Benvenuto Brunello: Agile to Brooding, each with its own Story to Tell

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I was delighted to spend an entire day welcoming the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino vintage at Gotham Hall in NYC! Hosted by Jeff Porter, acclaimed wine director for Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich restaurants, along with the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the seminar and following walk around tasting was a fantastic way in which to become immersed with the latest vintage of Brunello.

Montalcino is in Tuscany, the central region of Italy and is bordered by the rivers Ombrone, Asso and Orcia. It is located 40 km from the sea and 100km from the Apennine Mountains and has a Mediterranean climate. Wine and olive oil have been crafted there for over 2000 years. Etruscan wine amphorae [clay jars], dating to the 4th century BC, along with numerous documented mentions regarding the wines of Montalcino from Medieval times on, testify to the continuous production in such an esteemed area.

Although it has the dimensions of a small square box, it is not a homogenous territory; the climate, soil and altitude all play a part in creating different terroir. Situated on a hill, the soils differ immensely from area to area, most drastically seen with loose soil at the lowest areas that increase in minerals as one goes higher up the hill. At one time many, many years ago the area was actually underwater; the soil is loaded with crushed marine sediment, especially marl [or mudstone, a clay soil with high amounts of calcium carbonate] and limestone.

The seminar was a great window into the factors that comprised the 2012 vintage, and an opportunity to immerse oneself in their character. Following are my impressions:

• The Brunello region consists of 24,000 hectares, 3500 hectares of which is vineyard, 2000 hectares devoted to Brunello vines amongst 250 producers. 30% of all Brunello is imported into the United States.

• Rather significantly, 2012 has been given a 5 star rating from the Consorzio. This occurs in about 25% of vintages.

• The movement towards sustainability and organic farming continues to increase. There isn’t a lot of disease to fight, and producers are witnessing the multitude of advantages to environmentally conscious methods. The current estimate has 15-20% of estates organic and/or biodynamic.

• Brunello are known for their incredibly lengthy ageing capabilities, however this doesn’t mean they need to be cellared for 10 years in order to be enjoyed. Ultimately, ageing is subjective. It depends on your personal taste; do you enjoy more fruit and acidity? Or are you a fan of less fruit and subtler earth/mineral flavours? All producers feel that the wines are drinking now, or can be cellared. Personally, I feel that many I tasted needed a couple of more years to fully develop; however that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a few bottles now!

• As with many Italian wines, All Brunello is intended to go with food; “they’re not cocktails”.

• The weather was erratic and unpredictable in 2012. The year started off dry without any snowfall. Brunello is one of the most arid regions in Tuscany, they rely on snow for ground water, and so this was problematic. February saw lots of snow, but unfortunately it was late and stunted the vines a bit. Next up were Torrential downpours that struck right in the middle of flowering, causing more loss. May thru August was incredibly hot, then absolute perfection arrived in the middle of august and continued thru to September. Many winemakers feel that the vintage was really made in those final 8 weeks.

• Due to the above listed circumstances, the 2012 harvest was one of the smallest in many years, the turbulent weather ultimately reducing the production by about one-third. Grapes were small and the bunches themselves also small, leading to fantastic overall grape quality. The smaller the better with Sangiovese, as smaller berries retain their fruit flavours, aromas and acidity better.

• Overall, the consensus from winemakers and all of us fortunate enough to have tasted numerous 2012 bottles, is that the wines are bright with ripe fruit and acidity, and have a “pretty” quality about them. Some have seen this as a return to more elegant, classic, traditional styled Brunello. Others, such as famed wine critic James Suckling considers their “vibrant fruit, lively acidity, and ultra-fine tannins” to be wonderfully bold and intense; a “rockstar” vintage.

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The seminar presented 7 wines from the 2012 vintage. Whilst all were fantastic, below are the ones that I found to be most engaging,
All are 100% Sangiovese.

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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Hailing from the southwestern part of the region, accessible and easygoing in character. Bright layers of red berry fruit, pepper spice and earth with an herbaceous streak. Baking spices pair up with berries on the plush finish.
15% Alcohol
$50

Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

collosorbo
Not as complex as most, but with it’s own identity. Strikingly meaty, with dark fruit and clay minerals culminating in a lengthy, pepper spice finish. Rich and brooding, just lovely.
14% Alcohol
$50

La Magia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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So new, its label hasn’t caught up yet.

Elegant and mineral driven. Cherry, flinty minerals and spice glide atop silky tannins, culminating in a dry fruit and clay mineral finish. Delightful and engaging, this would be fantastic with just about any dish.
14.5% Alcohol
$40

Loacker Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

loacker
From the famed biodynamic pioneering Loacker family, this is a powerful expression of Brunello. [Coincidentally perhaps also the darkest shade of garnet seen in the 7 wines.] Velvety and intense with layers of fruit, spice and floral notes. Licorice and a hint of bitter chocolate linger on the plush finish. With its velvety softness and well-integrated, dynamic flavours, this was not only a personal favourite, but also that of many of my fellow attendees.
15% Alcohol
$75

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A study in contrast: the dark, inky garnet Loacker on the left, transparent ruby red of the Pian delle Querci on the right.

