I’ve covered Benvenuto Brunello annually for the last seven years and I generally know what to expect heading into this event. It’s usually crowded, though thankfully my press credentials allow me entrance before the general public arrives. It’s usually a mix of wines spanning vintages and although the “message” is typically similar, the wines are usually not. This year, I didn’t know what to expect.
2014 was without question, the most difficult vintage across Tuscany since at least 2002. It was cool, it rained almost consistently for 2 months and producers had to deal with a myriad of issues in order to produce wine. Many producers chose not to bottle 2014 Brunello at all. That list includes: Il Palazzone, Biondi Santi, Soldera, Costanti, Poggio Antico, Salvioni, Voliero and Mate.
Whether producers chose to bottle or not, one thing was consistent. Production was greatly, greatly reduced. Winemakers repeatedly told me that at a minimum production was down 30%. On average, reductions were closer to 45-50%. That is a substantial commitment to quality but in 2014 it was necessary.
As I mentioned on my various social media outlets, I tasted over 60 wines at this event. Although there was ample food present, in many cases the wine pours are very small so forming a detailed impression is often difficult. However, I made quick, short hand notes for each wine tasted.
What follows below are general impressions of wines that I found of particular note; either for their positive or negative characteristics. The main takeaway for 2014: The wines are absolutely ready for drinking. I cannot see cellaring any of the 2014 Brunello I tasted. They lack the structure and complexity that requires or benefits from cellaring. Only score ranges are provided below. With that, I give you Benvenuto Brunello!
Yield Reduction: 40-50%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby color with classic rim. Medium body with pretty red berry character and soft spice notes. A solid enough effort that is pleasing and ready to drink. 87-89 points.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli: Frankly, I was surprised to see this produced. Medium ruby in color with fresh aromas of red fruit, tobacco and soft wood tones. Juicy, dusty red cherry on the palate. Surprisingly delicious. However, will it be worth the price? 89-90 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva: As with many 2013 estate wines, this is big and needs cellaring. Medium ruby with large scaled red fruits, tobacco, mushroom and coffee character on the nose and palate. Fresh, lively and very tannic. 91-93 points.
2016 Rosso di Montalcino: Medium ruby with cherry, tobacco and spices on the nose that carry over to the palate. Juicy, vibrant with solid medium body and length. Another awesome Rosso. 90-92 points.
Yield Reduction: 20-30%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby with cherry, sandalwood and tobacco on the nose. Medium bodied but the fruit is a bit dried. Cherry and tobacco dominate. Ready to drink. 87-89 points
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Nastagio: Francesco mentioned that this is not a single vineyard wine, but is actually borne of three different vineyards each with varying exposures. The light ruby color belies the body of the wine. Cherry, celery, fresh herbs and tobacco mark the nose. Cherry, pipe tobacco and spices dominate the medium to full bodied palate. Could use a year or two to soften. A lovely Brunello. 91-93 points.
2012 Brunello di Montalcino Poggio al Vento Riserva: This is a single vineyard riserva and always one of the best to my palate. Medium ruby with a tight nose of crushed cherry, flowers and chestnut. Crushed berry flavors marry with espresso and fennel. Long life ahead here. Very tight but with lots of potential. 92-94 points.
1999 Brunello di Montalcino: This was a controversial wine. There were people tasting next to me that absolutely hated it. Me? I loved it! It’s 20 years old. It’s not going to be a fruit bomb people…. Brick color with a large sunburst orange ring. Cherry liquer, tobacco and balsamic reduction on the nose leads to a nutty, caramelly cherry backed palate that is unique. It’s fully mature and maybe a bit past prime but it was interesting to taste. Drink up! 90-92 points.
Yield Reduction: 30-40%
The charming Elisa Fanti was on hand to present her wines along with her assistant Irene. As an overall portfolio, the Tenuta Fanti wines may have been among the best tasted at the event. There are some really good reasons to follow this winery closely.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby in color with aromas of crushed cherry, tobacco and fennel. Elegant flavors on the palate mimic the nose with nice body. Really good effort here. Ready to drink. 88-90 points
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Vallocchio: Elisa explained that this is not a single vineyard wine but a wine sourced from 5 different vineyard parcels that average 30-35 years in age. This wine is stellar. Medium ruby color with crushed cherry, spices, cured meat and pipe tobacco on the nose. The complex flavors are bright and include cherry, spices, tobacco and hazelnut. Wonderful balance and length. Gorgeous. 91-93 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva: Sourced from the entire estate; the best selection of fruit. Elisa mentioned that this sees a combination of botte and tonneaux aging. Massive wine. Deep ruby color. Crushed wild cherry, fresh flowers, porcini, and dried herbs mark the nose. Flavors follow the aromas and add a smokey component. Large scaled all around with tannins to boot. Cellar this. 93-95 points.
