Archive for the ‘Brunello’ Category

2017 Tre Bicchieri Winners

February 16, 2017

On the day of our heaviest snowstorm so far this year, the annual New York presentation and tasting of Tre Bicchieri award-winning wines took place just about half a mile from where I live.

trebicchieri-2017

So I slogged through the flying snow and the street-corner slush to take advantage of what I hoped would be a sparse crowd and a lot of idle winemakers, thus allowing me to actually taste some wines. For the first hour, I was right, and I did have the opportunity to taste some remarkable wines – but then the storm let up and the hordes came in, and my chances for thoughtful tasting ended. I’m happy for all those hard-working winemakers that the Tre Bicchieri tasting is such a popular event, but as a hard-working journalist I do most seriously wish there was some better way to experience and evaluate these wines.

But you’ve heard that lament from me before, and are probably quite tired of it now. Besides, the key thing about this particular tasting is how many top-flight Italian wines it gathers in one room, and I don’t want to let the circumstances of the tasting obscure that. My palate and the collective palate of the Tre Bicchieri judges don’t always agree 100%, but those guys sure get an awful lot right, so a collection of almost 200 top-ranked wines amounts to an event to pay serious attention to, no matter how many people you have to elbow aside to do it.

Not that even under the best circumstances I could manage to taste all 200 in one afternoon, but I did my best to get to a reasonable assortment of old-favorite, regular prize winners and some of the new kids on the block. I was impressed by everything I tasted, without exception. I don’t get the chance to say that often, so let me repeat it: Every single wine I tasted that snowy afternoon deserved its Tre Bicchieri designation. Here are the ones I tried: first reds, then whites.

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red-wine

 

From Basilicata

Re Manfredi’s Aglianico del Vulture Manfredi 2013, a wonderful example of a grape I love

From Piedmont

Elvio Cogno’s Barolo Bricco Pernice 2011, another masterpiece from winemaker Valter Fissore

Bruno Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2011, one of Barbaresco’s finest crus, beautifully rendered

Elio Grasso’s Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2012, benchmark Barolo, as always from this estate

Giacomo Fenocchio’s Barolo Bussia 90 Dì Riserva 2010, macerated 90 days on the skins, with consequent depth and intensity

Oddero’s Barolo Bussia Vigneto Mondoca Riserva 2010, a classic Barolo of a great vintage

Vietti’s Barolo Ravera 2012, a lovely, beautifully balanced wine with potentially great longevity (and I also liked Vietti’s very nice but not prize-winning Barbera d’Asti La Crena 2013)

From Sicily

Palari’s Faro Palari 2012, year after year the best red wine made in Sicily, in my opinion (and the 2012 Rosso del Soprano is right on its tail in quality: It got Due Bicchieri)

Planeta’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico Dorilli 2014, a lovely light-bodied wine, refreshing and vigorous

From Tuscany

Boscarelli’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Il Nocio 2012, as always an elegant, complex wine

Castellare di Castellina’s I Sodi di San Niccolò 2012, graceful and lovely Sangiovese from winemaker Alessandro Cellai

Castello di Volpaia’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, medium-bodied, perfectly balanced, with the elegance that always marks Volpaia

Il Marroneto’s Brunello Madonna delle Grazie 2011, as always from this remarkable cru and maker, a very great wine

Mastroianni’s Brunello Vigneto Schiena d’Asino 2010, maybe the best Tuscan wine at this gathering of greats

Ricasoli’s Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2013, a luscious, juicy wine that drinks far too easily

Terenzi’s Morellino di Scansano Madrechiesa Riserva 2013, very young Sangiovese, with this maker’s trademark balance and elegance

From the Veneto

Allegrini’s Amarone 2012, already big and textured

Bertani’s Amarone 2008 and 2009, both still young and evolving, with great depth and the promise of decades of life

Masi’s Amarone Vaio Armaron Serègo Alighieri 2011, a stunning wine from a great site

Speri’s Amarone Vigneto Monte Sant’ Urbano 2012, another fine example of what seems to be a great year for Amarone

Tenuta Sant’Antonio’s Amarone Campo dei Gigli 2012, an infant Hercules

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I doubt anyone is surprised by the fact that Italy is producing so many fine red wines, but for me the best news of the day was how superior so many white wines showed themselves to be. Every single one I tasted had distinct varietal flavors joined to genuine goût de terroir. This for me was the most fun of the afternoon, and I kept switching from big reds to whites of every kind to keep my palate fresh. (It worked for a couple of hours, then I gave out.)

white-wines

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From Alto Adige

Abbazia di Novacella’s Valle Isarco Sylvaner Praepositus 2015, a stunning, fresh, and vigorous wine from a grape of usually no great distinction, this year slightly better than the Abbazia’s normally superb Kerner Praepositus

Produttori San Michele Appiano’s Pinot Grigio St. Valentin 2014, high-altitude, rounder than usual PG – a real dinner wine

Produttori Valle Isarco’s Sylvaner Aristos 2015 – this seems to have been Sylvaner’s year; a lovely, lively wine

From Campania

Marisa Cuomo’s Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco 2015, a lovely, fragrant dinner wine coaxed from postage stamp-sized terraced vineyards along the steep Amalfi coast

Fontanavecchia’s Falanghina del Sannio Taburno 2015, lovely, characteristic Falanghina, invigorating and lively

Pietracupa’s Greco di Tufo 2015, medium-bodied and deeply flavored, with strong mineral accents, a fine wine, almost as good, in my opinion, as the same maker’s Fiano di Avellino, which didn’t get Tre Bicchieri

From Friuli Venezia Giulia

Livio Felluga’s Bianco Illivio 2014, a masterful blend of Pinot bianco, Chardonnay, and the native Picolit, sapid and intriguing

Primosic’s Collio Ribolla Gialla di Oslavia Riserva 2012, one of the briefly fashionable orange wines, but better than simple fashion: intense, distinctive, rich, and with the right food incomparable

Russiz Superiore’s Collio Friulano 2015, a lovely medium-bodied, deeply flavored (hints of almond) example of Friuli’s native grape

Torre Rosazza’s Pinot Grigio 2015, what PG used to be, fresh, vigorous, almost rambunctious

From Lazio

Casale del Giglio’s Antium Bellone 2015, distinctive, flavorful wine from an almost disappeared variety that merits preservation (Charles Scicolone has written about this estate here)

From the Marches

Cocci Grifoni’s Offida Pecorino Guido Cocci Grifoni 2013, a lovely wine from a variety that had been in danger of disappearing

Velenosi’s Offida Pecorino Rêve 2014, another fine example of the same grape variety, medium-bodied and mouth-filling; very enjoyable

From Sardinia

Vigne Surrau’s Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Sciala 2015, textbook Vermentino, fresh and bracing

From Sicily

Cusumano’s Etna Bianca Alta Mora 2014, capturing beautifully the volcanic nuances of Etna’s slopes

Tasca d’Almerita’s Sicilia Carricante Buonora Tascante 2015, a very characteristic version of Etna’s great white grape

From the Veneto

Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca 2014, always the finest cru from this consistently great producer

Graziano Prà’s Soave Classico Staforte 2014, one of many excellent cru Soaves from this producer, all fresh, enjoyable and very age-worthy

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There were many more wines to taste, but I had about reached my limit for tasting accurately and for elbowing, so I trudged my way back home through the remnants of the snow storm. I wish I had had the capacity for more, because I’m sure there were more discoveries to be made and reported on. Ars longa, vita brevis. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Non sum qualis eram, etc. You get the idea: I’d do more for you if I could, but . . .

 

 

Benvenuto, 2012 Brunello

January 26, 2017

I was unable to go to Montalcino this year for Benvenuto Brunello, the annual event showcasing Brunello’s new releases – this time around, the 2012 vintage. But I was lucky enough to have at least a truncated version of the event come to me: Approximately 50 producers (out of about 225) brought their wines to New York last week for a very illuminating presentation.
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signage

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The major part of the event consisted of stand-up tastings at tables set up on the broad ground floor of Gotham Hall, plus two upstairs seminar-style presentations – the earlier one of older Brunello vintages and the later a presentation of the 2012 vintage as exemplified by wineries from differing parts of the zone. I was very curious about that aspect of the vintage, because the Brunello zone, though relatively compact (a rough square bounded by three rivers) possesses highly diverse soils and at least two distinct climate zones, sharply separated by the ridge that divides the square into northwestern and southeastern triangles.

So I booked myself into the second seminar and arrived well in advance of it so I could do some serious tasting at the tables before the event got crowded and turned into a rugby scrum, which it almost always does.
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the-scrum

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I’m getting a little old for those sorts of contact sports, and I find it difficult enough to hold a wine in one hand and take notes with the other while standing up and trying to get access to the spit bucket (why does someone always plant him/herself right in front of the spit bucket?) and ask the attending producer some intelligent (I hope) questions about the vintage.

I tasted what I could – about 10 wines – before heading upstairs to the seminar. Preliminary conclusion: a good vintage, but probably not a great one, though with a long-aging wine like Brunello, that has got to be a very provisional judgment. The Brunello consorzio has awarded 2012 five stars (out of five), but the consorzio is always – let us say, optimistic – about the caliber of its vintages.

Certainly, one characteristic that leaped out at me from all the wines I had thus far tasted: 2012 was a very high-acid vintage. That has two consequences: These Brunellos would really need food to show their best, and they might live forever, since acidity is what keeps a wine – especially a Sangiovese wine – alive. Acidity is the element that makes a wine food-friendly and structures it for long life.

Thus provisionally enlightened, I made my way to the seminar, which featured examples of 2012 Brunello from Castelgiocondo, Collosorbo, La Magia, Le Macioche, Loacker Corte Pavone, Pian delle Querci, and Talenti, plus one 2011 Brunello Riserva Poggio alle Mura from Banfi. The areas represented included the center-west of the Brunello zone (Castelgiocondo), the extreme north of the zone (Pian delle Querci), the center-east (Le Macioche), and several spots in the south, ranging from near Castelnuovo dell’Abate (Collosorbo) westward past Sant’Angelo in Colle (Talenti) and southward toward Sant’Angelo Scalo (Banfi). Just for a reference point for Brunello buffs, the fabled Biondi Santi is located fairly centrally, just a short distance southeast of Montalcino.
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brunello-map

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2012 seems to have been an agronomist’s and winemaker’s nightmare for most of the growing season. The Brunello zone, south of Siena, is normally drier and hotter than the Chianti Classico zone north of Siena. I can vouch from personal experience that hot in Montalcino can be really torrid. The zone depends on water reserves built up in the soil by winter snows, and the winter of 2011-12 didn’t provide many of those. There was some rain while the vines were flowering, which wound up reducing the crop by about a third of average size. Then it got dry again, with a very hot July and August. In late August, very good weather arrived and saved the season, so after a great deal of anxiety, the growers wound up pretty happy with the grapes they picked.

Though the selection of wines at this seminar was intended to show some of the differences of Brunello’s several soils and microclimates, that wasn’t the thing that struck me most forcefully about the tasting. There was a pretty good level of quality in all the wines, with a lot of fruit, all marked by very high acidity – but after that, what stood out for me was the extraordinary diversity of styles. A few wines were very traditional and tasted like classic Brunello, but most were all over the place, with differing degrees of international inflection, mostly shown by the use of new barriques, or with a market-appeal emphasis on big, up-front fruit and heavy extraction.
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seminar-1a

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Each of these styles will have its fans, of course, but my regular readers can guess where my heart is: I loved the classic Brunellos. Talenti for me was the stand-out wine of the seminar, followed by Pian delle Querci. In the broader tasting, I was struck by Col d’Orcia – always elegant – and by Banfi’s basic 2012 and especially its Poggio alle Mura 2012. It’s pleasantly ironic that Banfi, once seen as the disruptive modernist in the zone, now seems a pillar of traditional Brunello.

Probably in more climatically ideal vintages, like 2010, soils and microclimates loom larger in Brunello, but in vintages like 2012, where active field and cellar work seemed absolutely necessary, the agronomists’ and winemakers’ choices seem to create the greatest distinctions among the wines. What that means is that buyers have to taste at least a few Brunellos to find the style they like: Critics’ judgments and generalizations – and I include mine – will be no help.

Terminal Toscanità

August 11, 2016

Like Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. In my case, I keep trying to break away from Tuscan wine for a while – after all, I love lots of Italian wines, and even French, Spanish, and German wines too – but I keep discovering important items about Tuscany that I really ought to comment on right now, while they’re timely.

Tom tasting

Case in point: I’ve done some articles for QRW.com about recent releases of Brunello and Chianti Classico, but I haven’t said a word about them here. That’s a bad oversight, omitting a lot of important wines, and it needs fixing. So here goes.

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Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello seal

The 2011 Brunello di Montalcino is now being released. Some of the earliest bottles are already here, and more will be arriving by fall. This is an iffy vintage: The weather was, to put it very mildly, not great, and a lot of not-great wine was made. But some of the best producers in this prestigious zone more than justified their reputations by making some very fine wines – not big, tough, wait-ten-years-to-drink’em Brunellos, but atypically accessible and charming wines that are a joy to drink now, have lovely Sangiovese character, partner well with all sorts of food, and should last nicely for five to (at the outside) ten years. In short, delightful wines, typically Tuscan in taste and style, available for enjoying while you’re waiting for Brunello’s 2010s and (probably) 2012s to soften up and become drinkable.

