Saturday, August 29, 2015

2010 Brunello Vintage Report - Part 1

Benvenuto Brunello 2010

 I very much enjoyed this year's Benvenuto Brunello event, where approximately forty producers gathered to introduce the 2010 vintage. The setting was Gotham Hall, in Manhattan, as it has been for the last three years. It is a wonderful space, and a well run event, but the best part, of course, was the wine. This year was especially wonderful because the current vintage release is 2010.

After tasting approximately 40 examples of 2010 Brunello, it is safe to say this is an outstanding and classic vintage; a fact that is fairly well known thanks to the abundant press to that effect. Perhaps the most pronounced common thread among these examples is the freshness of fruit; not a "new wine" kind of fruit, but rather a freshly cut black and red fruit style. This freshness supports a finesse that I saw in many examples. By finesse, I mean an elegance despite the firm power and structure that comes with well made Brunello.
In a word, 2010 Brunello Di Montalcino is versatile. So many of them are drinking well now, but are still showing great composition, balance, and depth that indicates they will last and improve with age.
You won't find very many highly extracted "fruit bombs" in this year's class, except for those producers who have that style as a deliberate goal, but the fruit is completely ripe, and well supported by the acidity essential to the Brunello experience. The tannins are there as well, and in some cases they are pronounced, but that only speaks to the longevity of the vintage, which should be significant. Add to that the prevalence of great balance, and you have a vintage made for the classic Brunello lover.
Is this the vintage of the century or of a lifetime? I hope not, since this is the way Brunello should be every year, weather permitting. Should you run out and buy 2010 Brunello? Of course, but don't forget the other vintages which will be available at a lower price. Personally, I'm shopping for 2004 and 2006, in addition to the '10s. Enjoy!

Here are my notes on a few representatives and favorites from the event, and elsewhere.*

2010 Le Ragnaie "Fornace"  Brunello Di Montalcino $14% ABV $120

  There's a "wow" factor as the aromas push their way out of the glass making an immediate impression with dark, warm, red cherry blended with cardamom, turmeric, and cloves.The palate has a savory character, with sweet charred meats, anise, dark Earth, dried basil, and wonderful aromatic action. Quite complex, and hard to pin down, which is what I love about well made Sangiovese wines. Very well balanced and complete, with plenty of stuffing and a long finish. 96 Pts




   2010 Il Poggione  Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV $65

The nose is solid and finessed at the same time, showing dense, firm black cherry fruit and skins,  with some warm spice, rose petals, and lanolin. The palate has a dignified character with plenty of detail, but expressed in a reserved way, letting out a little at a time. There is delicious spiced red cherry with fresh acidity, and a firm streak. In addition there are layers of tobacco, aromatic dried herbs, and a faint dairy note. Clearly poised for a long life and improvement with integration, it can easily be enjoyed now too. Il Poggione consistently produces excellent, traditional Brunello at a price point that is very good for this level of quality and the 2010 is a prime example. 95 Pts


2010 Le Chiuse  Brunello Di Montalcino 13.5% ABV $57

The nose is full and firm with minerally black fruit richness at the core, faint vanilla bean, dates, sweet grilled meats, a little dark chocolate, and a layer of dried flowers.There's a pleasant, slightly chewy texture to the palate, with baked red cherry fruit that combines rusticity with subtle sweetness. The grilled meat carries through on the palate as well. Finishes with savory notes, and good balance. 89-90 Pts



  2010 Castello Banfi "Poggio lle Mura" Brunello Di Montalcino 14.4% ABV, $75

Straight forward with pronounced fruit, on the nose and palate, making up the primary component of its personality. The nose starts with some floral notes atop the solid black cherry, and woodsy brambles. There is a hint of caramel present there as well. The palate is full of tart black cherry and blackberry with some sandalwood and fine grained tannins. The mid-palate falls off a bit, but this is a relatively easy-drinking style that is ready to go now. 89 Pts




  2010 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino 14.4% ABV $85

The nose is firm, and a bit closed at the moment, but reveals more with coaxing. Pretty dried black cherry skins with a lovely floral layer, some charred Earth, and aromatic dried herbs all unfold with a little time. Later, some pie spice and tobacco evolve on the nose. The palate starts with fresh red cherry and blackberry flesh that are underscored by clean mineral Earth, turmeric, and more dried herbs. The structure is serious and finessed, with good acidity that blends into the fruit, and fine grained tannins underneath. Good length, and a elegant finish. Probably the most classic and best Brunello I've tasted from Il Palazzone. Outstanding. 95 Pts