2016 Rosso di Montalcino: Bright medium violet. Lovely fresh flowers, cherries, spices and tobacco aromas follow through to a juicy, medium bodied core of cherry fruit. A bit monolithic but so what? This is a gorgeous rosso. 91-93 points.
Elisa was also pouring her Vin Santo. I don’t like to try dessert wines during a tasting because it really wreaks havoc on your palate so I told her I would come back at the end of the day and she promised to flag me down if she began running low. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
2011 Vin Santo: Caramel in color with sunburst reflections. Complexity is the name of the game here. Toffee, caramel, maple syrup, honey, roasted nuts and orange blossom mark the aromas on this fantastic wine. On the palate, the wine is full bodied and viscous. It’s thick without being overdone and noticeably sweet without being cloying. There is ample acidity to carry the vast flavors though as I remarked at the time, I’d prefer a hint more. Toffee, butterscotch, maple syrup, orange zest, brown sugar and roasted nut flavors are deep and amazing. Frankly, I wrote “Holy $hit” at the end of my tasting note. Other than Avignonesi, this may be the best Vin Santo I’ve ever tasted. Remarkable. 95-98 points. Blend of Malvasia Toscana and Trebbiano Toscana. 375ml.
Yield Reduction: 30%
One of the appellations largest producers, Castello Banfi produces a vast array of wines at many price points. Despite the drop in yield, there is plenty of the estate Brunello to go around. The trick? Finding the exceptional Poggio alle Mura Riserva.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby with crushed cherry, flowers, tobacco and vanilla on the nose is more complex than you might expect. Medium bodied, with flavors of crushed berry, pipe tobacco and spices. Fresh but almost devoid of tannin. Nice effort. Drink now. 88-90 points.
2017 Rosso di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura: Bright violet with cherry, flowers and spices on the nose. Smoke, tobacco and crushed cherry on the palate. Medium bodied and takes on the character of the warm vintage. Tight. Needs a year to unwind. 87-89 points.
2017 Rosso di Montalcino: Medium violet with vanilla, cherry and spices on the nose. Medium bodied with cherry, tobacco and soft vanilla on the palate. Ready to drink. 87-89 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura Riserva: Deep violet color. Loads of cherry, black plum, spices, tobacco and lavender on the nose. Gorgeous. On the palate, there is loads of crushed cherry, fennel, spices and tobacco with dusty pepper on the finish. Seriously good. Needs 5 years to soften at least. 92-95 points.
Yield Reduction: 25-30%
Under the direction of Antonio Zaccheo, Carpineto has been making some gorgeous wines. Whether it’s their Brunello which is a nice value or their single vineyard Vino Nobile wines, you should get familiar with this producer.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby with lots of cherry, spice, tobacco and sweet fennel aromas that carry through to a juicy, ample, fresh, medium bodied palate. This was one of the first eye openers of the day. A wonderful effort. 89-91 points.
2016 Rosso di Montalcino: Medium ruby with flavors of cherries and spice. Similar aromas are joined by floral components but the take away here is the tannic nature of the wine. I’m not sure if this is built to give more or just a bit out of balance. There are better 2016 Rossos. 86-88 points.
Yield Reduction: 50%
Winemaker Alessandro Bindocci was on hand to present his wines. Always friendly, his outstretched hand is welcoming. Alessandro didn’t mix words when describing the 2014 vintage. He said it was routine for growers and vineyard workers to make five, six or even more trips through the vine rows in an effort to stave off fungus and harvest blocks of vineyards the moment they ripened.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby in color with a sunburst rim. The simple aromas rely on bing cherry, vanilla and toasted spices. On the palate, this is disappointingly a bit charry/bitter. Not sure where this is headed. Drink now with a steak. 86-88 points.
2012 Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Paganelli Riserva: Just wow! This is classic, Riserva Brunello at its best. Medium ruby with vibrant aromas of flowers, fresh mushroom, crushed red cherry, tobacco and spices. Full bodied in the mouth and still very tannic. The flavors echo the nose but it closes down on the finish. Needs 5-10 years to be glorious but I’ve no doubt it will get there. 94-97 points.
Yield Reduction: 50%
Owner Natalie Oliveros, a native New Yorker, was obviously present to pour her wines. Some news on La Fiorita. They now have a reliable US Importer in Regal Wine Imports and Natalie has bought out the ownership interest of her partner and winemaker Roberto Cipresso.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: There’s a slight style change afoot at this winery and while Natalie wasn’t too forthcoming about it, I think it’s obvious. This is a medium ruby color with bright reflections. Crushed berry, hints of dried herbs and toasted spices are noticeable. The palate offers simple, but ample crushed fruit flavors that linger nicely. Halving production had its impact here. 87-89 points.
One thing I love about Benvenuto is that no matter how much reading or tasting I do, there always seems to be a new producer pouring their wines. They could be new to me, newly imported or newly bottling their own wines, but whatever the case, there is always a discovery. This year, Ridolfi.
Yield Reduction: 30%
The Ridolfi family has roots back to the late 1200s and today farm 54 hectares of which 21 are cultivated to vineyards. Some of that acreage is devoted to Rosso and some to Chianti Colli Senesi. The parcels lie at 300 meters above see level.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: This is a light ruby color but that belies the body of the wine. Fresh cherry, flowers, tobacco and spice mark the nose and evolve to crushed cherry, chestnut and spices on the palate. This is a solid effort and will provide nice short term drinking. The estate Brunello is aged exclusively in Slavonian Botte. 88-90 points.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino Donna Rebecca: Stylistically different, this is aged completely in barrique. Medium ruby, it’s amazing this is a 2014. Aromas of wild cherry, flowers, vanilla and tobacco on the nose greet you. The palate is medium to full bodied with flavors that echo the aromas. Only 2,000 bottles made but this is an exceptional effort. 90-92 points.
2012 Brunello di Montalcino Mercatale: The name here is a nod to the open air market that was once the center of the property. Alessandro told me that one of the farm houses on the estate still has the original cement floor from the market. This single vineyard Brunello is really pretty. Medium ruby with aromas of cherries, spices, leather and sandalwood that evolve to smoke and grilled meat on the palate. This has stuffing and will surely age well for 5-10 years. 90-93 points.
2016 Rosso di Montalcino: Another wonderful 2016 Rosso. This one sports a medium violet color with flavors and aromas of cherries, flowers, spices and smoke. Long, dusty mouthfeel is sapid and juicy. What’s not to like? 89-91 points.
Le Chiuse has historic origins as the property was once part of the Biondi Santi estate. What is now Le Chiuse was carved out of what is now Tenuta il Greppo and brought to a marriage as a dowry. Today, Nicolo runs the estate with his wife and is in charge of the winemaking. Classic production methods are used at Le Chiuse such as longer maceration times and exclusive employment of Grande Botte. Nicolo and his wife presented the wines.
Yield Reduction: 40-45%
One of the things Nicolo described was the character of the 2017 vintage. Although I was there and can attest to the way the vintage began (frost and hail in the Spring) the Summer was unbearably hot with no rain. The lack of water was a bigger issue for production according to Nicolo.
2017 Rosso di Montalcino: Medium violet in color with aromas of cherry compote, toasted spices and leather. The vintage impact is relevant here. Nice enough, but stick with the 2016s. 84-87 points.
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Nice. Medium violet in color and at first, shy on the nose but Nicolo provided a nice pour. Lots of cherry character on the nose and palate with spice and cypress needle. Good body and length. Ready to drink. 87-89 points.
Caparzo makes three distinctive Brunello wines and they consistently represent good quality for the price. While none of the wines poured last week blew me away, they were all well made and highlight that QPR.
