As I journeyed through Italy, visiting one sumptuous winery after another and meeting winemakers and colleagues I have either worked with or befriended through the years, Luca Belingardi of Poggio Salvi told me he had arranged a very special visit for me.
And what do you know. It was a visit to Tenuta Greppo, the Biondi Santi Estate where I met with none other than the great Dr. Franco Biondi Santi himself. Now 88 years old, Dr. Franco Biondi Santi remains at the helm and still has final say on the Biondi Santi Estate’s wine production. For the benefit of those who don’t know, the Biondi Santi Winery makes superb wines. In fact, the 1955 Biondi Santi Reserve is one of Wine Spectator’s Top 12 Wines of the Century – and it is the only Italian wine on that list.
The Biondi Santi Estate and Cellars
Tenuta Greppo, nestled in the spectacular hillside of Montalcino, is more than a century old. It (and the rest of Montalcino) is part of Val D’Orcia, which was declared a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO in 2004.
[Word of advice: If you are ever in Val D’Orcia, beware of the Carabineers or the Italian Police! ]
As we walked through the cellars that still echo the sounds made by winemakers past, our translator pointed out four old casks. He said they hold what’s left of Biondi Santi’s famed first vintages. Today, these vintages are still being used to “soulify” Biondi Santi’s 6-month-old wines. I was also shown the Biondi Santi’s valuable wine collection. The oldest vintage on hand is a Reserve 1888.
The Biondi Santi Topping Up and Recorking Ritual
In 1927, Biondi Santi started topping up and re corking estate-owned bottles of famous Biondi Santi Reserve vintages. By replacing the cork and topping up the wine, Biondi Santi ensures that its wine collection is correctly preserved and will always remain in perfect condition.
In 1990, Biondi Santi started offering its topping-up and re corking service to its clients. Every year in June, Biondi Santi clients can send back their bottles of famous Biondi Santi vintages to Tenuta Greppo. Dr. Franco Biondi Santi opens each bottle and checks the wine it contains for flaws. Any bottle that passes his inspection is topped up with the correct vintage from Biondi Santi’s own collection, corked with a Biondi Santi-branded cork and sealed with a red Biondi Santi-branded hood. It also gets a re corking certificate, proof that the wine is in a perfectly preserved state. On the other hand, any bottle that doesn’t pass his inspection (i.e. found to be flawed due to incorrect storage) is not topped up. It is simply sealed with an unbranded cork (minus the hood) and returned to its owner.
Owners of topped-up bottles are charged for every ml of wine used to restore the wine content to the correct level and for the time spent by Biondi Santi staff in the topping up and re corking operations.
Tip to Biondi Santi Wine Collectors
In my Biondi Santi visit, I was taught the proper way of enjoying Biondi Santi wines. Apparently, Biondi Santi wines should not be decanted in a traditional decanter. Rather, you should uncork it, pour out a small amount of wine (until the wine level is only up to the shoulders of the bottle) then let it set for 8 hours.