AGING WITH GRACE
We head towards the tank rooms, walking past barrels of various sizes lined up neatly and in part of the 17th-century cellar, which was restored in 2016 and devoted to the star Brunello.
“We make wines that are very respectful of the terroir, the situation and location,” Sani continues. This means, not taking an aggressive wine making approach — not over-extracting too much structure or concentration, being gentle and respecting the fruit, the grape, during fermentation.
Sani points to a row of new 7,000-liter egg-shaped concrete tanks, where he ferments the six best parcels identified in his map survey. “The egg shape during fermentation allows a natural circular movement of the wine,” he explains. “It has the same effect of a gentle pumping over of the grapes inside the tank.” This method of fermentation, Sani continues, “opens up the wine to help get more complex, rounded terroir driven wines.”
The consorzio’s rules dictate that Brunello age for a minimum of two years in wood barrels, and with time in the bottle, five years in total (six for riserva). Sani explains: “We completely changed how we age wine here, using Slovenian and French oak. We went from 225 liters barrique aging to 1000/3000/5000 liters oak barrels (botti) for Sangiovese for less oaky wines, slower aging, more freshness.”
Though Sangiovese is king of grapes here, Sani says, much like Pinot Noir, it is delicate, and requires a gentler touch. The results: wines that are more nuanced, gastronomic, and representative of this uniquely situated estate.
Argiano also produces two Super Tuscan wines, Solengo and Non Confunditur (“NC”), that are aged in the smaller 225-liter casks. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (50 and 25 percent respectively) both benefit from more tannins and micro oxidization from the wood to help with the aging process. Incidentally with its first 1995 vintage, the Solengo “lone wild boar” pioneered the Super Tuscan of Montalcino. This was after Countess Cinzano had invited the celebrated oenologist Giacomo Tachis to Argiano, who had suggested the clay soils here would be perfect for international varieties.
We emerge from the cellar. The silvery leaves of the olive groves surrounding the villa at Argiano shimmer in the mellow afternoon light. As CEO, Sani’s vision for Argiano is clear. The estate’s production has been certified organic since 2019. In the vineyard, Sani has reduced planting density and increased biodiversity by introducing insects and beneficial plants between the rows, and using pheromones for natural pest control. The estate is working towards becoming carbon neutral too, implementing a zero-plastic policy. But Sani recognizes that it is a long journey towards full sustainability. More eco-friendly glass bottles, for example, are harder to source, but the winemaker says that will naturally change, given consumer preferences.
Climate change, too, is on his mind. The biggest challenges, he says, are dry, hot summers followed by mild winters, causing the vines to flower early — sometimes as soon as February. Last year, for example, unseasonably warm weather in February and March caused the vines to flower early, and when the vineyards in Italy and much of France were hit with extreme cold nights and frost in April and May, producers experienced crop-damaging losses. Sani’s team mitigated the damage with giant candles, but not before suffering a 30-percent reduction in crops. Despite the loss, he says, 2021 is one of Argiano’s best vintages ever in terms of quality.
“Here, you feel the agency, much, much more than my friends who live in cities. When you’re in such close contact with nature, you can see the problems facing us with global warming. And it is scary,” he says.
Sani believes the recently awarded Vigna del Suolo is the best expression of Argiano. “It represents history, as it is the oldest vineyard on the property with the oldest clones of Sangiovese,” he says. While it wasn’t the most powerful in barrel, he believes coming from a parcel rich with limestone, the Suolo “is elegant and certainly one with the most complexity.” He calls the wine “the soul of Argiano.”
Even after a decade at the helm, Sani and his boss still share a long-term vision for Argiano. Santos Esteves, he says, “has a huge passion for wine and for this place.” Rather than making quick sales, the men want to leave a legacy.
When Santos Esteves purchased Argiano, he asked Sani to “fix it,” says the winemaker. “But when he saw the new quality of our wines, he became excited.” Now he is personally involved with the restoration of the villa. “He has a big, long-term vision.”