Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona: Superb Brunello di Montalcino from Castelnuovo dell'Abate
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona is one of Montalcino’s premiere wine estates, famous for its special 12 hectare, rocky marl Pianrosso vineyard and for the sumptuous single vineyard and reserve wines it produces. Located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate above the Orcia River in the southeast of Montalcino, the estate is located near the historic Sant’Antimo Abbey (see box below) and just down the road from Uccelliera. In this article we review the Brunellos of Ciacci Piccolomini from the 2007, 2006, 2004 and 1997 vintages, but first we take a look at the winery and its colorful past.
The origins of Ciacci Piccolomini go back to the 17th century, when its Palazzo was constructed by the Abbot of Sant’Antimo Abbey. The estate was subsequently owned by Alberto Piccolomini d’Aragona, a direct descendent of Pope Pius II, and Elda Ciacci, who gave the estate its name. Countess Elda Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona was the last in the family line, and when she died in 1984 she gave the state to her manager, Giuseppe Bianchini. In the late 1980s, Giuseppe undertook the planting of Brunello vines that today gives this estate its fame. When Giuseppe died in 2004, his children Lucia and Paolo Bianchini (pictured here) took over. Paolo, who is also the Italian National Amateur Cycling Champion, makes the wine with the assistance of famed wine consultant Paolo Vagaggini.
Abbey of Sant’Antimo
The Abbey of Sant’Antimo (Abbazia di Sant’Antimo) is the location of a former Roman villa as well as an 8th century Benedictine monastery. It is today home to the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. The famous church was built in the 12th century and is a major attraction for tourists, who can time their visits to hear the friars singing Gregorian Chants.
Ciacci Piccolomini follows organic practices in the vineyard. While it isn’t certified organic, a tedious bureaucratic process most organic winemakers avoid, it is a member of the Lotta Integrata (lutte raisonée) movement that promotes sustainable and organic practices. All cultivation and harvesting is done manually, and yields are very low. The winemaking is traditional, not surprising given Vagaggini’s consulting role, with all oak aging done in large Slavonian oak casks. As noted in the tasting notes, these are classic Brunellos that develop increasingly complexity and elegance with age. The 1997 Brunello Pianrosso, a fifteen year old wine that is drinking exceptionally well right now, reveals the long lives one can expect from these wines.
Three different Brunellos are made. The regular Brunello “annatta” is made from a young vineyard—Vigna della Fonte—planted in 2003 supplemented by fruit from other parcels. The wine is fermented in glass lined cement and stainless steel and aged in cask for 24 months. Fruit for the single vineyard Brunello Vigna di Pianrosso is sourced from the older, Pianrosso vineyard, which lies 240-360 meters in altitude above the Orcia river with a south-southwest exposure. It is fermented like the annatta but is aged in Slavonian botti for 36 months. Finally, the Brunello Riserva Santa Caterina d’Oro is made only in exceptional vintages. It is a selection of grapes in the vineyard and barrels in the winery and is aged in large botti for 48 months with at least an additional 12 months in bottle. In addition to the three Brunellos, Ciacci Piccolomini makes a Rosso di Montalcino. It is aged in large botti for about 12 months.
With the counterfeiting of world-class wines on the rise, Ciacci Piccolomini has adopted the CertiLogo system, which ensures the wine’s authencity. Paolo Bianchini explains how it works in a YouTube video (in Italian).
We tasted the Ciacci Piccolominni wines in Italy with the help of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino and at our Washington, DC, offices with samples provided courtesy of the importer, Indigenous Selections of Fort Lauderdale FL. The wines are available in wine stores specializing in premium wines. They’re also available direct to private customers from Ciacci Piccolomini through a partnership with VinConnect, a new company that enables U.S. consumers to join winery mailing lists and order wines direct from overseas producers.
Tasting Notes and Ratings
Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona 2007 Brunello di Montalcino Annata ($55) 91
The 2007 Brunello di Montalcino is fruit forward in style, offering spicy black cherries, herbs and mushrooms on the nose and palate. Aged for two and a half years in Slovenian oak and one year in bottle the wine is elegant and highly approachable with ripe flavors and round tannins. The wine should show well within twelve to eighteen months. The fruit for this wine comes the Vigna della Fonte and other parcels.
Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona
2007 Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso ($70) 93
The 2007 Brunello Pianrosso is a more complex wine than the regular Brunello, although it is basically vinified in the same way. It displays a dark fruit character with pure rich aromas and flavors. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in Slavonian oak barrels for four years, it is a big structured wine with lots of fruit, spice and earth that will require time to integrate. Give this wine three to five years in bottle, at a minimum.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona
2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Santa Caterina d’Oro ($117) 94
Along with the 1997, this is the best vintage from Ciacci Piccolomini that we’ve tasted to date, this is a wine that is refined and focused with excellent palate depth. Earth, dried spices, hints of tar, and dark red fruit aromas and flavors appear along with a bright red currant note. Shows silky but very firm tannins that suggest a very long life.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona
2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Santa Caterina d’Oro ($105) 93
Fruit forward but stylistically refined, the 2004 Riserva reveals a hugely concentrated red fruit core and a creamy, expressive palate with notes of wet earth and fresh mushrooms. The finish is succulent with fine but dry tannins. Still needs more time in bottle to reveal its full potential.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 95
This wine is what classic Brunello is meant to be—focused and elegant, mature with complex flavors, yet with having a long life ahead of it still. Fresh porcinis, earth and sweet, dried fruit show on the nose, while the gentle palate is beautifully structured and layered with forest floor undertones. Beautiful. We first tasted this wine at the winery in 2003 and at the time note its high potential. Fortunately, that potential has become reality.
Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona 2010 Rosso di Montalcino ($25) 90+
This is a delicious Rosso showing abundant, juicy red fruit flavors with impressive extract and excellent balance and acidity. Matured in stainless steel for one year followed by a year in different sized Slavonian oak barrels, this Rosso is pure Sangiovese and is more robust than the excellent 2009 Rosso.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler