Posts tagged ‘brunello di montalcino’

Franco Biondi Santi, R.I.P.


Franco Biondi Santi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Franco Biondi-Santi, proprietor of his family’s world-renowned Brunello estate, passed away today at the age of 91. Grandson of Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who is credited with “inventing” Brunello di Montalcino in the 1870s, Franco devoted his life to maintaning the traditions of his grandfather and father Tancredi, by producing traditional Brunello in the strictest sense. His wines over the past six decades were sublime, heralded as among the world’s finest.

I met Franco for the first time a little more than ten years ago, as I was with a group of international journalists visiting a number of estates in Montalcino. We were all impressed to be able to tour this “temple” of Brunello and even more excited to briefly meet Franco. He displayed his playful side, as he took a business card from each of us, held them in his hand and then spread them out like a deck of cards. I suppose you had to be there to fully appreciate it, but it was nice to see someone so famous who didn’t take himself too seriously.

I met him again about six years later at a wine fair and how nice that he remembered me; after all, here was a man who rubbed shoulders with many famous people, so for him to take time to say hello and invite me to a tasting later that day was very gracious of him.

But my most memorable meeting with Franco was last May at the Tenuta Greppo estate, situated just outside the town of Montalcino. I sat down with an employee who assisted me with my interview; afterwards the three of us sat down in the cellars to taste the new releases. It’s a pretty special occasion to merely sample Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, but to be able to do it at the estate with Franco Biondi Santi was a day I’ll never forget. It was especially nice to hear the proud tone of his voice as he told me the story of his family and their wines. It was also quite a treat to see him standing next to some of the botti in the cellars and talking about these casks used to mature the Brunello; a few of these had been in operation for over 100 years!

In my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, I wrote the following about the Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva:

“This is one of the few wines from Montalcino – or anywhere in the world – that I would call ethereal.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has several definitions for the word “ethereal,” among them “heavenly,” “intangible,” “marked by unusual delicacy or refinement” and finally, “suggesting the heavens or heaven.” We don’t usually refer to a person as ethereal, but it’s clear that the reference to heaven is fitting for Franco Biondi Santi; surely he is there now, looking down on his beloved estate.

April 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm 4 comments

Simply Sublime

Claudio Tipa, proprietor, Poggio di Sotto, Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Montalcino

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

My latest print article appears in the August 31 issue of Sommelier Journal, one of this country’s finest wine publications. The article is about Brunello di Montalcino and you can read it by clicking on this link. In the article, I discuss the current goings on in Montalcino, about how producers are putting the controversies of the final few years in their rear view mirrors as they move ahead with the most critical business of all – that of making the finest wines possible.

Various producers go about this in different fashions, of course, as some continue the traditional viticulture of their parents and grandparents, while others aim for a more modern style. Some of this philosophy is determined in the vineyards, while much is determined in the cellars; all of this is covered in the article.

Loyal readers of this blog know that I favor traditional red wines from Italy; ones aged in large oak casks known as botti (plural; botte, singular). These casks, ranging in size from 20 to 50 HL – or 2000 to 5000 liters – (some are even larger) have subtle wood influence. The more modern wines are aged in barriques of 225 liters or tonneaux of 500 liters. Clearly these smaller oak barrels impart more wood sensations to the wines, which can dominate a wine with their spicy and toasty notes. Too often wines that have been matured in these containers tend to blur the varietal characteristics of the grapes. Even worse, one loses a sense of place; it can be difficult to identify if a wine is from Tuscany, Abruzzo, Umbria or any number of regions. For my way of thinking, that’s not a good thing.

Botte in a Montalcino cellar (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Now I am not saying that every wine aged in a smaller oak barrel does not have notable varietal character; much of this, as with any discipline, depends on moderation. I enjoy several examples of Brunello matured in mid-size tonneaux; the Poggio Antico “Altero” being a marvelous example. But the appeal of a wine depends on the oak being a supporting player and not the dominant force. It’s all about balance.

In my article, you’ll read tasting notes of some of my favorite wines. Of the more than 75 examples of 2007 Brunello di Montalcino I have tasted this year (2007 is the new release for Brunello in 2012), my favorite is the Poggio di Sotto. This renowned estate in the premier Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone, a bit south of the town of Montalcino, was purchased in 2011 by Claudio Tipa from the original owner Piero Palmucci, who had elevated his winery into one of Montalcino’s most in-demand, due to his ultra traditional style of aging for a longer period of time in botti than required by DOCG reglations for Brunello do Montalcino. Tipa, who also owns the magnificent Bolgheri estate Grattamcacco, promised Palmucci that he would maintain this traditional approach in the cellars.

