Category Archives: 2004

A modernist forgetting his best brunello vintage in new oak

A danish importer warned me of this wine just after I bought two bottles in 2009, but I had already read how much Robert Parker and James Suckling loved it at the time. Robert’s notes (I actually think these are the notes of one of my favourite wine critics, Antonio Galloni) are as follows; “97 points Robert Parker: “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a huge, dense wine that explodes from the glass with tar, smoke, earthiness black cherries and minerals. The wine possesses dazzling concentration and tons of richness, as waves of fruit coat the palate in stunning style. This big, dramatic Brunello needs time in bottle, but it is nothing short of magnificent today. The balance, and the integration of the French oak in particular, is brilliant. For those who are curious to try a bottle now, the wine should be opened a few hours in advance as the tannins are imposing at this stage. This is a rare Brunello of superb pedigree and complexity. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2029.”

Who wouldn’t buy the wine after reading this and now it happens to be 2014.. :)Furthermore,  the Californian importer K&L’s Italian Buyer says: “Wow. Sweet, toasty, coffee notes just bursts from the glass however it doesn’t smell as if it is heavily oaked at all it is just the first step into layers of complex aromatics. There are swirls of complex fruit and earth that well up behind the essence of barrique forming a whirlpool of intrigue and obvious complexity that display the wines decisive flavors. On the palate smooth, rippling layers of fleshy sweetness accented with bits of spice, blackberries fill your mouth in a controlled expansion, layering levels of intricacy. The finish is a wonderful movement full of athletic prowess that in effortless grace portrays the wines completeness. This is a masterful wine. Wine is due December 2009”.

Now, in the last critic adds some warnings or notes that should make anyone interested in enjoying a wine for its originality immediately becoming sceptic.. :S It is always, of course, a really good rule to taste for yourself, if possible, before purchasing wines and that way make up your own opinion. However, this brunello is a blend of two totally different sites in Montalcino; 40% from a lower part in the more elegant clayey and sandy Pellagrilli vineyards in the north and 60% from the more sturdy and structured Piancornello in the southern area of Sant’Angelo in Colle. Moreover, Siro Pacenti still makes a great deal about originality, low yields and their specific soil on their website. However, Giancarlo Pacenti raises his brunelli for two years in well toasted barriques focusing on concentration and elegance. 2004 is the most balanced and aromatic vintage in Montalcino if you ask me, while e.g. 2006 is usually richer, little warmer and much more structured.

2004 Siro Pacenti, Brunello di Montalcino

Colour is garnet dark and blood orange red with scarlet-light-orange edges.

After an hours decanting, some peppery green, tiny flowery soap oak notes emerges from the glass but then there is some fine Mediterranean herbs, some lavender, conserved boysenberries, water-on-stone and delicate minerals. However, after two hours, the oak, disappointingly spreads out and takes over completely and covers everything in here that I am sure could be interesting, even though very closed. Even after four hours, the nose is still quiet and unfortunately an overly modern one that I think covers all the interesting aromatics from its origins. On the palate I can recognise some darker minerals, black cherries, maybe coffee and earthy notes, but that is it as the oak aromas spreads out coating everything in here. Now, this is really unfortunate, since sangiovese grosso, “the blood of Jupiter”, is so easily affected by oak and the result is usually that all other aromas are covered and not enhanced, but at worst ruined. In this case I am sure it suffers more from the first problem really, since the wine started out fine just after opening.

Texture is soft and velvet and tannins appears to be fine, but artificial. The acidity is actually great and approachable, but frankly does it really matter. Moreover, it is highly concentrated and quite persistent too, but does these positive characteristics even matter anymore?..

This is so terribly respectless and pointless, since I realise that there is a lot of great fruit and flavours in here, but it has clearly been ruined by over-excessive use of oak. I don’t know if it is the well toasted French Troncais wood that I am supposed to enjoy here, but all brunello flavours and characteristics from the two blended sites in Montalcino’s are surely covered and probably even ruined. This disabuse of the sacred sangiovese grape from such a grand vintage must certainly render a low score. It is fascinating that it gets such top scores even from a few respected wine critics around the world that ought to understand the fragility and delicacy of the sangiovese grape especially when exposed to this level of new and well toasted oak, even when considering that they like modern style wines.

80-p/100

2004 Roagna Barbaresco Montefico

“Roagna does not change” is the slogan of the estate. Roagna owns 0.24 ha at a quite high altitude in the Montefico vineyard just east of Barbaresco town and borders the somewhat firm, structured Ovello vineyard in the north and the “fruit-silky” Montestefano in the south. It has perfect south-east exposure, the altitude sure gives it a lot of fresh acidity and is known to share the characteristics of the diverse Ovello vineyard but adds more complexity and acidity. The soil is calcareous marl and clay. Roots are about 50 years old here. Maceration is massive and lasts up to incredible 90 days! 4-6 years in casks of which a few are, surprisingly, french and then some time in bottle. Anyway, this is a really interesting producer and one absolutely true to its terroir. 2004 is a great vintage with very easy harvest and in particular in Barbaresco the wines tends to be both very structured with some muscle (not to compare with barolos) and complex, elegant at the same time. Now I have to try the wine..

2004 Roagna Barbaresco “Montefico”

Color is ruby-red color and rust orange edges.

Nose offers resins, glue, roses, dog rose, balsamic notes and offers a fragrant delicate perfume with style.

On the palate, it is somewhat chewy, but not harsh, already quite soft increasing tannins that are not yet integrated. Acidity is a little gnarly now too, but will improve over time of course. After following the wine in about three hours of air in a decanter, a mid palate finally starts to present itself very, very gently showing volatile red current, preserved concentrated raspberry, sourish wild strawberries, some menthol, a little savoury, herbs, tarry, fennel, and with pleasant gentle, fine tuned earthy limestone minerals. Surprisingly light-weighted considering the vintage and the extreme maceration period. Unfortunately, quite reduced and very closed now. It lacks concentration and some energy too, but length is good.

Uh, I hate to write this, but this wine is now a little surprisingly volatile, unbalanced and lacks concentration and energy but at the same time it is delicate, complex and has everything else. The wine obviously needs plenty of time to integrate and is obviously very closed, but now unfortunately, when considering this great vintage and the potential of the vineyard, it is a disappointment. Therefore very hard to give it a score. I guess anyone should forget it another ten years before considering opening it. Cost about €70.

92+p/100.

Brunello Contenders: Poggio di Sotto 2006 vs Cerbaiona 2004

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The ´06 Poggio di Sotto to the left and the ´04 Cerbaiona on the right hand side.

The Italian wine Brunello from the small village of Montalcino in sunny Tuscany was Frederik’s first encounter with high quality wines and where he got his first true brunello wine kick from a ’03 Cerbaiona, but there have been several disappointments a few years now with lots of oak and a general drop in quality.Andreas have had several disappointing encounters with Brunello wines too and is looking hard for some magic.

After several trips to Piedmont and Burgundy, Frederik is now planning a revisit to Montalcino. There is truly something special about the Brunello grape (a clone of Sangiovese called grosso) and the vineyards in the village of Montalcino. It is hotter than other regions like the nearby Chianti and Montepulciano and hadn’t it been for the cooling breeze from the sea in the west during nights and the mist from the Orcia river, Brunello wouldn’t have had a chance to develop any fresh acidity and reach poly phenolic maturity. Thus it would probably just been known as a dry and sweet wine with a lot of alcohol with no ageing potential. In addition, the Amiata mountains protects it from hailstorms and cloudburst too. Furthermore, it normally receives less rain (about 700 mm per year) than Chianti (typically 900 mm), but the soil stores water well. This was particularly obvious in the unusually hot year of 2012, were it practically didn’t rain at all after spring until harvest, but magically still, even though lower yields, manage to produce very good quality grapes.

So we decided to have a show down between two giants of brunello that truly set the standard back in the ´80:s and lately has caused a lot of buzz among critics and tastings. On the left hand side in the upper picture the Piere Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto and the Molinari’s Cerbaiona. Both makes Brunellos using traditional methods, i.e. long maceration, large Slavonian barrels (botti) and no new oak. However, the style is totally different; Poggio is more fruit-driven feminine whereas Molinari is clearly masculine.

Another obvious choice would have been the legendary producer Biondi-Santi, who way back in 1888 is said to have produced probably the first Brunello di Montalcino, but even though the wine still is traditional and elegant, lately his “Greppo” has lost some of its former glory and mystics. We where looking (as always..) for high quality, elegant wines and a positive wine kick with clear, uncompromising focus on terroir and quality. This excluded numerous producers hijacked by the American markets that prefers super-fruity, excessively full-bodied, fruit-exploding wines and a lot of new french oak. The latter is alarming, considering the brunello grape is a very fragile and delicate grape whose aromas and terroir characteristics and expression are easily suppressed or worse destroyed by new oak. Except for some Californian wine critics, who is really interested in drinking wines that has no personality nor expresses its origins but rather artificially all tastes the same?

So let us start with a short introduction to the producers.

Poggio di Sotto

Piero Palmucci appears to have been constantly improving everything in the whole process of high quality wine making – especially in the vineyards – with the help of the legendary enologist and viticulture expert Giulio Gambelli, who sadly passed away in January, 2012, at the age of 86.

