It was January 2014 and I was drifting through the crowd tasting wine at Benvenuto Brunello in Manhattan. The newest vintage of Brunello di Montalcino (2009) was about to be released and the producers were eager to present their wines. Typically, in addition to the Brunello, the latest Rosso di Montalcino are also available for tasting. That day, it was the 2012 Rossos that made an indelible impression on me. As a group, they were some of the best Rossos I had ever tasted. I made a mental bookmark for January 2017 knowing full well that once released, the 2012 Brunello would be special. That day has come.
2012 started out as a difficult growing season with a cold, wet winter that was followed by a long very hot summer. As I’ve said many times before, vines are living creatures and they can adapt. Like people, vines dislike spikes in temperature that can shock their equilibrium. However, gradual and steady increases are often well tolerated and such was the case with 2012.
Andrea Costanti told me recently that “unlike 2011, where rising temperatures came on suddenly and left the grapes little time to adjust to the intense heat, during 2012 most of the summer was hot and dry, so the grapes had the whole growing season to skillfully adapt. Quality was outstanding with small bunches and tight small berries, which are ideal for Sangiovese.”
Despite the high quality, the quantity of the vintage wasn’t similar. 2012 will easily be among the smallest harvests in the last ten years as the drought conditions significantly reduced yields throughout the zone. Brunello production was down 14% overall compared to 2011, but many producers told me this past May that their production was notably lower. Costanti told me that he had “about 30% less grapes than normal in 2012.”
As you can see from the title of this article, this is Part 1 of this year’s Brunello coverage. As with previous reports, the coverage of the region and the breadth of wines tasted continues to increase dramatically. Therefore, rather than create one exceptionally long article that would be burdensome to read and digest, I decided to break the report into several pieces. Allora…..
2012 Brunello di Montalcino
We’re starting this year’s report with a true boutique producer. Potazzine is the Italian word for the very colorful and vivacious birds which inhabit the Tuscan countryside. In Montalcino, grandparents and parents alike often use the word as a term of endearment for children. In fact, the current owner’s mother calls her granddaughters by this warm nickname.
Le Potazzine was created in 1993 with barely three (3!) hectares of vineyards. In 1996, when the second granddaughter was born, the estate was also expanded by two hectares bringing the total area registered for Brunello production to 5 hectares.
The Le Potazzine estate sits on the SP 103 south west of Montalcino with vineyards that sit between 300 and 500 meters above sea level. Production averages about 35,000 bottles split evenly between Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino and in excellent vintages (only 4 since 1993) a tiny amount of Brunello Riserva is produced. Aging takes place in a variety of Slavonian oak botte from 30-50 hectoliters.
The 2012 Le Potazzine Brunello di Montalcino is impressive. Like many of its siblings, the color is a medium ruby but as you’ll realize over the course of this report, do not let that color fool you into thinking the wine is not substantial. Decanted for 30 minutes, the wine is replete with wild cherry, baking spices, freshly cut flowers and dried fennel aromas. Ripe, fresh, juicy wild red berries dominate the palate with ease and grace. Hints of sandalwood and peppery spices provide accents at the moment that hint at further complexity. So fresh and mouthwatering are the tannins that they seem to compel sip after sip. My tasting sheet closes with: “this is great”. 95 points. About $48. Find this wine.
“Who knows how much attention our own roots need to become wings.”
It’s the essence of Giovanna Neri, an energetic happy woman who, along with her beautiful daughter Diletta, run the Col di Lamo estate. Perhaps a triple entendre, the quote easily refers to vines that produce grapes, Giovanna’s raising of her daughter, and even the creation of the winery itself. Today the 8 hectare estate is planted to 5 hectares of grapes spread among three distinct vineyard parcels near Torreniere. However, just last month Giovanna planted a fourth vineyard set to increase production within 3 years.
The 2012 Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino embraces the personality of the woman who crafts it. Dark garnet, turning to an almost crimson color, the wine displays a fade to copper at the rim of the glass. Very ripe aromas of cherries on the nose add hints of mocha and spice. Leans toward the mouthwatering sour cherry flavor profile on the palate and at this young stage, the tannins are a bit assertive and drying. Takes time to open up but it blossomed noticeably with braised short ribs and creamy polenta. More power here than the elegant 2011. 93 points. About $55. Find this wine.
Collemattoni takes its name from an ancient farmhouse that is the centerpiece of the property and dates to the year 1672. Since at least 1798, the estate has been in the hands of the Bucci family when Giuseppe, who was “head of a large family” purchased the estate. Generations have come and gone and today the estate is run by Marcello Bucci with the helpful counsel of his parents.
The Buccis farm just over 11 hectares of vineyards; a small operation, that are scattered throughout the Brunello production zone. During 2012, the wine production and cellar areas were completely renovated and now the entire process is gravity fed. Additionally, the estate received organic certification from the 2012 vintage and generates approximately 80% of its own electricity from solar panels.
The 2012 Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino is a dark garnet clear through to the rim with faint violet highlights. The aromas feature plenty of crushed berry, fresh flowers and hints of warm vanilla. On the palate, the flavors are persistent, juicy and fresh. Spicy red berries are framed with hints of cedar and cypress with a dusty, long wonderful juicy finish. Really attractive. 94 points. Limited importation. Find this wine.
The San Filippo estate has been in the Fanti family since the 18th century. Today, the estate covers about 300 hectares of which 52 are planted to vines. The remainder are devoted to grains, olives and Tuscan forest. Located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate the Fanti vineyards are rich with galestro, especially the vines closest to the ancient Sant’Antimo abbey. Galestro is a shale like deposit in the soil gentle enough to be snapped with your fingers. It adds wonderful minerality to wine and often imparts a powdery characteristic that I love.
