Allegrini 2018

“Eroica Montalcino”: cycling with WineNews in a Brunello territory never before seen (this way)

Sangiovese vineyards, a vintage Bianchi bike and terroir that changes hour by hour: a “heroic” day turned into “tasting a territory”

Montalcino, 6:30 in the morning. The wind has swept the vineyards for centuries in these hills and may have chased the people to take cover, while in the last part of summer a heavy (but not violent) rain fell. It did not smother the passion for beauty, charm, a bike race reminiscent of olden times, cycling up steep hills, dust, fatigue, the descents, spectacular landscapes and good wine, like the one awaiting thousands of fans following a long and exciting ride in the seat of a vintage Bianchi bicycle, like the famous bikers Coppi and Bartali rode. The bike gears were so hard that if you didn’t fall down exhausted, you had to get off your bike and push it in the mud or under the hot sun, because whoever stopped on the uphill and downhill dirt roads between the vineyard slopes, loaded with Sangiovese grapes close to being harvested, was lost. This was the pattern covering the entire route, but once the “heroic enterprise” began – it was like a child feels, and the child in us lets us relive the moment - you can't go back, because the surprise of discovering what beauty lies behind the next curve -geometric rows of vineyards or a centuries-old abbey? This is the story of a “heroic” day that WineNews also experienced on two wheels. “Eroica Montalcino” is the tourism cycling of yesteryear that crosses the Brunello terroir. It took place on Sunday, August 30th, following the rules and distances that changed the original experience, in contact with a reality that we here know very well, into a real “tasting the territory”. For once, though, not tasting in the glass; instead, we were looking to collect predictions about the harvest.
The rain made the race even more heroic. The mild climate accompanied the departure from the Piazza, one of the most elegant “lounges” in Tuscany, and symbol of the historical and political importance of Montalcino over the centuries. Palazzo dei Priori in the Piazza “suggests” Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. The loggia was once a market and the buildings housed noble families, and the famous local historic café, founded in the late 19th century by the inventor of Brunello, Ferruccio Biondi Santi. Then down the hill, zipping around hairpin bends among the vineyards, surrounded by the cypresses in Val d’Orcia and the white lunar gullies of the Crete Senesi.
This is where enlightening happens, as you have the handlebars in your hands, instead of a glass. Bent over your Bianchi bike - with bottles-flasks of Brunello, waiting with a smile on your face for the gourmet stops that give refreshment and joy along the route – you are looking at a very unusual sight. The earth, from this height (the altitude difference is 2.860 meters on the heroic route: the Montalcino hill is 564 meters above sea level, but it reaches 661 meters, ed.) shows all its characteristics. The elegance of the cobblestones and the stones in the streets between the city’s buildings, then change to the vigor of the land rich in rock formations, marl and limestone. Plus, 70 km of dirt roads, the iconic white roads that run along the vineyards, the same ones winemakers travel up and down to test the ripeness of Sangiovese, a vine that gives excellent vintages provided it is well cared for and selection is meticulous. Harvesting is near, and the orientation of the land and climatic microenvironments from one side to the other that the bike race crosses, is the same that gives Brunello its different expressions; i.e., clear days, rain now and again, Monte Amiata protecting them from atmospheric phenomena, and the usual wind that gives the typical local coolness and health to the grapes. What about zoning? Here it is.
Cycling along the Francigena road from San Quirico d’Orcia to the ancient baths of Bagno Vignoni, to Pienza, the “perfect Renaissance city”, you arrive in San Giovanni d’Asso, home of the prized white truffle. Next you clamber up the Montalcino hill - which is not just a vineyard - in a luxurious nature of woods, olive groves and fields, dotted with ancient castles (Romitorio, Poggio alla Mura, today Castello Banfi, Castiglion del Bosco and Camigliano), the fortress of Siena, and Renaissance country villas, up to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Here you find the sacred millennial Romanesque masterpiece, founded to thank and dedicate it to Emperor Charlemagne, which meets the profane, offering a beauty that one had anticipated. It is the meeting between good wine and food, offered by the territory of Brunello, but also Rosso di Montalcino - perhaps more suitable for tackling the last several kilometers. Either way, and always in moderation, even for the Vecchie Riserve that we brought with us – they pair with cold cuts, honey, oil and cheeses, as well as seasonal dishes, such as, panzanella, made from stale bread and vegetables from the gardens around the abbey, by the cooks who grow them. It is in the last stretch that “Eroica Montalcino” race pays homage to the territory. Halfway between Sant’Antimo and Montalcino, the Greppo estate of the Biondi Santi family is the “sanctuary” of Brunello, the cradle where in the nineteenth century one of the most famous wines in the world was created. The race crosses the territory, leaving behind its famous avenue of cypresses, to arrive at the finish line.
Montalcino at 7 pm, sunset. Looking out from the Fourteenth-century Fortress, the view is spectacular from the Val d'Orcia to Monte Amiata, up to the Maremma area and the sea, and you can retrace the heroic route in your mind, while waiting to enjoy a well-deserved meal of the most elaborate and refined cuisine, which traditionally accompanies the race, from “pinci” to scottiglia sauce. And finally, after so much exertion, Brunello tells all of this in the glass, with an eye to the future, and a new perspective of opening to tasting great wines and getting to know their territories.
(Alessandro Regoli)

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