~ Early morning mist burns off Montalcino ~

One of the consistent themes running through my coverage of 2013 Brunello is that the vintage isn’t a “slam dunk”.  In fact, I’ve observed that the wines run the entire spectrum.  There are estates of notable pedigree that created glorious wines.  There have been some who missed the mark by a fair margin and there have been really nice surprises in terms of quality and value.  Readers should be cautious and refer back to these vintage installments when purchasing.  The 2013s are all over the market and for the most part are the dominant vintage for sale right now. Choose wisely.

The first wine in this installment is a perfect case in point.  It comes from an estate that produced two wonderful Brunello that debuted in Part 3 of this year’s coverage.   The 2013 Val di Suga Brunello Vigna del Lago is a bit of a laggard compared to its siblings.

In the glass, the wine is a medium ruby with some violet tones that is frankly, easy to see right through.  The nose of the wine is very attractive. There is crushed red fruit backed by mineral notes that are the hallmark of this property.  On the palate, the wine is reticent with flavors of red berry and shale.  The tannins attack the tip and sides of your tongue with a tinge of bitterness that seems off.  The sapidity and freshness makes this easy to drink, but the intensity and length are absent.  88 points.  About $80.  Find this wine.

~ Definitely presented itself as the weaker of the three Val di Suga Crus ~

Since 1992, the team at Mastrojanni has consisted of two dynamic men each at the top of their respective fields; Andrea Machetti and Maurizio Castelli.  Andrea possesses an almost symbiotic relationship with the estate that extends from the barrel aging cellar to the individual vines.  Whether it’s replacing barrels, planing them, pruning the plants or nurturing the grapes to optimal ripeness, his sense of precision is almost uncanny. Soft spoken, he goes about his ways with quiet confidence.

Maurizio is described as “the doctor”.  Although he firmly believes in letting the site and each vintage determine how the wine speaks, Maurizio is a non-interventionist at his core, he remains prepared during the winemaking process to ensure that no “colds” or “infections” damage the wine along its journey. The pair are formidable.

~ The new glazed concrete tanks at Mastrojanni ~

The 2013 Mastrojanni Vigna Loreto Brunello is a superb offering.  It is a deep garnet color that fades to brick at the rim of the bowl. Vinified in the concrete tanks pictured above, the wine is then aged in a combination of various sized Allier barrels.  On the nose, the wine displays focused aromas of crushed cherry, roses, orange rind and cigar tobacco.  It’s enchanting.  On the palate, the wine is viscous, ripe and balanced.  The cherry core of the wine is concentrated and “heavy” but remains fresh and nimble.  Joining are toasted cake spices, brown tobacco leaf and new suede notes.  Balanced with fresh mouth watering acidity, this is built for slightly more than mid-term aging.   A single vineyard Cru that “behaves” like a Riserva and is priced accordingly.  Tasted three times over the course of 2 hours at Gambero Rosso courtesy of my friend Rada.  93 points. Find this wine.

~ Always a very special red. Quality hasn’t budged a bit at Mastrojanni since the take over by Gruppo Illy ~

I remarked the other day in my recent review of Piaggia’s Il Sasso that success should be greatly appreciated when it occurs so consistently and seemingly with little effort. We all know that isn’t true, yet it’s easy to take talented winemakers for granted.  The next entry in this year’s coverage is certainly no exception.  Year in and year out his Brunello leaves a wonderful impression.

~ Terralsole with the impressive Mount Amiata in the background ~

The 2013 Terralsole Brunello is a magnificent gem!  Deep medium ruby in the glass with lovely violet reflections. What I’ve come to know as the trademark Terralsole color.  Again, consistency!  Fresh perfumed flowers and wild crushed red fruits with baking spices mark the nose of the wine.  Love it!  High toned, juicy, crushed red berries on the palate are tinged with fresh sapidity. Crushed cherry, sweet pipe tobacco and fennel follow into a hint of vanilla spice.  With further air, this develops an earthy, meaty character.  An absolutely gorgeous Brunello.  96 points.  Not yet released.  Here’s a link to previous vintages.   Find this wine.

~ Another wonderful effort from Mario Bollag ~

Italy is replete with magnificent vistas, majestic panaromas and bucolic landscapes to photograph, yet every time I return I seem to find spots that stick out in my mind.  A few of these images seared into my consciousness are from the time I spent with Il Palazzone in 2014.  What can I say?  I’m a romantic.

~ This relic makes me want to pop a cork. Why? I do not know. But I don’t argue. ~            Image courtesy of Il Palazzone

The 2013 Il Palazzone is another monumental Brunello in this vintage. Brilliant medium ruby in color that extends all the way to the rim which features a brilliant iodine/copper hue. Classico!  Fresh, focused, floral and crushed fruit aromas lead into soft hazelnut notes.  On the palate this is all about elegance.  Juicy, lively and loaded with ripe wild berry character that adds sweet spices and hints of fresh porcini.  This is only hinting at what it has to give.  As the wine aired further, the aromatic intensity increased.  God, I love this.  96 points.  A must have each vintage!  Find this wine.

~ The 2013 was served with buffalo mozzarella and caprese salad followed by braised short ribs over creamy polenta ~

There are few phrases that conjure up excitement in lovers of Brunello more than the word Montosoli.  Long regarded as one of the most prized microclimates for producing long lived, fresh aromatic Brunello, the Montosoli Hill stands as part of the DOCGs allure.  One of the iconic producers that calls this hill home is Altesino.  After thoroughly enjoying their lovely Estate Brunello which headlined Part 3 of this year’s coverage, I was excited to try the vineyard designate wine.

The 2013 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli fell slightly short of its sibling.  However, I get the sense that I should really add “at the moment” to the end of that sentence; especially in light of my long experience with this wine.

In the glass, the wine is a deep ruby with vibrant shimmering violet reflections.  The aromas from the glass rise effortlessly and perfume the room.  I could literally smell this wine 3-4 feet away from my glass.  Crushed cherry, new leather, spices and ripe tobacco notes are lovely and rub my buttons.  On the palate, the wine is medium bodied on an elegant frame with lots of sour cherry character, minerality, dusty clay notes and sapidity. The structure and length are there.  The knock?  At first this wine was somewhat lean – almost angular and I’ll say barely medium bodied.  However, with air (2+ hours worth) it had plumped up considerably.  Give it time. At the moment it needs a hearty meal or a very long decant but ideally, it needs 5 years or more in the cellar.  Shop around, price varies between $80 and $120.  92+ points.  Find this wine.

~ One of the iconic labels from Montalcino ~

The San Polo estate is owned by the Allegrini family, who brings their Veneto wine making prowess to Montalcino.  The estate has wonderful terroir and claims Biondi Santi and Fattoria Barbi as neighbors on either side.  Yet stylistically, San Polo usually leans more toward the modern side of the spectrum.

The 2013 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino is an attractive wine and an example of skilled winemaking.  It’s very easy to find a vintner who will tell you “the vineyard makes the wine” or “my job is simply not to screw up the grapes”.  However, in 2013 you can tell that is what San Polo embraced.  As I mention above, San Polo typically presents itself as a riper wine with a bit more spice and barrique character.  In 2013, it looks like the team here made what the vintage gave them.  And I like that.

Clear medium ruby with violet reflections, the wine exudes aromas of crushed berry, flowers, tobacco and leather.  Medium to full bodied over an elegant frame, the flavors of cherry, cypress scrub, and floral notes are high toned in an almost brisk way. Juicy, long finish.  This is well made a represents a stylistic departure from San Polo’s norm – even if it is confined to the 2013 vintage.  91 points.  About $50-$60. Find this wine.

~ The 2013 marks a slight shift in style for San Polo that I found interesting ~

Casa Raia sits on a promontory beneath the famed medieval town of Montalcino. The estate once belonged to the patriarchal family of Brunello di Montalcino; Biondi Santi. In 1997, the abandoned farm house was lovingly restored and named Casa Raia after the matriarch of the new family owners, Raissa Temertey.

Today, the current owners Pierre Jean Monnoyer and his wife Kalyna have restored the vineyards with unyielding respect for the land that so generously nurtures the wines to be. They firmly believe in the notion that the “vine makes the wine” and so with every step in the process, painstaking effort is taken to be non-interventionist. Quantity is sacrificed for quality. Organic methods are followed. Pruning takes place according to the cycles of the moon. The natural amphitheater that is formed by Mount Amiata and the hills of Montalcino protect Casa Raia’s oasis and provides an optimal environment for the vines to flourish.

The 2013 Casa Raia Brunello di Montalcino is special indeed.  Medium garnet to ruby at the rim of the glass this displays lots of perfumed sour cherry, new leather, menthol and soft wood note aromas.  Ripe cherry notes on the palate almost getting to the point of being overrripe.  Very juicy with lots of fresh sapidity that balances out that huge core of fruit.  Really delicious although I think that the level of ripeness may bother some tasters. It doesn’t bother me and was delicious with grilled ribeyes and the tomatoes/burrata you see below. 93 points.  Limited importation.  Not yet released.