I didn’t get to taste all the key producers, but of the ones I did taste, these are my top baker’s dozen:

  • Altesino Montosoli. Delicate and elegant, with charming fruit. A little licorice in the finish.
  • Canalicchio di Sopra. Fresh and very structured, with dark, woodsy fruit. Intensity without heaviness. May age well.
  • Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. Lovely cherry/berry fruit, lively acidity, great poise; an excellent wine already.
  • Col d’Orcia. Slighter fuller and bigger than the preceding wine, but every bit as fresh and charming.
  • Costanti. One of the biggest wines of this batch, but still fresh, fruity, and vivid. A long fruit salad of a finish.
  • Donatella Cinelli Colombini. Slightly smaller scale than the Costanti wine, but still excellent.
  • Donatelli Cinelli Colombini Prime Donne. Very balanced, very elegant. Its fresh woodsy fruit hides its substantial muscularity. Quite fine.
  • Fuligni. Its balance and structure strike you first, then its already-mellowing fruit and acidity. May age very well.
  • Lisini. Beautiful fruit, all cherry and sotto bosco. Medium body, nice balance.
  • Padeletti. Very similar to the Lisini, with a long licorice and cherry finish. Nice.
  • Poggio di Sotto. Very fine. Live and fresh. Good fruit, fine balance. Very composed and welcoming.
  • Le Potazzine. A good wine with some heft; nice dark fruit, very persistent.
  • Talenti. A biggish wine with a lot of evident structure; may age very well.

 

Chianti Classico

seal

In Chianti Classico, the situation is much more complicated, because the zone is much more varied than Montalcino’s and producers often hold their wines before release for longer than the minimum aging requirement, so that several different vintages from different producers can appear on the market at the same time. Consequently I tasted a very mixed bag of vintages and producers, which makes it hard to offer any useful generalizations – mostly, I can just tell you what I liked.

I tasted a lot of just-bottled 2014 basic Chianti Classicos  (even some barrel samples) and almost as many 2013s – the “simple” Chianti Classico DOCG designation.

The Consorzio tactfully calls ’14 “a quite unusual year.”  It was a very wet year that made all sorts of problems in the vineyards. Only late-arriving decent weather – mid-September into October – enabled growers who had had patience and fortitude to salvage a crop. I don’t think these are wines for keeping but for drinking in the near term. The ones I most enjoyed are:

  • Badia a Coltibuono RS
  • Bibbiano
  • Castellare
  • Terre di Prenzano
  • Vignamaggio
  • Villa Cerna
  • Volpaia

The Castellare particularly was elegant, round, and long-finishing, already composed for so young a wine. The other wine that tied for my top spot in this vintage was Volpaia, which opened with a beautiful light woodsy/cherry nose, and a palate that followed suit – a fresh and charming wine with rich, satisfying fruit.

The 2013 weather was drier and warmer, with a perfect September. It gave wines with much greater balance and charm and a lot of true Sangiovese character. They can be drunk with pleasure now and will hold nicely for at least five years, perhaps more. In this group, my top wines were Borgo Scopeto, nice and soft and relatively full-bodied; Carobbio, with nice cherry-mulberry-chocolate nuances; the nicely balanced San Giusto a Rentennano; and Poggiopiano, the best wine of the group, which was rich with lovely Sangiovese fruit and perfectly balanced.

2012 reversed the weather pattern of ’14: Dry with blazing heat all summer long, it broke in late August and early September with cooler temperatures, much-needed rainfall, and perfect day-night temperature variations, resulting in a small crop of really fine Sangiovese. The great majority of the wines of this vintage that I tasted were fine examples of their breed. The ones I liked best were Castello di Meleto and Castello Monterinaldi, both finely fruited and well balanced; the always elegant Castello di Volpaia; Clemente VII, from the exceptionally good co-op Castelli de Grevepesa, Lamole di Lamole, from vineyards on mineral-rich soils near Greve, and the outstanding Fontodi, from Giovanni Manetti’s meticulously maintained vineyards in the Conca d’Oro of Panzano.

I tasted only two 2011s, one, Peppoli, from Antinori, which was quite satisfying on the palate but with a (for me) slightly annoying woody nose, and the other from Castello di Cacchiano, which has become a cult wine in Italy, at least in part because it holds its wines so long before release. This was truly lovely, with an enchanting Sangiovese nose and wonderful fruit and elegance.

And from 2010, I tasted only Poggiopiano’s La Tradizione, which was also wonderful – still young and live, with beautiful Sangiovese fruit and excellent acid/tannin balance. This is not a cru, but a selection of the best grapes from several vineyards, and it is a wine to look for in any vintage.

And then there are a few wines from Chianti Classico’s new Gran Selezione designation. The best of the 2012s I tasted was clearly Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo — probably my favorite wine of the whole tasting. It will improve for several years yet, and should last many years beyond that.

Among a handful of 2011s, the standout was Bibbiano’s Capennina, very structured and very elegant, a very fine wine at a very reasonable price point. Also impressive was Lamole di Lamole’s Vigneto di Campolungo. In 2010, Castello di Volpaia’s Il Puro, a 100% Sangiovese, really impressed me with its heft and structure: It seems built to last decades. The sole 2009 example I tasted was Castello di Cacchiano’s Millennio, and it was just lovely: soft fruit, fine balance, great mouth feel. These are all the kind of wine that make me hope this new Chianti Classico category may truly be a triumph.

Endings, and Maybe Some Beginnings

January 8, 2016

2016 snuck in on little cat’s feet in my neighborhood, shrouded by soft mist and a rising fog from the Hudson that, along with some pain pills for my outraged hip, had me asleep well before the canonical New Year’s Eve moment of rooting and tooting. This holiday season has been an ambivalent one for me, with unanticipated post-operative pain vying with the unnaturally warm weather to keep most thoughts of seasonally appropriate celebration at a distance. Plus – a side effect of my medications – my appetite and capacity have fallen to next to nothing. So there have been no big, year-end whoop-di-dos here, though Diane and I have managed a few low-key relishings of our survival and mutual company – probably the best way of all to mark the holidays in any event.

For you, o faithful reader, the consequence of all that is that there will be no connected narrative to hold this post together – just a series of musings, prompted by a few of the bottles with which we measured the end of 2015. Milestones, of a vinous and vital sort.

