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Rassegna Stampa

31 • 07 • 2019
Robert Parker

By Monica Larner

This is my third and last installment of Brunello coverage for the year. On January 31st, I published my earliest-ever report on Brunello di Montalcino; I mention this because the wines are released on January 1st every year, and my deadline to make that issue was under one week later. That’s an impossibly tight turnaround for those first 100 wines tasted and reviewed. You can read those notes and my vintage comments here. One month later, on February 28th which is my usual publish date for this report, I posted the remaining 173 notes based on samples that had been collected by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. That second grouping of wines can be accessed here.

This smaller grouping of 45 reviews includes the wines that I did not previously have access to as well those estates who opt to release their new vintages a bit later than their peers. There are a few exciting older vintages thrown in here for good measure. Because I’ve already published my impressions of the vintage, I’m going to use this space for a little photo essay with shots from my tasting trip in Montalcino this past spring, just as the first signs of bud break started to appear in the vineyards.

Tasting Tour of Montalcino, Day 3

My last visit on this trip to Montalcino was with cycling, wine and Jack Russell-enthusiast Paolo Bianchini of Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. His delightful children Alex and Ester joined us. Both work at the estate, in logistics and public relations, respectively. Paolo is co-owner of the estate with his sister Lucia.

We tasted through the new releases, but because many of those wines were already published in January, I only included a review of the 2017 Rosso di Montalcino here. We toured the historic cellars, and I jumped into an off-roading vehicle with Paolo (and Tappo, of course) to tour the vineyards and the surrounding countryside on a lovely, crisp early-spring afternoon. Tappo spotted a few roe deer looking for growth to munch on in the vineyard and Paolo was very grateful that his barking was enough to frighten them off.

Paolo Bianchini, co-owner of Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, is also a champion cyclist. His property (located beyond the town of Castelnuovo dell’Abate) covers a stunning 220 hectares, of which 55.5 hectares are planted to vines. The vineyards open onto a beautiful panorama of Monte Amiata and the Orcia River Valley.

The Bianchini family story is right out of a fairy tale. Paolo’s father Giuseppe worked as the head farmer for the Countess Elda Ciacci. The countess had become owner of the estate following her marriage to Count Alberto Piccolomini d’Aragona. Without a succession plan in place, the countess left the entire property to her most-trusted employee, Giuseppe. He had proven his worth and earned her trust. She bequeathed the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Palace and the surrounding lands to him. The Bianchini family produced its first commercial bottles of wine in 1990, but the name of the estate remained unchanged as a symbol of gratitude to the countess, their benefactor.

31 • 01 • 2019
Robert Parker

By Monica Larner

Straight and simple, here’s the lowdown on 2014 Brunello di Montalcino. This is an ephemeral vintage that delivers dimmed-down, sometimes stripped-down expressions of Sangiovese. Like your laptop on low battery, this vintage operates at reduced intensity.

In winespeak, a weak vintage such as 2014 can be recast as “elegant” or “finessed.” I’m not going to disagree, because in fact this vintage is indeed both of those things. The aromas are dainty, fragile and graceful. However, they are also faint and scarce when compared to classic, more forthright vintages, such as 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2013. The mouthfeel and the fruit flavors in 2014 are shorter, thinner and more abrupt compared to those other vintages.

This is a near-term vintage to enjoy in association with easy-drinking or informal occasions. Generally speaking, I do not recommend it for prolonged cellar aging. Most of these wines are immediately accessible upon release.

It’s also a vintage that plays its cards close to its chest. My appellation-wide sample grouping was much smaller this year because many producers opted to skip over the 2014 vintage all together. Others made a Brunello annata using fruit that would otherwise be earmarked for selezione, single-vineyard or riserva wines. I would guess that almost everyone who made 2014 Brunello di Montalcino made less of it. We will see very little, if any, 2014 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva released next year. These are reflections of the lessened confidence producers placed in the vintage.

Andrea Machetti, general manager of Mastrojanni, says he was forced to discard one-third of his harvested fruit: “When a vintage is this difficult, we must rely on our experience and ability to make a wine that meets the high standards of the appellation even if it means making great sacrifices in the vineyard.” Marco Bacci of Renieri made only 6,600 bottles of Brunello in 2014, and he declassified the rest to Rosso di Montalcino. The folks at Argiano made 50,000 fewer bottles of 2014 Brunello di Montalcino compared to an average vintage. Too much unripe or rotted fruit had to be thrown out at the sorting table. Soggy conditions, frequent rains and below-average temperatures delayed the entire growing season.

