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The Tuscan Tasting Marathon 2013

Posted: Monday, 01 April 2013 12:02

The Tuscan Tasting Marathon 2013

April 01: Tuscany organises three major successive Tasting events every year - Chianti Classico Collection in Florence, Anteprima del Vino Nobile in Montepulciano and Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino where the latest vintages released after the statutory aging period, are showcased. But as an oenologist and a winemaker John Salvi MW is more interested in the latest vintage 2012 and shares his insight

Pics :: Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewChianti Classico Collection

As an oenologist and a winemaker I am more interested in the latest vintage 2012 than the vintage being released after its obligatory time in bulk and bottle. Thus I shall focus on 2012 with only passing reference to the older vintages. The tasting concentrated on the recently released 2011 vintage although there were other wines available as far back as 2004. On the first afternoon, each of the 167 producers had a table each and stood behind it showing their wares. This is my idea of heaven!

Chianti Classico 2012

Growers seemed justly wary about showing a wine so young and in some cases not entirely finished. Inexperienced tasters would not find it attractive and may misjudge it. The tannins are still raw and the elements often not yet fully married and harmonised. However to an experienced taster it shows the promise of its future and its quality potential. I found that many growers kept their 2012 under the table and produced it only when requested.

I found 37 of them, which gave me a good idea of the vintage. 2012 is a good vintage, not a great one! There is some good fruit, but tannins are powerful and sometimes somewhat raw. The best wines were made from vines on the higher slopes and with deep roots. Careful working of the soil was essential not to let a surface crust form. Sangiovese resists extreme conditions better than Merlot and Cabernet and one grower Prince Corsini (known for his humorous and caustic honesty), said to me, “my Merlot was only good for making pannetone”!

Without wishing to criticise unduly, I find it a pity that the Consorzio finds it necessary to give unstinted praise to every vintage regardless of the real quality and also to massage the facts. In the final analysis this blind spot finishes by compromising the reliability and trustworthiness of the information. This year (2012) the report starts by saying “late summer dread of a difficult year after months of drought”. However, it goes on to say “fortunately late August brought enough rain to ensure that even this odd summer would end in a good harvest”.

Click For Large ViewIn fact the good harvest depended upon soil, assiduously working the soil, slopes and high locations, older vines, deep roots and many other factors. It was a vintage for understanding your land, your vines and your soil. Winter had cold weather and snow. Spring was mild and rainy, especially in April. There was good rain, but 40% of it evaporated before entering the soil. Then in May the dry weather set in and not a drop fell until the very beginning of September. Irrigation is only allowed in emergencies and with permission but as there is little or no water available and no irrigation system in place nobody asks for it and it is not done. During the summer temperatures rose frighteningly and brought boiling heat and drought.

The Consorzio report says “although ripening never came to an actual halt”. Of course it did – it had to and not one single grower to whom I talked said otherwise. One said that the vines shut down in shock and he lost a month and harvested exceptionally late – October - for the Sangiovese. Acidities were therefore high and in some cases fruit was attenuated. A factor that helped towards quality and complexity of flavour and bouquet was a large variation between day and night temperatures. Also, because of the drought and dryness, there was no trace of rot and grapes were superbly healthy, although small and thick skinned and sometimes withered or even partially dried-out. Alcohol levels were kept relatively low by the late development.


There was a Press Conference at midday the first day, preceded by the presentation of the new Chianti Classico Academy.  At the Press Conference presided by Sergio Zingarelli, President of the Consortium, four other major topics were broached. Firstly the famous black rooster is being given a new look – more cocky, more dominant, more arrogant, more belligerent. He must now appear on the main label or the back label but no longer on the strip label on the neck. Secondly the Press was asked NOT to modify the term Chianti Classico and to use the term Black Rooster if they wanted an alternative. Thirdly, and perhaps most Click For Large Viewimportantly, Chianti Classico have introduced a new super category at the very top of the pyramid. This is ‘Gran Selezione’. This docg must be aged for 30 months dating from First January following the vintage, with a minimum of 3 months in bottle before release. It must be made from the producers own grapes and bottled on the property.

Finally, bulk wine will be allowed to be marketed ONLY if officially certified as Chianti Classico. At present the wine can be moved when described as “with the potential of becoming” or “suitable to become”. There is also a DOCG term “Vigna”. Rules apply for permission to use this and it is usually only given to smaller properties in designated areas registered in the Special Registry. It is little used to date.

