After several acclaimed – but controversial – harvest, the vintage of the decade has finally arrived for Brunello. The 2016 vintage leaves everyone speechless, regardless of personal taste. Finding a 2016 Brunello di Montalcino that is less than compelling is extremely difficult – even if you choose randomly, the possibility of picking an excellent wine is higher than ever.
But let’s analyze the vintage. Everyone wonders which conditions are necessary for a vintage to be great, and the answer, to be honest, is that there is no fixed set of parameters. Even so, Silvano Padelletti, the owner of an historical winery lying in the heart of the medieval town, made a statement that helps us better understand this subject. “The peculiarity of 2016 was the pattern the last part of the season – explained Silvano – starting from the beginning of September, rainfalls began cooling down temperatures and providing water. In the following weeks, the climate was windy, hot, and dry during the day and cool at night. 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 usually lies in the final rush. Predictions made at the end of summer are, especially in the case of red wines, absolutely speculative. Adverse weather in the days immediately preceding the beginning of harvesting can overturn the outcome of an entire season.
Heat is an element that must be taken into account these days. 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 exceed 40 degrees around 2 p.m. but then drop at night, the resulting wines are big and 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 catching a cold if you don’t dress properly. However, there have been seasons in recent times in which the breezes have suddenly ceased and the humidity has crippled the vines. In 2016 this situation, which is the most tangible sign of climate change, did not occur. As a result, the wines boast perfect balance between structure and acidity. Keerin o Keefe, the author of one of the reference books on 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 alcohol is seldom disjointed from all the other components.
One of the crucial questions is: can wines that are so enjoyable upon release also age remarkably well? The answer is yes and no. Not all the Brunellos we tasted will last forty years – some of them are more suitable for medium or short-term consumption. Overall, it is likely that these new “great vintages” will be less cellar-worthy than the ones of the past. However, in selecting the best tastings, we also took the ageing potential into account. Put simply, all the wines that made it onto the list will age well for at least a decade.
The top 20:
20. La Magia
This wine comes from a farm lying a stone’s throw from the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. 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 hints 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 display fresh, youthful scents of redcurrants, with minerals, sweet spices, and liquorice. The powerful tannic bite backbones creamy but not heavy flavors of super-ripe red and black fruit, leading to a long and three-dimensional finish. Extremely enjoyable right now. R.M. and P.R.F.
Superstar winemaker Carlo Ferrini produces a “post-modern” Brunello that sparks contrasting opinions. Some critics adore it, while other consider it too oak-influenced. For sure this is a mesmerizingly intense Brunello: hints of sweet spice slightly mingle with intriguing nuances of black fruit and balsam herbs. It’s definitely silkier and smoother than most young Brunelli you’ll come across, but also remarkably fresh and light on its feet. 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, and a touch of nutmeg. It demands time: right now it’s 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, animal and earthy, fabulously balsamic on the palate. Another brick in the wall… but one that hides 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, this an immediately-pleasing Brunello- creamy, juicy, and downright delicious. It smells of Mediterranean herbs, trawberry jam and burnt wood, and combines rich, mouthwatering layers of super-ripe red fruit with clenching tannins and a citrus-tinged finish.. This is one of the 2016 Brunellos I would drink right now with succulent T-bone steak. 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 tannins and a sharp acidic bead balance the ripe fruit flavors to the core of the full-bodied palate. This wine comes from vineyards that are very close to those of Biondi Santi’s Tenuta Il Greppo. R.M. and P.R.F.
12. Le Ragnaie
Creme de cassis and macerated black cherries mingle with balsam herbs and dusty florals. Muscular tannins and well-integrated freshness lighten the solid structure. Le Ragnaie always makes some of the most classically refined wines in Montalcino. P.R.F.
Another classic wine from a winery that has been making Brunello ever since 1978. It boasts complex aromas of darkcurrants and cherries, Kentucky tobacco, rust and laurel. On the palate, the wine is magnificently austere. The tannins are racy but not powdery, and the mineral verve gives momentum 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 bursts with ethralling scents of pipe tobacco, cola, sandalwood, cranberry, and burnt vegetation. The taste is at once powerful and silky – rich, mouthwatering flavors of ripe cherry and red currant mingle with hints of leather and smoke.With its mediterranean allure, 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, Filo di Seta is muscular and statuesque like the figures Chiaia portrays in his canvases. It shows a complex bouquet of medicinal herbs, kirsch, and potpourri that anticipates a robust palate loaded with succulent aromas of black fruit, leather, and tar. Chia pioneered Brunello by purchasing the Romitorio estate 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 that gives some of the appellation’s best wines. It reminds us of top-notch Burgundy Pinot Noir – gamey notes frame the sweet fruit and mingle with hints of incense and balsam herbs. Sexy floreal undertones underpin the medium-bodied and pliant mouthfeel. It’s long, elegant, and remarkably easy light on its feet. Chapeau. R.M. and P.R.F.
Delicate and 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 and refined finish. A great Brunello from the Santa Restituta area, 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, Vigna Soccorso comes from the homonymous vineyard lying 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. Quite suprisingly, it still commands affordable prices. R.M. and P.R.F.
Another iconic wine from a estate that has been making great wine ever since 1580. It offers clear cut aromas of syrupy red fruit, rose, eucalyptus, and liquorice. The intensity here is off the charts: velvety tannins caress the tongue; balsamic and ferrous undertones 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 progression while hints of oriental spice lengthen the suave, perfumed finish. Amazing. R.M.
3. Poggio di Sotto
One of the denomination’s most famous wines, Poggio di Sotto 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 starts developing charming aromas of leather and blueberry juice, soy sauce, bay leaf, and a hint of pepper. It 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 with animal and ferrous aromas and gradually takes on shades of raw meat, acidic black currants, dried flowers, oriental spices, and undergrowth. The mouthfeel is downright spectacular: austere but not lean, at once powerful and suave. Perhaps no such thing exists as the perfect Brunello, but this one is yearning for perfection. R.M. and P.R.F.
Article written by Raffaele Mosca (R.M.) and Pablo Roberto Frascona (P.R.F.)
Visit Sommelier Life International
If you liked this article, you might also like:
Rivetto: the only certified biodynamic Barolo producer
The heartwarming 2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo by Emidio Pepe
Metodo Classico: four sommeliers from Rome recommend four Italian sparkling wines
Wine talks with Richard Baudains, author at Decanter
Giulia Negri: Barolo’s next big thing
Elvio Cogno: racy Barolos and the glorious A-Nas-cetta
Domaine Francois Lamarche – Burgundy from a feminine perspective