Tag Archives: Sangiovese

Brunello 2010 focus on the Barolo-Brunello tasting in Copenhagen

The danish Berlingske Media held a tasting at Børsen in Copenhagen on the 20th of November. There were 20 producers from barolo and 20 of brunello. It was a good opportunity to taste several brunelli from the great vintage of 2010. The vintage 2010 is special in the sense that it is great in many different areas, but most notable Burgundy and Piedmont. Especially the southern very warm parts of Montalcino really render their best wines in cool and long-cycled vintages like 2010 in our opinion.

Here are several samples from the tasting.

 

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Ville la Prata

The nose here is dense and a little warm with some depth. Typical rubber boots, fine herbs and spices. A fine perfume of earthy minerals and iron. On the palate it is dense, warm, sweet and spicy coated in metal-earthy minerals with fine acidity, but overly sweet and lacks some freshness.

88p/100

DSC04602Uccelliera

Even though Andrea Cortonesi uses a high level of new wood, he is skilful in a Burgundish manner to elevate the fruit and terroir with less added wood sensations. The 2004 vintage was tasted here.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Uccelliera

Gracefully seductive as usual with balsamically fresh complex herbs.  A very supple and tip toeing envelope with generous aromas of iron-infused red fruit from Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Impressively smooth, round and pure wine with much finesse and elegance.

94+p/100

DSC04603Tenuta Silvio Nardi

2010 Brunello di Montalcino

Clearly, a bombastic and full-bodied Californina-style brunello that we dislike.  Way too much new and well-toasted wood in here that makes any further analysis less interesting. The acidity appears to be high quality, cool and crisp, but does it matter when you cannot recognise its origins in the western part of Montalcino. How sad, since there is obviously good fruit inside of all the oak sensations.

-84p/100

DSC04604San Giorgio

2010 Brunello di Montalcino “Ugolforte”

A modern nose with some immediate oak notes, but still with elegance and is the case with Uccelliera it is skilfully handcrafted. I am told it is raised in 50% new wood of light toasting and the rest 2nd passage. Moreover, some leather, cherry and darker minerals. It is very rich, generous on the palate and juicy, ripe from dark fruit, spices, smoke, notes of tobacco and deep minerals. It dances on the edge of too much oak, but it is a very polished, round, sophisticated wine build with finesse so we are very forgiving in this case.

92-93p/100

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Tenuta Buon Tempo

This producer is new to us and located in the south-east of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Filippo says that they employ a 20 day extraction in 2010 and use 40% new oak with the focus to only lift the terroir and aromas, but still quite high level.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino

A deep, earthy, ethereal and complex nose. Distinct, dense rubber boots, currants, salty black olives, cinnamon cookies, worn leather and lovely mineral-embedded balsamic herbs slips through from the one year in 40% new wood treatment, but thankfully not well toasted. An impressive and direct nose. On the palate it impresses with its cool, fresh balsamic acidity wrapping dried herbs and salty minerals. Very good balance and richness too. Packed with racy, dark fruit; black berries, blue berries and viol, liquorice, worn leather, black peppers and dried spices with Just a little dryness in the elegant and persistent, but quite bombastic and powerful finish. Its obvious backside is its texture that is smudgy and currently a little too fleshy as well. Even though, it lacks precision and smooth texture, we like everything else with this generous wine and we are forgiving with the oak contributions. This will need some more years to come together, but it sure has potential.

94p/100

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Tassi

This is producer from Castiglione dell’Abate, we have never tasted before.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tassi

Obvious excess of oak on the immediate nose. However, fresh and clean notes of herbs, corithns and coffee, but embedded in oak sensations. On the palate, our suspicions unfortunately are proven correct and there is also excessive of alcohol which disturbs the otherwise fine balance. There are good fruit in here and finesse, but they were not careful enough. What a shame.

87-88p/100

2010 Brunello di Montalcino “Franci”, Tassi

Obvious excess of oak here too. However, fresh and clean notes of herbs, corithns and coffee slips through, but embedded in oak sensations here too. On the palate, there are better fruit in here; plum, dry cherries as well as Mediterranean herbs, but they were not careful here either. More persistent, but at a high cost of integrity and honesty. However, there is no oak bitterness.

