The journey began for Banfi and the Mariani family, Americans John and Harry, some 34 years ago, when they carefully assembled 7,100 acres in Italy in a constellation of single vineyards in the southern Tuscan countryside of Montalcino. The property included a medieval castle, “Poggio alle Mura” or walled hilltop, which the Marianis carefully restored and renamed Castello Banfi.  The brothers had done well in the Italian import business, including wines from the area’s Sangiovese grape, but had long felt that the wines could be better.
 
“They wanted the Italian wines to compete with France,” said Lars Leicht, Banfi’s Director of Communications.  “They chose Montalcino in fact because French style grapes like Cabernet and Merlot had done well with Sangiovese, to make wines known as Super Tuscans.
 
But it was Banfi that pioneered the planting of noble French varieties in Montalcino, to pair with microclimates on the estate.   Its most intensive undertaking was in the zone’s native Sangiovese, making Brunello,  premium clones of Sangiovese and now widely acclaimed as one of the world’s finest wines.  And there lies the soul of the value of Banfi to Italy and the rest of the wine world.  It opened the door for Brunello to take its leadership position. 
 
With its established contacts and marketing skills, Banfi’s message was “take a look, take a taste.”
 
At its earliest stages of research and development, Banfi’s winemaker, Rudy Buratti joined the family and embraced the mantra of quality control and the pursuit of excellence.  “With a constellation of single vineyards producing a range of innovative Super Tuscans as well as traditional Brunello di Montalcino,” observes Buratti, “quality control is fundamental to expressing our unique terroir with 29 different soil types.”
 
Buratti was part of the original team that isolated and registered 15 outstanding clones of the Sangiovese vine, to ultimately co-author and document the history of Brunello on the estate. Leicht points out that “it took six years for the Mariani family to study the soil, understand the grapes, the climate and to understand Sangiovese before they could offer wine to the public, in 1984.”
 
Recently, Banfi experts assembled at the Grand Del Mar near San Diego to unveil the newest release for Brunello Di Montalcino, the 2007 vintage.  Thanks to a near ideal climate for Italy that year, the September/October hand harvest and resulting winemaking was an inflection point of quality.  After 5 years of careful barrel and bottle aging, a mature wine is revealed, aromas are very complex and soft, with notes of plum, jam, ripe cherry and a licorice/tobacco earth presence.  A full and harmonious finish persists. 
 
The Banfi story continues with a wide family of quality wines in every price point.  John and Harry Mariani have passed the baton to their children, James and Cristina, who are making great strides in going global with Banfi Vintners, recently acquiring vineyards in Washington and Calilfornia.  Castello Banfi signature wines are now in over 85 countries.  Italy has awarded Castello Banfi  “Italy’s Best Wine Estate” eleven times since 1994.  Perhaps the most satisfying praise to this legendary family is that of neighboring vintners who acknowledge Banfi’s role in pioneering a new era in Brunello and bringing the world’s attention to Montalcino.  Excellence achieved!
 
For a virtual tour, visit www.castellobanfi.com.
 
Wine bytes
Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas is offering a food and wine event Sat. June 23 from 6 to 8pm.  Walt/Hall Wines from Napa Valley are featured along with a stellar lineup of menu flavors. Tickets limited to 60 at $35. pp.  RSVP at 760-479-2500.
Paso Robles Halter Ranch Wines are coming to La Costa Wine Company, Fri. June 22 from 6 to 8:30pm. Winemaker Darren Ramos will also be there.  Cost is $25.  Call 760-431-8646.
•The Italian favorite Il Fornaio in Coronado is presenting its BV Reserve Wine Dinner Thursday, June 28 with a menu that compliments the Napa Valley wines of BV, including its legendary Tapestry Blend 2008.  Manager Luca Allieri has a four course Italian style menu.  Reception at 6pm, dinner at 6:30pm. $64.99 pp.  RSVP at 619-437-4911.
 
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at www.tasteofwinetv.com.  Reach him at [email protected].
 
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