Il Palazzone is a winery in the Montalcino region of Tuscany, Italy. This is one of the best wineries to visit if you are coming to Montalcino, being close to the town and because of the presence of general manager Laura Gray (of which more below). (I have no commercial ties with this estate.)
History | The existence of Sangiovese on the property called Due Porte or ‘two gates’ which is around the house and winery is said to date to the 16th century. (Details below for what is planted in the Due Porte vineyard).
Il Palazzone started making wine in the late 1980s, under Swiss entrepreneur Mario Bollag. He bought the estate for the view. He then planted vines on land that had been given to olive groves until 1985 when they were killed by severe frost. Bollag made the wine in a cavern beneath the house, ageing the wine in large oak barrels. Having sold the estate to the American, Richard (‘Dick’) Parsons in 2000 Bollag created another estate in Montalcino called Terralsole. Parsons is CEO of Citigroup and sorted the mess out at TimeWarner after its doomed merger in 2000 with AOL (AOL-TimeWarner merger).
General manager: Laura Gray (Scottish. Studied English Literature at Oxford University). Laura is an ideal person to meet if you are visiting Montalcino. She has many interesting facts up her metaphorical sleeves regarding Montalcino, whether it’s the number of nationalities in Montalcino as per the latest census, mezzadria history, the percentage of smaller wineries, or even the increase in value of land in Montalcino since 1980. She gives a wide brush-stroke portrait of the area rather than just the usual ‘we have a great terroir’ spiel….’. |
Staff | Cellarmaster: Jacopo Feretti is cellar manager. He comes from a Montalcino wine-making family. His father is the cellar-master at Poggio Antico. | Former consultant winemaker: Paolo Vagaggini. | Vineyard manager: Marco Sassetti (Laura Gray’s husband. A local, born in the nearby Montalcino hamlet of Sant’Angelo in Colle).
Vineyards | Under Richard Parsons Il Palazzone augmented in size (whilst reducing yields per vine) by renting (very morcellated) vineyard plots in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, in south-east Montalcino, giving it vineyards in three different areas of Montalcino, at different altitudes, allowing staggered picking.
- Castelnuovo dell’Abate Il Sassone ‘Fanti’ | 0.80ha. 2.5m x 0.8m. 180 metres. South-east facing. Overlooks the Orcia river. Sun from morning to dusk. In a micro-zone called Le Cave di Onice [onyx, a semi-precious stone with alternating layers of colour]. Planted 1999-2000. Rented since 2007/8. Price: 15,000 euros per year. Rented from Giuseppe Fanti [see also below] who worked in the train station at Monte Amiata Scalo and who used to hand on the post (which at that time arrived by train) to Marco Sassetti’s father who worked in the post office at Sant Angelo in Colle. Marco lets the grass grow in spring because it picks up humidity from the Orcia. “Opening the soil in late spring when it is getting hot would mean creating a furnace for the vines.” Other growers in this particular part of Castelnuovo (far SW Montalcino) include Fornacina, Fornacella, Castello di Velona, La Colombina, La Gerla, Tornese, and Le Prata.
- Castelnuovo dell’Abate ‘La Bucca’ | 0.8ha (I think). Rented. Price: 15,000 euros per year (same price as the ‘Fanti’ plot). La Bucca is next to Giacomo Neri’s vines here. Overlooks the Orcia. More galestro here than in the ‘Fanti’ plot. A seven day difference in ripening between this one and ‘Fanti’ (this is picked earlier).
- Castelnuovo dell’Abate La Velona | 1.70ha (1.5ha of Brunello and 0.2ha of Sant’Antimo). 2.6m x 0.8m I think. 220 metres roughly. Windy. North-east facing. Galestro (finer here than in the La Bucca vineyard). Rented from the daughter of a man called Mero who died in March 2013 aged 93. Now fenced this to stop the roebuck eating vine buds in spring. The cost of fencing was shared with the neighbouring vineyard owner to avoid also having to put a fence between their two vineyards.
- Castelnuovo dell’Abate ‘Mastrojanni’ | 0.3ha. Old vines. Many missing. Creamy white clay. North-south. Rented from Giuseppe Fanti. On the road up to the Mastrojanni winery.
- Montalcino, Due Porte | Small-sized vineyard by the house and winery, just outside the city centre. Altitude of 480 metres.
Viticulture | Marco told me he does remove water shoots, but only the lower ones. Near harvest, any sub-standard bunches are removed to make picking cleaner, simpler and quicker.