The farmers of Montalcino are some of the best in Italy. They are abundantly armed with the learned expertise to navigate the challenges of a vintage such as 2014. As Andrea Machetti describes, the key to good winemaking in 2014 was stringent fruit selection. Dropping fruit, or green harvesting, was also fundamental in order to achieve better ripeness in the remaining fruit. Farmers summoned the sheer courage needed to severely reduce yields and bottle production. A refrain often heard in Montalcino is that 2014 was bad on many levels, but it was especially bad on the bottom line.

My biggest criticism of 2014 Brunello di Montalcino has less to do with the quality of the wines than the high price points associated with them. This was an expensive vintage to make, and Brunello is an expensive (I would argue overpriced) wine to begin with. In good faith, I cannot recommend your average $80 bottle of Brunello over a $25 bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. In fact, the current 2016 and 2017 vintages of Rosso di Montalcino are nothing to sneeze at. The 2016 vintage is excellent with bright intensity, streamlined elegance and generous texture. I scored a few 2016 Rosso di Montalcinos a point or two higher than their corresponding 2014 Brunello di Montalcinos. This is one of the most delightful Rosso di Montalcino vintages I have ever tasted. The 2016 vintage is shaping up to be epic.

Alternatively, I would recommend a $120 bottle of 2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva also hitting the market now. The 2013 vintage is firm, tight and ready for the long haul. If you are looking to buy bottles to lay down in your cellar, you’ll discover quite a few gems in this excellent group of 2013 riservas.

As readers may recall, expectations were poor in advance of the 2014 Barolo releases last year in Piedmont. That vintage surprised us all because results in the bottle were actually pretty terrific despite the doomsday predictions. Nebbiolo, it would seem, is more elastic in the difficult vintages. Sangiovese is a different animal. When pushed beyond its comfort zone, the finicky grape falls flat. The most positive attributes of 2014 Brunello di Montalcino fall squarely on the intelligence and ingenuity of the farmers who nudged their fruit to ripeness despite the odds they faced. The scores you see in this report have been carefully judged to address those extraordinary efforts.

Unless you are buying the brands you love and trust, I would direct readers away from overpriced 2014 Brunello di Montalcino. I would instead enthusiastically recommend 2016 Rosso di Montalcino for near-term consumption and 2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva if you want to stock your cellar.

About this Tasting:

This year, I conducted my tasting of these new releases in a different manner. To be more specific, I conducted the tasting in a different place. In advance of our early January deadline to publish notes in our End of January issue, I arranged to send the wines to myself at my address in California (where I celebrated the holidays). By doing so, I am among the first to publish reviews as the wines hit domestic and foreign markets. Plus, I was able to respect the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino’s wishes that all official reviews be published after the official January 1st release date set by the appellation.

For the first time in Wine Advocate history, I am able to bring you a sneak peek of 2014 Brunello di Montalcino in the End of January issue that is published before the official Benvenuto Brunello press preview tasting in Montalcino in mid-February. In fact, this first group of reviews should be published exactly when producers present their new vintage in New York at the end of January. Because of the publishing delays associated with our print issue, these reviews in years past have always been published in late February, after the Benvenuto Brunello. Maybe it’s just me, but I am very excited by this improved timeliness to our Brunello publishing schedule. I hope you are too.

I am presenting 100 reviews in the End of January issue (also to be published in the print edition of Issue 241). There will be an additional 130 notes online in our End of February issue.

Because I collected my samples earlier than normal, not all producers felt their wines were ready for review. Some producers skipped over the 2014 vintage altogether and had no wines to submit. Others simply decided not to submit the wines they did make. Among the brands I regularly review, these names are missing from this initial report: Biondi-Santi, Castello Romitorio, Castiglion del Bosco, Cerbaiona (a sample I usually purchase at retail upon release), Giodo, Pian dell’Orino, Pieve Santa Restituta, Salvioni and Stella di Campalto. I’ll be sure to include these in a second group of reviews to go online in early spring along with any other missing names.

I would love to hear back from readers with any special requests or comments regarding this tasting. We have a new comments section on our website, which you can find just below the end of this article (and all other Wine Advocate articles), and I look forward to continuing our conversation there.