The 2012 Tenuta Fanti Brunello di Montalcino is a bright ruby color with lots of violet reflections. It appears to be slightly darker than the 2011 version which surprised me slightly. Lots of ripe cherry on the nose with spice, vanilla and rosemary scents. Perhaps reflects a bit more of the heat of the vintage. Ripe cherry, cocoa and soft oak on the palate adds hints of anise and tart cranberry after being open for an hour or so. Solid effort and a fairly nice value. 92 points. About $40. Find this wine.
In the southern part of the Brunello zone sits Azienda Fattoi at the junction of the Ombrone and Orcia rivers. Run by Leonardo Fattoi and his family, the estate spreads over 50 hectares, but only 9 are devoted to vines and they are split between Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. Aging takes place in oak casks and tonneaux after fermentation in stainless steel.
The 2012 Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino is impressive. Classically colored – deep ruby that trends to brick shades at the rim of the bowl. On the nose, the wine is dominated by bright red fruit notes with warmed earth and cypress aromas lending complexity. On the palate, the wine is fresh and lively with sapid, mouthwatering flavors of wild berries, eucalyptus, and mushroom. Paired very well with assorted crostini, and pici con ragu at Trattoria Sciame in Montalcino. 92 points and a nice value around $34. Find this wine.
The Il Palazzone estate is a small endeauvor consisting of three vineyards that are scattered throughout the zone. The Due Porte vineyard is adjacent to the winery and located closest to Montalcino. The other two vineyards are located near Castelnuovo dell’Abate but the three vary in age. Additionally, soils, trace minerals and varying elevations also contribute to the complexities of Il Palazzone’s Brunello, a fact that often highlights the potential effects of any discussion surrounding sub-zoning.
Quality is paramount at Il Palazzone. After the very hot, erratic 2011 vintage, the estate decided not to produce a Brunello, so I was excited to finally have a new release from the winery to taste.
The 2012 Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino did not let us down. In the glass, the wine displays a classic medium ruby color. But like the Le Potazzine, don’t be fooled! Wild cherry, soft wood tones, and flowers are noticeable on the developing nose. Absolutely gorgeous on the palate, with mouthwatering flavors of wild cherry, stones, tobacco, spices and hints of leather on the finish. Very, very long and juicy in a classic style. Freshness is the key here and it’s something Il Palazzone insists on before placing their name on the bottle. Tremendous wine. 95 points. About $75. Find this wine.
Ahhh, the birdcage. Founded in 1986, the estate of Uccelliera is in the capable hands of family winemaker Andrea Cortonesi and his lovely wife. Located near Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Cortonesi farms 6 tiny hectares in the southern part of the Brunello zone and produces almost 30,000 bottles of Brunello annually. After the slightly disappointing 2011, I was eager to try the 2012. Then recently, it dawned on me. Cooler, more even vintage – I love Uccelliera. Hotter vintage? Not so much. This is evidenced by the 2008 and 2010 residing in my cellar and the 2009 and 2011 that are missing.
The 2012 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino is spectacular! Deep garnet in color, this displays effusive aromas of wild cherry, wet wood – like the smell of wine drenching the air in a cellar – with fresh flowers and anise rounding out the aromas. Awesome length on the palate with concentrated aromas of cherries, anise, tobacco, spices and wet stones. Long, long finish. Deft combination of elegance and power. Amazing effort. 97 points. About $50. Find this wine.
The Voliero estate is owned by Uccelliera’s Andrea Cortonesi and rather than blend this fruit into his Uccelliera Brunello, Cortonesi has decided to bottle the wine separately. Voliero is located in the northern portion of the zone at a slightly higher altitude than Uccelliera and Cortonesi uses this to extract wonderfully high toned floral notes in this wine.
The 2012 Voliero Brunello di Montalcino is a classic looking medium ruby color. Lots of bright red berries, tobacco and earthy funk on the nose. I love the smell of this. Loads of high-toned spicy, fresh crushed wild berry flavors are amazing. Long, ripe, elegant and rich. This is an outstanding Sangiovese and perfectly showcases the charm of the varietal. 95 points. About $44. Find this wine.
The 2012 Podere Scopetone Brunello di Montalcino is a classic, medium ruby color that fades ever so slightly to an iodine like rim. In short, its the classic appearance of a Maurizio Castelli (Il Palazzone, Mastrojanni) wine. On the nose, the wine showcases aromas of menthol, soft sandalwood, and sweet berry tones. After being decanted for 30 minutes, the nose opened further, but needed some coaxing. On the palate, dried herbs, juicy, ripe mouthwatering cherry flavors dominate. A slightly tart aspect lends interest and sapidity. This is really good and with more air, a green olive note appears on the finish. An estate to watch for sure. 94 points. About $50-$55. Find this wine.
The 2012 Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino is a classic medium ruby color; quite the contrast from the nearly black 2010. Indeed, there is a slight fade to copper at the rim of the bowl . Fresh flowers, spices and cherries appear on the nose. It’s attractive to smell and with time, some dusty warmed clay appears as well. Lively, juicy, tart red fruits on the palate which appears a bit one dimensional at this young stage. That’s not a surprise, but even after several hours of being open, the body of the wine did not “plump” the way I expected. I suggest this needs time to develop as the 2010 was plenty tight at this young age. Yet, the lack of body concerns me slightly. 90 points. About $50. Find this wine.
Of course, substantial wine requires appropriate food and at Tuscan Vines one of our guiding tenets is to showcase wine the way the Italian culture has designed wines to be enjoyed; at the table with family, friends and food. In addition to some of the many dishes discussed above, we also enjoyed fennel crusted pork roast and seared pork tenderloin over spring pea, spinach and mushroom risotto.
This represents the first 10 Brunello reviewed from the outstanding 2012 vintage. Much, much more to come, so stay tuned!