When I sat down with Tipa this past February at the estate and tasted the 2007 Brunello as well as the 2006 Brunello Riserva, I was impressed with the complexity and richness of each wine. But while I was tasting these wines, it’s almost as though a light went on, as I was completely taken by the delicacy of these wines on my palate. Yes, these are wines that will improve and age gracefully for some 15-25 years, but the beauty of these wines was not their power, but rather their finesse. Clearly much of this elegance on the palate comes from the fact that these wines spend so much time in large oak casks – both were matured for four years in botti – which not only softens the wines, but lengthens the mid-palate and lends an overall sense of refinement. (Note: the DOCG regulations require two years of wood aging for a Brunello normale and three years for a Brunello riserva, so both wines at Poggio di Sotto are matured for longer than normal periods. Even their Rosso, a wine of great character, is aged for two years in botti; this wine type does not even require any wood aging, according to the disciplinare.)

Now this extra time in wood is of course a more costly way to do business and the wines of Poggio di Sotto are priced higher than most other examples of Brunello (I refuse to label these wines as expensive, as that is a relative term. A $150 wine that is magnificent can be thought of as reasonably priced, while an uninspiring $12 wine can be overpriced). But the sensation of elegance, of finesse, of discovering subtleties not found in other wines is a rare treasure. The wines of Poggio di Sotto – along with the examples of Brunello from Biondi-Santi, Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Le Chuise and a few other traditional producers – are in a word, sublime. This is what separates the great producers from the very good ones.

In short, there’s nothing trendy about these wines. For the reviewers at certain influential wine publications in the US, power is what makes a wine stand out; for them, bigger is better. Let them have their way – power is certainly easier to understand than finesse. It’s always been that way and it may always be that way. But for experienced wine lovers, finesse, subtlety and delicacy are magical terms. You wonder if the big-name wine writers will ever learn that lesson.

September 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm 1 comment

The Real Story of Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino, one of the world’s most celebrated red wines, is particularly loved and appreciated in America. Approximately one in every four bottles of this wine is sold in this country, as consumers seemingly have identified Brunello as their favorite premium Italian wine. The fact that it’s from Tuscany doesn’t hurt, but it’s also become a bit of a status symbol among American wine drinkers, even more so than its Italian counterparts, Barolo and Amarone.

Yet few consumers really know a great deal about this wine, the territory where it is produced or the individuals who make it. The Brunello marque is so strong, the identity of this wine so associated with grandeur, that few consumers can name more than a handful of estates that craft this wine. The fact that they can drink a bottle of Brunello is what’s most important in the eyes of many.

Given this view, it’s wonderful that Kerin O’Keefe has just written Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appeciating one of Italy’s Greatest Wines (312 pages, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, $39.95). O’Keefe, an American who has been living in Italy since 1991, began writing about Italian wines a few years after that and today, is one of the world’s leading journalists on the subject, contributing articles to such publications as Decanter and The World of Fine Wine among others. Personally, I have known Kerin for about a decade, when I first met her – appropriately enough – at a tasting in Montalcino. She is a trusted colleague and someone who willingly shares her knowledge and opinions.

O’Keefe’s book is worthwhile on so many levels, combining an introduction to the area and its wines in general to a look at recent events and finally, detailed descriptions of a few dozen estates that she considers important as well as influential. One of the primary themes that she drives home in this work is that over the past three decades, the style of Brunello has undergone a serious change, at least with some producers. She writes about the introduction of French barriques – 225 liter barrels – that became fashionable for maturing Brunello in the 1980s and ’90s (and still continues today to some extent). These casks are much smaller than the large oak barrels known as botti that were the traditional vessels used to age the wines in this area. As botti range in size from 20 to 60 hectoliter – or 2000 to 6000 liters – these casks gave far less wood influence to the wines, allowing for greater varietal character (Brunello di Montalcino must of course, be produced entirely from the Sangiovese grape).

