~ Montalcino ~

Early last month, we published Part 3 of our Annual 2012 Brunello report with the promise that much more coverage was coming. Today we proudly release Part 4 of our Report on 2012 Brunello.  This article includes yet another array of interesting diverse wines from classic, old guard producers to newer boutique Brunello estates and long time favorites.  Also, we’ll share a bit of what’s coming in our 2012 Brunello series.  This is our next to last segment, with tastings for Part 5 already under way.  From there, we will publish a synopsis of all the parts that highlights the highest scoring wines from the report.  Let’s get to it.

We’ll start with a producer that is certainly among the more modern in style.  The Siro Pacenti estate was purchased in 1970 by Siro Pacenti who set about planting vineyards in what has since become the Brunello di Montalcino zone.  His Pelagrilli estate sits within sight of Montalcino and was expanded in the late 1990’s.   In 2004, new barrel aging cellars were completed.  For this report, we’re looking at his single vineyard bottling that bears the name of the estate; Pelagrilli.

~ Montalcino as seen from the Siro Pacenti Estate ~

The 2012 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino Pelagrilli is a deep brick ruby red color throughout the bowl.  From vineyards that are now approaching 25 years of age, this wine displays aromas of dried spices, crushed cherrry, and fennel seed.  Persistent on the palate with flavors that echo the nose.  Toasty spices are added on the finish amidst a noticeable sandalwood note.  This is rather tannic upon release although despite the grip on the finish, through the midpalate the tannins appear much more integrated.  Still, this could use some time to soften and come together.  Try in 2-3 years.  94 points and a good value in Brunello under $40.   Find this wine. 

~ Siro Pacenti vinifies his Brunello in stainless steel before aging for 24-30 months in French barrique ~

The Lazzeretti Estate is run by the brother sister team of Marco and Lucia and has been in existence only since 2001.  Marco spends most of the time on the family property obsessing over the vineyards while Lucia and others steward the family owned Wine Shop in the center of Montalcino.  The estate’s vineyards lie 300 meters above sea level and possess southerly exposition.  All seems set for success; yet I could not help being disappointed with this estate’s performance in 2012.

~ The Lazzeretti Estate is picturesque ~

The wine surprised me.  After I received it,  I discovered that it was bestowed a score of 96 points from a prominent critic.  This intrigued me for several reasons.  First, I had little experience with this estate.  Second, the wine sells for a price that makes it quite the compelling value relative to other Brunello receiving similar scores and finally, it was available for purchase if it lived up to the hype.  Subsequent to my tasting for this article, I discovered that the “96” was an outlier of sorts and that the average score awarded to the wine was 86.  Live and learn.

The 2012 Lazzeretti Brunello di Montalcino is a medium red and portrays nice focused aromas of menthol, cherries and spices.  On the palate, the wine is very austere.  So much so that it makes young Biondi Santi seem fruit forward. Medium bodied with moderate flavors of red fruits and tannins that are bitter and chewy.  My tasting sheet says:  “WTF happened here?”  The red fruit flavors trail off and are already dried out far beyond where they should be given the age of the wine.  Tasted twice with consistent notes from 2 different bottles.  Another over hyped wine from those “last bottle” online retailers.  If you’re going to buy Brunello, buy a known name or be prepared.  You almost always get what you pay for.  Not recommended.  84 points.  About $35.  Find this wine.

~ Maybe this will evolve into something years down the road. But for $4 more you can buy the Siro Pacenti and not worry ~

Moving on, Moving on…..

~ The Lisini Estate ~

The Lisini estate has been one of my favorite producers of Brunello for a very long time.  Almost since I knew what Brunello was, I remember being impressed with their 1988 and have been buying some for my cellar every time I see it.  There’s a reason for this and it’s certainly not blind loyalty.  The wines have been, are and should continue to be excellent.

The Lisini farm covers 154 hectares near Sant’Angelo in Colle in the southern part of Montalcino. Originally focused on grains and exceptional extra virgin olive oil production, once the popularity of Brunello di Montalcino began to take hold, the focus of the Lisini family became premium wine production. Today, the estate is dominated by the Sienese tower that serves as the winery and business offices and which dates to the early 1300s. The heart of the estate is 20 hectares of vineyards devoted to Sangiovese Grosso.