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champagneAndre Clouet Champagne Brut Rose Numero 5 nv. This year, this lovely bubbly has become my go-to Champagne for serving to guests who drink Champagne and not labels. It has body, it has elegance, it has compatibility with all sorts of canapés and more substantial dishes, and most of all it has the kind of palate-caressing flavor that makes you stop mid-sip and just enjoy. I am usually a fan of rosé Champagne primarily as a dinner companion, but I like this one everywhere. Something about the complexity of its flavor, the paradoxical lightness and weight of its body, reminds me each time I drink it of the excitement I used to feel decades ago when I first seriously began exploring Champagne and discovering, with some naïve amazement, the variety of its pleasures beyond just bubbles. Snows of yesteryear, eh?  A very appropriate sensation for the end of one year and the start of another.

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villa bucciVilla Bucci Verdicchio riserva 2006. No point beating around the bush here: This is flat-out a great white wine and a textbook example of how white wines can age. I am constantly amazed that Verdicchio hasn’t really caught on in this country. It is an excellent grape variety, and the best examples from its homeland, Italy’s Adriatic-facing Appenine slopes in the Marche, show not only the variety’s intriguing flavors but also the land’s distinctive minerality. This bottle partnered brilliantly with Diane’s sea scallops Nantais to create one of the best wine and food matches of our holiday season. Ampelio Bucci, the genial and devoted caretaker of his family’s ancestral properties, consistently produces what is always one of the best (very often, the best) Verdicchio of them all. His wines have been constantly reliable over years and years, always big, elegant, and distinctive. One of the New Year’s resolutions that I know I’m going to keep is that our home will never be without some.

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ormes de pezChateau Les Ormes de Pez 1989. What memories this wine evokes!  This was one of the first small chateaux I tasted back when I first began learning there was more to Bordeaux than shippers’ Medocs and out-of-my-financial-league premiers crus. Les Ormes de Pez was and remains a classic, even though only a cru bourgeois. Every time I drink it, it reminds me why I love St. Estephe. It has all the elegance and balance that the great wines of Bordeaux specialize in, and on top of that the lovely little rasp of the (to my mind and palate) utterly distinctive St. Estephe terroir. I still don’t understand why no St. Estephe wine was ever named a premier cru. What are Cos d’Estournel and Montrose – chopped liver? They cost, of course, many times what Les Ormes de Pez does, which is still a bargain in current releases. We used to buy the ‘66 for $3 a bottle; now that’s around $100 if you can find it – and if I could find it, I’d happily pay the fee. $100 is cheap these days for Bordeaux. Pity what’s happened to Bordeaux prices.

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brunelloBarbi Brunello Riserva 1977. This part of this post, alas, is a funeral service. This bottle was dead, deeply, profoundly dead, though remembered with great fondness. The bottle had been recorked at the winery several decades ago, but it couldn’t survive in my less-than optimal storage. Or perhaps it had just reached the end of its natural span. It’s always hard to tell with a wine of this age.

This was the last bottle of a case of Barbi 1977 Riserva that I received somewhere back in the mid-to-late ‘80s as part of my winning the Barbi Prize for journalism about Brunello di Montalcino. It was a great honor and a grand occasion: Francesca Colombini Cinelli herself, the grande dame of Montalcino winemaking, travelled to New York to make the presentation. 

barbi prize 1

The wines drank wonderfully for years, with all the paradoxical muscle and grace, smoothness and asperity of classic Brunello. I guess I kept this one just a bit too long. They will all be remembered – and missed.

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Les ClosI had a similar experience a few days earlier with a 2002 Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, a wine that by all rights should have been splendid. But no: this bottle was as oxidized as a wine can get. A lesson to me for 2016: Drink my older wines while they and I both survive.

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Let me finish up this hail-and-farewell with two producers whose wines will be around for a long time to come, Vallana and Produttori di Barbaresco. Both are Piedmont producers who have long been important in their zones and increasingly so on the American market. Both are some of the finest bargains in the entire wine field, offering top-flight examples of their denominations at what are very affordable prices.

spannaFirst up: we drank a Vallana Spanna 2011, a mostly Nebbiolo wine from the northern Piedmont, still in its youth. Back when Vallana made its first entry in the US market, in the 1960s and 70s, its Spannas were famous for their ageability, and many 10- to 20-year-old bottles were available. Such is not the case now, but the wine still shows all the capacity to age that it ever had. And if palatal memory doesn’t deceive me, the Vallana fruit, as cultivated by the Vallana grandchildren, Francis and Marina, now is even more ample and more refined, with a mouth-flooding juiciness that makes the wines supremely drinkable at any age. This particular bottle of Spanna was the last I had on hand, but my top New Year’s resolution is to fix that ASAP.

barbarescoFinally, a bottle of Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano 1999 rounded off our holidays – in a literal sense, since it was the wine that we drank with a New Year’s Day dinner. By now, everybody who knows Piedmont wine should know that the Produttori di Barbaresco consistently offers the unquestioned best value in the Alba zone. Its many cooperating growers between them control huge swathes of Barbaresco’s best vineyards and crus, and under the direction of Aldo Vaca, as knowledgable and understated a winemaker as any in Piedmont, the results are always worth drinking – in difficult years, sound and durable, in great years, off-the-charts wonderful.

Most wine journalists would agree with that assessment, just as most wine journalists have a kind of mental reservation that limits the praise they confer – maybe because it’s a co-op, and there is all the glamor of the single grower/artisan as opposed to the supposed “industrial” operation of a co-op. Let me start 2016 by saying that’s nonsense: The individual growers of Produttori di Barbaresco, and the winemaking skills of Aldo Vaca, between them make wines that stand on a par with any from the Barbaresco zone. These are simply great wines at great prices. My intention is to get more of them.

And so we turn the page from 2015 to 2016 – a look back, and a peek forward. Good luck and good wine to all of us! I have a feeling we’re going to need both.

Collectible Italian Reds

December 3, 2015

In the December 1 issue of the Wine Enthusiast, Kerin O’Keefe published an article called Italy’s Most Collectible Wines. Focusing exclusively on red wines, she surveyed the last approximately 20 years, singling out the best vintages and producers for each of her chosen great denominations – Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, Brunello, Bolgheri, and Taurasi – and offering a single exemplary bottle for each vintage.

okeefe page

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Given the ever-irksome space limitations of print publication, which are immensely burdensome to any writer with something to say, she did a great job with so potentially huge and shapeless a subject. Very few American wine writers – very few writers in English, in fact – know Italian wines as well as KO’K, and she nailed the important vintages exactly for each of her wines. No one – not even a notorious carper like me – could find fault with her chosen examples either. I wish she had had room for more individual producers’ names, and I’d bet KO’K does too – that’s where those space limitations really hurt. “Here’s your assignment: Tell us all about the great vintages and producers of Barolo (don’t forget to explain what Barolo is) in 250 words.” As the immortal Alfred E. Neuman was wont to say, Aaaarrrrggghhh!

