The Buyer
Sarah McCleery on the confident sophistication of Casanova di Neri

Sarah McCleery on the confident sophistication of Casanova di Neri

Casanova di Neri is a Montalcino producer famed for helping pioneer single vineyard expressions in the region – including the mighty Cerretalto whose 2016 vintage is tasted alongside Tenuta Nuova 2017, ‘Etichetta Bianca’ 2017 and two Rosso di Montalcinos, as part of a lunch to celebrate the estate’s entry into Pol Roger Portfolio. Sarah McCleery reports.

Sarah McCleery
10th May 2022by Sarah McCleery
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

Gianlorenzo Neri quotes his grandmother who apparently said, “Casanova di Neri wines are not expensive, but they are costly…”

Of the tastings and events that I missed the most in Covid times, those of Walter Speller and the wines of Italy, at 67 Pall Mall, were a notable absence in my wine life.

Though I’m still waiting for them to recommence, I rekindled happy memories this week, at a lunch celebrating Casanova di Neri’s arrival in the Pol Roger Portfolio.

I first got to know these wines at a tasting “Exploring the Sub Zones of Brunello di Montalcino”, hosted by Speller back in 2018. I loved the wines then and my view hasn’t changed in the intervening years.

The story of this fine Italian estate in 2022, is no different from before. Though I am hearing it – curiously – in the French restaurant, Saint Jacques.

The Casanova di Neri estate currently consists of 500 hectares, 156 of which are dedicated to Sangiovese vines

Casanova di Neri is all about single vineyard expression. It has been since the very beginning, when a grain merchant from Florence, Giovanni Neri, fell in love with the 200-hectare working farm, Podere Casanova in eastern Montalcino. He bought the property in 1971 for, what would be in today’s money, 80,000€.

It is well-known that the boundaries of the Brunello DOCG are, for now, fixed. Today, parcels of land and vineyards are like hen’s teeth, with prices more than £1 million a hectare being quoted. Though Casanova only had a handful of vineyard hectares at the time, Neri still got himself a bargain!

I am not sure that Giovanni Neri set out to be a visionary, but he was clearly committed to making great wine. He wasn’t much fussed about what people around him were doing and his choices, be it in vineyard selection or vinification techniques, were based on what he believed was best.

As his grandson, Gianlorenzo eloquently says, “I mean he was really in the shit with other winemakers about that” – the ‘that’ being when he chose to age some of his wines in small oak barrels. Gianlorenzo adds that even though he was very young at the time, he remembers the heated discussions about it. Equally, when Neri decided to buy a plot of land that had previously been used by shepherds for sheep-grazing, he was greeted with sceptical head-shaking.

The naysayers have long-since been silenced. Over time, Casanova di Neri has become one of the great names of Montalcino. No stranger to rave reviews, 100-point scores and top prizes, the estate is rightly proud to have previously secured “Wine of the Year” in Wine Spectator for their 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova.

It is a real treat to taste the five wines that are now part of the Pol Roger portfolio.

We begin with a pair of Rosso di Montalcino wines from the 2020 vintage. The first is the straight Casanova di Neri Rossi di Montalcino, vinified in conical stainless steel vats and then aged for 12 months in oak. It’s plush, forward, and ready to drink now. Refreshing acidity gives the wine a satisfying lift but I’m a little bit in the ‘take it or leave it’ camp.

This is because I’m bowled over by the single-vineyard Giovanni Neri Rosso di Montalcino that comes next. It’s an altogether more interesting wine; lithe yet complex and with an array of fragrant black and red fruits. I find myself coming back to it time and again, enjoying its energy and ever-developing flavours. Like the first Rosso, it is fermented in stainless steel but spends 15, rather than 12 months in oak. The grapes for the Giovanni Neri wine come from a plot purchased in 2017, in Sesta. Here, some of the vines are almost 50 years old and you can taste the complexity that comes from that age in the wine.

Third wine of the day is the famous ‘Etichetta Bianca’, or White Label Brunello di Montalcino. It’s the 2017 vintage and you might be wondering just how good it was. I really enjoy the wine’s natural exuberance and generosity. Again, it’s blessed with immediate appeal, soft tannins, and ripe vivid fruit. Hard not to like.

Tenuta Nuova 2017 is made from fruit grown at the Cetine vineyard. This is Casanova’s most southerly vineyard, planted between 275 and 320 meters above sea level, in galestro marl soils with tufa and clay. Here the feel is more Mediterranean both in flora and climate. At first, I find this wine earthy with richly-perfumed fruit but after 15 minutes or so it’s more peppery and herbal, the cherry fruit taking on a spicier feel, though still brightly perfumed. Deftly-structured, there’s plenty of mileage left in this.

We conclude with Casanova’s flagship wine, Cerretalto. Bought in 1981, this five-hectare plot has become one of the most highly-prized vineyards in Montalcino. Gianlorenzo tells us that they’ve been offered blank cheques by enthusiastic buyers, but the land is very definitely, not for sale.

The east-facing Cerretalto is planted on the hillside, alongside the river Asso. The iron and magnesium-rich soils are what makes this such a special site. Gianlorenzo says the iron presence is akin to the great vineyards of Corton, Burgundy.

We are tasting the 2016, a stunning vintage for Cerretalto. It shows. Aromatically rich, black cherry, redcurrant and liquorice are tinged with balsamic and charcoal. A pulsating palate has neatly-woven tannins that support the wine’s impressive elegance and persistence. As long-lasting a wine as I have ever tasted, it is the balance of the 2016 Cerretalto that strikes me most.

What Casanova di Neri does so wonderfully well, is to deliver wines that are sophisticated and not-at-all intimidating. You can open and pour with confidence, knowing that even in their youth they have plenty to offer and, if you happen upon an older vintage well, lucky you is all I can say!

Gianlorenzo Neri quotes his grandmother who apparently said, “Casanova di Neri wines are not expensive, but they are costly…”

Money well spent in my opinion and the wines sufficiently delicious to forgive the good people of Pol Roger for showing these great Italian wines over a lunch at a very French restaurant!