Winery | The new winery was built from scratch (not a renovation) from 2010 and was ready for the 2012 vintage. It was designed by a local architect, Marco Pignattai. Inside it is like being is a long, high ceilinged church. Rainwater from the roof is recovered and used in the winery or on the gardens. The bricks came from 90% recycled sources. Stone for the landscaping came from an on-site quarry. 5,500 square feet (500 square metres) in total.
Winemaking | Marco told me in 2014 he may get a cold truck to keep the grapes cool on the way from Castelnuovo to the winery (a 30 minute journey). Picking is staggered and based on altitude. Each vineyard takes a day or so to harvest, so everything can be picked at the correct moment. In 2011 new 50hl wooden fermentation tanks (Garbellotto) were installed. First wines fermented in wood here. Wines age in a variety of new and used barrels.
The Cecil, Rosso del Palazzone | A Toscana Rosso made from 100% Sangiovese. It is a blend of wines from 0.5ha of Sangiovese (formerly used in the Rosso di Montalcino) and lots not used in the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, so it does have oak ageing, plus sometimes purchased fruit. | 2007 Debut. | Lotto 01/10 Bottled in September 2009. This is only the third bottling. The two ‘parts’ are a portion of Brunello di Montalcino 2005, and Rosso di Montalcino 2008. The wine was declassified from the Rosso di Montalcino DOC appellation and from the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG appellation. Lotto 01/13 From estate and purchased grapes. 14%. Decent fruit, but chunky, oak too. Perhaps needs a bit more lift but ripe and savoury, satisfying if a little young (Laura gave me a bottle when I visited in early 2014). | Lotto 01/16 Rosso del Palazzone NV Blend of 50% 2014 wine plus 50% 2011 wine. 13.300 bottles. Bottled 22 Feb 2016. Crisp crunch, quite primary, sweetness from 2011 and more fluidity from 2014 at the winery with Einar Fjoran’s group on 23rd Oct 2016.
Rosso di Montalcino DOC | 2000 Final vintage. See The Cecil, above.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG | 2000 Thick, but also a bit green, average at Benvenuto Brunello 18 Feb 2005. | 2006 Not tasted | 2007 Not tasted. | 2009 9,304 bottles. Bottled 25 July 2013. A very classic style, ripe and clear, good length at Benvenuto Brunello Feb 2014. | 2009 14%. L13/09. Shy nose. Light cedar garnet colour, garnet tinge (hot year = vines shut down) with brightness. Nicely juicy open style of fruit, moreish and well balanced with good fluidity at the Consorzio Tues 27th May 2014 with Ian d’Agata and others. | 2009 Juicy fruit, savoury-sweet chalky during a visit with Einar Fjoran’s Norwegian group on 23rd Oct 2016. | 2010 14,126 bottles. Bright, round, plump, some sticky fruit, good savoury sweetness at Benvenuto Brunello Feb 2015. | 2011 Low crop as grapes in the hottest vineyards were cut off to help those that were left on the vine. Fermented in oak vats for the first time. | 2012 Hot. Small berries, thick skins. First harvest in the new cellar. | 2015 ‘Complexity of aroma, elegance and fine tannins are part and parcel of this lovely year,’ says Laura Gray (see Montalcino Vintages for her synopsis of the 2015 vintage in Montalcino as a whole).
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva | Blended from the best grapes of the vintage, rather than from one single site. | 2001 Bottled. | 2006 Bottled. | 2010 Bottled.
GPS does not work in this area. On arrival at Montalcino there is a roundabout with a mosaic on it just below the medieval Fortress. Drive around the roundabout and up the hill, exit on the right almost immediately in between a bar calle Bar Terrazze and the ‘carabinieri’ or police station. The road is marked Via del Poggiolo. Follow this road past a new block of flats and the cemetery (left hand side). Ignore Via del Renaio on the right. The road becomes a “white road”: an unsurfaced bumpy dirt track. At the wooden sign for Il Palazzone drive up the hill. Keep driving and follow the black and yellow signs that say Il Palazzone Vendita Diretta Olio e Vino. After less than a km on the right there is a tall house with an archway. Take the next right (you will see the estate mail box on your left, the arch on your right) and the cypress lined drive to the cellar.
Il Palazzone Srl Società Agricola
Località Le Due Porte, 245
I-53024 Montalcino (SI = Siena), Italy
Tel+39 0577.846142 | www.ilpalazzone.com