The reason why some producers made the switch to the smaller barrels, according to the author, was to try and earn a high score from one of the influential wine publications that were rewarding California and French wines – as well as the infamous Super Tuscans made from international varieties – for their dark colors and super ripe fruit qualities. O’Keefe describes the characteristics of these barrique-aged wines as having “intense chocolate, vanilla and toast influences of new oak;” for the author, this was not beneficial for a wine made with Sangiovese, as the oak flavors “weighed down the variety’s vibrant cherry-berry and mineral sensations.” She is clearly opposed to barriques – she labels this trend in Montalcino as “the dark side” – and she also quotes area producers who explain why barriques significantly alter the true character of a Brunello, resulting in a loss of tradition as some producers opted for instant fame. (The author is also quick to point out that thankfully, there are still many estates that have stayed with the time-honored ways of producing Brunello.)

O’Keefe also goes into great detail about the infamous Brunello scandal of 2008, when it was reported that the prosecutor of Siena had charged four producers with using varieties other than Sangiovese in their Brunello. Given the deep ruby red and purple colors of some of the examples, journalists had been suspecting this for several years, but now here it was officially out in the open. Much was written over the past three years about this sorry affair (not all of it true); O’Keefe’s account of this situation is the best version I have read, not only for its attention to detail, but also in its fairness (she lets one of the accused producers have his say about his winery’s involvement).

Francesco Marone Cinzano, Proprietor, Col d’Orcia  – Col d’Orcia is one of the leading producers of Brunello in the traditional style and one of the author’s favorites. (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The author takes a close look at the best producers of Brunello, organizing them by subzone and explaining why the best wines take on a sense of the local terroir. Among her favorites are companies such as Col d’Orcia, Poggio di Sotto, Lisini and Biondi-Santi (the author had previously penned a book on this last producer.) She writes about their particular conditions, both in the vineyards and the cellar and contributes a nice summary of the characteristics of each particular wine from these vintners. I love the fact that O’Keefe has omitted several famous Brunello producers, as they favor a modern approach not in step with her likes, while for some producers (such as Banfi), she includes them for their influence, but at the same time, takes them to task for their business practices as well as the style of their wines.

O’Keefe ends the book with a section entitled, “Beyond Brunello,” in which she describes other wines of the area (Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo, e.g.) as well as lending some valuable tips on pairing Brunello with local foods. This section alone, particularly the food and wine recommendations, should prove to be of invaluable help to anyone touring this area or trying to impress friends at dinner.

In an era where there is so much misinformation about any number of wines and wine news, it’s refreshing to read the work of an author who not only knows her subject in great detail, but one who is opinionated and tells her story in an engaging fashion. Whether you are just discovering Brunello di Montalcino or have been enjoying these wines for decades, this book is highly recommended.

April 28, 2012 at 1:26 pm 8 comments

Simply Sublime

One Italian white wine, one red- one famous, one unknown – both great.

Today’s lesson on the joys and wonders of Italian wine has to do with the pleasure of discovering greatness in different places. I’m going to focus on two wines – one of which is famous and one of which is not. Both are remarkable wines.

The white wine – the one that’s not well known outside of its immediate zone – is the 2010 Terre del Principe Pallagrello Bianco. This small producer (less than 5000 cases per year) specializes in indigenous varieties in their territory, the province of Caserta in Campania. Now I love Campanian whites, but most of the examples I try are either Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from the province of Irpinia (aka Avellino) or a wine made from Falanghina, which is planted in all five provinces of Campania. These wines are the calling cards for Campanian whites and they are enjoyed the world over.

But when it comes to Pallagrello Bianco (there is also a Rosso), this wine is rarely seen outside of its native surroundings. It’s suffered from a mistaken identity, as for years it was thought to be Coda di Volpe, a variety commonly used in Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, a charming, if ultimately a rather undistinguished white wine from vineyards not far from Vesuvius. Pallagrello yields a white wine of much greater complexity and Peppe Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli do a superb job in capturing all the glories of this variety. My notes for this 2010 – aged solely in steel tanks – list the inviting aromatics of lemon zest, grapefruit and orange poppies. This has excellent depth of fruit, beautiful texture and a long, very flavorful finish with lively acidity. This is elegant and quite delicious and it’s going to be quite a pleasure over the next 2-3 years, especially with lighter seafood. This is quite a vibrant white that has widespread appeal – I’d love to try this with Thai or other Oriental cuisine as well. (Suggested retail price of $34. Imported by Vias Wines, New York, NY).

