It was June 2014 and I was driving the long dusty Via Cassia on my way from Siena to Montalcino. We had appointments scheduled with several Brunello producers and were looking forward to relaxing in and around Montalcino. The sun was blazing and the temperature reached into the high 80’s. We arrived at our first appointment with Il Palazzone and were delighted to bear the company of the charming estate manager, Laura Gray. To this day, what she said sticks with me. As we walked the vineyards, my feet kicking up dust between the rock strewn vine rows, Laura commented: “It’s been so dry and in Brunello, we’re not allowed to irrigate. We could use some rain.” I left Tuscany in early July that year and from that point on, the rain never stopped.
Such is the humor of the wine Gods, yet as many of the 2014 Tuscans arrive on the shelves of wine shops, no one is laughing. Recently I sat down to blind taste several 2014 Tuscans – mostly from Chianti Classico – to gauge how the finished wines from that grey vintage turned out. There were no surprises to be had. That said, armed with some sopressatta, a bit of Reggiano and some crusty bread, I went to work. This was a single blind tasting of 10 wines, not all are pictured in the above photo. The reviews below represent my blind impressions, though I am matching the notes with the wines below. I tasted the entire range two times. So by the time I started the process the second time, the wines had been open for about 2 hours. And so we begin with wine #1.
2014 Cecchi Natio Chianti Classico: This is bright deep ruby with pretty magenta highlights. Flowers, spices, menthol and cherry on the nose. Really quite pleasant. Moderately bodied cherry fruit with dried herbs and earth notes. Tannins present themselves and are fairly chewy shortening the finish. Some cured meat appears on the nose with additional air time. This is good. 84 points.
2014 Donna Laura Alteo Chianti: This is 100% Sangiovese. Deep cherry red color. The nose is dominated with dry herbs and green tobacco leaf plus a bit of barnyard. Nose is all very reductive. Slightly vegetal. Light bodied with somewhat thin and tart strawberry fruit. Soft, pleasing finish is nice, but the mid-palate is thin and hollow. A bit of salami appears on the nose with air. This is average wine and not recommended. 81 points.
2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico: This wine is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo and Colorino. Bright ruby with violet highlights. Green peppercorn, leaf tobacco and green earth notes dominate the nose. Maybe a hint of vanilla and red fruits peek through. The nose is very similar in style to wine #2. Medium bodied on the palate with nice cherry and menthol notes. Slightly bitter on the finish. Stemmy. 83 points.
2014 Volpaia Chianti Classico: Displays a light ruby color. Flowers and menthol on the nose. This kind of has a “Zin-Flower” aroma to it. This is light bodied and tobacco leaf driven on the palate with very thin fruit. Not a lot of redeeming quality here. Became slightly better with air. 82 points.
2014 Gagliole Rubiolo Chianti Classico: This is bright ruby with some violet highlights. The nose has pleasing red fruit aromas of strawberry and cherry. There’s a peek through of dried herbs. Medium bodied with weakness in the mid-palate, the cherry fruit dominates and there’s really no complexity here. This is pretty good. Perhaps receives a boost in the vintage from the Merlot. 84 points.
2014 Donna Laura Bramosia: Darkest wine of the bunch by far. Garnet, fading to light ruby at the rim. Cherry and dried herbs on the nose leads to the largest bodied wine in the entire group. Cherry and spice on the palate with slightly bitter, stemmy tannins. The blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot clearly impacted the color here. This is good. 84 points.
2014 Villa Cerna Primacolle Chianti Classico: Medium ruby color. Classic looking. Somewhat shy on the nose but ash and tobacco lead into white pepper and soft berry aromas. Soft, fruity and straightforward on the palate. One dimensional with nice red fruit notes and hints of vanilla. Picks up salume notes with air. Good wine. 84 points.
2014 Donna Laura Ali: This is 100% Sangiovese from two different clones; one known for brightness and perfume and the other for structure. Medium ruby with violet reflections at the rim. Nice fresh nose of flowers, fresh red fruits and hints of vanilla and spice. Whiff of green tobacco, nice medium body at most. Nice cherry flavors are straightforward. Good. 84 points.
As I mentioned at the outset, it was a cold, damp, grey, rainy summer in Tuscany during 2014. However, toward the Tuscan coast, in the Maremma, the weather was noticeably better. A late break in the weather during the second half of September allowed for a dry harvest. Furthermore, central Tuscany’s dependence on Sangiovese made for difficult winemaking. In Maremma, where blends are often the norm and international varietals thrive, the difficulties of the vintage were somewhat mitigated.
2014 La Mora Maremma Rosso: Deeper ruby in color with some violet highlights, this Cabernet/Merlot blend was very pleasing. Not without the green tobacco leaf aromas which seem to be in every 2014 I smell, this has moderate amounts red fruit aromas and hints of vanilla. The medium bodied flavors carry through on the palate and overall this is very nice. Slightly bitter on the finish. As an aside, the checkerboard label is actually textured and quite cool. 84 points.
Finally, a return to the center of Tuscany for another offering from Gagliole.
2014 Gagliole Valletta: Valletta is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot. I had higher hopes for this wine given the amount of Merlot in the blend and after tasting its sibling Rubiolo, but it seems this Merlot was equally unripe. The color is a nice ruby but you can see right through it. Soft berry notes, green pepper and menthol on the nose dominate the package. On the palate, the wine is light to medium bodied and trails off rather quickly. Not a lot going on here. Very simple. 82 points.
This tasting didn’t surprise me. In fact, I’ve yet to try a 2014 that has surprised me. The wines clearly lack concentration and complexity. While some are fresh, the perfumes associated with well ripened Sangiovese are absent. Green flavor profiles seem prevalent throughout and although this is admittedly a small sample size, it does not encourage me. I will be hard pressed to spend money adding these wines to my personal cellar.
What’s interesting is that retailer shelves are not full of 2014s. They will be wines that will require a “hand sell” – especially at the upper end; if those wines even exist. I know many top producers that were financially able to do so, sold off a lot of their 2014 as bulk wine. You’ll notice a lot of wines go from 2013 to 2015 in the market. It’ll be interesting to see how Montalcino handles this vintage when it comes time to release 2014 Brunello.
The final word? Shop, shop, shop around. And if at all possible, taste before you buy.