The 2012 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino hits all the marks.  It raises the bar for this estate yet again.  And it does so with no surprise.  Classic ruby to violet color with the iodine rim typical of Sangiovese Grosso.   Fresh flowers, crushed wild berry, cured meats and spices frame the complex aroma of this wine.  Superb.  My tasting sheet says:  “What a palate!!”   In the mouth, this has long, sweet, juicy, ripe, rich flavors that expand in waves and linger softly.  Loads of freshly crushed fruit, slight vanilla and pipe tobacco give way to fresh herbs and wet stones on the finish.  So long. Lovely.  A 15 year wine easily.  97 points.  A screaming value under $50.  Find this wine.

~ Drop dead gorgeous ~

Proprietor Francesco Cinzano is not one to rest on his vast laurels.  For decades he has helmed Col d’Orcia yet about 10 years ago when it became apparent that some of the focus at the estate was lost, Cinzano acted with passion and direction. Since 2010, Col d’Orcia, literally the hill overlooking the Orcia river,  is proud to call itself an “organic island in Tuscany.” The entire estate has been certified organic and operates naturally in complete respect for the land it guards.  Col d’Orcia is located in the southern part of the Brunello zone and is one of the appellations largest producers.

~ A large oak tree dominates Col d’Orcia’s vineyards like a sentinel ~

The 2012 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino is a wonderful, classic example of Brunello.  Look at the lovely color in the image below; like a sunburst!  Perhaps not as floral or aromatic as past vintages, the 2012 displays plenty of crushed cherry, eucalyptus, spice and fresh sage notes.  It’s attractive to smell.  On the palate the wine is medium bodied, again, a touch lighter than past vintages but it’s very elegant and graceful.  Generous flavors of ripe red plum, currants and tobacco are woven together nicely in a very feminine package.  Of recent vintages, I personally prefer the 2008 and the 2010 but it’s a matter of style I think.  92 points.  Fairly priced around $40-$45.  Find this wine.

~ The color of this wine is classic old guard Brunello. Just look at that copper rim! We had the Col d’Orcia with pork cutlets Milanese and some scraps of Piave cheese. The pair was wonderful given the elegant nature of the wine ~


~ Pork is one of my favorite meals for Brunello. Here we took a boneless loin roast that was stuffed with fontina, prosciutto and spinach ~


Whenever I hear this name, I think of the ludicrous Seinfeld Episode where George kept singing his name like the old “By Mennen” commerial.  Cooo-Stanza.  Cooo-Stanti.   But I greatly digress.

In Brunello, there is no bigger name than Costanti.  A time honored venerable producer who takes its place among the giants in Montalcino.  Six generations of Constanti’s have helmed this wonderful estate which since 1983 has been guided by Andrea Costanti.   The estate covers 25 hectares, of which slightly less than half are devoted to vineyards.  Sitting at 400 meters above sea level, the vineyards were replanted in the early 1990s and are now almost 25 years of age.  Costanti’s aging regimen for their Brunello is intriguing.  The majority of the wine is refined in Slavonian botte that are between 3 and 15 years old but another portion of the wine is aged in French barrique.  It makes for a remarkable balance.

~ The iconic little stone hut that adorns Costanti’s Vineyards ~

The 2012 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino is an absolute masterpiece.  It’s a classic medium ruby in the glass and at first blush, was shy on the nose.  We did not decant the wine initially, but did so after it seemed closed.  Give it an hour in a decanter.  Aromas of fresh flowers, ripe wild cherry, black tea leaves and roasted chestnuts are absolutely wonderful.  Loads of ripe, mouthwatering cherry fruit dominates the palate with accents of sandalwood, sweet pipe tobacco and dusty, powdery earth notes.  Juicy and fresh with large scaled but well integrated tannins, this goes on and on.   Simply a dynamo and a benchmark in 2012.  97 points.  About $70.  Not cheap, but consider putting a pair in your cellar for the long term.  Find this wine.

~ One of the wines of the vintage. Look at the hand written label on this sample bottle ~

The estate of Castiglion del Bosco dates back to the 1200’s and has the dubious reputation for paying the highest property taxes in all of the Sienese republic.  Over the centuries the estate was conquered and changed hands several times, eventually ending up in the hands of the luxury product owning Ferragamo family.  Today the estate covers almost 2,000 hectares in the northwestern portion of the Brunello zone, but most of that is devoted to forests, an 18 hole golf course, the refurbished castle and the large Borgo consisting of 23 guest suites.  There are 62 hectares of vineyards.

