March 16: The 8-day Tuscan Marathon Tasting that is held annually, starting in Florence in February and ending up in Montalcino keeps the best for the last but this year, the Anteprima of Brunello di Montalcino had mixed expectation from the journalists with the 3-star vintage 2014 being the protagonist of the Benvenuto Brunello event, writes Subhash Arora who was generally not impressed with the vintage though the 2015 Riserva and 2017 Rosso were mostly brilliant and noteworthy
A total of 127 producers participating in the tasting, offering a range of Brunello 2014 and sometimes special or single vineyard Brunello 2014 were the focus of the Benvenuto Brunello (Welcome Brunello). These were reinforced by about 60 Brunello Riserva 2015. Though 2017 Rosso could have been released on January 1, 2019, a significant number of producers decided to age some more and offered 2016 only; a few even offered both.
The 2014 3-star vintage had already shown a red flag earlier. Francesco Biondi Santi, unquestionably one of the top Brunello producers of premier quality, had already announced in 2015 that there would be no Brunello 2014 from Biondi Santi. Tim Atkin, who was at the 2015 Benvenuto Brunello event, had shared with delWine that 2014 should have been awarded only 2 stars. A few had felt that he had been generous. Pieve Santa Restituta owned by Angelo Gaja of Barbaresco produces 2 single vineyard wines- Sugarille and Rennina that sell for over 3 times the generic Brunello which by itself is not inexpensive. Gaia Gaja had declared a few months before the event that the company did not plan to release the special wines-this means either the wines would be re-classified as generic Brunello or possibly sold off as bulk wines.
With that scenario, it was not surprising that a significant number of tasters were disappointed with the wines poured diligently by the professional sommeliers -6 in a flight as chosen by each taster. It is not that they were all poor in quality. With the 2015 Riserva also being also tasted, the gap in flavour quality was even more marked. I scored around 15% of the total over 90 points, meaning they were representative of Brunello di Montalcino and one could be proud of the wines and the vintage. There is a possibility that they might get better over the future years like the 2009-the previous poor vintage but some of them from that vintage have turned into excellent wines, over the years signifying that there is still spunk in the vintage 2009 or 2014.
The Brunello Man
The general feeling amongst the Tasters can be summed up by Herwig Van Hove, the 80-year old Belgian who has been coming here regularly for around 20 years. He does not speak many words, but when he does, he is very precise in his opinion and offers his reasons fearlessly. He is pretty disappointed with the 2014 vintage too. ‘Out if the 120 Brunello I tasted over 2 days, I found only 14 that I would like to drink though they might not be the best specimen of a great Brunello. There were 32 wines which were totally disappointing and should not even have been presented at the Event. They were light coloured, watery, thin, lacked colour and deserved to be classified as Rose. They are short, no volume or depth and improper evolution in the glass. I wonder how the Consorzio even allows such wines to be classified as Brunello!’ The Consorzio might have practically little to stop the release of a vintage in reality, he should perhaps know.
Herwig is such a committed fan of Brunello di Montalcino that he does not even taste Riserva or Rosso. ‘Riserva is for the Americans! And frankly I do not agree with the philosophy in Montalcino of taking out the best grapes for Riserva. They should take grapes from specific parcels and not the best grapes because in that case the quality of grapes comes down for the regular Brunello. As late Prof Émile Peynaud used to say, even 1% reduction in the quality of grapes brings down the quality of wine substantially.
And which one did he think was the Best 2014? Lisini 2014 was his instant reply. I got our Sommelier Vinicio Fruzzetti to bring out a bottle for Tasting and I could agree with Herwig’s choice- it was truly a magnificent wine. Darker colour, full bodied and complex bouquet and concentrated flavours and a homogenous body, the balanced wine was a pleasure on the palate.
The best example for me was Banfi. The 2014 was better (91/100) than many of the Brunellos of the same vintage but the single vineyards Poggio alla Mura 2014 was more concentrated and flavourful (92). The best wine was Poggio alla Mura Riserva 2013 (94)-still a bit oakey but had a great structure. Rosso 2017 with great power and concentration was almost better than Brunello 2014 (90). But the best value for me was Banfi Poggio alla Mura Rosso 2017-fresh, spicy, a lot of structure, ripe tannins, lovely red fruit and vivacious wine with good balance (94)
Silvio Nardi (92), Villa Cipressi (92). I was slightly disappointed with my favourite Poggio di Sotto (89) which was elegant but felt weak on the palate. Some of the other wines I liked were Barbi Brunello 2014 (90), Renieri (90), Capanna (92), Castiglion del Bosco (90), Donatella Colombini Cinelli (92) and Cupano (90). I could not taste all the wines with the sommeliers pouring, as usual.
Wall of Fame
The 2018 vintage of Montalcino has been awarded 4 stars, as expected widely. As always, the ceramic tile containing the rating was cemented on the ‘wall of fame’ – a wall on the facade of the Town Hall, in the presence of over about 200 persons attending the ritual. Earlier the evaluation of the current vintage used to be done by expert wine journalists. In 1992, the Consorzio del Brunello decided to start doing the evaluation with rigorous and objective criteria. It asks Montalcino wineries every year for a sample of the new vintage just born, sometime in January. The samples are then analysed by a panel of technicians made up of top winemakers who express their opinion as a Star rating. One star means a really bad year, 5 means excellent. Usually less than 3 are hardly ever given.
The 2014 which has had a rather lukewarm response at the event was awarded 3 stars (less than 3 is unusual). The next 2 vintages – 2015 and 2016 have received 5 stars and they promise to be great years for Brunello di Montalcino.
The event as always runs like a machine. There are some journalists who do feel dissatisfied with the programme of bringing in the producers only on the second day. Though this time we were told they would be available for tasting on both days but in fact they came only on the second day and it was a rather crowded affair. The venue was buzzing with them vying for attention but a majority of journalists had their stay cut short- some were seen leaving even at 10 am to catch their flights back home. This ought to give the organisers food for thought. Brunello does require at least 2 days of tasting to give justice-and I don’t even taste normally the Moscadello sweet wines and San Antimo white and red DOC wines.
I have always advocated that unless you are an evolved connoisseur of Montalcino red, you should take my recommendation to Think Brunello and Drink Rosso. This year’s event makes me a stronger advocate though Rosso costs significantly more now than a third of Brunello because of its increasing popularity and because of the vintage 2017 for Rosso doing so much better for the palate and the pocket than Brunello 2014.
Benvenuto Brunello- Benvenuto Baby Brunello
Montalcino : Think Brunello, Drink Rosso
For a few of the earlier Articles, please visit:
Benvenuto Brunello 20016: Welcome Brunello di Montalcino 2011
Benvenuto Brunello: 2015 Vintage of Brunello di Montalcino assigned 5-Stars
Wineries of Brunello di Montalcino
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