Podere Salicutti – humility and genius

At this year’s VinItaly, I had a chance to spend some time with Francesco Leanza, after 20 minutes of talking about some his past vintages that I’ve enjoyed, I also had some time to taste his newly released wines. My experience with the Podere Salicutti wines prior to meeting him prepared me, if just a little, for our meeting, but there are certain things that can only be learned as a result of sitting and talking, face to face. That said, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to learn more about the vision and dedication here, and, of course, taste the wines.

As a wine journalist/critic, a part of me glass is half full, goooo underdog!) wants to like everything I taste, and a part of me wants to find some faults with everything (cynic, pragmatist, economist, New York native, etc.). In many respects, I continue as the posterchild for those born under the Gemini sign.

This four days at VinItaly was going to different; I promised myself as much. You see, I was trying to leave everything I knew about a wine/label/points/scores/vintages/the winegrowers, modern vs. traditional (read: noise, all of it) and park it outside in the car lot somewhere; my goal was to focus solely on what’s in the glass – easier said than done when years of memorization/learning/tasting/press/noise lurks ubiquitously in the dark corners of the brain.

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Francesco Leanza, passionate natural winegrower

On this second day of VinItaly, in the center  of Pad. 8, amoung the hundreds of independent natural winegrowers, there was Francesco Leanza, former chemical engineer, and citizen of Rome, arms crossed, as if to say “I’ve been waiting, take a seat”. And so I did.

2014 Podere Salicutti Rosso di Montalcino  (R+)  { #VinItaly 2017 } I really like the freshness here. Lively, and brimming with cool cherry fruit, dusty earth and soft leather notes. Medium-bodied, avg persistence, developing complexity. A very nice drop. No filtering/fining, native yeasts, ~ 10 days on the skins (Inox) and 18 months in tonneau of various ages; entirely from Sorgente vineyard. Francesco’s desire to offer a pure sense of place and grape most certainly comes across in this understated wine. 2018-2024. recommended+

The farm (Podere) is just over 5Ha, with just ~ 2Ha planted to vines; the farm was purchased in 1990, and planting of the vineyards began in 1994. Since the orginal planting, there’s been some replanting already – early choices based on an unfamiliarity with the land – with the most recent vines established about ten years ago. Podere Salicutti was the first winery to be certified organic in Montalcino zone. A link to the company website.

Francesco’s choices, and changes/adaptations, don’t stop in the vineyard, he’s also become quite the listener in the cellar. For example, after resting on the skins in open top stainless tanks (for ~ 3 weeks), the wine is moved and raised in a series of wood vessels, beginning with barrique of various age, and also some tonneau, before eventually being moved to large casks (40hl botti). Over the past 20 years, Francesco’s developed this regimen to be more in tune with the needs of the winegrapes.

After tasting the 2014 Rosso di Montalicino, and discussing the weather/challenges of the vintage, we move to the newly released Brunello. Before we do, and as the photo might suggest, Francesco is a close-to-the-vest kind of guy, not much of a talker (like a lot of engineers I know), more of a thinker. Until, that is, he knows you’re there to talk about dirt (I was, and I am), or the land that gives the wine its foundation and personal identity. And so it was, that by the end of our time together, which I valued/treasured quite greatly, we we both very relaxed, knowing that we shared a common purpose at VinItaly – to talk about the land first, to peer through its window, and the wine (and us for that matter), well, it’s important, but it’s merely an outcome, a reflection, if you will.

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2012 Podere Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione  (R+)  Ruby core, clear. Dark, leathery scents behind a thin wall of reduction. A few minutes in the glass and cherries, sandalwood and soil emerge. The palate is medium>medium+, but with air, the acids seem to come to life and this takes a step back to a medium-body. Seems a bit clumsy today, though the perfumes are very bright, and the fruit, struggling for a voice (today), is cool and pure nonetheless. I’d give this a few years to sort itself out. Tasted all of the new releases today, impressive quality and purity. I’m a buyerrecommended+

This (i.e. Salicutti) may be a recognized name, but it’s not because it’s a large concern, in fact, as I said up-post, it’s not even 5 acres – production is tiny, and, as those that buy each year already know, quality is very, very high.

Which leads me to the next wine, the Riserva, from the hot/dry 2011 vintage. Tasting this wine is really like being given a looking glass that peers directly into Francesco’s mind, as if I too can see what it takes to listen carefully enough to create the wine that those winegrapes were meant to become. Listening is not such an easy thing; acheiving balance and a wine with a purpose and identity, well, that’s not so easy either.

Most days, at these large events, I’ll have to taste hundreds of wines before I’m lucky enough to come across a wine like 2011 Riserva, below:

2011 Podere Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione Riserva  (HR)  2011 was a difficult (hot, dry, among other things) vintage for the Montalcino zone. And yet none of that comes through in this briliant, organically-farmed wine, yet another of Francesco Leanza’s humble masterpieces. This is exciting, offering great energy, focus and tradmark purity. A really broad spectrum of aromas and flavors, all packed with detail and nauance – and all in a powerfully elegant and well-structured package. This is a standout, in this vintage, and others, too. Bravo! 2021-2038highly recommended

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Our tasting concludes with Podere Salicutti’s IGT Cabernet Sauvignon (90%, Cannaiolo, 10%) from the 2014 vintage.

2014 Podere Salicutti Sant’ Antimo Dopoteatro  .  (R)  A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Canaiolo, and this (bio) organially-grown wine comes in at just 13,0% abv. This medium-ruby colored wine offers traditional aromas of cassis, and to a lesser degree cherry; a good dose of soil, and loam washes over everything. Fresh acidity, with a delicacy to the more femininely-styled medium>full body. Flavors are still developing, as are the aromas; a very respectable table wine, it needs another year or two of rest. Soil, pencil lead, and herbs fill the cherry-infused, cassis-driven finish; fine tannins, medium persistence. Fun to try, and obviously well-grown; 2019-2025. At $40 or less, it’s easily recommended

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(header photo: the Piaggone vineyard, looking East)

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