~ The Castiglion del Bosco estate is more of a resort destination than a devoted winery. Nevertheless, the property and amenities are gorgeous and the Brunello is good ~

The 2012 Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino is a medium ruby colored wine with some pretty violet reflections.  The aromas of the wine offer generous notes of red cherry and cranberry, menthol, spice and pine notes. On the palate, the wine is medium to full bodied with plenty of fresh cherry, spice, white pepper and tobacco notes.  The medium length finish is tinged with a tea leaf note.  Solid and approachable, this isn’t one for the cellar. Drink now and over the next 5 years.  Enjoyable.  89 points.  A fair value around $40.  Their “Drago” bottling is notably better.  Find this wine.

~ The Castiglion del Bosco Brunello was served alongside grilled NY strip steaks. An adequate foil with the food and happy to play second fiddle to the steak but on it’s own, not a wine of great personality ~

The Pieve Santa Restituta estate was acquired by the Gaja family in 1994. The “white,” rocky soils of this area, in the southwest subzone of the Brunello di Montalcino appellation, were abandoned long ago by the sharecropper mezzadri farmers. But while other crops struggled in the rugged, nutrient-poor terrain, it has proven ideal for the cultivation of grapes destined to become fine wine.  It was shortly after the founding of Gaja’s Brunello estate that the Mates founded their wine estate and became Gaja’s neighbor.  Ferenc Mate tells of a story where an unknown man drove down his dusty driveway with a gift of Barbaresco welcoming them to the neighborhood.  The man was Angelo Gaja.

~ The Pieve on the Gaja estate from which the property gets its name ~

Perhaps known as a maverick or modern producer that prefers to push limits with the production of his wines,  Gaja has struck a more moderate tone with his Brunello.  Originally the estate only produced two single vineyard wines; Sugarille and Rennina.  However, from the 2005 vintage, an estate Brunello has been added which blends fruit from all 4 of Gaja’s vineyards on the property.    The estate Brunello is vinified in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 12 months in 2nd and 3rd passage barrique and 12 months in large 36 year old botte.

The 2012 Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino is a wonderful wine in this vintage.  A medium violet color throughout, this displays rich and ripe aromas of freshly crushed cherries, eucalyptus, white flowers and fresh tobacco leaf.  On the palate, the ripe fruit is accented by a backbone of fresh porcini mushroom and wonderful spicy acidity.  This is very well done and makes you wonder how the single vineyard wines will behave from this vintage.  Decanted for 60 minutes before serving it alongside a parmigiano, sausage and porcini risotto.  94 points.  About $70.  Find this wine.

~ A really wonderful effort from Angelo Gaja in 2012 ~


~ The Gaja’s are well positioned for the future ~

The Fuligni Estate spreads over approximately one hundred fully cultivated hectares of land in an almost continual strip on the eastern side of Montalcino.  The vines, which extend over ten hectares, are primarily located at altitudes varying from 380 to 450 meters above sea level.  Oddly, the Fuligni’s are of Venetian heritage and during the 14th century moved to England.  Eventually, Giovanni Fuligni returned to Tuscany around 1900 and began producing wines in the Scansano area.  Eventually his passion lead him to the eastern hill of Montalcino where the name Fuligni has become an iconic standard for Brunello.  Today the estate is directed by Maria Fuligni.

~ The view from the estate of Fuligni ~

The 2012 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino is one of the best wines of the vintage. Deep ruby in the glass with a classic sunburst copper fade at the rim of the bowl.   The aromas are effusive.  Loads of fresh crushed cherry, fresh flowers, fresh herbs, ground coffee, chestnut and spices just lift effortlessly from the glass.  Astounding.   On the palate, this wine is simply singing now and has all the structure and stuffing you could imagine to cellar for 15-20 years.   Ripe, robust wild berry flavors are juicy and refined.  Joining them are fresh, sweet tobacco, loads of fresh anise, soft wood and cinnamon notes and a long powdery, juicy finish.  The tannins are more noticeable without food, but they were easily brought into line with a double cut pork chop and creamy polenta.  An amazing Brunello worth every penny.  98 points.  About $65.  Find this wine.

