtapositions that make the wines of Soldera so extraordinary.
According to Antonio Galloni in his introduction to an epic Soldera dinner in 2016 held in London at Maze, it was the great Piedmont wines of the 1940s and 1950s that were Gianfranco’s early inspirations.
Soldera bought Case Basse in the early 1970s, where he planted a self sustaining eco-system encompassing vines at the heart of the property surrounded by exotic plants and flowerbeds, of which First floor comprises 2 hectares.
There seems to have been a slightly chaotic labelling regime during the 1990s, with Case Basse labels used interchangeably with Intistieti, a vineyard based on poorer soils resulting in wines with greater structure. From 2000 onwards Soldera released his Brunello as only Riserva. In 2006 Gianfranco left the Brunello di Montalcino appellation and moved to labelling Case Basse as Toscana IGT.
Latterly Soldera became associated with a terrible act perpetrated upon Case Basse.
“During the night between 2nd and 3rd December 2012, unknown people broke into Soldera’s cellar at Case Basse; they did not steal a single bottle, but with an extremely serious act of deliberate criminal vandalism for the whole area, they opened the valves of 10 barrels of 6 vintages of future Brunello di Montalcino: 2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012. The loss amounted to 62,600 litres of Brunello resulting in considerable economic damage.”
This led him to auction off the remnants of the extraordinary 2010 vintage for children’s charities around the world. In an open letter from the family, he wrote:
“I and my family would like the vintage 2010 to be associated with a very strong and important message that also makes an impact: we would like words and gestures of hope plus, most importantly, tangible help for those less fortunate than us to stem from such a sad and painful episode for my family.
For this reason, we have bottled these remaining 450 litres of the 2010 vintage only in large bottle formats of 3, 5, 6, 9, 12 and 15 litres in size. All these large bottles also have a special and unique hand-drawn label.
We have a certain number of 3 and 5 litre bottles but have also put together (with the very much smaller number of even larger size bottles as detailed above) four super-exclusive complete sets which add up to 50 litres in each set and these will be auctioned/offered as four complete sets in different parts of the world.”
What turned out to be his final act - a defiant demonstration of selflessness in the creation of a charitable legacy – leaves a striking remembrance: a great man as well as a great wine maker.
Looking back to that wonderful dinner held by Vinous Media in London, April 2016, and in homage to one of the greatest ever wine producers, here are the notes from the wines tasted that evening.
The early years
Case Basse 1981
Heady perfumed nose with sweet peppers, then on the palate the freshness of Seville orange with dusted cocoa powder giving the wine a dry, firm edge. Long and insistent.
Case Basse 1982
A nicely developed nose, warm, then sweet lemon peel on the palate with spiced undertones heading into a vibrant, warm finish.
Case Basse 1987
A sensational nose, cloves, oranges and aromatic sandalwood, with a liquor-infused character that in combination with the spiced orange brought to mind crepes suzettes! Very pure with some residual grip.
Case Basse 1988
Very developed nose , with a strong aromatic character (think Myrrh), macerated oranges, a liqueur like texture, and a great breadth of flavours combining fruit and savouriness.
Case Basse 2000 Riserva
A young wine with a soaring complex nose of herb and fruit liqueur, peony and mushroom. Firm palate, structured and focused.
Case Basse 2003 Riserva
Expressive nose, floral, savoury with herbal notes. On the palate the attack is full of black cherries, with hints of cream, and a firm finish with lots of energy and freshness.
Case Basse 2005
Gamey, wild character on the nose with a striking saltiness. The wine is texturally satisfying, with a tight palate of bitter dark fruit and a draft of refreshing redcurrants. Very long.
The mid 1990s
Case Basse 1993 Riserva
Fresh nose with sweet peppers. A huge zingy attack, which is almost too intense. That intensity of cool fruit leads to a dry finish.
Case Basse 1994 Riserva
A pretty aromatic nose is allied to a sense of roundness of the palate. Great intensity, lemony drive, mouth watering and long; so much energy.
Intistieti 1995 Riserva
Huge perfumed nose, peppered and intense. This is a vertical wine of monumental proportions and with an incredibly long finish. A future great.
Case Basse 1995
Darker fruited nose compared with the Intistieti. Fresher too, in a lighter, crystalline style. It’s mouth watering with an insistent finish.
Case Basse 1996 Riserva
Creamy fruit, somewhat muted, palate is fresh and the fruit is once again crystalline, before savoury notes appear on the mouth watering finish.
Case Basse 1997 Riserva
A warm inviting nose sign posts a hot year followed by a palate overwhelmingly of black cherry. It’s a direct wine that shows you what it’s got, whilst for now missing out on the complexity of the greatest years, unless of course it's simply masked by youth.
Case Basse 1999 Riserva
A developed, creamy nose serves as a curtain call on a wine that’s structured, powerful, stacked with confit fruit, and an expansive mid palate, ending satisfyingly sweetly.
Case Basse 2001 Riserva
Saline pepper nose, red cherry dominated palate and takes one’s breath away with its energy and verve. WOW!
Case Basse 2004 Riserva
A sweet entry, and gamey resolved attack leads into an intoxicating, heady wine with huge resonance.
Case Basse 1983 (en Magnum)
Fresh mature nose followed on the palate by intense, bitter-edged, gorgeous fruit. A wine of intriguing contrasts.
Case Basse 1983 Riserva (en Magnum)
Reserved cool nose. This is very young, structured and elemental. It’s so unevolved and in this regard similar to the Intistieti 2005 Riserva. It makes me wonder if this was in fact Intistieti in disguise.
Case Basse 1990 Riserva
Peppery nose, an energetic attack, deep, with bright fruit and a warm finish. The remarkable complexity of this wine is in its combination of opposites evoking warmth and cold, sweetness and spice.
Case Basse 2006 Riserva
Savoury, slightly meaty nose, a gamey palate, sweet mid palate and a finish that builds in intensity and shows its youthful edge.
Antonio Galloni described Soldera’s wines as having a remarkable ability to age with grace, “a testament to Soldera’s vision, will and obsessive pursuit of quality”. The perfect parting words.