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Cristina Mariani May: Carrying on the Banfi Legacy

Cristina Mariani May

Cristina Mariani May

The Banfi name is well-known when it comes to Tuscan wine. I recently had the honor to attend a seminar and tasting with Castello di Banfi owner and Banfi Vintners co-CEO, Cristina Mariani May, at an event held at Tuscan Kitchen in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Mariani May is the third generation of the Banfi family to run the business. I was surprised when she first started speaking. There was no trace of an Italian accent. Later, I’d find out Cristina currently resides in Long Island, but travels back and forth to Italy.

The Banfi brand was established in the 19th century by Mariani May’s great great aunt Teodolinda Banfi, who was head of the household of Pope Pius XI and was the first woman to live within the Vatican walls. Mariani May’s father, John Mariani, and his family lived in Greenwich Village, New York, where his family were carriage makers. Upon John’s father’s death, his family returned to Italy, where his aunt Teodolinda had a great influence on him through her knowledge and love of fine wines. In 1919, John and his brother Harry started their own business in New York, soon partnering with enologist Ezio Rivella. Their vision was to elevate the standards of winemaking in Italy at a time when it was more about quantity than quality.

John Mariani had an unbelievable wine cellar of first growth wines that were ’61s and ’71s, but he could never find the right occasion to drink them. In recounting the story, Marian May chuckled while remembering the fact that took her having a child and naming it after her father to get him to start opening bottles and get the wine flowing.

Cristina Mariani May, Joe Comforti (Wine Director at the Tuscan Kitchen) and Jennifer Martin.

Cristina Mariani May, Joe Comforti (Wine Director at the Tuscan Kitchen) and Jennifer Martin.

The 7,100 acres of Banfi vineyards are located in the town of Montalcino, in the southwestern part of Tuscany. The town is known for producing one of Italy’s most prized wines: Brunello di Montalcino. The Banfi winery is situated near the Monte Amiata and Apennine Mountains, and only 20 miles from the coast. Mariani May shared with us how much the Montalcino area has developed over the years: in 1967, there were 41 members with 175 acres producing Brunello di Montalcino. As of 2014, there are 209 members with 5,189 acres.

An interesting discovery made some time ago in the Banfi vineyards was a 5-million-year-old whale fossil completely intact, 30 feet in length. Aside from the great paleontological discovery, the remains are testament to the marine sediments and fossils that exist in the soil, providing nutrients and minerals to the wines along with limestone and calcium, all of which affect the quality of the wine in a positive way.

Banfi Pinot Grigio

Banfi Pinot Grigio

The evening at Tuscan Kitchen began with a social hour, during which the Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio was enjoyed accompanied by specialty charcuterie. The Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio was the first Tuscan pinot grigio produced. Following Mariani May’s presentation, a flight of five Brunello di Montalcino from Banfi were introduced. The highlight was the new 2010 vintage release. In addition to the 2010, we tasted older vintages including:

• 2009 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino
• 2006 Banfi Brunello Poggio Alle Mura
• 2004 Banfi Poggo Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino
• 1995 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino

After the seminar, the Banfi Belnero — made up of mostly sangiovese — was enjoyed with some fresh arancini and meatballs.

According to Mariani May, the highly acclaimed vintages from Brunello di Montalcino were the ’90, ’97, ’04, ’06, 07, and lastly the ’10. Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media stated that the “2010 will go down as one of the great all-time vintages in Tuscany… Stylistically, the 2010s remind me of the 2004s, but with more fruit and overall depth. The finest wines should age gracefully for years, and in some cases, decades….” The 2010 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino was rated 95 points by Wine Spectator and the 2010 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura rated 97 points by Wine Spectator.

If you’ve never had the privilege to experience a Brunello di Montalcino the 2010 vintage upon release will be a great place to start.

About Jennifer Martin

Jennifer Martin is a Boston-based Italian wine blogger. Her love of wine first started years ago when she studied abroad in college in Florence, Italy. She's traveled to Italy a multitude of times now and her love and passion for Italy not only comes from her experience of living there, but also due to her Italian heritage. Jennifer now runs her own company and website, Vino Travels, specializing in wine travels to Italy.