2010 Bottega S.p.A. "Il Vino Dei Poetti" Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV Not Yet Imported

This wine offers the complete experience from start to finish. The nose shows dark black cherry that is tart, fresh and pure, followed by warm Earth, orange rind and dried herbs. The palate has a lovely light weight and soft texture, with more clean dark cherry, mouthwatering acidity, savory herbs, and a very fine grained grip. There are no week spots here, and the structure and balance bode well for a long life. 94Pts

2010 Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino 14% A.B.V. $50

Rich blackberry fruit and a little sweet vanilla bean are notable on the nose, with some mineral notes as well. The palate has fresh blackberry, flinty Earth, and a dusty finish. Well balanced with a nice freshness. 90 Pts

2010 Col Di Lamo Brunello Di Montalcino 14% A.B.V. $60

This was a very pleasant standout in the class of 2010 that showed great complexity and finesse. The elegant nose starts off with dried black cherry skins, with subtle black cherry flesh and cranberry at the core, underscored by mineral Earth, dried basil, and a faint dairy note.Quite fragrant. The palate has a nice medium weight with tangy black plum, other firm, dark, aromatic fruits, grilled beef, and more mineral Earth. The structure is solid, and well balanced, with fine grained tannins that coat the mouth on the finish. Complete and satisfying, with good length on the finish. 95 Pts

2010 Ferrero Brunello Di Montalcino  15% ABV, $65 

Needed a few minutes to blow off at first, but opened up into a complex and solid wine with a distinct personality. The nose has notes of decomposed forest floor, charred meat, tobacco, lean blackberry, and dried black cherries, The palate shows full, firm fruit, with blackberry that is dark and serious. There are notes of anise, and aromatic wood with mineral Earth and dried cherry skins. Masculine, with big structural components and good balance, the development of this wine over time should be enjoyable. 93 Pts

*Watch for updates to this post in the future as I add notes from other producers.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cortona Syrah - In The Right Place

Tienimenti Luigi d'Alessandro

Syrah is a wonderful grape that has found a home in many places around the globe, manifesting itself in a variety of styles as a result. One such place is Cortona, in Eastern Tuscany, where Syrah has been made into some particularly excellent wines. I spoke with Gaetano Soccoccio, Export Manager for Tienimenti Luigi d'Alessandro, and he enlightened me to a bit of history surrounding Syrah in the Cortona region. As it turns out, the d'Alessandro family pioneered the growing of Syrah in the region. Moving there from Rome in 1968, their goal was not to grow the grape that they wanted to grow, but rather to grow the grape that was best suited to the place.Over a five year period, they experimented with plantings of different varietals on various plots until they determined that Syrah was the best fit. Eventually other producers started growing Syrah as well, and in 1999 DOC status was granted to Cortona Syrah.
Gaetano Saccoccio, Export Manger and Great Syrah Ambassador

I have to agree that the pairing of Cortona terrior and Syrah is a good one. I've tasted quite a number of them, from various producers, and they are generally quite enchanting. Here are my notes on examples from the d'Alessandro family.

2011 Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Borgo Syrah, Cortona DOC 13% ABV, $19                                            

Fresh blackberry and strawberry fruit, with a dark, dense heart, overlaid with dried violets, aromatic herbs, and coffee notes. The palate has chewy blackberry and raspberry, with char-grilled meats, some tobacco, espresso, and a little sweet vanilla. The balance is excellent with plenty of acidity to carry the density, and tannins that add a delicate grip. The finish is solid, with lingering tobacco notes to complete the experience. Alluring and satisfying. 90Pts


2009 Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Il Bosco Cortona DOC 14% ABV, $48

Deep, dark, black fruit. Blackberry, black current, and some blueberry, with notes of melba toast, aromatic smoke,and grilled meat. The palate has wonderful texture, aromatic roasted black cherry and blackberry skins, charred Earth, and sandalwood. Great structure and balance. The finish is long and vigorous with nice aromatics, lively tannins, solid acidity, and flinty Earth. Plenty of stuffing and balance to support longevity. 92 pts.

2009 Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Migliara Syrah, Cortona DOC 14,5% ABV, $80

Dried violets lay atop black cherry dust, and blackberry compote with a vein of savory aromas. The palate is serious and firm with fresh, lean, black cherry, baked strawberry, bitter chocolate, charred meats, and scorched sandalwood. The balance is excellent, with plenty of textured grip, juicy acidity, and animal character. The finish is long, solid, and aromatic. 92 Pts

Friday, May 1, 2015

Aia Vecchia - Quality and Value from Coastal Toscana

 As I've said before, one of the great joys of wine loving is discovering wines you can enjoy without having to spend a large sum. Aia Vecchia is a great source for exactly that sort of wine.