Yield Reduction: 25%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: This is a clear medium ruby in the glass – looks classic. Cherry, soft vanilla notes, spices and tobacco mark the nose. Crushed cherry and cigarette tobacco dominate the palate with toasted spices adding complexity. Light to medium bodied this is clean and ready to drink with little tannic structure of note. 86-88 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino La Casa: This single vineyard Brunello is always high quality and a wine I seek out. Medium ruby color with aromas of fresh flowers, pipe tobacco and red berries. Tight and tannic on the palate with sapid cherry flavors dominating at the moment. Needs time to reveal more complexity of flavors but I trust it will get there. 91-93 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva: Medium ruby and clear. Nose is dominated by cake spices and then swirling reveals tobacco and some fruit. On the palate the wine is bitter and very tannic. Hard to make anything out in terms of fruit or secondary character. I wrote “Meh” with a question mark on my sheet. Not sure if I’d take a chance that this is just shut down. I’ll be happy with La Casa and at what will likely be a lower price. Judgement Reserved.
2016 Rosso di Montalcino: Medium ruby. Fresh flowers, lively cherry and soft spice notes on the nose and palate. Juicy and fresh crushed red fruits dominate and linger. Another dynamite Rosso from 2016. 90-92 points. Great value!
I’ve been an admirer of Riccardo Talenti’s wines for some time now. Once again, he was on hand to present his wines and did so in his usual friendly and welcoming manner. It’s always an extra joy when the producers are there in person. That is one thing this year’s Benvenuto benefited from more than in the past. Many more principals seemed present.
Yield Reduction: 50%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby. Lots of berry, cherry and spice aromas on the nose. Quite forward. On the palate this wine is very nice and good to go. Forward cherry and spice flavors dominate. Solid wine. 87-89 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Pian di Conte: Deep ruby, almost garnet. Tightly wound and very structured. Balanced well between fruit, tannin and acidity. This is built for the long haul. Flavor and aromas of crushed red fruit, sour cherry, pipe tobacco and mushrooms are painstakingly coaxed. I think this needs a decade in the cellar. It won’t be cheap, but in ten years time, you may be happy. 92-94 points.
2017 Rosso di Montalcino: Again, the heat from the vintage is notable here on the palate. This medium ruby Rosso sports aromas and flavors of cherry pie, spices, tobacco and dried flowers. Some smoke appears on the finish. A bit too warm for me. 85-87 points.
One of the earliest Brunello I ever reviewed on this website was the 2004 Collelceto. I still remember that wine and frankly, the meal too! It’s funny because I’ve not seen this Brunello in the market since. It now has a much more reliable US importer and the estate has been re-branded by taking the name of the Owner, Elia Palazzesi and dropping Collelceto.
Yield Reduction: 25%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: This medium ruby wine displays some interesting aromatic notes. Crushed cherry, leaf tobacco, saline and soft vanilla notes are pleasing. On the palate, sandalwood, soft fruit flavors and spices combine well. This is soft and approachable and nicely done. 88-90 points.
2015 Rosso di Montalcino: Medium ruby to violet with pretty aromas and flavors of red berry, pipe tobacco, leather and cake spice. Flavors follow the nose with good balance, acidity and structure. 89-91 points.
2016 Rosso di Montalcino: More aromatic than the 2015. Flowers, crushed plums, and loads of tobacco leaf dot this medium ruby colored wine. A monolithic palate of cherry fruit coats everything and there’s some zippy acidity at the end. Not as structured as the 2015 but plenty nice. Sort of a fruit bomb. 87-89 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – Elia: Dark ruby; super dark. Cherry, spices, pipe tobacco, and fig explode from the nose of the wine. What follows is a massive, delicious wave of fruit with anise, fennel and grilled meat character. An awesome Riserva that is usually a value as Riservas go. 92-95 points. Only about 2,6000 bottles made.
I’ve enjoyed Sasso di Sole’s wines in the past. Therefore, it was one of the earlier stops I made. I tasted through the lineup and was stunned at how good Roberto’s 2014 Brunello was. I said to myself, I’ll come back after tasting the rest of the wines. And so I did……
Sasso di Sole
Yield Reduction: 35%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: I stuck my nose into the glass and wrote “wow”. This medium ruby wine has an expressive bouquet of crushed cherry, red flowers, cured meat, spices and a hint of leather. It’s wonderful. On the palate, the wine boasts good concentration with sweet, ripe red berry fruit, iodine, and soft chestnut flavors. An absolutely wonderful wine and although it’s ready to drink now, I would not hesitate to buy this. 91-93 points.
