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Benvenuto Brunello- Benvenuto Baby Brunello

Posted: Thursday, 23 April 2015 13:46

Benvenuto Brunello- Benvenuto Baby Brunello

April 23: The 23rd edition of Benvenuto Brunello held in the heart of Montalcino every year had moments of elation and anguish for the producers as the tastings held on February 20-23 indicated that the 2010 vintage was exceptional and rare, deserving the 5-star rating while the 2014 was generally a disappointing vintage awarded 3 star, which was too liberal for some experts even as a few felt it was decent, writes Subhash Arora who is a regular visitor and feels we should welcome Rosso di Montalcino (Baby Brunello)in India

Click For Large ViewBenvenuto (welcome) in Montalcino started an evening earlier on February 19 for me as I had the honour of being invited by Fabrizio Bindocci, President of the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino and  also the CEO of Il Poggione, one of the premier Montalcino estates . His daughter Francesca and son Alessandro who work for him in Il Poggione, were wonderful hosts at the small private dinner at the estate. Chef Roberto Rossi from Ristorante Il Silene in Seggiano on the Mount Amiata who has recently received his first Michelin star crafted an impressive Menu.

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010 set the tone for the next two days of tasting at the cloister of the Civic Museum and raised the expectations for the coveted vintage.  But what was remarkable besides the great food and company that included the Mayor of Montalcino and Daniel Thomas, an expert of Italian wines, were the different vintages-especially the 1970 which was still youthful after 45 years, though complex and elegant wine that still has a few years to go. True expression of Brunello those wines!

Click For Large ViewThe tasting at the cloister was very professional-the organisers and the sommelier staff deserve a standing ovation. Replete with charging stations and wi-fi that are such an integral tool for the journalists, the seating around the round tables is comfortable and conducive to discussion if one so chooses. The set of 6 wines is brought at the blink of the eye, making the tasting experience very pleasant. It helped to accentuate the flavours of the Brunello 2010-most of which were rated by me at 88-95, an excellent rating-in fact difficult to find the subtle differences.

Click For Large ViewBut the tasting with producers was almost a chore and not conducive to discussions. Those of us who have frequented an Indian fish market would find the scene similar. The area was too congested-in a long and narrow never-ending alley. With tables on both sides, one could hardly walk through. The alley does not seem to have been designed to listen to the beautiful music of B-R-U-N-E-L-L-O and so there was too much noise. Producers would naturally like to meet as many of the visitors as possible to make contacts. But after the peaceful tasting atmosphere of the cloister, the place seemed to make one claustrophobic, unlike the previous years. The Click For Large Vieworganisers must have had some constraint and perhaps would be analysing the reaction of visitors. The gala dinner, as usual was long but gave an ample opportunity to try not only the wide range of Brunellos available during the tasting but also a horde of Rosso di Montalcino for the earlier part of the dinner.

The 2013 Rosso were generally received very well-some drinking very well already. There were hardly any 2009 Brunello Reserva due to the poor vintage-I could count only 9 and tasted all of them- most were approachable and should be consumed within the next 5 years.

Click For Large ViewThe response to the tasting was fairly consistent. Tim Atkin MW who is a regular at the annual event for writers, sommeliers and importers, says 2010 should be a good vintage- very consistent, very few bad wines. But he doesn’t agree that weather conditions were perhaps the best in a long time. He also felt that 2014 – should have been awarded 2 stars.

Click For Large ViewSusan Hulme MW for whom it was a first visit feels that the time given for tasting-slightly less than 2 days is not really enough to get the full flavours of these wines. She was busy trying to taste as many as possible. But she did feel that the 2010 was an exceptional vintage.

Click For Large ViewCount Francesco Marone Cinzano of Col d’Orcia is the former President of the Consorzio and I interviewed him desperately later. who was extremely happy with his 2008 as one of his best vintages and was pleased with the otherwise not-so-favourite 2009 vintage as the wines were drinking very well though they might not age as long as Brunello are known for, is elated with the 2010 vintage which was generous in terms of volume and quality. Although the tannins are already approachable, he feels that the longevity would be much longer in these wines. He is confident that it will out-age the 2008 and will comfortably last 20 years and more. He has taken the wait- and watch- approach for the 2014

Biondi Santi, one of the most revered and iconic estates in Montalcino had already announced that there would be no Brunello 2014. There will be some who might declassify their wines into Rosso di Montalcino. Most producers I talked to very disappointed with the 2014 due to inclement weather. However, not everyone was as disillusioned as Tim Atkin. This is primarily because of the diversity in the climate of Montalcino. Not the whole region gets similar rainfall or hailstorms.

If 2010 is termed as the vintage of the viticulturists, 2014 will be definitely a vintage for the winemakers where they can show their dexterity. Pieve Santa Restituta  owned by the legendry Angelo Gaja is a prime example. He produced two single vineyards Brunello di Montalcino- Rennina and Sugarille, named after the two vineyards having different terroirs. A few years ago he had bought more land and grew vines which are still young. He takes the grapes not qualifying for the single vineyard names and blends with grapes from the young vines and sells as generic wines. He does  not produce any Rosso di Montalcino-so he does not use the option of declassifying a Brujnello in a poor year and sell as Rosso-he simply sells the wine as bulk wine. Last year he was disappointed in the 2009 vintage- enough not to bring out the Rennina anjd Sugarille but the grapes were used in the generic Brunello di Montalcino, making it a good value-for-money wine for those who adore the wines from Gaja.

Click For Large ViewThe 2014 has a different story for them. I met Gaia Gaja who looks after the vineyards and the winery and visits from Barbaresco regularly. She tells me, ‘ we are very positive with the results of 2014 vintage. The weather trend has been challenging and similar in the three areas where we operate (the main challenge has been the very rainy and cold summer in Piemonte, Bolgheri and Montalcino).

‘The weather was a mixed bag but eventually things ended jup right for them. She says, ‘the climate trend was different from the last 20 years, more similar to the eighties: presenting mild winter, humid and warm spring and a not-too-hot summer. The abundance of rainfalls during winter and springtime cooled down the soil temperature. This led to a slowing down of the vegetative growth of the vines. The blossoming came with a delay of almost two weeks in comparison with previous years, thus avoiding the scattered summer hail storms. The first part of September was characterized by light Tramontane winds and presented a mild and dry weather. The winds helped in maintaining the health conditions of the grapes and slightly hastened the ripening. For this reason, the harvest began on 22 September and ended, without any interruption, on 7 October.’

Of course, she admits they are not sure yet if they will produce Sugarille or Rennina and how much but she emphasises, ‘we are satisfied with the vintage.’

Benvenuto Baby Brunello in India

I have been an ardent supporter of Rosso di Montalcino, which is made from younger wines, has rounder tannins and drinks younger but is not as complex or age-worthy as the Brunello. However, at 35-40% of the cost of Brunello, it is much more affordable because of the cumulative effect of 200-300% in most of the states in India. However, the importers and the restaurants have been generally cool to the idea.

There is an interesting dichotomy here. While the producers I discuss with, agree with me that Rosso is a drink of everyday. It would go better with vegetarian meals as well as light textured meals like pastas, risotto etc. Brunello is too big and expensive wine for everyday consumption. But, in India Brunello is a well known brand-many people don’t even connect it with Montalcino. It has gained the status of an iconic Italian brand- an aspirational one at that. They would rather drink Brunello, of whatever quality (cheaper the better!). Many people refer to Rosso di Montalcino as Baby Brunello.

What we need to have is Baby Brunello! Till that happens, my advice is to store as much as 2008 Brunello as possible. If it is not available anymore, pick up as much 2010 as you can and let it sleep for 5-15 years in the wine cooler. The good thing about 2010 is that many of them are ready for consumption now. Though most Brunello producers don’t like the wine to be decanted but the open bottle kept open for 24 hours, it may not be a practical solution for India, It may be decanted for 1-2 hours. It could also be double decanted-i.e., after decanting for an hour or so, it may be shifted back to the bottle and served from it.

In any case, it should be – Benvenuto Brunello 2008, 2010 and Benvenuto Baby Brunello 2010, 2013. Some Baby Brunello (Rosso) 2009 would be a wonderful buy-ready to drink, as many of the well-known producers might have declassified their Brunello 2009 to Rosso di Montalcino. Same logic is applicable to other vintages.

Subhash Arora

For earlier article click: Taste Tuscany 2015: The Tuscan Wine Marathon-Montepulciano and Montalcino

Video Unplugged : Benvenuto Brunello-Conversation with Francesco Cinzano of Col d'Orcia

Gallery : Montalcino

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