89-p/100

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Le Macioche

A new acquaintance. Modern but very unusual and interesting wine and the producer employs a lengthy 30-days extraction on the skins. They are located in the south-east part of Montalcino being neighbour with our hero, Salicutti there.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Le Macioche

Very unusal nose of nectarine and yellow pears opens up here and then a great fresh perfume lingers. It is really fresh, but so unexpected. On the palate, it stays true to its nose and except for notes of cherry, it apricot and nectarine flavours dominate this wine. It is generous and persistent with a pleasant dry finish of finesse.

93p/100

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Le Chiuse

Lorenzo Magnelli, is an interesting guy carrying on a legacy his familly shares with the legendary Biondi-Santi, the creator of Brunelli, and their vineyards. He explains that most important in vinification is to physically affecting the wine as little as possible and this is why they use gravity and gentle pressing to sustain high quality. They do green harvest for concentration when necessary. Absolutely a very interesting wine grower to follow closely.

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Lorenzo Magnelli

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Le Chiuse

The nose opens slowly in the glass with fine balsamically wrapped dried herbs, corinthian and worn leather. There is a deep and honest inner perfume here that is quite captivating. On the palate it offers black olives, licorice-root,  notes of coffee, figs and black, ripe fruit infused with deep, dark minerals,. Tannins are a little edgy now, but they are thick and soft with great potential. This is a thick, dense, persistent and fresh old-school brunello with very much personality made for the cellar.

95p/100

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Col d’Orca has never impressed us and even in a fabulous vintage like 2010 it is not up to game. We didn’t even bother with Val di Suga and Barbi.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Col d’Orca

An ok perfume of dark cherries and black tea leaves. On the palate it is inconsistent and lacks concentration. It offers black peppers, bleach coffee and notes of leather, but It is even hollow and while texture is just fine, its acidity is whiny and of bad quality. This is a hollow wine with low quality, bitter acidity and flatness.

82-84p/100

 

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Castiglion del Bosco

Castiglion del Bosco’s brunelli are from a site in the north-west part of Montalcino. They use a more moderately lower level of new oak (20%) among the modern style producers and use gravity to affect the grape juice as little as possible.  Campo del Drago. is from the highest point at 460 m in the the vineyard of the same name. The wine to the right is from the Capanna vineyard at 350-450 m.

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2010 Brunello di Montalcino “Capanna”, Castiglion del Bosco

A very fresh and fine nose full of balsamic herbs, distinct metal-infused minerals and pretty flowers. On the palate it is impressively balanced and complex with pure darker, creamy and fine honey-infused fruit. Acidity is fine, but now a little unpleasantly bitter. Smooth, pliant and very soft texture, but texture is fleshy, shitty with some excessive sweetness in the rich and persistent finish. but tannins need a lot of time still. Acidity is still fresh, fruit is pure and it is balanced.

91p/100

2010 Brunello di Montalcino “Campo del Drago”, Castiglion del Bosco

Very much like its sibbling but tannins are riper and even better in this one. Also more concentration with a notch more finesse and less bitterness.

93p/100

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Sabine, a very nice dane, that lives in Montalcino and promotes and markets their wines. Lucky her. 🙂

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Caparzo

Caparzo has always been good, but to be honest, they have not really caught our attention until now.

2010 Brunello di Montalcino “La Casa”, Caparzo

Interesting nose of lemon-peel, gravel, smoke and autumn notes. On the palate, what first strike us is its Impressive balance and genuine aromas of balsamic herbs, dry licorice and spices. Texture is very smooth, fleshy and bold, but very soft. It is meaty, a little fleshy and quite generous too.

93p/100

 

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Summary

It is no news that Brunello di Montalcino still suffers from giving into American markets that still wants bombastic and powerful wines whose persistence is counted in minutes. However, the exampe of such wines are less now than some years ago which is pleasing as consumers tend to look more for genuine wines of personality. Some producers still manage to dance on the edge here like Uccelliera, Buon Tempo and San Giorgio, but does this with smartness and skill so as a consumer we are very much forgiving as everything else is so great and interesting. As was/is the case with the celebrated 2010 vintage of Barolo, the producer is the most important regardless of vintages.

At this tasting Uccelliera and Buon Tempo stood out as the best of the modern style brunello and on the other side in the traditional corner, Le Chiuse, was a very postive new acquaintance. Obviously, we’d like some of the top producers here as well like Cerbaiona, Salvioni, Soldera, Costanti, etc for better benchmarking in terms of quality, but I still think we managed to assemble a good perspective of good producers under the radar and some unknown to us.

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

An honest and very concentrated brunello from Salicutti

The estate Salicutti is probably the first to employ organic cultivation in Montalcino back in 1994. The owner, Francesco Leanza, is a very self-made man that does pretty much everything by himself. Except for organic cultivation in the vineyards, he employs thorough green harvest, topping and thinning out and leaves 5-7 bunches on each vine before harvest to ensure high quality grapes. Giving up a profession as a chemical engineer in Rome he became a wine maker and produced his first wine in 1996.

2006 Brunello di Montalcino Salicutti “Piaggione”

Its colour is translucent blood orange middle with light orange edges.
The nose after two hours of decanting offers distinct tar, smoke, worn leather, notes of tobacco and balsamic notes. In two additional hours, there is suddenly distinct balsamic herbs, cooked asparagus and very unusually I think I recognise fresh basil too. Moreover, at this point there is a lot of resonant fruit in here, but even more so there are beautiful top notes of very delicate inner perfumes, red flowers, bergamot, salvia and a salt-stained, fresh breeze. This is not a big and imposing nose, but rather a slow, fragrant one that is more about complex details and delicate aromas from the site.
The taste offers layers of very concentrated, ripe and pure fruit of which cherries, is most prominent, but there is also wild strawberries, cranberries and plum. Texture is already velvety and a little dusty. Ripe tannins steers the wine, but now still gives the tongue a spur, but they will develop fine and soften even more. This is a medium bodied and very balanced wine with great, energetic acidity without any harshness at all. It is persistent too and concentration is impressive and consistent. The crescendo in the long aftertaste offers very delicate chalky minerals, anise, liquorice backed by dusty tar and leather.

Yes, this is an honest, transparent and very slowly emerging wine with impressive complexity and very pure aromas. It is quite Burgundish with its details, balance and freshness. Open in 2017.

94-95p/100

A beautiful, Volnay-like and transparent brunello

The estate Eredi Fuligni located in the eastern part of Montalcino, the Cottimelli area, and is headed by the elderly lady Maria Flora Fuligni and her younger nephew, professor Roberto Guerrini Fuglini, with the help of oenologist Paola Vagaggini in the cellar and agronomist Federico Ricci in the vineyards. They own parcels in four different vineyards, S. Giovanni, Il Piano, Ginestreto and La Bandita, all at high altitudes, and they are all vinified separately and then blended into a brunello. In very good vintages, a brunello riserva is made from selected grapes. Oldest plants are from 1975 and the youngest are twelve years old. These are brunellos polished to perfection with one foot in tradition and the other in modern methods, much inspired by Burgundy with green harvest, hard pruning, low controlled yields for out most quality and very pleasing to us they are careful with french oak. Ages one year in 5hl Tonneaux (Allier) french barrels and then another two years in neutral, big Slavonian botte. I think that they didn’t use any new oak at all in the 2007 vintage and they are pleasingly moving into a more traditional approach here. Yes, this is a very interesting producer. In this vintage that was so packed with fruit and very approachable some producers did not gain from doing a riserva, so the normal brunello may excel without further aging in wood.

2007 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino

Sir Galahad:

The colour is beautifully translucent garnet red with light-orange, transparent edges.

After about one hour, there is a very careful, lovely scent of obvious worn leather, distinct eucalyptus, dusty gravel, cumin, glue, dried mushrooms, white peppers, balsamic herbs and tiny notes of cardamon emerging when putting the nose to the glass. After yet another two hours, oil paint, fresh notes of mint and a very deep, delicate and gorgeous inner perfume suddenly appears. Moreover, there is lavender bath soap. Quite amazing change into an already fine, but now a lovely, deep and very beautiful nose.

The taste offers layers of fresh, pure and cool, but currently sourish red fruit. Other mid palate aromas are fennel, Swedish lakrisal, white pepper, gravel, grape juice, herbs, clove, exotic spices and blood orange. Texture is velvety, little dusty, but very polished and tannins are quite ripe, but still rasps the tongue just a little so it needs to settle and integrate more. The acidity is full of balsamic grape peel and is energetically fresh, that is actually not as whining as expected. It is a super round and well-balanced wine with slim and feather-light Volnay type that is handcrafted with precision and transparently complex, but even though there is no disturbing notion of oak, the wine is maybe a just a little too polished and overly sweet for my taste.


This is a brunello that certainly doesn’t feel like doing any hasty advances or flirtations. It is rather a sophisticated, aristocratic young lady and perfectly looking cat-walking model in the same package that obviously knows she is very beautiful, but still and surprisingly, is a little shy, quiet and takes her time. However, she is perceived as a somewhat polished newbie on the stage wearing just a little too much make up. Moreover, she fumbles a little in her high heels on the catwalk, struggles walking elegantly and offers a little dry sensation in the finish. Her scent is amazingly complex and lovely, but the taste does not totally live up to the expectations and promises even though it is packed with fruit. However, this is absolutely still a great and very interesting wine. Open in 2017 to let the tannins polymerise further.

93p/100

Andreas:

We find a nose with lots of cherries, ripe berries, red current and tea here. A few hours after opening the wine it reveals much, much more depth and complexity. The mid palate now offers hints of paint, solvent and even more ripe fruit. There is also a bit of sharpness on the nose, probably from the acidity.

When tasting the wine we are met with quite high levels of acidity that certainly adds freshness and energy to the wine. There is also an abundance of licorice, cherries, eucalyptus, grape fruit, and some hints of minerals and herbs.

The tannins are very silky and stay with us in the finish in collaboration with the acidity. Unfortunately there are also hints of bitterness from the grape fruit at the end, which for me affects the overall impression of the wine.

This is a quite intense wine with freshness, energy and a complexity. It is highly recommended to decant for a couple of hours before consumption.


93/100p


A very balanced and complex brunello with intense crescendo

Uccelliera, which means bird cage in Italian, is an estate that has been on the rise for quite some time now in Montalcino and is headed by Andrea Cortonesi.
This wine is made of grapes from different parcels of vineyards with mainly south-east exposition in Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the very south of the Montalcino area. The soil in these steep hills varies among sandy clay, lime stone, gravel and schist as well as Galestro and Alberese, the special marls from this site, so by vinifying the parcels separately, Andrea can make the perfect combination for the vintage. A legendary estate, Poggio di Sotto, whose wine we adore, is his neighbour in this area and take advantage of the same blending of parcels. The grape juice undergoes cold soak (the Burgundish-style pre-maceration at low temperatures to extract colour and more aromas) for a few days followed by 3-4 weeks of maceration. The wine for the riserva ages for 3-4 years in a combination of Slavonian big, neutral oak and French barriques depending on the vintage. It stays in bottle for another 18 months before released to the market.

The 2004 vintage is ideal with a cooler late summer period until harvest without issues and yields were higher than usual. It was relatively easy to harvest evenly ripe grapes and rendered wines with exceptional balance/harmony, detail and complexity for those producers who employed scrupulous selection in the vineyard.