There are new rules for the commercialisation of Riserva. It will only qualify as such if the producer states his intention to declare it as such when requesting that the wine be judged suitable. Riserva accounts for some 40% of Chianti Classico.


Sales of Chianti Classico were up 10% in 2012 over 2011, with the USA, Germany, and Canada the leading markets. Canada has overtaken Great Britain. Sales in Italy have declined. Italians are no longer drinking 40 litres per head per annum! 2012 production was 234,884 hectolitres (down 16%) whilst 258,787 hectolitres were sold. Sale value is estimated at over € 500 million, with bottled wine valued at 360 million. Olive oil is worth over €10 million.

The Consortium has 560 members of which 365 are bottlers. The Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) is registered in 40 countries at an annual cost of €150,000 and about € 2 million are spent every year on communication and promotion.

Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2013

Click For Large ViewFor the second year, the Vino Nobile Preview was held entirely in the city, the magnificent Fortezza having been restored and destined to become the head office of the Consorzio and the home of the Enoteca. Also an agreement has been officially signed with Kenneshaw State University, Georgia, which will see university courses held in the Fortezza.

This year was devoted to the release of the 2010 vintage, which was awarded 4 stars in 2011, and also of the 2009 Riserva, together with the judgment on the 2012 vintage - my principle interest. As the Press Release of the Consorzio says, “the 2012harvest takes centre stage”.

The programme was impressive with a great dinner in the Fortezza on the first evening. My wife and I were lodged for the second year running in the delightful Bio country estate of Il Cavalierino.  Our cottage was deliciously warm in spite of the snow outside. At the end of the sumptuous dinner a range of the most wonderful old Vin Santo was served including the famous and fabulous "Occhio di Pernice".

The next day was concentrated tasting-upstairs in the Fortezza, sitting at tables with sommelier service, or downstairs where 36 growers stood behind their tables and showed their wines. My wife chose sommelier service and I spent the entire morning tasting and talking to the growers. 17 out of the 36 had brought samples of the 2012 vintage, many keeping it under the table until asked for.

A truly magnificent buffet lunch of charcuterie and local specialties was laid on in the basement of the Fortezza, with endless wines to choose from. They served the most delicious bitter-orange tart that I have ever tasted.

Click For Large ViewIn the afternoon and evening sessions various members of the Consorzio offered tastings, winery visits, suppers, dinners and generous hospitality at their estates culminating in transport to our various hotels in Brunello di Montalcino, our next point of call.

The Montepulciano Municipality covers 16,000 hectares with 2,600 under vine. There are over 250 growers with about 90 bottlers. About 55,000 hectolitres of Vin Nobile and about 18,000 hectolitres of Rosso di Montepulciano are produced. In 2012 the market saw 2.6 million bottles of Rosso and 7.6 million bottles of Vino Nobile. Exports accounted for 68%. The top export market was Germany (44%) followed by the USA (17%), with Italy taking 32%. The Sangiovese grape is known here as “Prugnolo Gentile” and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was granted DOCG status in 1980.

The 2012 vintage was presented by the legendry Riccardo Cotarella supported by Federico Carletti, the President of the Consorzio, and Andrea Rossi, Mayor of Montalcino. A film was shown, which should not be done again. It was muddled, unclear and difficult to understand. Then Cotarella gave technical explanations and announced that the 2012 vintage had been awarded 5 stars, the highest possible award. This was a colossal mistake and not a single grower to whom I talked thought that it should have had more than 4. Giving a difficult and far from brilliant vintage the highest possible accolade finishes by undermining the credibility of the award and therefore of the Consortium itself.

Click For Large ViewThe winter in 2011-2012 was very dry and February was particularly cold with the snow becoming a blanket of ice that lasted several weeks. March was dry. April and May were seasonally average, although there was a little April frost damage. Then came the long, dry spell followed by the great heat. Bud break in 2012 was end March-early April; flowering was end May to early June; Colour Change was fourth week July to third week August, vintage was mid-September to first week October. The vine carried small grapes on small bunches with a high skin to pulp ratio, but superb health, although by vintage time there were some yellow leaves and withered grapes.