2012 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva: Medium ruby with a copper rim. Lots of cherry, pipe tobacco, flowers and spice character on the nose which leads to juicy, sapid red fruit flavors on the palate. This is a delicious Riserva and will be one to seek out. 93-95 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva: Medium ruby throughout. Similar in style to the 2012 but not yet as aromatic. No floral component here. The red fruit flavors are more powerful and tannic and hint at a wine for the cellar. It’s difficult to gauge this right now. 91-94 points. Lay it down.
2017 Rosso di Montalcino: This medium ruby, medium weight Rosso is “ok”. It offers lots of cherry fruit that really displays the heat of this vintage. Smokey and even a bit charry, it’s one to pass by. This is why many producers did not bottle 2017 Rosso. You’ll note throughout this coverage, there aren’t many whereas last year, I think 100% offered a 2016. 82-84 points.
Toward the end of the tasting, I went back to re-taste the 2014 Brunello. It was still outstanding. It still made an impression. I told Roberto I thought it was the best 2014 Brunello in the building. It was.
The Musico Estate lies right near the town of Montalcino. After more than a decade covering Tuscan wine, I’ve never heard of this property so I made sure to stop by. The owner and winemaker Guido was there to present his wines. He told me that in the past, although the Musico Farm has been in existence for centuries, they never focused on exporting their wine and sold most of it locally. Indeed, they are a small biodynamic and organic producer. Total production rarely tops 7,000 bottles. Nevertheless, he was in New York in search of an importer.
Yield Reduction: 20%
2014 Brunello di Montalcino: Medium ruby in the glass, a classic color with sunburst at the rim. Nice cherry, spice and leaf tobacco character on the nose and palate. This is quite good. Drink now. 88-90 points.
2012 Brunello di Montalcino: Same, large botte classic looking color. Crushed berry, tobacco and cedar dot the nose and lots of ripe cherry fruit emerges on the spicy palate. Juicy, ripe finish. 89-91 points.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino: Guido’s best wine on display. Medium ruby throughout. Lots of cherry, floral, Salume and soft wood character on the nose. These aromas expand on the palate. Fresh, lively and long. Well done. 91-93 points.
2017 Rosso di Montalcino: This is fresher than a lot of comparable 2017s. Medium ruby, classic looking. Cherries, tobacco and spice character throughout. A very nice rosso. 87-89 points.
I have remarked many times on these pages that in cooler vintages Uccelliera shines and Voliero, not as much. In warmer vintages, Uccelliera struggles and Voliero shines. Read on….
Uccelliera & Voliero
Yield Reduction: 50%
2014 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino: This medium ruby Brunello already looks old, with a fading almost brown colored rim. Aromas of cherry and spices and little else mark the nose and the fruit on the palate is somewhat tired and dry already. Not a good showing for what is often one of my favorite estates. There was no Brunello 2014 produced by Voliero, so perhaps the same should have been said for this. 82-84 points.
2017 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino: Ruby red core. Roasted cherry compote nose. On the palate – well my tasting sheet says “feel the heat!” I dumped it out. No sense going forward. Not recommended.
2017 Voliero Rosso di Montalcino: What an amazing difference. This medium ruby colored wine displays lots of freshness on the nose with crushed fruit, pipe tobacco and black pepper. High toned and juicy in the mouth, cherry and spice flavors take the fore with hints of vanilla. This is well balanced and probably the best 2017 Rosso I tasted on the day. Very well done. 88-90 points.
Closing Comments & Reflections
I have to say, I didn’t expect to be surprised by this tasting at all and I was. The 2014s were better than I expected. While I wouldn’t cellar any of them – not a one – they benefit from greatly reduced yields and almost always declassified fruit. They are universally ready to drink so the wines that are better values can be tempting. The key variable is of course, price. As a consumer, I would hope that a lesser vintage/product would naturally command a lower price. However, I had this notion flipped on its head by a few of the producers who told me that in a vintage like this they work ten times harder than normal and expect to be compensated for that effort. That’s fair. But unless there is a shortage of Brunello in the market, I can’t see choosing a 2014 over a comparable 2012 or 2013.
Stay tuned as we bring you more coverage on 2014 Brunello. I suspect that given the lower production numbers and the many producers that didn’t bottle, my annual coverage next year will not be nearly as comprehensive as in the past. Some early samples may arrive and I’ll bring them to you as they flow in. Then next year, we’ll be in a position to recap and see how the wines are 1 year out. I suspect some will add a bit of body, but their life spans will be short.