Aia Vecchia is a Tuscan producer with estates in Bolgheri and Maremma.  I met up with Elia Pellegrini to taste their wines and discuss his family's business. The Pellegrini family has been in the wine industry for generations, but did not found Aia Vecchia until 1996, when they set out to make quality super Tuscan blends at a good price. In addition to their Bordeaux blend I.G.T. wines, they produce two wines made from classic Italian varietals, a Vermentino, and a Morellino di Scansano (Sangiovese).

Elia, who recently took over global marketing for Aia Vecchia after his professional soccer career was ended by injury, told me that one of their most important goals is to make wine with great QPR (quality to price ratio). Having tasted there wines, on multiple occasions, I believe that are meeting that goal.
Elia Pellegrini of Aia Vecchia
A big factor in getting these to the American consumer, at such reasonable prices, is the role of  Dalla Terra Direct, who's business model minimizes middle men and mark-ups. These wines make their way to the consumer without taking on too much price baggage, typically reducing mark-ups by 20%or more. Aia Vecchia is one of eighteen wineries currently imported by Dalla Terra.

Aia Vecchia's production is fairly modest, at 250k bottles per year, which allows this family run enterprise to focus on quality. Fifty percent of that production goes to the American market.
Here are my notes on a few examples.


2011 Sor Ugo Bolgheri D.O.C. Superior 15% ABV, $35

Starts off with a beautiful nose of perfumed black cherry flesh and black currant with a rich core and nice complexity. Dark chocolate, tobacco, dried blackberry, and violets all intermingle and provide plenty of nuance. The palate is firm and dark with black cherry skins, and dried herbs with subtle underlying savory notes. The structure is solid, but finessed with nice juicey acidity and a fine coating of tannins. Nicely balanced and satisfying. 30 days maceration and 18 months in French barrique. 91Pts
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

2012 Aia Vecchia Lagone IGT 14.5% ABV, $15

Named for a small stream the passes through the estate, the Lagone is a wonderful value that straddles the worlds of "modern" and "traditional" wine making. There is solid extraction and ripeness here, but it is balanced and well structured. The nose is rich, and serious in its first impression, with dark plum, blackberry, and pomegranate fruit, brambles, dried floral notes, mint leaves, and faint green pepper. The palate has a soft attack, and is medium-weight, with more dark plum, a little charred sandalwood and nice aromatic action on the back of the palate. The acidity is present in good measure and lends energy to the large profile, while the tannins are fine grained, but sufficiently pronounced to complete the impression of quality. I would not be surprised to see it age gracefully for 5 years, which is saying something for a bottle at this price point. 60% Merlot / 30% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Cab Franc
90 Pts

2010 Aia Vecchia Lagone IGT 14.5% ABV, $15

Big, pure, dark plum fruit wafts out of the glass on first pour, with dark berries, blueberries. Rich, ripe, and pretty with off-setting notes of aromatic underbrush, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco, and coffee. The palate has solid energy, with more dark plum and blackberry, juicy tannins, great dark acidity, dried herbs and underbrush, a dusty grip and plenty of backbone to offset the ripe fruit. Plenty of enjoyment for the low price. 90 Pts

2014 Aia Vecchia Vermentino Toscana 13% ABV, $12

 Fresh citrus and stone fruit comprise the nose, with some white peach, and lemon rind, underscored by subtle salinity. The palate is mouth-watering and clean, with a bit of weight, pleasant fruitiness, and nice balanced. The same fruit elements found on the nose, come through in the palate, with fresh acidity, subtle structure, and fine minerality underneath. A lovely white for everyday enjoyment, but still showing solid quality. 88 Pts

Friday, April 24, 2015

Il Vino Dei Poeti 2010 Brunello

This 2010 Brunello was a pleasant highlight of my Benvenuto Brunello experience this year.
S.p.A. Bottega has a large portfolio of wines and spirits, with a significant presence in the grappa market, but this Brunello struck me as more artisinal in character. It is not currently imported to the US, but that situation is likely to change soon, given the quality found in this bottle.