For those who don’t follow WE, here’s a brief summary of what O’Keefe fitted in:

Barolo
Vintages:  1999, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2010
Producers:   Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Mascarello, Brezza, Massolino, Paolo Scavino

Barbaresco
Vintages:
  2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010
Producers:  Produttori del Barbaresco, Cascina delle Rose, Giuseppe Cortese, Roagna, Gaja

Amarone
Vintages:
 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010
Producers:  Giuseppe Quintarelli, Tommasi, Cesari, Tedeschi, Masi

Brunello
Vintages:  1995, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2010
Producers: Col d’Orcia, Lisini, Costanti, Biondi Santi, Il Marroneto

Bolgheri
Vintages:
 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012
Producers:  Le Macchiole, Michele Satta, Antinori, Ornellaia, Tenuto San Guido (Sassicaia)

Taurasi
Vintages:
 1997, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010
Producers:  Mastroberardino, Contrade di Taurasi (Lonardi), Guastaferro, Terredora di Paolo, Feudi di San Gregorio
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My only serious quibble with this list is with Bolgheri and its profusion of French varieties, of all of which I am far less a fan than the vast majority of wine journalists – though I am pleased to see the inclusion of the first-rate winemaker Michele Satta. I would rather have used the limited space available for a few off-the-beaten-track great wines – some Gattinaras or Caremas, for example, or Chianti Rufina, especially Selvapiana, or Sicily’s Palari or some Etna wines. But this is a small area of disagreement with a very authoritative listing of Italy’s red crème de la crème – if that isn’t too repulsive a metaphor for what is meant to be high praise.

Brunello 2010

February 6, 2015

By now, I’m sure that anyone with the smallest interest in wine has heard at least some of the hoopla about the 2010 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino. The ’10 Brunellos are just now being released, because of the strict aging requirements that the Brunello DOCG demands. I didn’t make it to the Benvenuto Brunello event in Montalcino this year, where almost all the Brunello producers showed their wares, especially their 2010s, so I only caught up with any of the wines recently.

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Brunello seal

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Last month at Gotham Hall in New York, 44 Brunello producers showed their new releases. Forty-four may sound like a lot of Brunello makers, but it is only a fraction – about one-fifth – of the ones who pour their wines at the Montalcino event, so the New York version hardly gives a comprehensive view of the vintage. As you might expect, most of the participants here were larger estates, and all were wines that have already established at least a toehold on the American market. Consequently, I can’t make any judgments about what the vintage was like throughout Montalcino: My comments can reflect only the group of wines I was able to taste.

Enough qualifications: Let’s cut to the chase. What do I think of Brunello 2010?  Well, it’s unquestionably a good vintage, potentially a very good one indeed, but it’s not of the same caliber as the 2010 vintage was in Barolo and Barbaresco, which are superlative wines. Brunello producers love their 2010s, especially because they follow a few less-than-exciting harvests. The winemakers themselves who were actually in attendance in New York – very few, unfortunately – all raved about how equable the growing season had been, how problem-free the harvest went, what perfect ripeness the grapes achieved.

And I could taste that: All the wines, across the board, had fine structures, with good acidity, already softening tannins, and an abundance of dark-cherry fruit. Some displayed remarkable accessibility, being already pleasantly drinkable, though most still need time to fully come together. Almost all of them displayed the kind of equilibrium of fleshy fruit and acid/tannin/alcohol structure that promises not only long life but really interesting development. I think many of these 2010s will get better and better as they age. Certainly, were I a few decades younger than I am, I’d put some cases away and forget about them for as many years as I could.

This is not to say there weren’t the usual evidences of the human ability to screw anything up. A few wines were perceptibly over-oaked and/or over-manipulated, so that good Sangiovese fruit was submerged in a sweet stew of oak and vanilla and coffee. But there were in fact very few of those, and most of the wines I tasted reflected admirable restraint in the cellar, letting the pure pleasure of Montalcino’s grapes and soils shine through.

So why am I hesitating to be as super-enthusiastic about these wines as I have been about the 2010 Barolos and Barbarescos?  Good question, and one I’ve been trying answer for myself ever since I tasted them. Partially, of course, one cause is the difference in the grapes themselves. For my palate, Sangiovese, much as I love it, never achieves the amazing complexity and layered-ness that the best vintages of Nebbiolo reach. Granted, that shows best with older wines, and younger Sangiovese almost always makes pleasanter drinking than young Nebbiolo. But I think the main reason I’m hesitating is the growing season itself and its results in the two zones.

Good as the 2010 harvest was in Montalcino – especially in comparison with the two preceding ones (both generously overvalued by the consortium) – it just doesn’t seem to me that it was as off-the-charts good as 2010 in Alba. As much as I enjoyed the vast majority of 2010 Brunellos I tasted, very few of them made me tingle with anticipation from the very first smell and smack my lips with relish at the very first taste as so many of 2010 Barolos and Barbarescos did. Granted, that may be purely a subjective response – but it’s the only one I’ve got to work with. I’m just not getting from Montalcino’s wines the intensity, the perfect pitch, that I got from Alba’s.

Still: For all that, these 2010 Brunellos offer extremely high quality and the probability of very long life. Just because I’ve got an almost impossible standard of comparison for them is no reason to ignore them. As I implied before, if I had the slightest chance of living long enough to drink them at their maturity, I’d be stocking up on them. And these, in alphabetical order, are the wines I’d buy first:

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Argiano
Very good; still lots of tannin, but plenty of acidity and fruit – a meaty wine in the very best sense.

Argiano.

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Armilla
A very small estate. Soft tannins, lively fruit, a bit of astringency in the finish, but developing nicely.

Armilla

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Banfi
This one’s going to go long – a big, structured wine, with excellent fruit. Totally worthy of the vintage.

banfi

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Barbi
The basic Brunello has a lovely nose, good fruit, terrific acid, soft tannins, all developing very nicely. The cru Vigna del Fiore is huge and will need years to show its no-doubt spectacular best.

barbi

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Belpoggio
Deep, dark nose, slightly tobacco-y. Big dark fruit on the palate, beautiful long finish, almost licoricey. Well structured, like all the best wines of this vintage.

belpoggio

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Canalicchio di Sopra
Lighter-bodied than most, but well balanced and juicy. Structure is sound, on a slightly smaller scale than the very best wines of the vintage.

canalicchio

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Col d’Orcia
Good tannic, grape-skin nose. On palate, soft tannins, fine fruit, lots of acidity, quite long finish. Should develop and improve for many years.

col d'orcia

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Ferrero
A classically structured, classic tasting example of this very fine vintage.

ferrero label

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Lisini
Another slightly light-bodied wine, but beautifully put together and already juicy and flavorful.

lisini

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Sassetti Livio Pertimali
Simply a gorgeous wine, one of the best of the vintage I’ve so far tasted.

