After several acclaimed – but controversial – vintages, the vintage of the decade has finally arrived for Brunello. 2016 leaves everyone speechless, regardless of personal taste. Finding a 2016 Brunello di Montalcino that is less than good is extremely difficult – even if you choose randomly, the possibility of picking an excellent wine is higher than ever. However, the wines you’ll find listed here aren’t just excellent Brunellos, but masterpieces destined to make the history of the appellation.
A few words about the vintage. Everyone wonders which conditions are necessary for a vintage to be great, and the answer, to be honest, is that there are no fixed stakes. We think, however, that Silvano Padelletti, the owner of a historic winery located in the heart of the medieval town, made a statement that helps us understand something more about the matter. “The peculiarity of 2016 was the trend of the last part of the season – explained Silvano – at the beginning of September, showers cooled down the temperatures and provided water, and then the climate was windy, hot and dry during the day and cool at night, until the harvest period. We started harvesting on September 26, and finished in late October.” Keep these words in mind because they express an “unmentionable” truth: the difference between a good vintage and an extraordinary one lies most of the time in the final rush. Predictions made at the end of summer are, especially in the case of red wines, absolutely speculative. An adverse weather event just a few days before the beginning of harvesting can overturn the outcome of an entire season.
An element that must be taken into account these days is the heat. In the past, the best vintages were the warm ones, but things have changed with global warming. Heat, however, is not the main problem in Montalcino. If in August the temperature goes above 40 degrees at two in the afternoon, but drops at nightime, the resulting wines are big, bold, but still fresh and balanced. The alarm bell rings, instead, when humidity comes with the heat. Montalcino is usually so windy that you risk getting a cold if you do not dress properly. However, there have been seasons in recent times in which the breezes have suddenly ceased and the humidity has caused serious problems. Monica Tiezzi, the owner of the company of the same name, pointed out this fact. Luckily, in 2016 these phenomena, which are the most tangible sign of climate change, did not occur. The resulting wines achieve perfect balance between structure and acidity . Keerin o Keefe, the author of one of the reference texts for Brunello, pointed out in her report on Wine Enthusiast that most of the 2016 Brunellos clock at over 15% a.b.v. That’s a good point, but we believe that alcoholic is seldom disjointed from all the other components.
One more question: can wines that are enjoyable upon release also age remarkably well? The answer, in our opinion, is yes and no. Not all the Brunellos we tasted will last for forty years – some of them shall be consumed in the short or medium term. Overall, it is likely that on average these new “great vintages” will be less long-lived than the ones of the past. However, in selecting the best tastings, we also took the aging potential into account. Put simply, all the wines that made it on to the list can age well for at least a decade.
The top 20:
20. La Magia
From a farm located a stone’s throw from the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, in one of the most beautiful corners of Planet Earth. I loved the rich, multifaceted, earthy and spicy nose of incense and white pepper, which anticipates a dynamic, refreshing palate that finishes with repeating saline notes. Well done! R.M.
19. Cortonesi – La Mannella
This perfumed version comes from the northeastern quadrant of the village, which is the coolest and windiest of the entire appellation. Aromas of crushed blackberries, dried violets and a hint of oriental spices emerge from the deep ruby, moderately trasparent liquid . It boasts the same sense of refinement and poise on the medium-bodied palate, finishing with suave hints of balsam herbs and citrus. Better in a few years. R.M.
18. La Gerla
A very reliable label from a winery that had already surprised us in other circumstances. This is an intense, charming Brunello that airs fresh, youthful scents of redcurrant along with hints minerals, sweet spices, and liquorice. The powerful tannic bite backbones the creamy but not heavy flavors of super-ripe red and black fruit. The finish is long and three-dimensional. Extremely enjoyable right now. R.M. and P.R.F.
Superstar winemaker Carlo Ferrini produces a “modernist” Brunello that sparks contrasting opinions. Some critics adore it, while other considered it too made up, not enough expressive of the untamed character of Sangiovese. For sure this is a mesmerizingly intense Brunello. Hints of oak-derived spice slightly mingle with intriguing scents of black fruit and balsam herbs on the seductive nose. On the palate, the wine is silky, pliant, smoother than most young Brunelli you’ll come across. It pleases those who do not like the harsh edges, the austerity of traditional Brunello. R.M. and P.R.F.
Price: 120-140 €
Another version from the southern side of the appellation that boasts mediterranean aromas of aromatic herbs mingling with blue flowers and leather, sour currants, a touch of nutmeg. It demands time: right now the taste is all about all about imposing tannins and savory salinity. I’d let it rest in the cellar for a few years. R.M.
Price: 45-50 €
I knew this wine only by name, and it amazed me. It’s austere, reticent, animal and earthy, fabulously balsamic on the palate. Another brick in the wall… but the wall is that of the cellar of which I would seal the door, to reopen it in no less than ten years… R.M.
From the surroundings of the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, which is one of my favourite places on earth, a Brunello of great immediacy: creamy, juicy, downright delicious. It smells of Mediterranean scrub, strawberry jam and burnt wood, and combines rich, mouthwatering of super-ripe red fruit with just the right amount of tannin, and a lemony twang on the back end. This is one of the 2016 Brunelli I would uncork right now, and pair with a succulent Fiorentina. R.M.
