Is arguably one of the most well known and successful wineries in Montalcino.
This success didn’t just happen by chance: it is based upon intelligent thought process that led to the original purchase in 1971, backed up with entrepreneurial vision, insatiable appetite to acquire oenology science and sheer hard work.
Great things can happen out of adversity. The time was the early seventies, the place Montalcino, Tuscany: the first act of this adventure, against the massive exodus of people leaving the countryside for a better life in the cities. Giovanni Neri found himself purchasing agricultural land with a vision of planting Sangiovese vines and attempting to make a great wine.
The object of this ‘courageous’ purchase was a property called Podere Casanova consisting of about 200 hectares east of Montalcino of mainly farming land where grapes were mainly sold in bulk.
Seven years after this, the newly named estate Casanova di Neri bottled its first wine, a Rosso di Montalcino with the label titled: ‘ Red Wine from Brunello Vineyards’.
Also in 1978 the first Brunello was bottled, with fruit coming from the best parcels of three vineyards in the north east of the estate. These plots now produce the fruit referred to as Brunello di Montalcino White Label.
In 1981, another vineyard on the banks of the Asso River was added to the estate and produced its first harvest of Brunello di Montalcino…Cerretalto.
Giovanni Neri, a naturally gifted winemaker, understood the special microclimate of the Cerretalto vineyard and its potential for making a great wine. The second vintage needed great faith and patience as Giovanni had to wait a further five years, because this wine is only bottled in exceptional years.
In 1986, his son Giacomo Neri became fully involved in all aspects of the family business, predominantly assisting his father in the viticulture and oenology areas.
In 1987 Brunello di Montalcino White Label won a gold medal in the highly recognised world wine competition: the Challenge International du Vin. After six years of ageing the first selection of Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 1981 was released .
In 1991 Giacomo Neri became the sole owner of Casanova di Neri as Giovanni departs this life.
In 1993 a new Brunello is born: Tenuta Nuova from a new vineyard acquisition named Le Cetine, situated in the southern area of the denomination thus giving Casanova di Neri a further interpretation of Sangiovese.
Never letting the grass grow under his feet, Giacomo added yet another plot of land to the estate named Pietradonice located south of Montalcino near the abbey of Sant’Antimo.
The soil of this latest acquisition contains large amounts of Onyx and Giacomo decided to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in the firm belief, that this terroir would bring out nuances to best express that varietal in Montalcino.
This same year brought further accolade to Casanova di Neri when Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 1988 was awarded Three Glasses by the highly influential Italian wine magazine’ Vini d’Italia published by Gambero Rosso.
The first vintage of Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 1993 was released, thus making three Brunello on the market from Casanova di Neri.
In 2000, the production of the Cabernet Sauvignon was completed which was offered to the market in 2003.
In 2001 Podernuovo, a land plot north east of Montalcino, rich with marl and with the highest altitude vineyard at 450 meters above sea level, became the lates addition to the portfolio.
In 2002 the hugely acclaimed Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 1997 was released, in a year that is widely regarded as the most difficult in this century. Not due to excessive heat and drought as we experience nowadays, but as a summer full of torrential rainfall.
In 2005 the new cellar was completed after 18 months of construction.
2006 was a year of undeniable importance for Casanova di Neri. The hugely regarded world wine magazine Wine Spectator announced Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2001 as their Wine of the Year. In addition, this year’s vintage went on to receive high accolades throughout the wine world.
In 2012 the family life cycle reaches full rotation as Giacomo’s eldest son Giovanni joins the family business assisting his father in the vineyard and production.
In 2015 a sixth vineyard is acquired, Collalli a plot rich in red clay, near Cerretalto.
In 2017 Giacomo youngest son, Gianlorenzo starts working alongside his brother and father.
Not surprisingly, in 2018 another vineyard came under the supervision of Casanova di Neri. This time, a 7 hectare plot called Tocco, a unique vineyard with vines aged 45 years and over..