Pertimali label

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Talenti
A huge wine, beautifully balanced, with deep black cherry fruit supported by excellent acid and tannin, for me the outstanding wine of the vintage. My hands-down favorite. I think this is a great wine.

talenti label

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So there you have it, 2010 Brunello as I’ve so far experienced it. I may report on the vintage again in future posts as I taste more of it, especially if I come across anything I like better than these.

La Fiorita: A Fine Terroirist Brunello

November 28, 2014

Roberto Cipresso is a very highly reputed consulting enologist in several parts of the world (e.g., Italy, Brazil). Originally from the Veneto, he first made his name in Tuscany and his heart lies there, at the Brunello di Montalcino estate La Fiorita, of which he is co-owner with Natalie Oliveros.

cipresso

A devoted terroirist, he speaks with passion of the soils of the Montalcino zone and his desire to express them in his wines. A few weeks back, over a tasting lunch at La Masseria restaurant in New York, he explained his stance. “There are two main styles of winemaking,” he said. “You can choose to express the variety or you can choose to express the terroir. Montalcino is the perfect place to do the latter. My ideal wine is like a glass – transparent, so the soil shines through.”

To that end, Cipresso does what he regards as minimal work in the cellar, opting instead to cleave to what the vineyards give him. He has three of them to work with: Poggio al Sole, between the hamlets of Castenuova dell’Abbate and Sant’Angelo; Pian Bossolino, slightly further north; and a new vineyard, not yet fully on line, Podere Giardinello, west of the town of Montalcino. The latter has completely different soils and exposure from those of the other two vineyards, and Cipresso is very excited by what it will add to his basic Brunello – so much so that he is contemplating the possibility of bottling it as a cru.

At present, the grapes from each vineyard are fermented separately for 25 days in large Slavonian oak vats and then drawn off into tonneaux, one-third of which are new each year, one-third of second passage, and one-third of third passage. The wines stay in the tonneaux for just eight months, then finish their two years of wood aging together in large Slavonian vats again. All La Fiorita Brunello then receives extra bottle aging beyond the DOCG requirements: Cipresso prefers to do this so the wine will integrate more fully and be readier to drink on release. La Fiorita’s 2008 vintage, for instance, is just coming onto the market now.

Over lunch, Cipresso showed four of his wines: the two most recent Brunellos and his first two Brunello riservas.

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Brunello 2008: The first things that struck me about this wine were its balance and elegance. This is the antithesis of fruit-bomb, in-your-face Brunellos. It starts light and grows on the palate, finishing big and persuasive. Dark cherry and tobacco in nose and mouth, with excellent acidity to keep it supple, and a long cherry finish. A thoroughly enjoyable wine with what tastes to me like true Brunello depth.

Brunello 2007: More tannic and tobacco-y than the 2008 but with equally fine balance. This wine shows a bit less fruit and a lot more structure than the preceding one, though this may simply be part of the normal evolution of the wine. Unquestionably as fine and elegant as the ’08, though the vintage difference is apparent.

Brunello Riserva 2006: This was La Fiorita’s second riserva bottling, and I found it initially still slightly closed, though it opened gradually and steadily in the glass. For sure, it will reward at least a few more years’ cellaring. It’s a big wine, balanced, and tasting emphatically more of earth and gravel than of Sangiovese fruit (though that is still abundantly present). An excellent example of the best that Montalcino can do, in my opinion.

Brunello Riserva 2004: This was La Fiorita’s first riserva. The vines, which had been planted in the 1990s, had just really come of age. It isn’t a huge wine, but it has great elegance and balance. It shows classic Montalcino dark cherry flavors and prominent acidity, with a very lively, long finish and overall great structure.

For all that, Cipresso doesn’t think this ’04 will live as long as the ’06 Riserva – and I’ve got to say, I kept going back to that 2006 all through the lunch, because it kept opening and changing in the glass in fascinating ways. All four wines were marked by the kind of great elegance and balance that Cipresso strives for, but each differed from the others in intriguing ways, expressing different aspects of Sangiovese, Montalcino climate, and Montalcino soil. What else can you ask of a great Brunello?

Emptying the Bad-News Bin

December 18, 2012

It’s always a good idea, as the year dwindles to its close, to jettison as much of the bad stuff as you can, so you can start your new year with a calm mind, a clear conscience, and a hopeful outlook. So – be warned – I’m here purging my files of a few troublesome items that have been hanging around and nipping at my heels for too long.

soldera labelThe most serious item I suspect some of you already know about – the vandalism at the Case Basse estate in Montalcino. This happened at the beginning of December. During the night, person or persons unknown broke into the cellar and opened the spigots on all the huge casks of Brunello, vintages 2007 through 2012. This would be an outrageous loss for the owner even if the wines were just ordinary: six years of hard, devoted work literally down the drain. But by all reports these were wines well beyond that, standing at or near the top of quality among Brunellos.

gianfranco solderaThe owner of the estate and the maker of the wines, Gianfranco Soldera, is a perfectionist and devoted to his craft. As a winemaker, he has the respect of all his colleagues. As a person, the story is different. He can be very difficult (some would say impossible), with no low opinion of his wines and no reluctance to proclaim his disdain for many of the other wines of the zone. Rumors have persistently named him as the whistleblower who precipitated the Brunello scandal of just a few years past. He denies this, and I believe him: I suspect that if he had begun that whole brouhaha he would have been more than willing to take credit for it.

The attack on his cellar has shaken up the whole zone. Only another winemaker can viscerally understand what a loss like that feels like. In a small way, I have a sense of it, having had my own wine storage twice broken into, with a loss of many cases and some utterly irreplaceable large bottles. No comparison in magnitude, of course, but I do have an idea of the feeling of violation that Soldera must have experienced.

The Consorzio and its officials have been swift to deplore the vandalism and to express solidarity – backed up with promises of positive action – with Soldera, along with protestations of the solidarity of spirit of all the Brunello producers. Much as I wish the zone and its winemakers well, I can’t help but feel that is whistling in the dark. Whoever dumped Soldera’s wine, for whatever immediate motive, vandalism of that scale shows how very deep and rancorous the divisions within this important appellation are. I don’t know what the Brunello Consorzio can do to heal them, but somebody better get working on that problem PDQ.*

zraly bookItem 2. A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Tom Hyland published a review of the new edition of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. While praising the part of the book that concerns itself with French wine (the bulk of it), Tom goes ballistic over Zraly’s offhand treatment of Italian wines, in terms of both the scant space allotted to them and the often erroneous data provided about them. Zraly’s dismissal of Italian white wines particularly infuriates Hyland. I quote Tom Hyland quoting Kevin Zraly:

“The Italians do not traditionally put the same effort into making their white wines as they do their reds – in terms of style and complexity and they are the first to admit it.” (page 187)

Can you believe he actually wrote that? I had to read the sentence several times to make certain my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Yes, I’m quite certain that great vintners such as Leonildo Pieropan, Roberto Anselmi, Silvio Jermann, Sabino Loffredo and Ciro Picariello would admit they don’t put much effort into their white wines. What a truly outrageous statement!

I confess I haven’t looked into Zraly’s book for years now, for the simple reason that I recognize it as an anachronism, reflecting the attitudes of the wine world when the course on which it’s based first came into being, several decades ago. With every passing year, as new parts of the world succeed in producing quality wine, the “Complete” in the title has become more and more of a misnomer, and the almost relentless focus on the wines of France more and more inadequate as a reflection of the contemporary wine world or of the choices confronting the consumer. Keven Zraly is of course a New York colleague, a long-standing acquaintance, and a very decent person – but as Tom Hyland has made abundantly clear, his book (and the course?) is seriously out of date and badly needs a thorough revision.

A small aside: It’s fascinating to me how the reflex kowtowing to French wine just doesn’t die. I’m not entirely surprised to find the prejudice in favor of the always-and-forever superiority of French wine in Brits, who are invested in Bordeaux – especially in Bordeaux – in ways that Americans are not, but we’re supposed to be more open-minded, more flexible, more open to argument and proof. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. I love French wines. I learned wine on French wines, and I freely admit that many of them set the standards for their kinds (standards, alas, that they don’t all always meet anymore) – but their kinds aren’t all the wines in the world. Italian winemakers in my lifetime have risen to great heights with different kinds of wine – different, but of equal worth and quality. If we could all stop saluting Romanée Conti for a moment, we might realize that Cannubi or Rabajà deserve a genuflection or two as well.

Item 3. This concerns a couple of small but worrisome disappointments. At a pair of recent dinners, I poured for the fair Diana, Mistress of the Revels, and myself wines from two of Piedmont’s standard-bearer producers. (What I’m about to say is a little ironic in the light of that last paragraph, but what the hell? I can only call’em as I see’em.)

gaja 1The biggest disappointment was a bottle of Gaja’s Sori San Lorenzo of the 2001 vintage – a great vintage in Piedmont, from a great winemaker, and a wine for which I consequently had great hopes. All too quickly dashed, however: The wine lacked Nebbiolo intensity and showed no complexity whatever. My first thought was that it was in eclipse, but what flavors it was giving were wrong for that; it wasn’t dumb, it just tasted middling. I’m puzzled, and hope I just had a bad bottle – but the experience is worrisome.

Giacosa 2Especially since it was more or less compounded just a few days later when I opened a bottle of Bruno Giacosa’s 2008 Barbera d’Alba. ‘08 was a good year for Barbera, and Giacosa stands among the best winemakers in the Alba region, so once again I had high hopes for the wine, and once again they were disappointed. Just as the Sori San Lorenzo lacked Nebbiolo intensity, this wine lacked Barbera vivacity, on top of which it displayed prominent non-Barbera tannins. The taste was of a wine that had been exposed to too much wood and hadn’t been able to assimilate it. As my friend Charles Scicolone would put it, this wine had gone to the dark side.

Now, two disappointing bottles do not add up to a catastrophe. But because of the expense of Gaja’s and Giacosa’s wines, these are not everyday tipples for me. When wines like these disappoint, and disappoint in the ways these two did, it raises questions – it makes you wonder, and not in the marvelous sense one hopes for during the holidays.

‘Nuff said. The bad-news bin is empty. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

* Update: This morning (December 21) I received an email from Montalcino, informing me that an arrest has been made in the case of the Case Basse vandalism. The person charged with spilling the wines is a former employee of the estate.

The Best Brunello Book Yet

June 4, 2012

Kerin O’Keefe’s Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines (University of California Press; $39.95) is a must-have book for lovers of Brunello and, in fact, for anyone at all serious about Italian wine.

Brunello has burgeoned in my wine-drinking lifetime from a few more than half a dozen producers, mostly clustered around the medieval hill town of Montalcino, to well over two hundred, scattered all over the very diverse territories of the Brunello zone. Keeping track of that highly differentiated production – much more making sense of it – is a monumental task. O’Keefe has managed to do it by dint of persistence and equally monumental effort. As she puts it, “Rather than merely sit in my office and taste thousands of wines every year, I’ve visited all the Brunello estates profiled in the following chapters, some several times, and many more that are not in the book. I’ve spent years researching Brunello di Montalcino. . . . I’ve walked producers’ vineyards, visited their cellars, and talked for hours with the winemakers and their families. . . . I take [lengthy trips] to Montalcino every year.”

That kind of leg work produces the detailed and accurate information that makes O’Keefe’s book a milestone in our grasp of Brunello. I know first-hand the kind of terrier-like persistence it takes to extract that information from even the most candid winemakers. Most are not trying to hide anything: they just don’t at first understand what you’re after. The majority of the wine journalists they encounter have about three questions: what grape (s) is it made from? Is it a good vintage? What does it cost?

(Let’s be honest here, folks; most wine writing doesn’t qualify as Pulitzer-level journalism. It usually runs from pedestrian down to dismal – and at least half the reason for that is that most readers’ curiosity doesn’t extend beyond those three questions, and sometimes doesn’t even include the first one. For readers like that, Brunello di Montalcino will be only a big yawn.)

Back to O’Keefe’s research: The tough first step is getting the producers’ attention – making them aware you are serious and really want to know about why they chose to use botti rather than barriques and how that affects their wines, or why they adopted or gave up on organic cultivation, and what exactly it is about their clones or soils or exposures that distinguishes their wines. Most wine producers have been conditioned to talk about what they think the press wants to hear, and it takes intelligence and persistence and evident sincerity – the quality Italians mean by calling someone simpatico – to break through that to the deep well of knowledge that the best producers possess, and which they willingly share once they understand your seriousness, your willingness to work as hard at your craft as they do at theirs.

Brunello di Montalcino has successfully tapped that well. The discussion of Brunello’s astonishingly short (by Italian standards) history is very complete, and its consideration of wine-making styles very thorough, as are all the portraits and evaluations of individual producers. But the book’s greatest single contribution is almost certainly its detailed presentation of the variety of the Brunello zone’s soil types and the subsequent case O’Keefe makes for the necessity of some kind of subzoning of the territory. This is bound to be controversial: nothing more upsets winemakers anywhere than the thought that someone might entertain the remotest possibility that their vineyards are not the heart of the heart of whatever wine zone they’re in. But for consumers, her breakdown of the areas with soils favorable to great Sangiovese production and those with less likely terroirs, and her later discussion of individual producers within those areas, will be invaluable. It’s not an infallible guide – high achievers in less fine areas can often make first-rate wines, while underachievers in great areas can always produce plonk – but it is an extremely helpful and illuminating one, the best tool I know for sorting out the great diversity of Brunello styles and qualities on the market.

Needless to say, I don’t agree with everything O’Keefe says about individual estates. A few she has, for my palate, been too kind to, and a few too strict with. I think, for instance, she is unduly harsh on Banfi and mis-estimates its wines – but these are minor problems in what is overall an excellent book.

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Full disclosure: I’ve known Kerin O’Keefe for a few years now as a colleague and friend. I was one of the readers for the University of California Press who recommended publication of her book. For both those reasons I’ve hung back from reviewing the book here (it appeared in February). But I urged UC Press to publish Brunello di Montalcino because I thought it was a good book, not because I knew Kerin – and if I think it a good book, why shouldn’t I call it to my readers’ attention? Conscience eased, problem solved: ergo this review.

Bevenuto Brunello

April 21, 2012

Tuscany – Italy generally – had a brutal winter, and Montalcino got some of the worst of it. By the time I arrived there in late February for Benvenuto Brunello, the annual showing of new releases, they told me it was warming: not so’s you’d notice, I thought. But the chill did make the wines very welcome, and the tasting job a lot easier.

The quality of the wines further helped that: This year the Consorzio was presenting three vintages – 2010 Rosso di Montalcino, 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, and 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – all of which were rated five stars. In the past, I have thought some of the Consorzio’s vintage ratings inflated, but not this time: these three are first-rate vintages, and they were fun to taste – and I don’t often say that of the endurance contests that these marathon tastings can frequently be.

Tasters at work in a tented-over C14 cloister

The easiest to taste was the Rosso di Montalcino, a wine that is designed to be drinkable young and in this vintage expertly fulfilled that requirement. The 2010s did so, moreover, without losing any Sangiovese character: across the board, they showed the wonderful cherry-like fruit of the variety and at the same time hinted at (in some cases much more) the characteristic soils that distinguish the wines of Montalcino from all other Sangioveses. More than one producer told me that the 2010 harvest was the best that he or she had ever seen, and that quality was certainly reflected in the wines. It made me very keen to taste the ’10 Brunellos, but we’ll all have to wait a few more years for that.

2007 Brunello and 2006 Brunello Riserva showed really intense Brunello character – which is to say, neither offered itself immediately. Both made you come to them and pay attention. Both rewarded the effort handsomely, in their very different styles. Of the two, 2007 was relatively more accessible, and most of the samples I tasted got this vintage exactly right. They showed a combination of excellent Sangiovese fruit, with overtones of nuts and minerals and an occasional whiff of tobacco, and – most important of all – almost no wood interference. That package of flavors sat comfortably atop fine acid/tannin balances, so there is enough depth, character, and structure there to make this not only a soon-drinkable vintage but also a long-keeping one.

Foreground: Brunello grapes ripening last summer. Background: C12 abbey of Sant'Antimo

That last is the most immediately striking attribute of the 2006s: They seem built for the ages. Bigger, firmer wines than the ‘07s, like them they have plenty of fruit and minerality and earthy, mushroomy flavors, but they definitely need time to soften their still very firm tannins and to let that delicious fruit emerge. These wines want patience, and they deserve it. 2006 amounts to a classic Brunello vintage, in this taster’s opinion.

Here are the wines that I thought the best of a top-notch batch of Brunellos. Most are the basic 2007 Brunello, but I’ve also noted where Riservas or particular cru wines also deserve special attention – and I haven’t listed any 2010 Rosso di Montalcino because they are all so good it would make this list way too long. I didn’t taste all 141 samples of 2010 Rosso that were available, but I did taste more than half of them, and there wasn’t a bad wine in the lot. They ranged in my notes from Good through Very Good to Wonderful – and that doesn’t happen often. This list is in alphabetical order:

  • Banfi: the 2006 Riserva
  • Canalicchio di Sopra 2007
  • Caprili: the basic 2007 and the 2006 Riserva. A small estate producing consistently stylish, age-worthy Brunello
  • Castello Romitorio: 2007 and 2006 Riserva
  • Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona: the basic 2007, plus Brunello 2007 Pianrosso, 2006 Riserva di Pianrosso – wonderful wines from a mid-sized estate
  • Col d’Orcia: 2004 riserva Poggio al Vento (Col d’Orcia often releases wines late)
  • Donatella Cinelli Colombini: both the basic 2007 and vineyard selection Prime Donne showed well
  • Fuligni: strong again in 2007; a pace setter for the zone
  • Il Paradiso di Manfredi: 2007, and especially 2006 Riserva
  • Il Poggione: 2007 and 2006 Riserva Il Paganelli
  • La Poderina: 2006 Riserva
  • Le Chiuse: 2006 Riserva
  • Lisini 2007
  • Mastroianni 2007
  • Pacenti Franco-Canalicchio 2007
  • Poggio di Sotto: Brunello ’07, Brunello ’06, and Riserva ’06 – exquisite wines from a top-of-the-line small producer
  • Villa Poggio Salvi: basic 2007 and 2006 Riserva

Rolling fields of the Brunello zone seen from near the top of Montalcino hill

Back in the Chianti Classico half of this trip, I remarked on the frenetic news-and-rumor mill at work in Florence. That mill was no less busy in Montalcino, though here the focus wasn’t so much on right now as on just a while ago – that is, on what the Italian press called Brunellogate and the US press (even the US wine press) scarcely noticed. This involved accusations of widespread violation of Brunello’s 100% Sangiovese formula, though from the start it was next to impossible to come by specifics of the improprieties and their alleged perpetrators. Even though the vast majority of Brunello producers now regard that episode as thoroughly behind them – their relief and their enthusiasm to get on with their lives and their winemaking was palpable – nevertheless trickles of information continue to emerge from the labyrinth of the Italian legal system.

The Italian journalist Gian Luca Mazzelli called my attention to the fact that some individuals and firms had in fact been judged guilty of improprieties and that several significant plea bargains had been struck. These were lightly reported in the Italian press (not a conspiracy: Berlusconi was hogging the headlines, and any other corruption paled in comparison), and almost not at all in the American. This link goes to the English-language report Gian Carlo provided me.

As you will see, the events there reported are already more than two years old, so I am strongly inclined to let sleeping dogs lie: The solid vote of the Montalcino producers against putting anything but Sangiovese into their Rosso, plus the inescapable sense, from all the publicity, that Somebody Is Watching seem to me to have righted the situation very thoroughly. Certainly I didn’t see any wines at this year’s event that showed any suspiciously dark tinge, nor did I smell or taste anything that smacked of Merlot or Cabernet or Syrah. Obviously, I’m not infallible – but for my palate, Brunello is on the right track.