A timeless wine from an historical winery . The bouquet displays dark aromas of fading flowers and grilled meat, blackcurrants and dried herbs. Juicy tannis and a sharp acidic the fleshy, ripe fruit flavors on the full-bodied palate. This wine comes from vineyards are very close to those of Biondi Santi’s Tenuta Il Greppo. R.M. and P.R.F.
12. Le Ragnaie
Unmistakable charm of an always recognizable wine: creme de cassis, black cherry in alcohol mingle with balsam herbs and dusty florasl. Muscular tannins and a well-integrated freshness lighten the solid structure. Le Ragnaie always ranks among the best estates in Montalcino. P.R.F.
Another classic from a winery that has been making Brunello ever since 1978. It boasts aromas of darkcurrants and cherries, Kentucky tobacco, rust and laurel. On the palate, this wine is powerful, magnificently austere. The tannins are dusty but not biting, and the mineral verve gives impetus to the finish. Undeniably complex, but also very quaffable… R.M.
Price: 38-40 €
10. Ciacci Piccolomini d’ Aragona – Pianrosso
A timeless classic. The nose burst with ethralling scents of pipe tobacco, cola, sandalwood, cranberry, and burnt vegetation. The taste is at once powerful and silky – rich, mouthwatering flavors of cherry and red currant mingle with rugged hints of leather and smoke. This wine evokes the picture-perfect landscape of Val d’Orcia. R.M.
9. Castello Romitorio – Filo di Seta
The top-notch from the estate owned by Sandro Chia, a world-famous contemporary painter, is muscular, statuesque like the figures he represents in his canvases. The bouquet of medicinal herbs, kirsch, potpourri, soot is bewitching, and the taste is loaded with succulent aromas of black fruit, leather, and tar. Chia purchased the Romitorio estate in Montalcino in the early 1980s. R.M.
8. Caparzo – La Casa
The first of three wines in our top 10 coming from Montosoli, the miracle hill where everyone is trying to buy a piece of land. It reminds us of Burgundy Pinot Noir – “foxy” notes that frame the dark, sweet fruit and mingle with hints of incense and balsam herbe. Sexy floreal undertones underpin the medium-bodied, pliant mouthfeel. It’s long, elegant, and remarkably easy to drink. Chapeau. R.M. and P.R.F.
Delicate, refined, this wine smells of menthol and officinal herbs, fresh flowers, five spice. The tannins are imposing, but the aromatics are graceful; hints of medicinal herbs echo on the clean, refined finish. A great Brunello from the Santa Restituta area, the same where Gaja’s Pieve Santa Restituta and Soldera’s Case Basse are also located. P.R.F.
6. Tiezzi – Vigna Soccorso
Long underestimated and today unanimously considered one of the greatest Brunellos of all time, Vigna Soccorso comes from the homonymous vineyard located right below the town of Montalcino. This hearty Brunello combines the the animal verve of traditional – and natural – Sangiovese with extravagant tones of Vermouth botanicals, cigar box, mulberries and cherries, walnuts. It’s full without being massive, juicy and taut as the high altitude of the vineyards – 540 meters above sea level – imposes. It is one of the sacred monsters of the appellation, but still has an affordable price. R.M. and P.R.F.
Another iconic wine from a estate that has been making wine ever since 1580. It offers clear cut aromas of syrupy red fruit, then rose, eucalyptus, liquorice. The intensity here is off the charts: velvety tannins caress the tongue; balsamic and ferrous returns go hand in hand with the perfectly integrated acidity. Classic. P.R.F.
4. Altesino – Montosoli
With Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini’s top-notch wine it was love at first sniff. Astonishing, hypnotic scents of sandalwood and star anise, chinotto and blueberry liqueur jump from the glass. Equally exciting is the silky, layered mouthfeel. Vigorous tannins support the seamless progress while hints of oriental spice lengthen the suave, perfumed finish. Amazing. R.M.
3. Poggio di Sotto
One of the musts of the denomination, it requires concentration and patience to fully enjoy all the sensory stimuli. Bold, heartwarming, it starts with hints of cherry, wild strawberry, redcurrant, and then unveils aromas of balsam herbs, dark spices, incense, clove. The tannins are soft and elegant. Sour twangs of blood orange complement the luscious fruit, and support the long, refined finish. A unique expression of Sangiovese from the southern side of Montalcino that ranks among the very best in almost all vintages. P.R.F.
Another knockout wine from Montosoli. It’s quite austere at first, but after a couple swirls, it develops charming aromas of leather and blueberry juice, soy sauce, bay leaf, a hint of pepper and betwitching hints of balsamic herbs. The taste immediately shows outstanding depth, with loads of dark fruit, a vibrant acidic bead, and extremely refined tannins. By far the best Brunello ever made by this tiny, family run winery, and a real bang for the buck! R.M. and P.R.F.
1. Le Chiuse
The owner, Simonetta Valiani, is the granddaughter of Tancredi Biondi Santi, and the vineyards from which this masterpiece comes gave life to some of the masterpieces of Italian wine, including Biondi Santi Riserva from the 70s and 80s. The nose is austere, cerebral: it starts off animal, ferrous aromas and gradually develops quintessential tones of raw meat, acidic black currants, dried flowers, oriental spices, undergrowth. The taste is downright spectacular: austere but not lean, at once powerful and suave, extremely long and penetrating. Perhaps no such thing exists as the perfect Brunello, but this one yearns for perfection. R.M. and P.R.F.
Article written by Raffaele Mosca (R.M.) and Pablo Roberto Frascona (P.R.F.)
If you liked this article, you might also like: