When I think back to my exploration of Brunello di Montalcino, the first thing that comes to mind is how quickly I realized that there were wines that I thought were good, ones I thought were very good, and then there was Poggio di Sotto. Literally on another level from all others that I had tasted, Poggio di Sotto had a way of creating Brunello that spoke more to me of Grand Cru Burgundy than it did of Brunello. These ethereal specimens of Brunello thrilled me at every turn and became the wine I bought in every vintage. Because even when they weren’t blockbusters from the top vintages, they still provided me with a level of satisfaction that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Unfortunately, the owner of Poggio di Sotto, Piero Palmucci, decided to sell the property back in 2011, and suddenly something seemed to be lost. Vintages from 2007 and on lacked that magical thrill that captivated me.
For years, I was searching for another Brunello that could provide me with that same level of satisfaction, and honestly (outside of paying for Soldera), I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find it.
Then the day came that I tasted my first Stella di Campalto.
Stella would tell you that the location of Stella di Campalto chose her, as her passion for the land and culture turned into a love for Sangiovese, and with time, Brunello di Montalcino. Being a neighbor of Poggio di Sotto, she was also fortunate to find a friend and mentor in Piero Palmucci, who she describes as the winemaker who whipped her into shape. This makes a lot of sense when you taste a wine from Stella di Campalto, as they have that same magic that drew me to Poggio di Sotto for so many years.
The property consists of 16 hectares, where Stella tends to olive groves, fruits, vegetables, and of course, Sangiovese. With vineyards that she planted in 1998, Stella produced her first Rosso in 2001. By the 2004 vintage, she began to bottle Brunello. Her approach in the vineyards began as organic, but over time the draw of biodynamic practices captured her attention and continues to this day. Stella farms six different parcels of Sangiovese, which are all tended to and picked according to their natural attributes. In the winery, the wines are fermented with natural yeasts in large upright wooden vessels before being transferred to neutral small French and Austrian oak.
There are no restrictions to the way that Stella makes these wines. In fact, she’ll tell you that the winemaking is instinctual more than anything else. The Brunello typically spends 45 months in oak, but the reality is that it isn’t bottled or released until she believes it is ready. It’s because of this that the release of Stella di Campalto can come a year or more behind the current releases of most producers. Since 2009 Stella has decided to bottle all of her Brunello as Riserva, which she could have done since the start, considering the lengthy aging regimen and late releases of her wine.
What’s even more exciting is that just as Poggio di Sotto had one of the greatest Rosso di Montalcinos (considered better than many producers Brunellos), so does Stella. The Rosso of Stella di Campalto is produced in the same fashion as her Brunello with one difference–it is only aged for 22 months in barrel. Through careful selection, Stella and a group of like-minded producers (some of my favorites by the way) taste through their wines together and decide which barrels will lend the best expression of Brunello or Rosso. The results are amazing. The Rosso di Montalcino of Stella di Campalto is extremely limited and should also be on the short list of any fan of the region.
Recently, I was lucky enough to sit with Stella and taste through a vertical of vintages, starting with the 2004. The tasting was an eye-opening experience. Separately, each of these wines were absolutely spellbinding. Together, they formed a history of this producer’s journey through the production of Brunello. Stella herself is just as charming, if not more so, than the wines she produces, and listening to her speak communicates the passion that she has for the land and the wine.
Simply stated, I can’t recommend these wines highly enough. The term, “buy the producer, not the vintage” is perfectly applied here, as each wine communicated it’s own unique story.
On to the wines: (I also included my most recent tasting note of the 2010, which was not served this day, but completes the picture of Stella’s journey with Brunello)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2005 – This displayed a stunning and bright mix of dried strawberry, floral undergrowth, fresh herbs and an almost salty-savory minerality. On the palate, it was lifted and feminine with angular textures, yet it never came across as hard or austere; instead the word “interactive” comes to mind. Dried strawberry and minerals lasted throughout its long finish. (93 points)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2006 – Here I found a dark and imposing bouquet with notes of dried cherry, smoke, crushed stone, charred meat and new leather. On the palate, I found glossy (not polished) textures with dark red persistent fruit, hints of plum, grapefruit and mediterranean herbs. The tension in the glass was impressive, as the ‘06 finished with a long display of minerality, bitter cherry, herbs and youthful tannin. I feel that it’s important to note that Stella refers to the 2006 as her Celine Dion. (95 points)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2007 – The ‘07 Stella di Campalto takes the ripeness of the vintage and marries it perfectly with the lifted nature of the house style. Here, crushed cherry dominated, yet still with a savory edge, giving way to sweet spice, dried orange peel and floral perfumes. On the palate, I found tart cherry and spice, with masses of sweet inner florals, in a light and feminine expression. The finish displayed tart cherry and savory herbal notes. There was a slight lack of substance here, but it’s a great effort for the vintage. (92 points)
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2008 – The 2008 is the ‘Old Man’ according to Stella. Honestly, I don’t get her meaning, as this was pure class and extremely vibrant in the glass. A dark, rich display of red fruit gave way to wet stone minerality, savory spices, and leather. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by vibrant acidity, with persistent red fruits in a tense display that was full of energy and verve. The finish displayed tart red fruits and spice that clung to the senses while mouthwatering acidity worked to wash the palate clean. This is a gorgeous bottle of young Brunello. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2009 – In what is easily one of my top wines of the ’09 Brunello vintage, here I found an amazingly fresh display of ripe strawberry, minerals, fresh herbs and dusty floral tones. On the palate, silky-weighty textures delivered masses of ripe dark red fruit with exotic spices, brisk acidity and a bitter twang, which provided depth. The finish was long and juicy–fresh–with notes of strawberry, inner floral tones and herbs. Wow, especially for the vintage. Stella calls this her ‘young artist’. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 – Where do I start? What defines a Brunello? For the longest time, I would say a classic structure to age would be a point in the corner of a wine this young, yet here I found such a delicate nature and mesmerizing layers, that I’d find it difficult to leave in the cellar for longer than 5-10 years. Coming across more ethereal Burgundy than Brunello, the Stella di Campalto displayed a highly expressive nose, which seemed to continue opening with each tilt of the glass. There was earth, leather, crushed berries, dried flowers—which turned to deep and lively floral tones over time—as well as a savory toastiness, which wasn’t oak but something rich and warming. On the palate, it was soft, caressing, yet brilliantly focused in its ripe red fruits, sweet spice and herbal tones. The most elegant of tannin wrapped around the senses, yet were never drying. It clung to the palate throughout the finish, with saturating dark fruits and fine tannin. (97 points)
And let’s not forget about the Rosso di Montalcino!
Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino 2008 – This is a Rosso? The 2008 Rosso di Montalcino is an outstanding effort with classic bouquet of undergrowth, dusty soil, savory herbs, crushed cherry and exotic floral tones. On the palate, I found weighty-silky textures with ripe cherry, acid infused minerality, and inner floral tones. It finished on red fruits, maybe a bit shorter than desired, yet this is a serious wine deserving of our attention. (92 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido