Half a mile from the center of the famous Montalcino, Tuscany, is the Pietroso estate. On a graduated hilltop surrounded by woods and glades, Gianni Pignattai and his family vinify Sangiovese old-style from a few selected vineyards in the legendary setting. We arrive there on a blue-sky day, dotted with puffy cottonball clouds, to discover the story of the Pietroso family, and understand how this small producer crafts the heroic wines of Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino.
“We are a Montalcino family, through and through,” says Gianni, proudly.
His grandfather Domenico started making wine in the 1970s on what was proudly declared the smallest estate in Montalcino, just under half a hectare. Then his father continued the development until Gianni took the helm in 1992. At that point, he knew instantly it would become a lifelong project and his family quickly got involved.
The entire Pietroso estate has only five hectares under vine, and is overseen by the trifecta of Gianni, enologist Alex Dondi and agronomist Federico Becarelli. As Gianni puts it, the size allows them to manage the company at 360 degrees, meaning total care and control of all processes.
As we walk into the vineyards, the sun emerges from behind a cloud in a burst of light, turning the near-ripe bunches of Sangiovese into glistening amethysts. Gianni’s son points out the particularly dense bloom on the outside of the grapes, indicating a healthy amount of ambient yeast, a key ingredient when making unique wines. The vines are well-spaced and airy by design.
“We cordon train the vines and prune them liberally to reduce budding.” explains Gianni, “We thin the bunches again early into their development, as we want the plant to put all its best efforts into a select few bunches.”
The estate actually features three vineyards in select sites, each with slightly different characteristics and soil nutrients. Even with the naturally undulating Tuscan land, we are never less than 350 meters above sea level, a factor that works to maintain acidity and helps enormously with the drying heat of the Central Italian climate. The consequential gradual ripening of select bunches, paired with Gianni’s dedicated pruning regime, sounds like a recipe for some seriously concentrated wines! We head over to the cool, still, cantina that sits on a hill overlooking the town of Montalcino.
The wines of Montalcino are well-known globally for being excellent quality expressions of Sangiovese, with the strict DOCG requirements that mandate 3 years barrel aging minimum, adding weight to their prestige. Despite the pressure of notoriety, Pietroso manages to maintain its feet firmly in the Montalcino ground. For Gianni, winemaking is an artisanal craft.
“When I see someone excited by my wines I am proud.” says Gianni, “My dream is to produce Sangiovese of absolute quality, and everything I do here is to move towards that goal.”
His passion comes through in his winemaking choices. Many producers in Montalcino forgo the traditional Slavonian oak for Brunello, believing it produces wines that take too many years to unwind, but Gianni wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Brunello is ready when it is ready. My origins bind me to the territory and we try to make our wines an expression of this, producing in a traditional way, without forcing.”
Gianni’s care and expertise is clear as we sample the first glass of Rosso di Montalcino. 100% Sangiovese, with a year in Slavonian oak, it is warm and intense, with lashings of red cherries and summer berries. It is full-bodied and moreish, it is definitely the approachable little brother to Brunello, for those looking for an easier wine.
The Brunello di Montalcino itself is in a class of its own, and on first sip we see why Gianni is so devoted to his 5 hectares of vines. Ruby-to-garnet and crystal clear, as we swirl our glasses a spectrum of aromas release into the air. Red cherries and raspberries are enhanced by a touch of vanilla and cloves from oak. Gianni’s cellaring pays off, as several bottle-aging tertiary aromas are starting to emerge: a whiff of tobacco, a crushed handful of dried roses.
A wine with such structure doesn’t happen by accident, and Gianni’s dedication to Montalcino certainly shapes his outcomes. The tried and true methods by which Pietroso wines are formed will continue with Gianni’s leadership for years to come. With only five hectares, the bottles are limited, and that makes them all the more sought after. These are rare delights to treasure in precious moments, to cellar, to share, to dedicate to someone you love, or just to life itself.
Our time at the Pietroso estate is over and we thank Gianni for his generosity. Driving away, we are happy, satiated and satisfied in the knowledge that Sangiovese is still a star, and Brunello di Montalcino is still drinking like gold.