2004 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Colour is very dark red, almost black with scarlet-orange edges. Immediately after opening this wine and giving it a swirl, distinct worn leather, savoury notes and asphalt leaves the glass. Then it changes again and very pure and fresh dark fruit as well as inner, very deep perfume emerges as top notes and then the base is filled up with tar, oil paint, warm herbs, clove, very complex, slightly burned lime minerals, saline mushrooms, eucalyptus and cigar box. An extremely fresh, broad-spanning and lovely nose indeed with a lot complexity, elegance and deep inner perfume.
Then after two hour of decanting, the energetic, very grape-peel-balsamic acidity settles down and then impressively deep, pure layers of rich, opulent and very ripe black fruit gets through. In addition, the rich mid palate offers distinct anise, fresh herbs and loads of complex, burned lime minerals. It is dense, offers fantastic concentration and powerful building structure, but it is not heavy. This is a full-bodied and very persistent wine that grows into a beautiful crescendo of intense flavours and freshness in great harmony. Texture is velvety, almost silky, but with bite and tannins are chewy, ripe but gives the tongue some spur right now, so it needs to integrate just a little more.

Key words are purity, intensity, depth and balance. This is a great wine with fantastic nose that is worthy of exploring sacredly without even drinking. Ahh, what I love the delicacy of the brunello grape when it reveals its origins with this transparency and purity. Moreover, the wine is strangely seductively elegant too and Andrea obviously went easy on the oak in this vintage that only seems to lift and enhance the territorial aromas. The Uccelliera riserva of 2004 may not be in the same honest traditional division, but it is clearly not far behind the quality league where you find producers like Cerbaiona, Salvioni and Soldera. However, Andrea is pushing the modern school to the very edge here, so let’s hope he doesn’t fall over to dark side. Open 2015.

95-96p/100


A simple brunello from the master of elegance

I don’t think that Gaja really needs an introduction. The 5th generation Gaja; Angelo Gaja bought his first parcels in Montalcino in 1994. This wine is a blend of brunello grapes from the vineyards Sugarille, Santo Pietro, Castagno, and Pian dei Cerri. 2008 is an approachable, easy going good, but uneven vintage in Montalcino, Tuscany.

2008 Brunello di Montalcino, Pieve Santa Restituta

Colour: Dark garnet red, transparent, young edges.
Nose: Eucalyptus, white pepper, lavender, violets, rosemary, new leather, distinct dark cherries, medicinal cabin, fresh breeze, distinct balsamic fur-needles, black tea, intense lightly burned “Montalcino” minerals. An elegant, vibrant nose driven by terroir indeed.
Taste: Cool, sourish fruit, tobacco, bitter chocolate, leather, distinct grape-peel, smoke, black tea, notes of peppery oak and menthol. Balsamic acidity that needs plenty of airing, but full of energy so this can probably be stored for a long time. Texture is silky and tannins are firm, but a little rough now. Structure is medium-bodied.

A nice wine with potential, once the somewhat over-energetic and fuzzy acidity has calmed down and integrated further in a few years. The nose now is more impressive than the taste really. The taste may lack some depth and complexity, but it is elegant, dry and very balsamic.

91p/100

Brunello: San Polino vs Il Poggiolo

Inspired by Frederiks recent visit to Montalchino we decided to bring out a couple of Brunellos from the wine fridges. Unfortunately the selection did not end up being so successful…


2003 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino Helichrysum
San Polini is a family owned winery which uses biodynamic-organic combo in the vineyard. Massale clone of sangiovese gross is planted. Their wine is aged in Slavonian oak vats and in French oak barriques. The press wine and seeds are put in french barriques before blended back into the wine. On their web page we can read the following: “We aim to produce wines that faithfully reflect the spirit of their territory and vintage.”. Sounds great so far.
Nose: Immediate sweet oak, ink, leather, chocolate, quite fresh and layers of fruit.
Taste: Blackberry, full bodied, very soft tannins, balanced mid palate in terms of tannins and acidity, but way too “new world-style” fruity, sweet and excessive vanilla pudding from new oak that covers all the other stuff in there….
Finish: Long finish with exploding fruit and vanilla.
Summary: Quality wine in there, but the oak takes over. It feels like they did harvest with good timing considering the very warm 2003 vintage, made a good selection but then forgot the wine in the barriques. So the comment scissored from the web-site appears a joke in this bottle, since you really have to try hard to get through all the oaky vanilla.

AL: 87p/100.
FB: 75p/100.


2004 Il Poggiolo (Cosimi) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 
This is a small producer in Montalchino that Frederik stumbled across in a pizzeria in Montalcino and thought were good for the money priced at abut €30 and they seem to be driven by a quality perspective. The winery was founded by Roberto Cosimi in 1971 but in 1989 his son took over.

Nose: Unfortunately a little excessive oak, cherries, rowan-berries, stable, fresh grass, some leather, mushrooms and fresh herbs.  
Taste: quite deep, nice fruit, unfortunately a tendency towards alcohol, earthy, quite fresh acidity and warm character. The finish is a medium long and driven by acidity and tannins. Some balsamic vinegar and under vegetation.
Summary: This is a good wine for the money and has some depth and interesting mid palate, but it lacks complexity.

AL: 89p/100.
FB: 89p/100.

Summary of the evening

Recently oak has been a fixation for us both and since we know that incautious use of new oak kills the individuality and origins of the wines. Unfortunately San Polino is definitely an example of this.
The Il Poggiolo can definitely be recommended because of the low price.

Cerbaiona (Montalcino-trip 2013, May 13)

I remember when I was in the Italian village of Montalcino for the first time five years ago and was offered a 2003 brunello in a tasting. A short-lived and average vintage, yes, but I remember that it was the best wine I tasted on that trip. It was a Cerbaiona.

The estate

The former Alitalia pilote Diego “Comandante” Molinari that became a wine-maker is a determined, self-taught and stubborn man and has said he never had much help of an enologist, but clearly, the legendary enologist and viticulture expert and last-year deceased Giulio Gambelli has been given advice through the years. In recent years the younger Valerio Coltellini has been consulted at times. 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. 77 bottles were produced in the hailstormed year of 1980, which also was the year when Brunello di Montalcino was classified as DOCG. However, the first real brunello was produced in 1981 and later in the 80’s his 1982 brunello was recognized by a few international critics. The Brunello of Cerbaiona has been praised by several critics e.g. Antonio Galloni and Stephen Tanzer among others for probably making the best, honest and most consistent high-quality brunello ever at least since 2001. Moreover, Galloni appears to have been re-evaluating some of the old vintages and he now seems convinced that Cerbaiona is an underrated gem.

I met with Diego’s wife, Nora, a sunny Monday in May this year. On the road from Montalcino to Torrenieri you turn south on a very tiny, undulating road and at the very end of it you find the farmhouse of Cerbaiona in the very eastern part of Montalcino. Nora is a wonderful, warm and outgoing lady that loves her cats and the surroundings here in Montalcino as well as talking about wines and telling the story of Cerbaiona. We first enter their beautiful garden behind the house. In fact, Nora says they both fell in love with the farmhouse on the hill here directly, but they were actually considering another larger estate outside of Montepulciano at first. However, when it was sold to some body else, she says fate brought them here. And it is here, from the backyard, the visitor is offered a fantastic view of the east facing vineyards.

Nora in her garden.

 

When I ask how they got into winemaking, she explains that Diego had this dream of making wine long before retirement. He had no experience about wine-making, so he started from scratch by tasting several old vintages in the village, reading, studying what others did in his immediate surroundings and talked a lot with top producers at the time. He wanted to try wine making by himself and not just hire a wine maker. In addition to all he learned from Gambelli on growing brunello and vinification,  Diego was very much inspired by the traditionalist and creator of brunello,  Biondi-Santi, and became convinced and determined to follow this ultra-traditional philosophy but in the process find his own way step-by-step with an uncomprising target  to produce a great brunello true to its terroir of Montalcino. With a smile, Nora talks about how Diego and Franco Biondi-Santi became friends and used to play chess over a bottle of old brunello. She  makes it absolutely clear that her husband was determined to learn everything about wine-making himself, that he was very focused and stubborn to reach that goal.