As far as a red wine that every Italian wine lover knows, Brunello di Montalcino is at or near the top of the charts. This illustrious wine, produced exclusively from Sangiovese, is a world-class red that can age for decades. Col d’Orcia, under the leadership of Francesco Marone Cinzano, is one of the most renowned estates in Montalcino, crafting examples of Brunello of uncommon class and elegance.

The Poggio al Vento Riserva bottling is from a single vineyard planted in 1974; situated some 1150 feet above sea level, the soil here is primarily limestone with a strong presence of gravel. The wine is aged in large casks (botti grandi) of Slavonian as well as French oak for four years. It is then bottled and rests two years in the cellars before being released.

This long period of aging certainly helps refine the wine and give it a lengthy mid-palate with deep fruit flavors that coat every corner of your mouth. The 2004 bottling, just being released, is another exceptional example of this wine, one that is produced only from the finest vintages (the three previous releases were 2001, 1999 and 1998). There are textbook aromas of red cherry and cedar along with a hint of fennel; overall, the wine is beautifully structured with very good acidity, subtle wood notes and outstanding complexity. This should reach peak maturity in 20-25 years, although I may be a bit conservative in the guess, especially based on previous releases of this wine. It is a sublime example of what a great Brunello di Montalcino is all about.

The 2004 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Poggio al Vento” has a suggested retail price of $150. Given the limited production (about 2000 cases for the entire world) as well as the fact that it is not produced every year along with the tremendous breeding and class of this wine, this price is undoubtedly just (there’s also the happy situation of this 2004 riserva just being released, while most producers are now offering their 2006s as their riserva). Imported by Palm Bay, Boca Raton, FL.

April 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

Brunello di Montalcino – 2007 normale and 2006 Riserva

Plaque honoring the 2007 Brunello vintage in the main square of Montalcino (Photo by Tom Hyland)

2007 Brunello- Triumph of the Traditionalists

I’ve just returned from Montalcino, where I attended the annual Benvenuto Brunello event along with several dozen wine writers from around the world. This is an anteprima tasting, where wines that will be released later in the year are sampled for journalists. As Brunello di Montalcino is released on a five-year cycle, the new wines at this tasting were from 2007; the 2006 Riservas were also sampled as well as Rosso di Montalcino from 2010.

2007 was an excellent year for red wines throughout much of Italy; this was especially true in Toscana. The warm weather ensured excellent ripeness, yet there was also good natural acidity in the wines. True, this is a forward, somewhat international vintage, but the wines are well balanced and offer very good structure. Overall, I think this is an excellent vintage and while I do not rate it quite as high as 2006, which I thought outstanding, this is a year with many first-rate and several outstanding wines. (note: the Consorzio rated both 2006 and 2007 as 5-star – outstanding – years.)

As usual, I will review all the wines I tasted – more than 60 – in my Guide to Italian Wines. For now, I will discuss a few of my favorite wines, starting with the 2007 bottlings.  As usual, the wines from Poggio Antico are excellent, delivering impressive depth of fruit as well as a long, polished finish. There are two bottlings: the regular Poggio Antico as well as the “Altero”; this year, I slightly preferred the regular bottling (5 stars-outstanding) over the “Altero” but that could change with time.

Every year, I have the Eredi Fuligni at or near the top of my list; the 2007 continues that tradition. Here is a traditionally made wine with gorgeous perfumes, a generous mid-palate, very good acidity and polished tannins. The wine is clean and has remarkable varietal purity. Bravo to Fuligni for their amazing Brunello every year, a wine that is for me, a textbook Brunello.

Francesco Marone Cinzano, propirietor, Col d’Orcia (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Col d’Orcia has been one of my favorite Brunello producers for some time now and they delivered another excellent wine in 2007. Displaying lovely rose petal and tart cherry aromas with a hint of tobacco, this has lovely balance, excellent persistence and ideal acidity. Another traditional producer, Col d’Orcia crafts wines that are true expressions of terroir, a trait on display in their 2007 Brunello, a wine I think will be at peak in 12-15 years, although it will most likely be drinking well for several years after that.

Other 2007 Brunellos that I loved included the gracefully mannered Caprili; the varietally pure and exquisitely balanced Il Poggione; the exquisite Tenuta di Sesta and the always graceful Uccelliera. Propietor Andrea Cortonesi has been on quite a streak as of late, refining his Brunello to offer a wine of lovely cherry flavors, polished tannins and a wonderful sense of place. This 2007 is outstanding!