~ As you can see by the label, this was a sample bottle that hadn’t yet been properly labeled ~

Caparzo has its etymology in the Latin phrase Caput Arsum, meaning Land Touched by the Sun.  Indeed, when Caparzo was established there were only 13 producers of Brunello.  They’ve been toiling in the verdant hills of Montalcino since the 1960s and when I caught up with proprietor Elisabetta Angelini at a tasting not long ago, I asked her to tell me why.  I thought I’d share her answer with you.

“Sometimes some places attract your attention before you know why. This was true for Caparzo. Since I was a child I have dreamed of living in a place like this, immersed in the green, far from the chaos of big cities, where time seems to have stopped. Several years have passed and the surrounding beauty still amazes me. Montalcino is a set of smooth lines defended by the magnificence of the Amiata Mountain.  The Val d’Orcia is unique; from barren clays to golden tuffs, from the dark vegetation of woods to the bright vegetation of vineyards, from the blue of watercourses to the silvery foliage of olive trees. You can find all this in a glass of wine. Montalcino is the land of Brunello, made only with Sangiovese grapes. When I purchased Caparzo in 1998, I had the chance to test myself with a great Tuscan wine and become acquainted with the pride of an ancient agriculture. It is a constant commitment that fills me with pride. Following the vines every day, seeing them grow, sprout and finally harvesting the fruit. You are aware of having worked hard, without neglecting any detail, but at the end the land will be the one to decide. And every year, with every vintage, you hope that the wine is the best one you have ever made. Today I feel part of this world. My land, my seasons and my efforts are found in my wine. This is a feeling that repays all the work and all the efforts made for creating that bottle.”

Caparzo’s vines that provide the fruit for their estate bottling lie at approximately 225 meters above sea level.  Aging takes place in a combination of various sized barrels and last for at least 2 years before being bottle aged for 8-12 months.  The 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino is a bright, medium violet color.  On the nose, the wine displays pleasing aromas of ripe cherry, soft sandalwood and dried fennel and herb notes.  This medium bodied Brunello has nice length and a soft round flavor profile of red berry, warmed earth and dried spice overtones.  Not massive or very complex, but a well made introduction to Brunello.  Lately I’ve seen a lot of vineyard direct, odd label Brunello from questionable importers that I wouldn’t trust as far as I can spit the wine.  They trade on their ridiculously low price and you risk your money for unknown quality.  The entry level Caparzo may not be a blockbuster, but it’s a well made known commodity at a very affordable price.  89 points.  About $29.  Find this wine.

~ Perhaps our most festive image of the report! Christmas lights shining on Caparzo as we introduce “Sergio” our Gallo Bianco hand crafted and carried back from Montalcino ~

“Our grandparents taught us that through the land our ancestors bequeathed us their lives.  Living in it and from it we hand it on; transformed to our descendants.”  ….. Carlo Vittori

Carlo Vittori is the proprietor of Molino di Sant’Antimo; a small Brunello estate overlooking the Orcia river just on the border of the Brunello zone. Near the famed Abbey,  the Azienda Molino di Sant’Antimo comprises about 40 hectares of land facing south to south west sitting about 200-250 meters above sea level along the Orcia river.  On one side stands Mount Amiata and when the maestrale wind blows, it brings the smell of the sea and the coast to the valley.  The soil here is a mixture of clay, sand and crushed sea bed filled with minerals.  Wild lavender, Cypress trees, olives and forest surround the vineyards.

~ The winery entrance and offices of Molino di Sant’Antimo ~

Let me just get something off my chest now;  I hate these labels.  Carlo, if you’re reading, change them up.  They’re awful.

Ok, with that said, the 2012 Molino di Sant’Antimo Brunello di Montalcino is an attractive wine and another good value at the entry level.  Bright violet in color, this medium bodied wine boasts aromas and flavors of crushed berry, pine needle, eucalyptus, and fresh sage.  Not overly complex, but interesting enough and very fresh and bright on the palate.  Medium scaled tannins provide enough structure but I don’t see the need (or have the desire, frankly) to age this wine in your cellar.  Enjoyable now with pasta dishes or chicken cutlet alla Milanese.  90 points.  About $34.  Find this wine.

~ The wines from this estate are getting better, especially the Varco bottling (2011 report) which is not reviewed here. They are fairly priced and a good entry level example of Brunello ~

As I remarked at the outset,  there are some newer wines and some classic old guard wines in this report.  Some of the examples here are astounding wines that deserve a place in your cellar where they will flourish for a decade or more.  Start making your list and wait for Brunello 2012 Part V coming next month.  The final installment will not disappoint!


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