Pian delle Querci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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In direct contrast to the Loacker Brunello, this hails from the far north of Montalcino and was the lightest in colour. Agile and bright with an herbaceous edge [think pine and cypress] to the vivid strawberry and blackberry fruit, energizing savory elements and traces of bitter cherry comprise the wonderfully dry finish.
14% Alcohol
Currently not imported into the US

A study in character, from elegant to agile to powerful to brooding, each bottle with its own story to tell.
Cheers!

Media event hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Benvenuto Brunello! Welcoming the 2011 Vintage

I was delighted to attend Benvenuto Brunello at Gotham Hall in NYC last month. Hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the event was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Consorzio [founded in 1967] and the highly anticipated premiere of the 2011 vintage. As with other consorzio in Italy, its main goal is to protect quality and promote the area’s wines [today this includes identifying and eliminating imposter Brunello wines]. Nearly unheard of amongst the other Italian consortiums, every Brunello producer is a member of the consorzio [consortium].

Montalcino is in Tuscany, the central region of Italy and is bordered by the rivers Ombrone, Asso and Orcia. It is located 40 km from the sea and 100km from the Apennine Mountains and has a Mediterranean climate. Wine and olive oil have been crafted there for over 2000 years. Etruscan wine amphorae [clay jars], dating to the 4th century BC, along with numerous documented mentions regarding the wines of Montalcino from Medieval times on, testify to the continuous production in such an esteemed area.

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The region of Montalcino, the wineries are marked in red. Courtesy of the  Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino.

Although it has the dimensions of a small square box, it is not a homogenous territory; the climate, soil and altitude all play a part in creating different terroir. Situated on a hill, the soils differ immensely from area to area, most drastically seen with loose soil at the lowest areas that increase in minerals as one goes higher up the hill. At one time many, many years ago the area was actually underwater; the soil is loaded with crushed marine sediment, especially marl [or mudstone, a clay soil with high amounts of calcium carbonate] and limestone.

Jeff Porter, acclaimed wine director for Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich restaurants, [such as the renowned Del Posto, Babbo and Lupa], hosted the seminar portion of the event. A lot of attention has been directed towards the 2011 vintage, since it has the unfortunate fate of following the 2010 vintage, which has been deemed perfect by winemakers and drinkers across the board. The seminar wonderfully captured what 2011 was like, what is going on now in Brunello and what we have to look forward to. Below are my take away points:

• 2011 had extreme heat from mid July thru August, which increased sugar in the grapes and amplified rich fruit flavours. The cooler temperatures that followed have contributed a bright acidity to the vintage. [Recently Antonio Galloni of Vinous fame has noted “that 2011 was a year that already seems aged, with orange colors and flavors characteristic of already more advanced years in time”.]

• There is a movement towards sustainability and organic farming. There isn’t a lot of disease to fight, and producers are witnessing the multitude of advantages to environmentally conscious methods.

• When it comes to oak, people want to taste Brunello di Montalcino, so the pendulum is swinging back to more classical times, away from modern oak bombs. With a better understanding of various oak options such as: old vs new, types [French, Slavonian etc], and barrel sizes, producers are becoming more discerning with their use of oak.

• Brunello are known for their incredibly lengthy ageing capabilities, however this doesn’t mean they need to be cellared for 10 years in order to be enjoyed. Many producers stressed that they are drinking now, as aging is up to the individual, “don’t be dogmatic, it takes the fun out of wine”.

• And one of my favourites of the class: All Brunello are intended to go with food “they’re not cocktails”.

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We tasted 7 wines that were introduced by either the winemaker or estate representative. Whilst all were fantastic, below are the ones that I found to be most engaging, the ones that even without proper food I could not put the glass down, and that had me craving for more. All are 100% Sangiovese, with an average online price of $50.

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Bel Poggio Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2011
A small production Brunello from an estate in the southern part of Montalcino, with only 5 hectares of vines and 2500 cases made. Aged for 3 years in Slavonian oak barrels, then “a slight amount” in French barriques at the very end. Elegant and traditional in character with dark berry and dark chocolate flavours as the star of each silky sip. Hints of baking spices linger on the dry finish. Fantastically easy drinking, Giuseppe Brasa, the winery’s representative states that while this can age, it is ready to be enjoyed now.
14.5% Alcohol

Capanna Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2011
A lovely study in contrast to the succulent southern Brunello, the Capanna estate is in the northern part of Montalcino. Astoundingly vibrant cherry aromas and flavours abound, hints of strawberry make an appearance before traces of cigar box spice on the lengthy finish. Concentrated fruit flavours, yet overall this is lithe and sprightly in nature, disappearing from the glass rather swiftly.
14.5% Alcohol

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Castello Tricerchi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2011
The Castello Tricerchi estate was founded in 1441, and as the name implies, they do have a castle. Located at the very top of Montalcino, the vineyards are northeast facing and receive hot winds blowing in from the south. Natural yeasts were used, and aging was for 42 months in Slavonian oak casks. Intense, with a genteel edge highlighting the silky smooth dark berry flavours and firm tannins. Campfire notes and hints of truffle linger enticingly between each sip. Fantastically smooth and easy drinking, oak notes take a backseat in comparison.
14% Alcohol

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Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2011
Uccelliera is one of my favourite estates; I find all of their wines to be wonderfully elegant and well balanced. The Brunello is warm and rich, with a core of concentrated dark fruit [black cherry, blackberry, plum] highlighted by soft spice and traces of oak. Fruit notes are maintained by desert dry finish on the lengthy, refined finish.
15% Alcohol

 

gotham hall

 

 

Media event hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino