Welcome back! After what seemed like longer than a one vintage absence, it was absolutely thrilling to be back in New York covering Benvenuto Brunello.
Unlike previous versions of this event, the format for this years tasting was different. In the past, the event featured a walk around tasting. While that makes it easy to engage with winemakers and owners, it also comes with crowded tables, elbows in ribs and simply rude people. Given the limitations on travel that still exist, there were virtually no Italians present. I was happy with the new format.
But what exactly was that format you say?
Seating was very limited and restricted to trade and press by invitation only. We were seated at tables of 5 and given cards with which we could make our tasting selections. The wines were opened and ready as you can see in the picture above. Waiters presented our selections.
My Process for Tasting
The time allotted for the tasting is substantial but nowhere near long enough to taste every wine presented. As a result, I decided to focus on wines with greater availability, wines I know my readers are interested in and wines that are imported to the US. Because you could pace yourself and taste without interruption, my notes are fairly detailed. However, given the relatively small pour and lack of food, only score ranges are provided. Additionally, photographing the bottles would have slowed the process significantly. As a result, pictures of the wines are limited. Between 2017 Brunello and 2016 Riserva, I tasted close to 30 wines.
Character of the 2017 Vintage
The 2017 vintage was one of the more difficult years in recent memory. As a result of a very warm March, bud break began as much as three weeks early. Vines started growing and producers were rightly concerned. When the temperatures dipped drastically in April, frost damage was widespread across Tuscany. Many producers lost 30-40% of their production. What followed was a scorching hot, drought ridden Summer that taxed producers every skill. While this may sound dire, I have tasted many 17s from across Italy. Many producers managed the vintage well and crafted wonderful wines.
Selected Brunello Tastings
2017 Altesino Brunello: Ruby in color with red fruits and spices on the nose. Sweet ripe fruit on the palate with nice concentration but a tinge of alcoholic heat. 88-90 points.
2017 Altesino Brunello Montosoli: Deep ruby, with cherries and spices on the nose. A hint of tobacco too. Very ripe on the palate. Charry, with black pepper notes and loads of aggressive tannin. I’m worried this is overdone. 87-90 points.
2017 Argiano Brunello: Medium ruby with cherries, toasted spices and sandalwood on the nose. Very ripe cherry on the palate with spicy pepper notes and huge, large scaled tannins. Almost undrinkable at this stage. 88-90 points.
2017 Castello Banfi Brunello: Deep ruby in color. Impressive color for the estate wine. Black cherry, vanilla and baking spices on the nose. Medium bodied on the palate with cherries, earth and charry/smokey notes. 87-89 points.
2017 Castello Banfi Brunello Vigna Marrucheto: Deep ruby, approaching garnet. Bright cherry on the nose with sandalwood, tobacco and fennel. Fresh on the palate with black cherry, iodine and pipe tobacco. This is bright and juicy with a long finish. Very impressed. 92-95 points.
2017 Castello Banfi Brunello Poggio Alle Mura: Deep ruby with loads of cherry, vanilla and spices on the nose. On the palate this is loaded with fruit – an absolute bomb! Smokey, with finely grained tannins that make this very, very approachable. I’m surprised at how fresh and drinkable it is. 92-94 points.
2017 Campogiovanni Brunello: Ruby in color; fairly light. Red raspberry on the nose with piney herbs and pepper. On the palate, the fruit is warm and chewy. It’s slightly out of balance and a bit hot. Way overdone. I’m not a fan of this. 86-88 points.
2017 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello: Deep ruby with black cherry, fresh flowers and cake spices on the nose. Nice! Sweet ripe fruit on the palate that is perfumed and concentrated. Rather tannic with a slightly chewy, charry finish. Needs to integrate. 91-93 points.
2016 Capanna Brunello Riserva: Deep ruby in the glass with explosive aromas of crushed cherry, fresh flowers, tobacco, leather and allspice. On the palate the wine displays wonderful balance. Loads of red fruits that are fresh and ripe with juicy acidity, spices and leather notes. Another Wow, and usually a value in Riserva. 95-97 points
2017 Carparzo Brunello La Casa: Medium ruby. Pretty, but shy nose of crushed berries and fresh herbs. More giving on the palate with bright cherry fruit that is fresh and lively. Hints of sandalwood and tobacco peek through too. A nice Cru effort for the vintage. 92-94 points.
2017 Collemattoni Brunello: Deep ruby. Lots of cherry, perfume and fresh herbs on the nose. Rather pretty to smell. Loads of cherry fruit and spices on the nose with dusty minerality too. But man do the tannins clamp down. Still, the freshness here is incredible. Another winner from this estate. 90-92 points.
2017 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello: The team at this winery continues to amaze me. Medium ruby, classic color. Ripe red fruits, floral notes and cured olive mark the nose. Large scaled cherries on the palate with fresh rosemary and oregano notes. More than a little tannic, this will need some time to relax as well. Again, I love the freshness. 91-93 points.
2017 Poggio di Sotto Brunello: Medium ruby. Gorgeous nose of crushed cherry, bright floral tones and iron. Super elegant on the palate, almost regal in its refinement. Cherry, blood orange, tobacco and iron notes are prevalent. The tannins are so mild that this is ready to drink now. A Burgundian Brunello. 92-94 points
2016 Poggio di Sotto Brunello Riserva: Medium ruby. Persistent aromas of black cherry, powdered baking spices, iron and shale. On the palate this is generous with its red fruits and spices. Leather and powdered minerals are present too. Very elegant, with mild tannins. All in all, this isn’t much different from the 2017. 91-93 points.
2017 Il Poggione Brunello: Deep ruby. Crushed cherry, sandalwood and baking spices mark the enticing nose. Loads of bright cherry fruit on the palate with iodine notes as well. Fresh, ripe and juicy. A wonderful effort. 90-92 points.
2016 Il Poggione Brunello Riserva Vigna Paganelli: Deep ruby color. Wow! What a nose! Loads of crushed cherry, flowers, lavender, Christmas spices – marvelous. On the palate, no let up. Full bodied fruit is fresh, ripe and complex with coffee, leather and juicy acidity. I love it! 95-97 points.
2017 La Gerla Brunello: Medium ruby with an amazingly fresh nose of crushed wild raspberries and mint. ? I love that! On the palate, just wow! Wild cherry, soft leather, touch of vanilla, fresh herbs. This is gorgeous; one of the best 17s tasted today. Just beautiful. 91-94 points.
2017 La Magia Brunello: Deep ruby in color. Aromas of coffee, crushed black cherry, wet stones and flowers are just amazing. Wow! The palate is amazing. Crushed cherry, wild berry, tobacco leaf and fresh herbs. Another hit! Maybe there’s a hint of over-ripeness but I’m a fan. 91-93 points.
2016 La Magia Brunello Riserva: Holy cow! Deep ruby with everything dialed up a notch on the nose and palate. Ripe black cherry is accented with tobacco, clay, fresh herbs and a sweet, ripe finish. Juicy, lively but with large finely grained tannins that need time to settle. The freshness here is compelling. This estate is on a major roll. Bravo! 96-98 points.
2017 La Rasina Brunello: Deep ruby. Wild! Wild cherry, wild thing! Coffee, grilled meat, salume on the nose. Really interesting. The black cherry is pervasive on the palate with toasted spice and vanilla. Finishes a touch hot. This should be good value and drink sooner rather than later. 91-93 points. What a flight!
2017 Ridolfi Brunello: Medium ruby. Very shy on the nose. Took some work to get cherry to emerge. However, it’s delicious. Shows so much more character on the palate. Cherries mixed with mineral and tobacco. Tannic, quite so in fact. Needs time but I like it and think it will come around. 91-93 points. My biggest complaint here, their importer stinks and is non-responsive to any sort of inquiry. The folks from Ridolfi are great and they are being done a disservice.
2017 Talenti Brunello: Dark ruby, trends to garnet. Ripe cherry, spices and chestnut on the nose. Absolutely gorgeous on the palate with cherry, floral tones, spices and earth. Elegant, juicy and concentrated. Another hit for Riccardo! 91-94 points.
2017 Tenuta Fanti Brunello Vallocchio: Deep ruby. Pure nose of cherry, coffee and hints of smoke. Gorgeous on the palate with fresh concentration of red fruits, toasted spices, leather and dusty tannins. Really pure. 91-93 points.
2016 Tenuta Fanti Brunello Riserva: Almost black in color. Morello Cherry, pipe tobacco, leather and walnuts on the nose. Black pepper, coffee bean and vanilla accent the ripe fruit on the palate. Dusty, mineral laced tannins are significant. Another delicious and massive Riserva. 95-97 points.
2017 Uccelliera Brunello: Dark ruby. Concentrated cherry on the nose with pie crust, wild black berry and fresh herbs. I dig it! Super fresh in the mouth. Black cherry, fresh flower petal, backing spices and mint leaf are so pure. A great vintage for this wine. 92-94 points.
2017 Voliero Brunello: Dark ruby. The nose is also wild. Ripe crushed cherry mixes with caramel notes and tobacco. Black pepper spice too. Laced with minerals on the palate the fruit is massive but so are the tannins. Maybe more tannic than Uccelliera but profile wise, they are very similar. 91-93 points.
2017 Val di Suga Brunello: Deep ruby. Rich aromas of crushed berry, loam, flowers and mulch. Large scaled ripe fruit on the palate is joined by soft wood, wild herb and iron notes. I’m impressed with this. I wonder if the Cru wines went into this bottling. I was not able to find out. 90-92 points.
2017 Il Palazzone Brunello: Medium ruby. Lots of cherries, spices and soft sandalwood notes on the nose. Crushed cherry, cigar leaf and toasted spices on the palate. Another fresh, elegant and almost medium bodied Brunello in the Burgundian style. Will drink well sooner rather than later. 91-93 points.
Looking into the Numbers
So what did we learn? For starters, I think the 2017s confirmed for me what I suspected. The hot weather raised some of the alcohol levels in the wines to the point where they were noticeable. Those at higher elevations were able to manage this better than others. But even saying that, there were exceptions.
However, I sense that 2017s purpose will be to provide enjoyable drinking in the near term. It’s a vintage that will prevent you from rooting around hesitantly in your stash of 2015s and 2016s. It’s a vintage that restaurants will love selling. As for the 2016 Riservas, I normally don’t seek them out that much. But I will say this. The Riservas I tasted for this article were stunning. Price depending, I’m in. I don’t think I’d pay a substantial premium for them, but they were all “Wow” type wines.
In reviewing the above, I don’t envision a single 2017 Estate Brunello hitting 95 points or higher. In fact, 5 of the wines have the ability to be in the 88-89 point range. The Cru bottlings from Tenuta Fanti, Castello Banfi and Caparzo have the ability to reach 95. This in itself is noteworthy because I was surprised at the number of Cru wines that were produced. That speaks to the improvement winemakers have made over the last 10-15 years in managing their vineyards and the weather.
It was a pleasure to attend an event that was put on so well. I want to offer my thanks to the Brunello Consorzio and to Platinum Media for orchestrating such a wonderful event. I’d also like to thank the wait staff who energetically and correctly poured all the wines.