2010 Bottega S.p.A. "Il Vino Dei Poeti" Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV 

Not Yet Imported to the US

This wine offers a complete experience from start to finish. The nose shows dark black cherry that is dense, tart, fresh, and pure, followed by warm Earth, orange rind and dried herbs. The palate has a lovely elegant weight and soft texture, with more clean dark cherry, mouthwatering acidity, savory herbs, and a very fine grained grip. There are no weak spots here, and the structure and balance bode well for a long life. 94Pts

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Producer Focus: Tenuta Brunelli

Luca Brunelli

 Luca Brunelli is steeped in Montalcino wine making experience, and that experience is evident in the wine he and his family produces. I recently enjoyed a conversation, and several of his wines, with him and got to learn the background of this fine Brunello label.


Luca chose to pursue farming at a relatively early age, after being inspired by AGIA, Italy's Association of Young Agricultural Entrepreneurs.
Eventually he became president of AGIA, and took the lead in supporting young agronomists across Italy. Recently, he literally outgrew that position, as he turned 40 years of age (he doesn't look it!), and is now president of CIA, a similar organization for technical and political support of small-scale agricultural concerns. 

As I spoke with him about this, and about his wine making, I recalled why I so enjoy interacting with wine makers; they have a love of the work first and foremost, and their desire for financial success is a necessary second concern. Truly, in view of the disasters that nature can sometimes dish out, you would have to love the work of wine making in order to persevere and succeed. In this world where integrity, and quality of character is becoming so scarce, it's refreshing to find heartfelt people, like Luca, who put quality first.

Family - Roots

Luca seems to have a connection to most of the producers in Montalcino, one way or another, which is natural considering his lifetime of involvement with the wine making industry in Montalcino. His first pursuits were in the development of new vineyards at various estates around Montalcino. In this work, he interacted with numerous Brunello producers. Listening to him describe it, I got a clear impression of the family like unity among many in the Montalcino agricultural community.
Gianni Brunelli is his uncle and is the namesake of the Gianni Brunelli winery, which produces excellent organic Brunello's. His parents, Mauro and Anna, are the owners of the Brunelli estate, which they founded, and then expanded in 1998. Today, Luca has taken a lead role in the winery, and is an ambassador of the label around the world.

The Farm
Located just south-west of the village of Montalcino, Tenuta Brunelli cultivates 5 hectares certified to Brunello production, and another 10 for Rosso, IGT, and oil production. The average elevation of the vineyards is 250 meters, with a general south-west facing disposition. These factors, combined with the efforts of the Brunelli wine making team, result in consistently excellent Brunello that is elegant and full of character.


Paolo Vaganini is the consulting oenologist for Brunelli, as he is for many of Montalcino's best producers, and he is highly regarded, even being called "Mr. Sangiovese" by some.Certainly, his influence is a big part of why Brunelli's wines are so solid.
Low yields that are well below the maximum permitted by the DOCG laws, help promote concentration of energy and character in these wines, albeit at the sacrifice of quantity. Luca said this sacrifice must occur in order to produce wines of high quality.
Brunelli has multiple vineyards, with varied dispositions, which help offset the impact of vintage variation. In hot vintages, the western facing slopes off-set the heat, in cooler vintages, the eastern facing slopes collect added heat to support ripening. In perfect vintages, there is an abundance of quality from all the vineyards.
Regarding vineyards, Luca explained, "When I have a little money, I try to purchase more land for vineyards, but it has become very difficult to find good vineyard land that is available"
I asked him if his wines were organic and he told me, "They are organic in practice, but not certified" and added, "I drink my wine", to emphasize his preference for grape growing that is free from unwanted chemicals.
He will not produce a Riserva Brunello unless the vintage is outstanding. One reason for this is to protect the quality of his normale bottling. Unless there is an abundance of perfect grapes to support both, he will only make the normale. In 2010, the Riserva production totaled only 1,400 bottles, in 2007 it was 2,100, both minuscule quantities. The normale is typically around 10,000-15,000 bottles.
In the cellar, a combination of large 80% Slovonian botti, and 20% French barrique, are used for the barrel aging, drawing from the qualities of each approach.

The net result of these elements is consistently solid Sangiovese character that is easy to appreciate. Elegance is a characteristic that comes through repeatedly, along with a style that balances old and new world style elements. Below are my notes on three examples.
Luca Brunelli's Lovely Bottles, Luca in the  Background

2009 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $60 

The nose is dark and firm, with black cherry skins, mineral Earth, and serious floral notes on top and a suggestion of spearmint. The palate is finessed, with great strength underneath, showing elegant red cherry, and raspberry, with Asian spice, and fine texture. Notes of charred Earth accent the structure, which is complete and balanced, albeit a bit disjointed at this young age. The finish has good length and a fine grained grip. There is a depth to this wine that draws you in to focus your attention. No riserva was made in 2009, so all of the Brunello grape production went into this wine, and it shows. Luca told me that the challenge in 2009 was deciding when to harvest. According to Luca Brunelli,the heat in the summer was substantial, and carried through into September. Harvesting too early in September had to be avoided; he harvested late in the month. 91 Pts

2008 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino 13% ABV $60

Clean and straightforward with red currant, raspberry, anise, dried herbs, and a sprinkle of fragrant incense. There's a pleasant lightness on the palate, elegant in style, with pomegranite, and lean red cherry, shale, and some brambles. It does fall off just a bit on the mid palate, but comes back nicely in the moderately long finish. Well balanced and finessed. 89 Pts

2007 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 14% ABV $100

Lovely perfume, dried flowers, clean, red cherry flesh, and a bit of spiced strawberry make up the initial impression on the nose. Also present are notes of underbrush, and forest floor, lending a rustic undertone. The palate is elegant and light weight with lean red cherry, pomegranite, black tea, and dried herbs. Theres solid structure, despite the elegant style, with brisk acidity and firm tannins that are well balanced with the fruit profile. The finish is long, and aromatic. 91Pts

2011 Tenuta Brunelli Rosso di Montalcino 13% ABV $20

The finessed nose shows dried red cherry skins, sweet spice, flinty Earth, grilled meat, and some clay. The palate has a soft texture with subtle cardamom and nutmeg spice added to the firm red cherry, mineral Earth and mouthwatering acidity. Elegant and easy drinking with a judicious touch of grip and nice length on the finish. 89 Pts

Friday, March 20, 2015

Something New From Zenato - Alanera

Zenato has been making wines in the Veneto since 1960; you may be familiar with their lovely Amarone and Valpolicella. Today they produce two million bottles a year from 70 hectares of vineyard land. Very recently they have added a new wine to there portfolio that fills I nice niche in their red wine line-up, Alanera.
As you may know, Amarone is produced by the appassimento method, where all of the grapes for the wine are partially dried prior to being pressed. This results in great concentration, wonderful complexity, and special spectrum of characteristics.It also results in a premium price point, since the net result is much less juice then you would get if you did not dry the grapes first; it's a trade off.

With the Alanera, they have applied the appassimento process to just half of the grapes, drying them for 45-60 days. A further twist, that makes it special, is the addition of a small amount of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the traditional Valpolicella grapes in the blend. Finally it is aged for 12 months in French oak, and then 3 months in bottle. The end result is an individual wine that brings a little from the world of Amarone, without bringing the price tag with it. Here is my tasting note from a sample I recently received from their US distributor, Winebow.



2012 Zenato "Alenara" Rosso Veronese IGT 13.5% ABV, $17

Rich, spiced, dark plum is prominent on the nose with a solid layer of shale and mineral Earth underneath. Also present are black pepper, olive, aromatic dried herbs,espresso notes, and black cherry liquor. The palate shows ripe blackberry with lean edges, dark chocolate, and nice acidity balancing things out.There is a definite "yummy" factor in the overall impression, but it has the structure to keep it from getting boring. The finish is long and dusty with a subtle grip and lingering notes of espresso and tobacco. 55% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Corvinone, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 90 Pts

Saturday, March 14, 2015

2009 Castello di Bossi "Berardo"

2009 Bacci Castello di Bossi "Berardo" Chianti Classico Riserva 14% ABV, $29

The nose is just plain beautiful on the Berardo. There's a delicate blend of sweet, dried strawberries, layered over black cherry skins, with dried flowers, sandalwood, a little sweet vanilla bean, and some forest floor leaves underneath.The black cherry forms a nice ripe core around which the other components gather. The palate is firm, but easy due to great balance, with dried black cherry, aromatic blackberry, a hint of sweetness, more sandalwood, and a little black pepper. There are elements of austerity and ripeness here that interplay to create alluring complexity. A joy to consume now, and certainly built to develop in the cellar.. 93 Pts

Castello di Bossi is located in Castenuovo Berardenga, in the southern part of the Chianti Classico zone, due east of Siena.
The Berardo is 100% Sangiovese, grown at 350m (1100 ft), with 20 days of maceratio, 24 months in barrique, and 12 additional months in bottle.