The Cerbaiona vineyard with olive trees

The vineyards

Nora and Diego’s vineyards are located in a very sacred place in the eastern part of  Montalcino. It gets enough sun, but not as much as in the southern or south-west parts, whose grapes sometimes needs to be picked earlier to avoid too much sugar and alcohol in very warm years. Even so, some people unaware of its potential may still wonder if it is not too hot in the Toscana inlands anyway for growing high-quality grapes, but Montalcino has been blessed by the cooling breeze from the sea in the west and the mist from the nearby Orcia river that enable the grapes to develop the so important acidity at nights. Hence, very good conditions for reaching perfect poly-phenolic maturity, i.e. the desired acid-sugar balance and ripe tannins of the resulting wine. Moreover, the Amiata mountains in the south protect Montalcino from cloudburst and most of the hailstorms.

Most of the vineyards are planted in 1977, but some parts have roots as old as 1922 and alive and well. Nora explains that the snow fall and cold of 1985 was the worst of all vintages for them and a lot of replanting were needed and done in 1988. Almost all olive trees died. Nevertheless, the 1985 vintage in the end was a good one, but low production. The size of their vineyards are 3.2 ha spanning from an altitude of 400 downhill to 350 m above sea-level and positioned in the very east of Montalcino having Salvioni as neighbor. Their soil has a top layer of primarily the region’s typical galestro marl (some alberese too), whereas the deeper contains mostly rock and very much lime and very little clay which somewhat explains the character of their wines. The plants are organized using the traditional cordone speronato (trellsing) method for getting an even outtake when harvesting. Roots find water and nutrition at two meters depth even in very dry years like for example 2012. They work organicly, prunes short, selects bunches and yields are low at max 35 hL per ha. Within the vineyards (3.2 ha) 1.6 ha is certified as brunello and 0.8 is rosso whereas the rest is a part planted with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and malvasia nero grapes that is used to make a very unusual, traditional-style “super-tuscan” wine (Toscana IGT).

The cement vats used for fermentation

The wine-making

At harvest, fruit is picked by hand and 100% de-stemmed. A traditional wooden hydraulic wine-press is preferred over anything new at this estate. Fermentation takes place in cement vats, known for their natural breathing abilities and equally important temperature controlling qualifications that enable gentle and gradual fermentation.   Nora, says that she remembers when Diego started using them that he told her to put her hand on the vat and feel when it was ready. Maceration is long, about 18-20 days, with a few push-downs a day. The malo is done in stainless steel. Big Slovenian oak barrels of 20 hl are used for ageing over a minimum period of three years, usually 4, for the brunello and 18 months for the rosso and the “super-tuscan”. After resting  another 6-8 months in bottle, depending on vintage of course, the bottles are released on the market. Production is small. Only about 7,000-8,000 bottles of brunello are made and 5,000 bottles of the rosso a year.

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Only big neutral barrels are used


Diego’s very straight-forward and hand-off approach in the cellar appears to be extreme in that sense that the whole process appears to be about preserving the best nature can offer. No matter the vintage, he selects only the best grapes without mercy, with as little intervention as possible and cuts no corners by making any compensation in the vinification process in tough years that even many of the very best producers in the world do. We are talking about no filtration, no clarification, no engineered enzyme-yeast combo, no osmosis when concentration is low, absolutely (thank god!) no new oak, or other technology that affects the characteristics of the delicate brunello grape. It is no secret that at this estate, new oak is deprecated and barrique is almost a swear-word. Hence, except for doing a lot of work in the vineyards and harvesting at exactly the right time, vinification becomes all about extracting and conveying what is already inside the naturally matured grapes from the vineyard. Obviously, this admirable approach depends more heavily on being lucky with weather of course, but nevertheless stays true and honest to its mission in good vintages by offering the delicate, complex aromas and unique terroir of the brunello grape as well as capture its very individual vintage and is simply extraordinary.

