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Benvenuto Brunello 20016: Welcome Brunello di Montalcino 2011

Posted: Tuesday, 22 March 2016 18:12


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Benvenuto Brunello 20016: Welcome Brunello di Montalcino 2011

March 22: Benvenuto Brunello, one of the most popular Anteprima wine events in Italy and especially Tuscany as a part of the ‘Tuscany Taste’, the common annual program to promote Tuscan wine zone is also the climax of the much awaited event every February, writes Subhash Arora who tasted and found Brunello di Montalcino 2011 not as consistently good as the fabulous 2010 and perhaps not as long ageing but better than the 4-stars it was awarded at the Anteprima event in 2012

Brunello di Montalcino is one of the iconic wines of Italy and though it does not sound as masculine as Barolo, it has an interesting musical ring to it. Made from 100% Sangiovese clones, known as Brunello, it may be released after a minimum of 4 years of total ageing in barrique, wooden casks and bottles and can be released on January 1 in the fifth year of the harvest. Thus 2011 vintage of Brunello could be released earliest on January 1 this year, in 2016. Some producers may choose to let it age for more time if they feel it is not ready to release yet. The Riserva has to undergo an extra year of aging. As the term Anteprima reflects, it was an Anteprima tasting of 2011 and Riserva 2010 on February 19 and 20.

Although not generally sold as the En Primeur in Bordeaux where the current vintage is tasted in the following year by experts, sommeliers and importers in March/April at the En Primeur week, experts appointed by the Consorzio do taste the current vintage to give their opinion about how the vintage might evolve in 4 years and are asked to rate the wine from 1-5 stars. The average net score is announced on the second day of the 2-day Benvenuto Brunello event that is truly the crescendo of the one week of Tuscan wine tasting now under the government sponsored event known as Taste Tuscany.

This year, this ceremony was held on the second day of the event, on 20th January. Due to some logistical issues, I could not attend the ceremony but as expected the 2015 was awarded 5 stars. This however, is only indicative of how the wine might evolve-it could turn out as a 4-star vintage, just as a 4-star vintage may turn out to be a star 4 years later. Similarly, one cannot be sure that 2012 vintage when tasted next February.

The 2011 was one such a vintage-rated as 4-star at the Benvenuto Brunello event in February 2012,and it has turned out to be better than expected, as I found while tasting around 60-70 wines during the one day that I was present. The wines were generally more diverse in their quality and characteristics-a good majority was elegant, well-balanced and the silky tannins and good acidity made many of them drinkable during the next couple of years. There were quite a few which seemed to be powerful and with sweet notes, as if the grapes had been over-ripened. But in general, the feeling was that the wines might not be as great as the 2010 or even 2008 vintage which had been hailed as a great vintage till 2010 appeared on the palate-but it is certainly better than 2009-another 4-star vintage. The 2011s are expected to be longer lasting than 2009 but not as much as the 2010 or 2008, with a few exceptions of course.

Bello Benvenuto

If Benvenuto Brunello as the event were to be described in just one word except ‘crescendo’, an Italian would simply say ‘Bello!’ Nice! Good! Handled very professionally by a well oiled and well-manned machinery, the organisers know that they represent world renowned producers and they are protecting a strong international brand. They are all eyes and ears to make sure that the guests feel comfortable tasting-which is not easy after tasting 40-50 wines in a day, what with powerful wines with strong tannins leaving the tongue, palate and the teeth black and with some bitterness all around due to strong tannins. What to talk of only one day I had at my disposal, even 2 days do not justify tasting wines from the beautiful appellation the wines of which are not only elegant and smooth but also limit the tasting capacity while young. I would love to see it extended over three days. In fact, manyinternational journalists understand the concern and come to Montalcino directly and ensconce themselves for 4-5 days to enable them to meet producers as well.

The Tasting area in the cloister of the museum is well organised with basic facilities like internet, connections, heaters and the sheets that let you choose 6 wines at a time by the smartly clad professional sommeliers who seem to move on roller skates from the way they bring the wines quickly without a mistake. One can taste for as long as one wants quietly or go directly to one of the producers partaking in the live tasting and networking with winemakers and producers.

Celebrating 50 Years

Brunello di Montalcino docg  is much older than the existence of the Consorzio or the Appellation system which gave the status of DOC to this wine in 1966 (I have seen bottles of vintage 1890 to 1896 at Biondi Santi when I visited them a few years ago)-50 years ago and the town is celebrating that event in a small way. Although I did not notice any celebrations in the air during the one day I was there, it’s a celebratory time in Montalcino because of Brunello at any time of the year.

The fact that 2011 has shaped up well is a good commemorative moment. The 5 stars for the current vintage of 2015 are like jam on toast. The Brunello Gala dinner is the mother of all dinners organised by the Tuscany Taste-including the one at Florence by the Chianti Classico Consortium. Besides being a sit-down dinner in the midst of the cloister it gives an opportunity to taste a never-ending flow of wines- Rosso 2014, Brunello 2011, Brunello Riserva 2010, Moscadello di Montalcino and San’Antimo though I find a majority of the tasters focusing on the Brunello breed and Rosso during the earlier period of the evening at sit down. However, the pre-function area where bubblies were served was too crowded- perhaps more than any Metro station in Delhi-one felt really suffocated.

Brunello Guide

One area where the Consorzio excels is also the preparation and handing out of the Tasting Notes Guide. One may not find it in Google or the Oxford Companion but it contains up to date information on all the 127 wineries that take part with the producers present. Interestingly, it also gives the approximate location of each winery on a small map. Montalcino is extremely diverse in its land, soil and terroir and the weather conditions-so much that many vintners have vineyards both in the north and south so that they blend the grapes from both vineyards depending upon their wine making style and how the harvest has been. However, it has an inherent limitation; it does not give information about the Appellation laws and requirements unlike Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which is the best out of such booklets handed out anywhere.
Think Rosso, Drink Brunello in India
In all my writings and profiling the wines of Montalcino in the past, I have been using the slogan- Think Brunello- Drink Rosso. I also wrote a Blog last year about the Bragging Rights and Branding of wines. Rosso is the wine to drink on a daily basis and for the Indian palate; it has a much wider spectrum of foods including vegetarian foods. It costs about 35-40% of the real McCoy and yet since it is more approachable while young, this is the right choice, with the Brunello being for special occasions.

Partly due to my writings, and partly because I have been recommending some more easily available Brunello di Montalcino, we have created Brunello as a Brand with big Bragging factor and it has become the preferred red wine of choice for the select affluent who drink it even at the Banquets at times. If and when the customs duties are reduced in India on this iconic Italian ‘brand’ (at least 2-3 years away) Brunello is now likely to take off at a much faster pace. Rosso has not been able to make progress in the market as much as I had predicted-partly because this does not have the Brag Factor-but part of the reason is also because the price difference between the two has been kept at much closer levels than the true market place requires it.

But I have no intention of changing my motto. As people become more discernible, they will realise that the food consumed is also important for the match. 2014 was not a great vintage but I am salivating and looking forward to Rosso di Montalcino 2015 which should bring great rewards. The 2012 Brunello on the other hand still has a few question marks despite its 5 stars, making the Anteprima 2017 very interesting to look forward to.

Subhash Arora


Tags: Benvenuto Brunello, Anteprima, Italy, Tuscany, Tuscany Taste, Brunello di Montalcino 2011, Barolo, Sangiovese, Brunello, En Primeur, Taste Tuscany, Montalcino, docg, DOC, Rosso 2014, Brunello 2011, Brunello Riserva 2010, Moscadello di Montalcino, San’Antimo, Rosso di Montalcino 2015, Anteprima 2017

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