~ An outstanding effort in 2013 ~

Small, small, small.   I’m always amazed when a producer with so little property and so little production finds its way to our shores, but nevertheless, the 4 hectares of Brunello manicured by the Centolani family do just that.  I’m not sure if this label is an after thought,  a second label or a vineyard direct bottling (the Centolani family also owns Pietranera and Tenuta Friggiali) but this wasn’t my cup of tea.

The 2013 Donna Olga Brunello di Montalcino is a pretty violet color with beaming reflections.  The aromas from the glass are pleasing enough with moderate crushed cherry, hints of worn leather and spices.  A bit simple.  On the palate, the wine is defined by wet turned earth, tea leaves, chestnut and red fruit flavors that neither persist or inspire.  This is more like a geared up Rosso than what I expect from Brunello and this vintage appears to have turned too far toward the austere side of the spectrum.  88 points.  About $34.  Find this wine.

~ Not the most impressive effort ~

And now, as promised, a few special guest stars for this report!   Since we included the full lineup of Val di Suga wines, I thought it might be interesting to check on one from the cellar and that is, the 2006 Val di Suga Brunello Spuntali.

Val di Suga only produces Spuntali inn the best vintages.  Vinified in open topped cement vats for as long as 20-30 days, the wine is then transferred to 300 liter French oak barrique where it rests for 24 months.  Once bottled it ages a minimum 0f 24 months prior to release. In the glass, the wine is a classic, deep ruby color which fades to fine copper rim at the ring of the bowl.

The aromas from the wine are nothing short of extraordinary. Loads of freshly crushed cherry, toasted hazelnut, dark chocolate and cigar tobacco are fragrant in this wonderful masterpiece.

On the palate, the wine is fresh and juicy and explodes with ripe flavors of red cherry, black plum, roasted nuts and ground coffee. Rich, elegant, powerful and very long on the palate; the structure is there from the generous acidity.  Decanted off a good bit of sediment do do so and allow an hour to breathe.  A Brunello to contemplate. 97 points.

~ Assorted antipasti of cured meats, prosciutto, bruschette and other snacks started us off with this wine ~

Finally, we’re heading West out of the Brunello zone…..

~ Do you see the Sea? ~

I have written before on the intensive labor of love the Cecchi brothers have created in the Maremma near Grosseto.  This untamed area of land on the Tuscan coast is the hottest area in Tuscany right now and Andrea Cecchi realized the potential here long ago.  The newly completed Val delle Rose property was created with an enduring vision in mind. To marry technology and innovation with the land and respectfully harness and harvest that which it provides.  They have succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations.

The sun drenched vines on the sprawling estate vary in age and are beginning to produce grapes of amazing intensity and complexity. The wines here are already good and they will continue to get better.  Having already produced a 95+ point wine (Aurelio, 100% Merlot) the Cecchi’s took aim at another varietal with a new inaugural release in the amazing 2015 vintage.

“Samma” is the name of the mythical woman who road on the backs of deer and cared for the lands in the Maremma.  The new wine is dedicated to her; the custodian of the lands before us.  She appears on the wine’s label.

The 2015 Val delle Rose Samma Cabernet is 100% Cabernet Franc that is hand harvested, vinified in stainless steel and then transferred to barrique for 12 months.  Before release, it is bottle aged for an additional 6 to 8 months.  Only 500 cases are produced annually; Samma is a true rarity.

In the glass, the wine presents a deep violet to purple color.  At once, you a struck by complex aromas of fully ripened Cabernet Franc.  Fresh roses, black plum, lavender and gently toasted spices rise from the glass in harmonic perfume.

On the palate, the wine is elegant, rich and long.  Ripe flavors of crushed black plum are punctuated with crushed mint leaf, crushed stone, mineral, salinity and soft wood undertones.  Juicy, fresh and concentrated, the flavors echo on the palate with wonderful persistence.  Yes, it’s young and tannic but with a grilled NY Strip you won’t notice or care.  A unique and inspiring effort that you do not see much in Tuscany.  95 points.

~ An exclusive bottling available in Europe, in fine restaurants and from the winery. Samma is worth the search ~

While this concludes our annual coverage on 2013 Brunello, there will likely be more isolated data points in the future as well as reviews of a few 2013 Riserva.  Some of these may go direct to Newsletter subscribers so please check that out if you haven’t already.

Salute e Buona Pasqua!

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