Unclear future

Recently and very sadly due to Diego´s deteriorating health, the couple is now selling off the estate. Gianfranco Soldera, Diego Molinari and Giulio Salvioni somewhat set the quality benchmark of Brunello di Montalcino back in the 80’s by building on a traditional platform provided by primarily Biondi-Santi and the importance of this is of course, except for making great wines, that they showed just how fantastic and incredibly complex these wines can really get. In bad years, these gentlemen and their estates hold their heads high and do what they can to protect the quality of the brunello trademark, by declassifying their wine, and more importantly they never ever back down to markets who prefers excessively full-bodied, fruit-exploding wines with a lot of new french oak. The pressure from the latter has been particularly strong in this region for several years now, especially from California and this is sad considering that  brunello is a very fragile and delicate grape whose aromas and terroir characteristics is very easily suppressed or at worst completely lost by incautious use of new oak. I and other fans of Cerbaiona in the world now fear that selling out this estate might be one step to a closure of a very important era where a few producers have ensured that we can enjoy Brunello of outmost high-quality and who take pride in celebrating the terroir of Montalcino with such an honor and respect. Let’s hope the new owners are skilled and continue their successful work.

The wines

Contrary to many other producers, Cerbaiona only produces one brunello even in the best years. It is truly masculine and I see some resemblance to  e.g. Laurent Ponsot’s Clos de la Roche in Burgundy with its typical water-on-stone, earthy minerals and dry blackberry jam characteristics but the Cerbaiona combines more lime stone. Even though, the wine has structure, Cerbaiona is more about depth, complexity and sheer elegance than power. 

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2007 Brunello di Montalcino

Is aged in neutral casks (botte) for about 4 years and 6 months in bottle. Great vintage but this brunello is way too young now and really, really needs air for a few hours. Costs about €110. Open 2017-2035.

An intense ruby color middle and light rust orange outer part with white edges.
It shows hints of dried red flowers, tobacco, graphite, leather, water on stone, plenty of earthy minerals, fresh herbs(rosemary?), balsamic, hints of wedged grass.

The mid palate shows layers of fresh black fruit, creamy dry jam, leather, hints of dark chocolate, eucalyptus, mushrooms, herbs, saline, packed with earthy minerals, espresso and black tea. Generously, mouth-filling with chewy tannins that are already quite polished and building its structure elegantly. A little saline acidity now, but this will integrate fine with the tannins in a decade so this promises a very long life. Long and with very promising freshness from the acidity.

A very complete wine with really impressive depth, fantastic balance, very good concentration and subtle complexity.

96-97p/100

2010 Rosso di Montalcino

Its 18 months in cask is almost as long as the 24 months requirement for a brunello. This makes it perfect for having a first assessment of a new vintage’s character and this is absolutely true in this case, since 2010 is a great one, but we have to wait another two years for the brunello. Costs about €38. Open now but better 2015-2020.
Color is intensively ruby red.
Some tobacco, graphite, leather, water on stone, earthy minerals, balsamic notes, hints of wedged grass on the nose.

The mid palate shows layers of black fruit, leather, dark chocolate, eucalyptus, mushrooms, herbs, earthy minerals, espresso and black tea. There is some depth and concentration but lacks some of the complexity of its bigger brother. Generous and full-bodied with already fine, quite polished mouth-filling tannins, but acidity a little harsh now and needs to integrate. A very pleasant long lingering finish.

Very price worthy rosso indeed, but currently it is too young. As expected, this wine lacks the complexity and balance of its bigger brother, but it captures the terroir in the same fashion, has depth and is very generous. It is clearly a bargain for the money!

92-93p/100

2009 Cerbaiona Toscana IGT

A more approachable wine with 60% brunello grapes and the rest is a mix of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and malvasia nero. Spends the same 18 months in neutral casks as the rosso. Costs about €28. Open now-2018.

Color is ruby color with white edges.
Floral notes, balsamic, eucalyptus, hints of wedged grass and some crushed stone on the nose.

On the palate it offers fresh red current, cherries, balsamic, leather and some earthy minerals. A quite long lingering finish, nice structure and with the typical individual characteristics recognized in a wine from Cerbaiona.

A younger, more approachable and charming wine that still captures its origins in a very pleasant way. It is really good value and far from other wines from this region having a more international blend of grapes, so make no mistake in expecting a typical super-tuscan here.

89p/100

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I and Nora in their house from the 16th century

The Official Brunello Site – Vintage Chart

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.