A few pleasant surprises among the 2007 Brunello included the Ridolfi and the Sassodisole. Each year there are more than 125 Brunello normale available for tasting. I have a core group of wines I try each year, but I always make sure to sample the wines from producers I’m not that familiar with for whatever reasons. One of those producers, Ridolfi made a 2007 Brunello with lovely rose petal and dried cherry aromas along with notes of thyme and cedar, elegant tannins and very good acidity; this is quite stylish. The Sassodisole, another winery whose products I had not tried before, delivered a gorgeous traditional Brunello aged for 36 months in grandi botti that displays beautiful perfumes of tart cherry, currant and strawberry preserves (!); there is very good depth of fruit, ideal acidity and excellent persistence. Here is a graceful wine that is beautifully made – a wine from a powerful vintage that is all about finesse. This is an outstanding wine and Sassodisole is a winery to keep an eye on; I know I’l be tasting their wines every chance I get.


 Claudio Tipa, proprietor Poggio di Sotto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 If I had to select one 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, it would be the Poggio di Sotto. This has been one of Montalcino’s finest artisan estates since Piero Palmucci released his first wines from the 1991 vintage. Palmucci had several ideas as to how to produce outstanding Brunello, the core of which was two-fold; age only in large casks and age for a long period of time. The results over the years have been nothing short of outstanding.

Palmucci recently sold the winery to Claudio Tipa, a true Tuscan gentleman, who has been involved in the wine business for decades. Tipa is most famous as the owner of Colle Massari in southern Tuscany as well as the renowned Grattamacco estate in Bolgheri, along Tuscany’s coast. Tipa told me at the winery that he is a strong believer in what Palmucci has accomplished and will not change the style.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote that this year in Montalcino was a “triumph of the traditionalists.” You will note the number of traditional wines I have written about in this post and while I admit to a bias toward this style of wine, I could not help that even with the more modern wines, the oak influence has been reduced. What wonderful news for any wine drinker, as less oak in these wines lets the varietal character of these wines shine, while at the same time, allowing the wines to show a sense of place. Be it from Montalcino, Piemonte or Campania, all great Italian red wines share these traits.

Getting back to Poggio di Sotto, it is this subtle wood influence that helps define the local terroir of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, one of Montalcino’s best sub-zones. But it is also the length of time in grandi botti that helps refine these wines. The 2007 Poggio di Sotto Brunello stayed in wood for more than 3 and 1/2 years, far longer than the minimum two years required. What this achieves, according to winemaker Federico Staderini, is a lightness on the palate, an elegance that is largely unmatched. When I tasted this wine, I noted how weightless this wine seemed; this to me was a quality I normally only associate with older Brunellos, perhaps 12 or 15 years of age. But here was a new release that was as refined a Brunello as I have ever had at such a young age. This is something every producer should aim for, even if they may never realize the finesse and subtleties of the wines of Poggio di Sotto.

A few words on the 2006 Brunello Riserva. 2006 was an outstanding year in Montalcino with wines of great concentration and impresssive structure. The 2006s are not as forward as the 2007s (and thus may not appeal to casual red wine drinkers), but if you want to appreciate what classic Brunello is all about, this is an ideal vintage, as these wines will slowly unfold and offer their complexities over a long period of time – some 20-25 years. Among the finest 2006 Brunello Riservas were the Il PoggioneCanalicchio di SopraTalenti, Poggio Antico and of course, the Poggio di Sotto. All of these wines offered excellent depth of fruit and a fine sense of place, along with ideal balance and persistence. The Il Poggione was most impressive, as it is one of the most powerful wines I have ever tried from this great producer, yet the wine never abandons the harmonious style this winery is known for.


My notes on the 2007 Brunello di Montalcino and 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva along with notes on a few 2010 Rosso di Montalcino will be published in the Spring 2012 issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. This is a quarterly publication that carries a paid subscription of $30 a year, less than a bottle of Brunello! This spring issue will be more than 40 pages in length and will be sent out to subscribers via email. If you would like to purchase this issue separately (available around the end of March), the cost is a mere $10. For more information, email me (this information can be found here.)


One final note: the 2007 Brunello di Montalcino now carry the new DOCG strip – quite a change from the prior pink/rose colored one.

March 1, 2012 at 10:52 am 6 comments

Best Italian Red Wines of the Year – Part Three

Here is my final post on the Best Italian Wines from the past year; this is the third entry on red wines. Again, this is a partial list, see the end of this post for more information on all of my selections.

2008 Grattamacco Bolgheri Superiore - The gorgeous wine zone of Bolgheri, located in Tuscan province of Livorno, just a few kilometers from the Tyrrhenian Sea is the home of some of Italy’s most renowned estates. Most Italian wine lovers know two of these companies, namely Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Tenuta San Guido, the latter firm being the one that produces Sassicaia. But in reality, there is a third producer here that ranks the equal of those two; the winery is Grattamacco. Established in 1977 and currently owned by Claudio Tipa, Grattamacco is a spectacularly beautiful estate where the vineyards seem to go on forever. Like most companies in Bolgheri, the top red wine here is made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon (65% in this wine), while Merlot makes up 20% and Sangiovese 15% of the blend. The 2008 is a brilliant wine with incredible depth of fruit, seductive aromas of black cherry, black currant, tar, licorice and black raspberry and an extremely long finish with beautifully silky, polished tannins. The acidity is remarkable as it cleanses the mouth (this is a astonishingly clean wine for being so powerful), and provides amazing freshness. There is outstanding persistence and the balance is impeccable while the complexity is superior. I have loved this Bolgheri Superiore, the top wine of the estate for years and I believe this is the finest offering of Grattamacco since the great 1999 bottling! A truly spectacular wine and a candidate for the Best Italian Wine of the Year. This is seductive now, but it will only improve with time and should be at its peak in 20-25 years. $85

2006 Sestadisopra Brunello di Montalcino - I have listed the Brunello from this traditional producer at or near the top of my rankings virtually every year since 2001. This is a lovely wine with beautiful red cherry, strawberry and cedar aromas backed by a rich mid-palate and an ideally structured finish with excellent persistence and fine acidity. Aged solely in big casks, this is a great expression of terrior in the small Sesta zone of Montalcino. This should be at its peak in 20 years and will probably drink well for a few years after that. $75

2006 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – Another great traditional Brunello producer and one of my favorite Italian wines, period. Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci manages to craft a superb Brunello each vintage by largely staying out of the way, as the fruit from the estate vineyards is so wonderful; Bindocci treats this fruit with kid gloves, aging it in large casks (grandi botti), allowing the varietal purity to shine through. This should be at is best in 20-25 years. $80

2006 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino - Here is another ultra consistent Brunello producer at the top of their game. Proprietor Andrea Cortonesi always crafts an elegant Brunello, even in a year such as 2006 that resulted in beautifully structured wines. The aromas feature notes of wild strawberry, red cherry, thyme and cedar; the tannins are polished and the acidity is finely tuned. This should be at its best in 15-20 years.  $70

2007 Donnachiara Taurasi – Taurasi is arguably the finest Italian red that few know much about. Made primarily from the Aglianico grape in a zone near the eponymous town in Campania, Taurasi combines ripe cherry fruit with hints of bitter chocolate along with firm tannins and healthy acidity to result in a complex wine that is one of Italy’s longest lived; 40 year old versions that drink well are not uncommon. This version from a producer that should also be better known is not the biggest Taurasi from 2007, but it is an excellent example that has all the characteristics one looks for in a Taurasi. Medium-full with appealing varietal fruit, this has polished tannins and good acidity. Like most examples of 2007 Taurasi, this is forward and somewhat approachable now, but will improve with time and should peak in about 10 years. $40 (which is very reasonably priced for a Taurasi).

2007 Mastroberardino Taurasi “Radici” - Mastroberardino has been the family that has been one of the flag bearers for Taurasi over the past 100 years. They have produced some of the best bottlings in the last six decades; the famous 1968 bottling is still in fine shape, almost 45 years after the vintage. While the winemaking has changed over the years – today’s versions are aged in small and large barrels as opposed to only small barrels of years past – the quality has not. Deeply concentrated with elegant tannins and good acidity, this is a rich, quite complex Taurasi that is a very good expression of local terroir. This needs time to round out and will be at its best in 12-15 years.  $50

2009 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico “Dorilli” – Planeta, one of Sicily’s most influential producers never ceases to amaze. Excellent whites and reds, from Fiano and Chardonnay to Syrah and Nero d’Avola, are turned out on a seemingly routine basis. The latest success from this winery is this new bottling of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the chamring Nero d’Avola/Frappato blend. The regular bottling of Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Planeta is very good, with its lovely freshness and tasty fruit, but with this Dorilli bottling (named for a local river), there is an added layer of complexity and elegance. A blend of 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato, this has beautiful aromas of black cherry, plum and violets with a lengthy, elegant finish with very good acidity. This is so delicious now and will drink well over the next 5-7 years. $20