High solar radiation meant less vegetative growth. Sugar content in the musts was medium to medium-high. Malic acid content was low, but finally, although late, phenolic maturity was good. The harvest was late but the sugar fermented easily and the colour came out quickly. Some growers picked through the vineyards up to three times. After the malolactic fermentation colours were deep and intense, particularly so for Sangiovese. The best wines are rich and concentrated with powerful structure although yields were very small. Tannins cover the whole spectrum from abundant and silky to abundant and raw.

Benvenuto Brunello 2013

Click For Large ViewThis year celebrated the release of the 2010 vintage onto the market after its obligatory time in bulk and bottle. These were available for tasting together with older vintages and Riservas. On both days there were hundreds of wines; a tremendous buffet was laid on at lunchtime in the Palazzo Arcivescovile. The second evening was a palatial and munificent Gala dinner with sumptuous food and a vast list of wines to choose from.

The tasting system was the same as in Chianti and Montepulciano. As before, my wife did the tables and I tasted with producers. That way we can correlate our notes afterwards and taste double the amount! On the second day Giampiero Maracchi, President of the Consorzio, and Signor Fiore, a world renowned oenologist, presented the 2012 vintage and awarded it 5 stars. I was surprised that Signor Fiore concurred with this as the vintage in no way merits 5 stars. This is not just my personal opinion but that of nearly all the growers with whom I talked over two days. Just as for Montepulciano this undermines the credibility of the Consortium and of the famous oenologists who go along with the rating. How many stars will you award when a truly great vintage comes along, dear Consorzio?!

135 producers were showing their wines at the tables, but it was the 2008 that had pride of place. However, the 2012 was a fascinating vintage because of its difficulty. Tuscany is Tuscany, although it is a very large area indeed, and the climate in the 3 regions of Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello enjoys relative similarity in spite of local differences.  At least we now know without doubt that the wine carrying DOCG status here is 100% from Sangiovese and we were informed that newly discovered methods of chemical analysis can confirm this for certain.

The vine got off to a late start. Spring was relatively wet, but from May it became bone dry. Fiore qualified the weather as “strange” and “abnormal”. Yields were low due to drought and heat. Summer temperatures sometimes surpassed 40°C. Rain helped save the situation at the beginning of September. Old vines with deep roots naturally resisted better and young vines and shallow roots suffered greatly. Sangiovese demonstrated its remarkable adaptability compared to Merlot and Cabernet. Yields were 10% down on 2011, 20% on 2010, which was less than was to be expected.

Harvests were delayed by the drought, but with less stoppage or shut-down than in Chianti Classico. Pips were slow to ripen and anthocyanins and polyphenols were high, as was extract. This is the natural “auto-defence” of the vine. Colour was deep for the usually relatively light-coloured Sangiovese. 2012 could make long ageing wines due to their high acidity and voluminous tannins. If heat comes gradually the vine can adapt to it to a great extent, but if it comes brutally and suddenly the vines goes into shock and tries to shut down as was the case in 2012. This year had smaller leaves, less vegetation and lower alcohol. There was no problem at all with any fungus diseases due to the dryness. As for Merlot, it suffered deeply and a few growers told me that they did not even pick it so dried out were the grapes. Many did not even green prune this year at all - a strange and abnormal vintage!

Click For Large ViewIt is sad that this wonderful region with its magnificent wines has been struck in recent years by both scandal and abject vandalism. I would like to assure the Consorzio that neither of these happenings has in any way lessened our appreciation and admiration for one of the most forward thinking regions producing some of the greatest wines in Italy.

The Tuscan Tasting has been a great Marathon. The event was great, well organised and the hospitality was generous, organisation impeccable and knowledge freely and generously imparted. We were treated like royalty in all the three cities. This is a landmark in the annual wine calendar and I would not miss it for the world!

John Salvi MW

For related articles in earlier issues of delWine, click

Chianti Classico Collection ’13: Wake Up Call from the Black Rooster

CCC '13: Chianti Classico Wine Academy

Anteprima Montepulciano: Day in the Diary of a Tasting Journalist

Benvenuto Brunello: Viva Brunello- Viva Montalcino


Tags: Chianti Classico Collection, Chianti Classico Academy, Gran Selezione, The Black Rooster, Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2013, Benvenuto Brunello 2013, The Tuscan Tasting


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