Tenuta di Argiano is an organic estate winery in the Argiano area of Montalcino in Tuscany, Italy, around (5 miles) south-west of the town itself. Its main wines are Rosso di Montalcino DOC and Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.
History: Tenuta di Argiano is among the oldest wine producers in the Montalcino region. Its history of winegrowing dates to the Renaissance. The estate overlooks its very near neighbour, the Castello di Argiano which was built in 1482 and formed part of Tenuta di Argiano until the latter sold it in 1979 to its current owners, the Sesti family (see here). Tenuta di Argiano’s horseshoe-shaped villa was built by a noble family from Siena in around 1570 to 1581 during the Renaissance. It has remained unaltered since. It has an avenue of cypress trees, a double-arched courtyard, and old underground cellars with vaulted ceilings. Once owned by the Counts of Lovatelli, the estate was rescued from bankruptcy in 1980 by marriage into the Cinzano family, when Contessa Noemi Marone Cinzano married Gelasio Gaetani d’Aragona Lovatelli. In 1992 Noemi Marone Cinzano bought Argiano outright, after her family’s firm, Cinzano, was sold to IDV. She appointed Sebastiano Rosa (nephew of Marchese Incisa della Rocchetta) as vineyard manager and Giacomo Tachis as consultant winemaker.
Staff: Vineyards: Francesco Monari. Former staff: Hans-Vinding-Diers (winemaker 2000+ for some wines, 2004-2012 vintages for all wines).
Vineyards : Argiano extends for 135 hectares in total and occupies a high plateau at 300-350 metres (1,160 feet). Soils of different origins, particularly rich in limestone, offer wines with elegance, longevity and identity. The vineyards occupy the same plateau as the main building, a bright spot influenced by light breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west. Clay and limestone. Site on the mid-hill. Not too hot or too cold.
Viticulture: Francesco Monari told me the 2018 harvest finished 27 Oct 2018), adding that ‘the 2018 growing season had extremely high level of rainfall (45cm), plus a little light hail in July. He said he sprayed a little copper after the hail but the vines were very resistant. ‘We have high levels of organic matter and microbiology in the soil now and we have tested how deep the vine roots go. We did this with Pedro Parra, a Chilean geologist. He used a magnet to define where the compact areas were and where to dig soil pits. These pits were two-metres deep and two metres wide. He analysed the microbiology in the soil and on the vine roots. This allowed us to define 16 micro-terroirs which we work and pick as 8 terroirs to make it much easier to manage. We sow cover crops in alternate rows. We sow barley on its own in every other row. This gets flattened or rolled, and gives us a carpet to drive down the rows when we need to spray if it is wet. Barley also improves how the soil drains the water. I spray half the dose of copper-based sprays permitted under organic rules. This means that if the copper is washed off by a rain event soon after, I can re-spray and remain within the permitted limits. If I do not have to re-spray it means I use half of what I am allowed and it shows the vines have built up more resistance. The alternate rows are sown always with the same mix of legumes for nitrogen, crucifers whose roots de-compact and aerate soils, and grasses (cereals such as triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid, or barley or orzo) to build organic matter. We cut the cover crops just underground using a horizontal blade. I want a reductive soil, meaning one which is not continually ploughed and turned and de-structured. Ploughing creates an oxidative soil. Although our our main grape, Sangiovese, is red, as wine it can oxidise easily, in contrast to Cabernet Sauvignon for example which can easily handle exposure to air. We grow Sangiovese grapes in a non-oxidative way, by which I mean avoiding opening the soil all the time via ploughing, exposing it to the elements: direct sunlight, heat, and erosive winds. It took seven years of organics for our vineyards to find their feet again after the previous conventional regime. We use no insecticides, not even the organic ones. We use pheromones for the grape berry moth, and ladybirds as a natural parasite of spider mites. We leave traps [100 in 2018] to catch the vector of flavescence dorée but so far [Oct 2018] we do not have it here. We now have bees who nest in the vines, forming large cones. At replanting we now use our own mass selection clones (two so far, with technical input from CREA) taken from our own vines, in particular from the Vignoni plot which dates from the 1950s. At pruning we collect and compost the prunings and when ready the finished composted material then goes back into the vineyard.’
Cover crops: The winter annual mix sown at Argiano in autumn 2005 in every other row consisted of four elements. 35% oats (Avena sativa) to bring organic matter, food for soil microbes, and to loosen compact soil. 30% broad beans (Vicia faba) as a nitrogen fixer or legume. 20% common vetch (Vicia sativa), another legume and nitrogen fixer which will use the oats to climb on. 15% Sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina) as ground cover for erosion prevention).
Livestock: In 2018 The estate had four donkeys.
Organic certification: 2014 Organic practices adopted. | 2016 Official conversion to organics began. | 2020 First vintage with full organic certification.
Wunemaking: 2010+ A move away from barrels to larger-sized oak vessels. 2016+ Fermenting in concrete.
Non Confunditur: ‘Non Confunditur’ is a Latin term meaning, in modern parlance “don’t get confused”; in other words, don’t mistake this with the other wines from Argiano, this one being a mix of both Tuscan and French grapes rather than 100% Tuscan grapes (Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino) or 100% French grapes (Solengo). Each of the four different grape varieties that goes into the blend – Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah – ferments in separate tanks. The wine is then blended and aged in French oak (second usage rather than new) and larger wooden vats made of Slavonian oak.
Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Argiano: Micro-terroir analyses helped identify Sangiovese vines with shallower-roots and these go into the Rosso. ‘We are looking for a gastronomic Rosso, Bernardino Sani told me (Visit 2020).
