I remember when I met Alan Silvestri and his wife, I was in the middle of one of my multi-week wine discovery trips (visiting Central Coast AVAs that time); I just happened into a restaurant that was across the street from my hotel. I didn’t know Alan, or his wife, or that he was famous, or whatever. What I did know, straightaway, was that he was a great guy, with a deep love for wine (and good food, by virtue of where we met). We talked for a while, each sensing the other’s passion for all things wine, all things beautiful.
Riccardo Campinoti reminds me a lot of Alan, and something that Alan told me when we got to talking about his own label, still resonates, that even though he wasn’t a winemaker, every great film/show (i.e. experience, product, etc.) needs a great producer (see Alan’s filmography here) . Riccardo is a truly great producer.
Riccardo, and his (now) wife Jen purchased some land in Montalcino nearly 20 years ago – a very, very good time to be purchasing land in Montalcino zone, but they didn’t purchase just any land, they purchased some of the finest land in the entire area; certainly the highest (winegrowing) land in the zone.
Having met Riccardo, who is nearly my junior by ~ 10 years, he must have been quite young at the time. And, like Alan, he wasn’t a winemaker at the time of this purchase/entry into winegrowing. But what he lacked in the form of an official enology degree, he (more than) made up for with passion. And vision. At least all things would point to that conclusion today.
Taste either man’s wine, and you know they’ve got a good palate. Taste Riccardo’s wines, and words can begin to fail you.
The header photo for this post, is a wall full of empty bottles that Riccardo (and his friends) has enjoyed at one time or another. I took a minute to study the wall of wine – and I knew that on at least some level, Riccardo and I were the same, we loved fine wine – wine with soul, wine of place, and wine of great beauty. Orignial/max size here
As with any wine wall, there’s a lot that’s not said, too, by virtue of the limited amount of space of the wall – no doubt Riccardo’s had a lot of wines in his days – I think he takes his research seriously. It’s important.
Before they moved to Montalicino, Riccardo and Jen opened a restaurant (Italian, of course) in Atlanta; it was about the same time that the estate in località Le Ragnaie was acquired. I never got to visit that restaurant, but I’ve no doubt I’d have found the wine list to be compelling.
My research may not be entirely accurate, but I had to know – Riccardo is clearly an interesting cat -and I had to know how he’d arrived at this place (in life). It seems Riccardo’s father, Paolo, began an industrial power supply company in the mid-60s. The company prospered, same as many well-run, visionary companies . I’ve not met Paolo (if in fact that’s Riccardo’s father), but I’ve met Riccardo, and to say he’s living his passion, is an understatement; I hope the same for Paolo.
In any event, it’s interesting (for me) to get some background on people, to see what it is they’ve done/seen/drank/accomplished/wished for/etc., that’s brought them to this place in life.
But it’s not enough to have passion, or money, or vision, not in this business of fine wine, you must also have an exceptional palate – you must understand balance, and harmony, and how they’re achieved if you wish to create/grow compelling wines. It’s not easy, or everyone would be doing it. In fact, it’s really, really hard; takes tremendous commitment.
What’s obvious to me, is that Riccardo has an exceptional palate, and his winemaker, Maurizio Castelli, is an obviously gifted listener. (It’s my belief that all great winemakers are great listeners, listening to what the plants, the wine(s) tells them is needed, if anything).
I’d tasted a dozen or so of Riccardo’s wines before I learned that the winegrowing philosophy is purely organic at Le Ragnaie. They use cover crops, not fertilizers, to naturally enrich the land after winegrape harvest. I mention this because many may have some type of (completely unfounded) hesitation or avoidance regarding organically grown wines. Taste these wines, and if anything, you may come to only prefer organically-grown wines; they certainly make a compelling case for it.
I first tasted the new (finished) releases for Le Ragnaie at VinItaly 2017; they were a lot different (no surprise) than when tasted in barrel a year prior. At that point in the day, I’d already tried about 40-50 different Brunello wines – I think I had a pretty good idea what was possible in the vintage, the highs and lows so to speak. Following this tasting, I had another 50+ Brunello wines. That said, these wines, ALL of them, are in the upper-tier of 2012 for Brunello di Montalcino. To have one success in three is quite an achievement, to have two, well, that’s just really impressive, but to conclude the tasting with the epic masterpiece 2012 Fornace, I was left shaking my head. Part of me is still doing it, these wines get into the brain – in a really good way.
- no recommendation (NR) not bad, just too soon to rate, and/or not interesting enough
- recommended (R) (+/-) *(a really nice wine!, nothing average about it!)
- highly recommended (HR) (+/-) *(an excellent wine!)
- very highly recommended (VHR) (+/-) *(an EPIC wine!)
- The + or – sign many be attached to the rating. The (+) says it’s an excellent value within its peer group; the (-) says it’s a poor value relative to its peers
2012 Azienda Agricola Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino (HR+) A shimmering brick red, the color is already standing apart from (most of) the crowd. Aromas of bright citrus, fresh pomegranate, white, pink and red floral, soil, dry brush, more. With some swirling, there’s some mushroom, dead leaves and freshly oiled leather – this has complexity to spare it seems. On the palate, a vibrant, almost pulsating, medium body that’s packing a lot of material on such a modest frame. With some swirling, a few tastes, this is quick to add body, depth, breadth, and even a touch more of complexity. This wine is exciting to smell. It’s even more exciting to smell and taste it. The finish kind of takes exciting to the next level; very fine, gently sweet tannins. It goes without saying I’m really curious to taste the V.V. and the Fornace, this is just wonderful. Best to wait a few years, even then, aeration in decanter is advised; drink 2020-2035. 14,5% abv. (resolved) highly recommended+
2012 Azienda Agricola Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino Ragnaie V.V. (HR) Slightly darker than the base Brunello di Montalcino, this opens with more of an earthy-woodsy component, followed seconds later by citrus, dried red fruits, more soil, aged tobacco, more. The palate is of the same general mold, it’s medium-bodied, but there’s even more substance here, a hallmark of many great wines (dense, concentrated, yet light, gliding). The flavors are bold, yet crisp, very focused. Red-fruited, fine tannins, med+ acidity, exceptional balance. This needs even more time to rest than the Brunello tasted before it. The finish persists > 30 seconds; clearly structured and pure enough to age for a long time. 15,0% abv. (resolved), drink 2021-2036. highly recommended
2012 Azienda Agricola Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino Fornace (VHR) Fascinating energy, purity, vibrancy; the nose is off-the-charts good. The palate is yet another step up from the prior wine, which itself was a step up – but wait, the first wine was already a step up (compared to most tasted today), so that leaves this in some some very thin, rarefied air – my notes simply say Masterpiece. I did not spit this wine, one of maybe two from the hundreds tasted that day. If you’re lucky enough to get some of this, grab a few, open one straightaway, it’s important not to miss any of this epic show. 14,0% abv. (resolved); drink 2020-2038. very highly recommended
I think a lot of winegrowers in this region will be somewhat happy once they’ve moved on to the 2013s, 2012 was good, but far from great. Unless we’re talking about Le Ragnaie’s wines, that is.
In addition to their vineyards, and olive groves, Riccardo and Jen run a beautiful(!!), upscale agriturismo; you can find information on that and more right here.