Col d’Orcia Brunello: Elegance and Staying Power

Among the 2010 Brunellos I was able to taste here in New York a few months back, Col d’Orcia’s stood out for its finesse. It had all the fruit and structure that showed well in the best examples of that very fine vintage, but over and above that, the Col d’Orcia sample showed an elegance that very few Brunellos ever achieve – an impressive accomplishment in a Sangiovese-based wine that is usually more noted for power than for polish.

Consequently, no one will be surprised to learn that when I was invited to taste that 2010 again, along with some older bottles of Col d’Orcia’s very fine cru Poggio al Vento, over lunch at Del Posto, I very rapidly accepted. I anticipated a good lunch and good-to-superb wines, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Col d’Orcia is an exceptional property in many ways. In a zone where small – even boutique – producers are almost the rule, Col d’Orcia is large, the third largest estate in the denomination, after Banfi and Castelgiocondo.

Col dOrcia vineyard

And it lies in the far south of the zone, nearer to Sant’Angelo Scalo than Sant’Angelo in Colle. This is by far the hottest, driest part of the Brunello zone, a set of growing conditions that has only been exacerbated by climate change. So winemaking here is no dance with benign nature; it is more often a challenging and labor-intensive wrestling with the demon of drought.

Francesco Marone Cinzano

Francesco Marone Cinzano

Col d’Orcia’s proprietor – Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, whose father bought the extensive property in 1973 – has responded to these conditions with the kind of scrupulous attention to the vineyards that is usually the mark of smaller, more easily workable estates. A long-time estate manager, Edoardo Virano, and consulting enologist Maurizio Castelli – the latter practically an institution in Tuscany – between them ensure that most vineyard and cellar operations are carried out in a craftsmanly rather than an industrial manner. The whole management team has worked with scientists at both the University of Florence and the University of Milan in researching matters such as the suitability of different rootstocks to different soils, and even more fundamental, the suitability of different clones to their sites.

The results of such care show, as they always do, in the wines. Col d’Orcia’s basic Brunello (if that isn’t an oxymoron) is almost always a textbook example of the breed: deep black cherry fruit, soft (or softening) tannins, sufficient acidity and alcohol to guarantee decent longevity – not as much as the prized cru Poggio al Vento, which is often a wine for the ages – but a good five to fifteen years from release, in sound vintages. Poggio al Vento is vinified from a 300-meter-high vineyard near Sant’Angelo in Colle, and only in the best years.

Poggio al Vento Vineyard

Poggio al Vento Vineyard

All the examples of this wine I’ve drunk have been memorable, and I’ve not yet experienced one that was tired or over the hill – my good luck, I’m sure: all wines eventually reach the end of the road. Some, like Poggio al Vento, just take a long time getting there.

Here are the wines I tasted at the Del Posto lunch:

2012 Rosso di Montalcino
Very characteristic and enjoyable. Fresh black cherry fruit, good acidity. Very drinkable and a good companion to food, and a nice introduction to the taste of Montalcino’s version of Sangiovese, for anyone not familiar with it.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino
As good as I remembered it. A very lovely wine, with perfect balance – one of the best 2010s I’ve tasted. This was a serious drought year, so the harvest was small and concentrated, and it took careful cellar work to avoid a tannic, alcoholic monster.

2006 Brunello Riserva Poggio al Vento
Mellow and round, with lovely fruit and acid and its tannins already softening. A very elegant wine that is maturing beautifully and clearly will continue to do so for many years yet.

2004 Brunello Riserva Poggio al Vento
Simply a great wine, maturing slowly and serenely, with years or decades to go before it peaks. I wish I had a case of this in my cellar, and the assurance that I’d live long enough to drink it at its mature best. Oh the humanity!

2001 Brunello Riserva Poggio al Vento
Another masterful wine, thoroughly classic Brunello, but for my palate just a slight step below the 2004. I’m probably really splitting hairs here: ’01 was also a spectacularly good harvest, and this wine is an excellent reflection of it.

3 Responses to “Col d’Orcia Brunello: Elegance and Staying Power”

  1. tom hyland Says:

    Tom: We are in total agreement about the excellence and staying power of Col d’Orcia. I also tasted the 2001 Poggio al Vento recently at an event in Chicago; it is outstanding. I also tasted the 1991 Brunello, which is drinking beautifully now and has several years of life ahead of it. A great Brunello producer!

  2. Ed McCarthy Says:

    I have added Col d’Orcia to my list of favorite Brunellos in my upcoming ed. of Wine for Dummies.

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