2003 Blended but not fermented by Hans Vinding-Diers. | 2004 Fermented and blended by Hans Vinding-Diers. Fermented with Argiano yeast. No oak, either barrels or foudres. Egg fined. Bottled in Sept 2005. 80,000 bottles. Released at €5 ex cellars and around €12-14 in the shops. ‘The idea is to have something lively, young, fresh, easy to drink, fruity,’ says Hans ‘as we believe this is what the Rosso should be. It has some autumn flavours. I made it on purpose with a not too tannic finish. In future this wine may spend 4 months in old foudres. This wine is one year old to the day and I do not think one year is enough for a wine like this, so a bit of ageing in older wood will soften it still further,’ speaking at the estate on Saturday 8th October 2005 (with Hans, NK Wong, David Guell and Silvana). My tasting note that day was ‘bright mid-ruby colour, forest fruit notes, firm acidity and elegant tannins, the fruit could be a little bit clearer. | 2012 43,400 bottles. Nice, simple, bright fruit, bit primary, then quite structured, youthful (Benvenuto Brunello 2014). | 2013 45,000 bottles. The 2013 was the last vintage of Rosso Hans Vinding-Diers fermented, blended and bottled. Light and fruity, decent and fresh (Benvenuto Brunello 2015). | 2018 Cooler season, had some hail, a lighter style but with nice salinity (Visit 2020).
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Argiano: 1979 Slightly dirty when tried with Pepe, Hans, Jamie Nyholt and NK Hong at Argiano on Wednesday 10th Nov 2004. | 1999 On the way to oxidation combined with atypically sweet fruit when tasted in Sant Angelo in Colle with Silvana in Nov 2006. | 2002 Blended but not fermented by Hans Vinding-Diers. | 2003 Blended but not fermented by Hans Vinding-Diers. | 2008 108,000 bottles. Decent weight (Benvenuto Brunello 2013). | 2012 14.5%. | 2013 14%. L17 173 Crunchy red fruit, smooth, youthful and vibrant (tasted at home 27 Jan 2019). | 2014 A good effort, with nice weight of fruit, not over-extracted, and with just enough covering oak, a wine which is approachable now and shows no sign of ‘closing’ up over the next 6 years or so (Benvenuto Brunello 2019). | 2015 Lot 19. 15% alc. From 22ha. Hot summer in 2015. Crunchy and salty, balsamic, nice weight, mouthwatering (Visit 2020). | 2016 Great vintage here. | 2017 Challenging season.Very dry, hot. Obliterates the nuances. Aging in large oak only (Visit 2020).
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva, Argiano: 1980 Mouthwatering, nice weight, sappy-savoury, old school, very nice (Visit 2020). | 1985 Bottled. | 1998 Bottled. | 2010 The 2010 was the last Brunello Riserva vintage Hans Vinding-Diers fermented, blended and bottled.
Solengo: Solengo was the first SuperTuscan in Montalcino. From 1995-2001 it was more famous than the Brunello. The name a Tuscan term meaning ‘lone wild boar’. The wine is a blend of French grapes: one third each Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hand picked. Each grape variety ferments in separate vats. Time on skins varies: 12 days for Syrah, 14 days for the smaller-berried Merlot, and 16 days for Cabernet Sauvignon, with the smallest berries of all. 14 months in new French oak barriques (225-litre). | 1995 Bottled. | 1996 Bottled. | 1997 Bottled. | 1998 Bottled. | 1999 Bottled. | 2000 Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah. | 2003 Syrah came in to replace Sangiovese. | 2014 No Syrah from this vintage onwards. | 2016 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot, 20% Merlot, 5% Sangiovese. Well made, mouthwatering, pepper notes from the Petit Verdot (Visit 2020).
Suolo: This wine was created in 2000 by Hans Vinding-Diers. Sourced from the Vignoni and Oliviera vineyards. ‘Suolo’ means ‘soil’ in Italian. It ismade from Sangiovese grapes from Argiano’s oldest vineyards, last replanted in the 1950s. These provide much smaller-sized grapes than is usual for Sangiovese, meaning there is a high proportion of grape skins to grape juice, giving the potential for naturally concentrated wine. A high percentage of uncrushed grapes go in to the vats at the start of fermentation, allowing as slow and gentle a fermentation as possible, often for more than 21 days. Malolactic fermentation occurs in new French barriques (225-litre) from oak with the tightest grain to accentuate Suolo’s smooth tannins. | 2004 Fermented and blended by Hans Vinding-Diers. Will be about 3,000 bottles and 60 magnums. | 2006 14.5% alc. L8 206. Nice fruit, with strong tannins at the end (Visit 2020). | 2009 100% Sangiovese. Aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. | 2012 The 2012 was the last vintage of Suolo Hans Vinding-Diers fermented, blended and bottled. | 2015 Vigna del Suolo 14.5% alc. 30m in oak. Very sappy, real texture, mouthwatering beneath, notes of eucalyptus and mint (Visit 2020).
Other crops: The olive groves surrounding Argiano’s villa are mainly composed of two varieties: the distinctively peppery Frantoio and the more buttery-tasting Leccino. Once fully ripe – usually from mid-November onwards – the olives are picked by hand, during the early morning only (‘Extra Virgin’ oil must be pressed only from olives picked that day). The olives are cold-pressed in a continuous system belonging to the Franci family in nearby Montenero d’Orcia.
Visit to the estate on 16th Oct 2018. Again on 5th August 2020 with Roger Bissell.