Piero bought several vineyards in 1989 and produced his first bottle in 1991 and he has been a rising star for several years now and his efforts was truly recognised in 2001 by several wine critics around the world. For some strange reason, his riserva this year was dis-classified by the authorities and sold as “Il Decennale”. Now the 2006 is considered magical. However, Piero appears to have sold the estate to Claudio Tipa from Bolgheri in 2011. The estate seems to continue Piero´s work with hard pruning, low yields (max 35 hl per ha), extreme selection of grapes, use large 30 hl Slavonian barrels (botti) and sometime let the brunello riserva stay in barrel for as much as five years. In contrast to others, his rosso is from the same grapes and vineyards, so it is a bargain for its price-level. The bottles that Piero Palmucci have produced are marked with his name if you want to be sure and his last was the vintage 2006. The vineyards for brunello add up to about 12 ha of land and are located in Castenuovo dell’Abate south of Montalcino and face south. In the lower parts, 200 m above sea-level, the soil is made up of rocks, schist and gravel with a lot of calcareous clay. Closer to the top of the hills, 400 m above sea-level, the hill is very steep and the soil is sandy clay. This way they have the opportunity to produce a well balanced combination of elegance, structure and power by blending parts depending on the vintage. The oldest roots in the best parts are 50 years old.

Cerbaiona

The former Alitalia pilote Diego “Comandante” Molinari that became a wine-maker is a self-taught, stubborn man and has said he never had much help of an oenologist, but clearly Giulio Gambelli has been assisting here too. Diego and Nora bought the estate from the Guerrini family back in 1977 and have turned it into one of the most magical estates in the region. Fermentation takes place in cement vats and maceration is long with a few push-downs a day. The malo is done in stainless steel. Oak barrels of 20 hl are used for ageing over a minimum period of three years. This estate is true to tradition and terroir.

Most of the vineyards are planted in 1977, but some parts are as old as 1922 and alive and well. Their 3.2 ha of lands are situated in the very east of Montalcino having Salvioni, who used to work at the estate, as neighbor. Production is small. Only about 8,000 bottles of brunello are made and 5,000 bottles of the rosso a year. Their soil has a top layer of galestro marl, whereas the deeper contains mostly rock and very much lime and practically no clay at all which somewhat explains the character of their wines. Diego’s careful, organic handcraft, his short-pruning for low yields, and hands-off, somewhat straight-forward approach in the very traditional cellar produces a very individual wine showing both the variety and complex terroir of Montalcino. Contrary to Piero, he only produces one brunello which happens to be a “riserva” but doesn’t seem to care to mark this on the bottle. His brunello has been praised by several critics e.g. Antonio Galloni and Stephen Tanzer among others for probably making the best and most consistent high-quality brunello ever since 2001. However, sadly due to Diego´s deteriorating health, the couple is now selling off the estate.

Enough said, let’s move to the wine tasting shall we..

On this occasion, Frederik couldn’t plan ahead so his bottle of Cerbaiona was opened 30 minutes before he left his apartment and then it was brutally oxygen-raped with a “quick, aggressive decanting”. Andreas on the other hand opened his Poggio di Sotto at 16.00, 4 hours prior to the wine tasting. Please note that the wines are from two great different vintages; 2004 and 2006. The Poggio di Sotti of this tasting is not the Riserva, but we hope the characteristics and style will still be interesting in this competition.

And the results?

2006 Brunello di Montalcino, Poggio di Sotto

Nose: Balsamic, leather, a hint of eucalyptus, a hint of something chemical, notes of tar, incredibly fresh, seductive perfumes, some red flowers, hints of roses and some salt stained, airy breeze.

Taste: Full bodied but lacks concentration and some depth. The mid palate shows hints of chocolate, eucalyptus, ginger, small red berries and black cherries. Very seductive but not sweet and expresses even more feminine characteristics than expected. Very long and well balanced.

Points: Andreas: 95 and Sir Galahad: 95

Nose: Leather, earthy, lots of minerals, under vegetation, herbs, tobacco, some tar, black tea, dark fruit and a hint of crushed water-on-stone. Very subtle indeed.

Taste: Several layers, fantastic depth, very complex, impressive concentration and very low levels of sugar. The mid palate presents magnesium (?), plenty of stony minerals, mushrooms, some eucalyptus, very dark fruit, hints of dark chocolate, some herbs like rosemary, espresso and black tea. This reminded us of the famous appellations in Burgundy; Clos de la Roche with its typical traits of water on stone and hints of Bonnes mare’s creamy, deep black fruit and masculine characteristics. AL: Long, concentrated and tannic driven. FB: The only minor disappointment with the wine is the length in this vintage, but besides this minor remark, a fantastic, impressive and very complete wine.

Points: Andreas 97p/100, Sir Galahad: 97p/100.

To sum it up, two very different wines. The winner we both agree is the Cerbaiona, even though a fair competition would of course have been the Poggio’s Riserva and both bottles of the same vintage. The Poggio is a really elegant charmer, full of fine red fruit, very long and generously full-bodied, but surprisingly lacks some depth and concentration. This makes us interested in an older riserva, due to our expectations.