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Tuscany Taste 2016: Sun shines on 2015 Vintage in Tuscany

Posted: Friday, 26 February 2016 12:34


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Tuscany Taste 2016: Sun shines on 2015 Vintage in Tuscany

Feb 26: Tuscany Taste, the annual event held for many years for Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino wines for Italian and International journalists and which had been integrated with Chianti and different Tuscan appellations and San Gimignano during the last couple of years, was a Tuscan Marathon for John Salvi MW who focused on the 2015 vintage and examined the weather conditions and how the vines behaved in order to try and analyse how it was presently such a fine and gracious vintage

Pics by Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewTuscany Taste-has various synonyms-ok, you may call them quasi synonyms but I call it Tuscan Marathon because during 8 days we tasted every single DOC and DOCG wine of Tuscany plus many IGTs. There were over 1000 wines available to taste; a good and assiduous taster could possibly have managed 500-600 of them and to achieve this would have been very hard work indeed.

First was “Tuscany Taste” with the 8 appellations- Carmignano, Colline Lucchesi, Vini Cortona, Vald’Arno Sopra, Bianco di Pitigliano e Sovana, Morellino di Scansano, Montecucco and Vini della Maremma Toscana. Then came “Chianti Lovers” covering all the non-Classico Chiantis with their 7 subzones: Montespertoli, Montalbano, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi and Chianti Rufina plus Colli dell ‘Etruria and of course Vin Santo, which came deliciously in all its producing areas. 

Next was Chianti Classico for 2 days with Classico, Riserva and Gran Selezione.  San Gimignano with Vernaccia di San Gimignano followed and then on to Montepulciano with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Riserva. Finally it was Benvenuto Brunello with Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino and Riserva, Moscadello and S. Antimo.  Also many Rosso Toscana IGTs.  Truly a marathon!


Without reading any further the reader would be pleased to know just as the producers are that the 2015 vintage in Tuscany is a great one and the best for a number of years.  A number of Italy’s finest winemakers have called it ' WOW!'.  Perfect grapes picked at perfect ripeness under perfect conditions!!! Castello d’Albola (Zonin-owned Estate in Radda in Chianti producing Chianti Classico docg wines being imported by Aspri in India-editor) described it as the perfect vintage for agronomists.


We know that the soil and the grape variety give the character, personality and individuality to a wine and the weather gives it shape, structure and much of its ageing potential. In this article we are going to examine the weather and how the vine behaved in order to try and see why it was such a fine and gracious vintage.


Click For Large ViewTuscany is a large region with many vineyards all over it.  Each vineyard has its own microclimate, its own specific soils, its hills and its valleys, its wet places and dry places, in fact an infinity of differences. It would take a book to detail the weather and the progress of the vine in each one. The differences are on the whole minor and the overall weather conditions are very similar. Therefore, the detailed analysis of the 2015 vintage in this article will cover all the wine producing vineyards of Tuscany put together. 

Statistics have been taken from Montepulciano and of course are not identical to other regions, but the differences are small enough to take the following statistics as being close to those in all Tuscan vineyards.


The winter was very wet and not very cold except in high altitudes. Many would have preferred clean, dry cold with good frosts as this serves to kill off the bugs and beasties and clean up the vineyards. The rain however was very welcome as it filled up the water table, which in turn would help avoid hydric stress when it grew hot and dry in summer. The last 3 months of 2014 had no less than a huge 240mm of rain.  January had 28mm, February 72mm and March 99mm. This is often of vital importance and indeed we shall see that this year it was. January had a higher than average temperature (6.6°C) whilst February and March had temperatures close to the long-term averages (5.9°C, 9.5°C). 


From spring until the harvest the overall conditions can be described in 3 words- hot, dry and sunny. April continued with an average temperature close to the long-term averages (12.6°C) and 31mm of rain; May 44mm and June 48mm.This is plenty and ideal. There was strong evapotranspiration and the rains were concentrated into relatively few falls. May and June were hot (17.6°C, 21.3°C). 


July was very hot indeed (26.3°C) with some days getting close to 40°C, but feeling not above 33°C because of cooling winds. It is here that the winter rains played their part. The soil had remained fresh and moist and overall the vine did not suffer hydric stress except in particularly arid localities- enough for phenological development without excess. It was 2.4°C higher than the long-term average. Also 47mm of rain fell. August was spot on average (23.7°C) with 59mm of rain. September and October were slightly cooler than average (19.2°C, 14.2°C) and September was wonderfully dry for the vintage with only 23mm. 


October (14.2°C) was cooler and very wet indeed with 102mm, but after the end of the vintage- so nobody minded. November was slightly warmer (10.7°C) and dry with 28mm and December took us back into winter (6.5°C) and was the driest December on record with only 5.0mm. There were no frosts until December. The total year’s rainfall was notably low at 586mm against an annual average of 750mm, but it was regularly distributed.


There were violent hailstorms in both June and July but thankfully overall damage was minimal albeit worrying. In high places, for example Riecine in Chianti Classico, wild boar ate a lot of the grapes. It appears that they do not damage or uproot the vines but simply bite the bunches off!!


Click For Large ViewBud-break was on April 10-20 but earlier in some places. Flowering was early after the pleasant spring and began from 18th May in earlier developing vineyards and continued until around 4th June (16 days). It took place under ideal conditions, except for some rain between 20th – 26th locally in Montepulciano but not in Chianti Classico where it was fine and dry, and so was short, which means regular ripening of all the grapes on each bunch, which is wonderful. 

When the flowering is protracted, under wet or unsuitable conditions, we get what the French call 'millerandage' which means green, pink and red grapes on the same bunch at vintage time and a great deal of loss. Also this year there was almost no 'coulure' or 'shatter', which diminishes greatly the crop under unfavourable weather conditions.

Finally, yields were moderate, but perfectly respectable. June saw regular growth and development. As we have seen July was very hot and growth slowed down, but did not stop thanks to the reserves of water in the soil. Good rain of 25mm on 8-10 August revitalised the vines. Colour change was relatively protracted between 25th July and 18th August.  Ripening continued through August and into September under excellent conditions and was both regular and well balanced. Growers were able to wait and pick the grapes, in perfect health and at optimum ripeness, without haste or stress. Generally, growers started to pick the Sangiovese from around 15th - 20th September until around 10th October.

STRUCTURE-Fine Vintage for ageing

Click For Large ViewThe 2015 will be a fine vintage for ageing.  One of the greatest developments in recent years has been to make suppler wines. This comes from a greater understanding of polyphenols, especially tannins, It means that wines can be enjoyable not only young and fresh, but will also age gracefully and live to an old age with elegance and finesse. 

It is the acids and the tannins that enable a wine to age with grace and beauty although the Montepulciano oenologist Sr. Castelli surprised us. He said that although the acidity gives the freshness it did not contribute to the longevity, but only the anti-oxidants. The tannins this year are in many cases massive, but they are smooth, sweet and silky. Castelli also said that in Montepulciano the temperature at night never remained above 15°C.  As we know a large variation between day and night temperatures during the maturation period greatly helps bouquet and flavour development and these very fresh nights were therefore ideal. Slow, positive ripening without stress, with acid retention and without too much accumulation of sugar in the must- and thus wine without too much alcohol -ideal! 

What was so wonderful, and relatively rare, is that the phenolic development (tannins and colour) this year went hand in hand with vegetal development (acids and sugar) and was ready at the same time.  This gave the wine its GRANDEUR. The wines have a big, solid structure, plentiful tannins almost massive, but smooth and ripe, intense flavours with black fruits and very ripe, deep colours (some of the deepest ever), fine fresh acidities and beautiful balance and harmony.  They can be drunk young with pleasure but will age long.


Less and less sulphur is being used as better viticultural practices produce riper and healthier grapes and careful and precise vinification gives stability. Better Sangiovese clones, developed quite recently in Chianti Classico, are giving smaller grapes with a greater ratio of solid matter to juice. While this reduces the quantity somewhat it increases concentration, tannin content, alcohol and colour and the use of the famous Sangiovese Grosso is less and less widespread. Also reducing the use of pesticides helps to keep up the desired acidity level because a certain amount of acidity combines with potassium in the fertiliser.


Click For Large ViewTwo growers only out of the many to whom I talked expressed reservation about the 2015 vintage. Gaia Gaja, wonderful daughter of the famed Angelo Gaja, was slightly disturbed by not enough colour and wondered if she had picked the grapes a trifle too early. Her oenologist did not agree with her. 

The owner of Azienda Agricola Canneto went much further. He did not think that it was a great year. He said the weather was highly irregular, too often and too much up and down and the July heat gave a shock to the vines. He said the vines were less vigorous and had fewer flowers and less fruit than usual due to problems in 2014. For him windstorms in spring also did damage. His comment was “in September, at vintage time, you always pay the bill”. He describes his wine as “rich but weak tannins, weak fruit flavours, meaty, chewy, but dangerous!” He does not agree with the award of 5 stars to the 2015 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino! Incidentally, Nobile di Montepulciano 2015 was also awarded 5-stars.


It is a great vintage and is totally worthy of the 5 stars awarded by Brunello and Montepulciano.  Chianti is delightfully fragrant and fruity and Chianti Classico is magnificent. Vernaccia di San Gimignano is crisp and wonderfully fresh and all white wines benefited from perfect vintage conditions. The malo-lactic fermentation went smoothly and is now over. Nearly all the wines have excellent colour and tone values. Alcohol levels are medium to high and polyphenol levels are more than adequate. Acidities are excellent and fresh and pH levels ideal at generally 3.4-3.65.  Total acidity was 5.5 – 6.0. 

Sangiovese shines through when used in “purezza” (100%) and those who added Colorino made a mistake. Also neither Cabernet nor Merlot helped the varietal aromatic expression this year.  Depth, structure, balance, length, refined tannins, fresh acidities and ability to age characterise the red wines of Tuscany in 2015.

John Salvi Master of Wine

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Tags: Tuscany Taste, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, San Gimignano, John Salvi MW, DOC, DOCG, Tuscany, Carmignano, Colline Lucchesi, Vini Cortona, Vald’Arno Sopra, Bianco di Pitigliano e Sovana, Morellino di Scansano, Montecucco and Vini della Maremma Toscana. Montespertoli, Montalbano, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Senesi and Chianti Rufina, Classico, Riserva , Gran Selezione, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Benvenuto Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Castello d’Albola, Aspri, Riecine, millerandage, polyphenols, tannins, vinification, Sangiovese, Sangiovese Grosso, Gaia Gaja, Angelo Gaja, Azienda Agricola Canneto, Brunello di Montalcino, malo-lactic


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