2008 Arianna Occhipinti Nero d’Avola “Siccogno” - The effervescent Arianna Occhipinti is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti, co-owner of the famed COS estate in Vittoria. The younger Occhipinti produces several wines that are of similar caliber to her uncle; this was may favorite from last year. Medium-full, with inviting aromas of strawberry, red currant and mulberry, this is a complex Nero d’Avola with plenty of punch in the finish, yet maintains its elegance and finesse throughout. This is an outstanding example of Nero d’Avola; it should be at its best in 7-10 years. $35


This completes my posts on the Best Italian Wines of 2011. Given the space limitations of a blog, these have been partial lists. The complete lists of my Best Italian Wines of the Year will be in the Spring 2012 issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. To purchase this issue for $10 or to subscribe ($30 for four quarterly issues), please email me at

February 3, 2012 at 9:08 am 2 comments

Brunello Vintages

Brunello bottles at an enoteca in Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


The new vintage of Brunello di Montalcino is 2006; the wines will be released over the coming months. I tasted several dozen bottlings last month in Montalcino and reported on these wines in a recent post. Here are a few thoughts on recent vintages of Brunello di Montalcino:


2001Outstanding. The wines from 2001 display excellent depth of fruit along with ideal acidity as well as nicely developed aromatics. These are classically made wines with plenty of persistence in the finish and have the stuffing to age for 25-30 years for the finest bottlings, while a few may last even longer. (Note: the Consorzio rated 2001 an excellent vintage, which is a 4-star rating according to their system.)

2002 - Poor to average. This was a difficult year in this area (as it was in many wine regions thoughout Italy) as there were problems with rain throughout the fall. Yields were quite low, but few grapes reached ideal ripeness. It’s doubtful you’ll find many bottlings anywhere these days – indeed many producers didn’t even release a 2002 Brunello – so it won’t be a problem, but it you do find one, drink it soon. (Consorzio rating – 2 stars).

2003Good to very good. The temperatures were quite hot during the growing season, resulting in overripe, tannic wines (the complete opposite of 2002). The wines are big, but too unwieldy and most lack elegance. Drink over the next 3-7 years, but keep in mind that the wines many not become better with time, due to the bitterness. (Consorzio rating – 4 stars or excellent)


Montalcino View (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


2004Outstanding. Big things were predicted for this vintage and overall, many producers delivered. The Brunellos from 2004 are among the most aromatic of the past decade and are also beautifully balanced with very good acidity. The structure is there to assure 20 years of aging at least in the finest wines. The bottlings from 2004 are not quite as powerful from 2001, but they will still age beautifully and offer gorgeous complexity as well as elegance. (Consorzio rating – 4 stars)


2005 - Very Good to Excellent. This is a vintage where the buyer has to take note of the producer, as some wines are lovely with impressive concentration, though others are only medium-weight. The wines, it should be noted, are well balanced across the board, offering beautifully defined acidity. This is not a powerful vintage, but there are dozens of very lovely wines. (Consorzio rating – 4 stars)


2006Excellent. As I noted recently, the 2006 Brunellos are excellent wines, taken as a whole. This is somewhat of an old-fashioned vintage, with big concentration and excellent aging potential. I tasted several outstanding wines (Il Poggione, Sesta di Sopra, Uccelliera, et al) with many more excellent. If the wines displayed the complex aromas of the 2004s, I would have rated this vintage even higher. (Consorzio rating – outstanding – 5 stars).



Please note that these are ratings for the regular bottlings of Brunello di Montalcino from these vintages. I don’t taste enough riserva bottlings to offer a detailed analysis of those wines, but generally the quality of the normale bottlings as well as the riserva bottlings from the same vintage (the riserva bottlings are released at least one year later) tend to go hand in hand.

That said, I was quite impressed by the riserva bottlings of Brunello di Montalcino from 2004, especially the textbook Eredi Fuligni, with its remarkable suppleness and varietal purity along with the more deeply concentrated and slightly more tannic Il Poggione. Despite this powerful nature of the Il Poggione riserva (labeled with the vineyard name “Vigna Paganelli”) the wine has impeccable balance and is elegant and charming with a vibrant backbone of fruit.

March 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm 3 comments

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