The first harvest from this was dedicated to the founder of this dynasty, Giovanni Neri, the Rosso made its way on to the market in 2020. The Brunello however will not be released until 2023.
In 2021 Casanova di Neri celebrated its 50th anniversary. In wine terms this is a relatively short period of time but in the life of Casanova di Neri represents its entirety.
Fifty years have passed, for Giacomo I suspect it was only a “blink of an eye.” But rest assured: the young blood that has taken up responsibility for this great adventure is more than capable to continue its success, it’s in their DNA…not forgetting its terroir!
So much for the history lesson, what of my visit to the winery?
At precisely 10.30 am Giacomo arrived in his reception to greet my wife and I, asking ‘well what would you like to see or experience’, my reply was almost immediate; ‘ I would like to see the Cerretalto vines please!’ Giacomo replied: ‘It is quite a drive on white dusty roads so it’s best we go in my car!’ After about 20 minutes we arrived at Cerretalto. This vineyard is akin to the Holy Grail in its importance to Brunello in Montalcino: Situated east of Montalcino these four hectares of 50 year old vines are set in an amphitheatre of mainly oaks. The soil composition is galestro with alluvial deposits and a high concentration of iron and magnesium at an elevation of 270/300 meters above sea level.
The importance of this single Cru vineyard should not be underestimated: the passionate affair between it and Giacomo and his father has resulted in a wine that is the benchmark of Brunello di Montalcino. Recent vintages of 2015 and 2016 have elevated this benchmark to the heavens.
With temperatures approaching 38/39C it was decided to beat a hasty retreat to the Casanova di Neri Relais for refreshments. This is small, beautifully appointed hotel with exceptional views of the town of Montalcino.
On the drive back, Giacomo spoke of his life with wine and how his father never pressured him into winemaking as a life pursuit. Giacomo consistently referring to himself as "just a farmer," I thought to myself that’s the equivalent of a 3 star Michelin chef calling himself a "cook."
Following our arrival at the Relais, where coffee and water were a welcome revival, we filmed the ‘High five with Tony Wood’ interview. It was so fascinating for me to have such a wine colossus such as Giacomo Neri on the end of my questions, that we ran way overtime... I just couldn’t help myself!
To watch the video of the interview please scroll to the end of this article after the Tasting Notes...
We returned to the winery reception area for a tasting of some of the latest Sangiovese releases.
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino White Label 2015
Bright ruby red in colour. Red cherry, raspberry, aromatics of red florals, pomegranate, liquorice, mint, slate and spice notes. Fresh, vibrant, tip toes across the palate yet holds a solid core of fine fruit quality surrounded by a balanced structure of ultra fine tannins and fresh acidity. Superabundance of energy leading to a linear close.
Points 94 TW
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino White Label 2017
Mid ruby red in colour with darker undertones. Persistent pulses of plum, dark cherry, mint, tobacco with slight balsam nuances. Purple and dark rose florals vie with acidity that sustains the rich body. The introduction of Cerretalto fruits add to the relaxed progression. Minerality uplift adds to the fresh and juicy articulated finish.
Points 92 TW
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2017
Mid ruby red in colour. Dark fruit of baked plum, cherry, blueberry, faint liquorice, clove. Fresh youthful tannins interplay with zesty acidity. Cool entry. Resplendent textural depth. Good symmetry. Notes of crushed stone and balsam on the close. I believe this wine still needs bottle age as its full potential might be some way off.
Points 93-95 TW
Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2016
Bright ruby red in colour with a translucent purple hew. Wild forest berries, underbrush, black truffle, faint humus. Dark powdered spice and orange peel zest. Youthful. Showing complexity beyond its age, brings together all the qualities of this vintage. Such poise, gives layers of pleasure. Ultra refined.
Expands in all directions on the mid palate. Has the textural depth of the Mariana Trench. Defines balance and elegance. Shows too many dimensions to list. The finish is immortal.
Points 100 TW
With my sincere thanks to Giacomo Neri for his time and for graciously agreeing to participate to my “ High Five with Tony Wood” video interview series.