Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva:
[kah-zeh bahs-seh jahn-f(l)rahn-ko sol-deh-(l)rah]
"Striving for quality: that’s the point. There was a time when great care was taken in the search for beauty and excellence. Then the masses came to prefer the façade to what lies behind it. "
—Gianfranco Soldera, Betwixt Nature and Passion
Terroir is the word at Soldera’s Case Basse estate.
He set out to find a great piece of land—scouring Piemonte, the Veneto, and Toscana—and settled at an abandoned, decrepit Montalcino farmhouse in 1972, planting his minute plots, Case Basse (approximately 2 hectares) and Intistieti (approximately 4.5), over a two-year period (1972 and ’73, respectively).
He chose to plant Sangiovese exclusively, believing it to be the only grape that possessed a genuine synergy with the land.
What he’s done with that Sangiovese has become Montalcino’s most captivating modern legend, a tale that is set in a magical kingdom of sorts….The Case Basse estate effectually constitutes an idyllic habitat, one which has been designed to operate in a state of continuous balance, honored through a complex yet wholly organic operation. It is here that the animal kingdom reflects its most perfect self, as every contributor is there for a reason.
The wife of Soldera, Graziella, nurtures her own domain in this resplendent world—a rose garden featuring over 1,500 species.
As is to be expected, Soldera exercises a precise and meticulous regimen in the vineyard, privileging a painstaking “by hand” approach to several procedures.
Brunellos issuing from this realm constitute their own category, being unrivaled by any other expression bearing the Montalcino designation.
Collectors of Soldera tend to be fanatical in their pursuit of his limited-production Brunellos, and their efforts often constitute a labor of love—not only due to the wines’ scarcity, but to the labeling issues they inevitably incur. You see, Soldera’s labeling methodology doesn’t reflect the meticulous precision defining his viticultural operations; in fact, it’s the only element of his world that’s rather undisciplined. In order to begin to grasp Soldera, you have to let go of the conventional rules and temporarily suspend logic—but then again, the world of Case Basse is a separate universe, parallel to no other and effectually an entity unto itself, where not every label is what it seems to be….
Soldera drew upon Intistieti exclusively in his early years of Brunello production, as its soils were poorer than those of Case Basse, rendering it the more suited of the two to delivering wines of structure. As the estate’s eponymous cru was growing into its future role as a source of profound Brunello,
Soldera put it to use in a Vino da Tavola Rosso bottling that is effectually the equivalent of a present-day Rosso di Montalcino. However, it wasn’t the only one that was being used in the Vino da Tavola role: When a wine failed to merit Soldera’s exacting qualitative specifications for the Brunello di Montalcino designation, it was classified as Vino da Tavola Intistieti. The first of these was made in 1985 (along with a Vino da Tavola from Case Basse), and while its early successors did indeed represent their source, Soldera changed things up—to great confusion—in the 1987 vintage, as the wine released under the Intistieti label was sourced from Case Basse. The rationale behind the somewhat misleading label?
Nothing more profound than the fact that Soldera liked the Intistieti name, a personal preference that he chose to exercise again in both 1988 and 1991. He followed the latter of these with a Vino da Tavola Intistieti that comprised both vineyards.
Sufficiently dazed and confused? But this somewhat irrational, self-serving modus operandi doesn’t end there.
In the 1990 vintage, Case Basse made its debut Brunello showing, while Intistieti served as the source of Soldera’s Riserva. In some years, though, the normale Brunello is wholly a Case Basse production, while in others, like 1996, it is a blend of the best from both crus. Also, in 1995, Soldera produced the first riserva from Case Basse; in 2001, both crus delivered riservas. Notable vintages of Case Basse include its debuts as both a normale and a riserva expression (1990 and 1995, respectively).
What’s going on inside the bottle is just as difficult to grasp.
A Soldera wine can defy translation, being prone to dramatic changes in intervals of mere seconds. Perhaps Soldera captured it best when he asked Sergio, “Can’t you taste the Case Basse in my wines?” But that taste, of course, as indicated above, is elicited and carefully transmitted through an organic methodology and precise viticultural and vinification techniques, including winter pruning, an exacting green harvest, hand cultivation of the vines, and a meticulous grape selection process. The rigorous regimen continues in the cellar, where a lengthy maceration averaging between 14 and 25 days transpires. Thereafter, the wine is aged sans temperature control in large Slavonian oak casks—presiding over a grotto like space (which enables uninhibited circulation of the air)—over the course of a five-year period (with the riservas receiving an additional year’s aging).
Soldera Brunello di Montalcino