~ The silhouette of Castello Banfi against twilight ~

It has been said repeatedly that there are no bad vintages, just in some years, winemakers make less wine.  I completely understand that sentiment but I’ve never really agreed with it.  And while I also champion the notion of producer over vintage, that only goes so far.  Regardless of how you phrase it,  the fact remains that 2014 was the weakest vintage in Montalcino since 2002.  Nothing else comes close.

Numerous producers decided not to produce any Brunello.  Those estates include Il Palazzone, Biondi Santi, Soldera, Costanti, Poggio Antico, Salvioni, Voliero and Mate.  Single vineyard wines are non-existent as are Riservas. This speaks volumes when applying “Producer over Vintage”.

I was debating whether I should devote a lengthy article to this vintage.  Ultimately I decided it would not be fair or professional to all interested parties if I minimized my coverage.  Just like the dis-loyal cherry picking consumer or retailer who only shows up for great vintages and then disappears until the next go round.  No, that’s not me.

So, is the vintage a complete washout?  Should you skip it all together?  Are there any wines from 2014 worth cellaring?  These are valid and important questions and there are always exceptions to every generalization.  So let’s start answering them.

Given the vast number of estates that skipped Brunello 2014, this year’s report is significantly smaller and will consist of only 2 Parts.

~ Vineyards on the Col d’Orcia estate in Southern Montalcino near Sant’Angelo Scalo ~

Brunello 2014

I formed initial impressions of Brunello 2014 at the Benvenuto Brunello tasting when the vintage debuted in January.  Since then, I’ve heard rumblings within the trade that the wines are fading rapidly. Therefore, where appropriate I am including my score from Benvenuto simply denoted as “BB“.  The first wine reviewed for this report was the best wine I tasted that day.

~ The Sasso di Sole winery is in the far North East corner of the Brunello zone near Torrenieri ~

The 2014 Sasso di Sole Brunello is one of the stars of this vintage.  I last tasted the wine back in February and it’s just as good now as it was then.  Medium ruby, with violet reflections, the wine’s color has remained constant. Rather expressive on the nose with aromas of crushed berries, fresh flowers and flinty minerals.  On the palate, the wine is medium bodied with ripe, fresh flavors of berries,  leaf tobacco and soft wood tones. Elegant and well balanced.  A wonderful effort.  93 points.  BB 91-93.  Find this wine.

Brunello wine in glass

~ The Sasso di Sole Brunello is holding firm and still a very enjoyable bottle of Brunello ~

Another wine that has been very pleasing on a few different occasions is the 2014 Castello Banfi Brunello.  While many estates declassified Riserva fruit into their estate Brunello, Castello Banfi took it a step further by including about 10% of juice from the 2015 vintage in this wine.  (Up to 15% is allowed under DOCG regulations)

The 2014 is a solid medium ruby color and offers a pretty nose of crushed berry, toasted spice and flowers. Medium body with nice cherry flavors and soft vanilla notes. Straight forward. Fades a bit on the finish. Drink now.  87 points.  BB 88-90. Find this wine.

~ Nice color and good body here but like every other 2014, its best days are here and now. There is no reason to hold onto these wines ~

Tenuta Giodo is the child of respected enologist Carlo Ferrini.  A small 6 hectare estate in the Southern part of the Brunello zone, Ferrini honors his parents with the name of his wine.  The estate was founded in 2002 and today Carlo’s daughter Blanca is intimately involved with the production.

Giodo encapsulates above all my own history with Sangiovese, my first great love. Its name is a tribute to my parents, Giovanna and Donatello, to whom I owe everything.

The 2014 Podere Giodo Brunello is well done for the vintage.  A clear medium ruby in the glass, the wine has some violet reflections.  A nice nose of berries, hints of strawberry, vanilla and spices are notable. Medium bodied with nice sweet ripe fruit that to turns to soft wood and vanilla notes.  Very soft tannins dot the finish. A pleasing wine and a commendable effort.  89 points.  Not tasted at BB.  Find this wine.

~ The degree to which this wine impressed makes me curious to seek it out in better vintages.  ~

The next wine out of the gate fell a little flat.

The 2014 Altesino Brunello is a lighter ruby red than the Giodo and is already displaying a notable fade to copper/brown at the rim of the bowl.  There is nice nose of berry, flowers and spices with added pine notes.  On the palate, it’s light to medium in body with moderate amounts of red fruits and spices. The mid-palate is rather hollow and some seedy/stemmy tannins show up on the finish.  86 points.  BB 87-89. Find this wine.

~ With an estate this excellent everyone gets a mulligan. Still, I can’t imagine this wine has much life ahead of it. ~

My love for Baricci is well known.  They are normally one of my favorite producers from the Montosoli Hill but even they struggled in a vintage as difficult as 2014.

Francesco expressed his concern when I visited him last June about how difficult the recent summers were becoming.  After three green harvests during the growing season, his production for 2014 was almost 40% less than normal.   The 2014 Baricci Brunello is a medium ruby that fades to a copper rim near the edge of the glass.  The aromas are nice with crushed berries, flowers and sandalwood notes. Medium bodied on the palate that turns lighter toward the finish.  There is a good core of cherry fruit, laced with very soft dusty tannins.  Not a lot of complexity here but that’s as expected.  88 points.  Not tasted at BB.  Find this wine.

~ A soft, elegant wine that should be drunk now ~

Since first tasting Collemattoni in the 2011 vintage I’ve been very impressed with this estate.  Just a short distance from Sant’Angelo in Colle, the estate takes its name from the farmhouse on the property which dates back to the year 1672.  Since 1798, the estate has been in the hands of the Bucci family who has lovingly crafted classic wines.  Despite the long tenured history, Collemattoni has been improving their wines and their estate rapidly. Since 2012, the estate has received a certified organic designation and now generates over 80% of the electricity they need from owned dedicated solar panels.

The 2014 Collemattoni Brunello shows a bit of the struggle of 2014.  In the glass, the wine is a clear medium ruby with some violet reflections and a hint of classic sunburst at the rim of the bowl.  The nose is reticent at first but develops soft wood notes and moderate cherry tones.  There’s a bit of funk on the nose as the wine opens with air.  Decent initial attack of fruit on the palate but turns a bit thin on the midpalate.  With further aeration the “funk” turns to mulch and tobacco.  The fruit plumps up slightly on the palate but overall, this is just a good effort.  86 points. Not tasted at BB.  Find this wine.

~ Classic coloring to this Brunello but it lacks a bit of body on the palate ~

The Pietranera estate is owned by the Centolani family and consists of approximately 200 hectares.  Located about 1 mile from the famous Sant’Antimo Abbey, the Centolani’s employ an interesting regimen for aging their Brunello. French oak is used from the Allier forest in 20, 30, 50 and 100 hectoliter sizes.  The effect on the wine is one of interesting balance; especially in stronger vintages.

The 2014 Pietranera Brunello is adark medium ruby that offers a shy nose of menthol, hazelnut and crushed red fruits.  Rather intriguing. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied with fairly nice concentration.  There’s some sweetness and lift to the fruit, but it dries out pretty quickly on the finish.  A nice wine, but nothing truly special.  87 points.  Not tasted at BB.  Find this wine.

~ A solid effort but again, the 2014 vintage simply weighs heavily on some of these wines and understandably so ~

The Brunelli estate was established in 1987 when Gianni Brunelli purchased the vineyards of Le Chiuse di Sotto. Originally intending to produce wine for his restaurant in Siena, it wasn’t long before Brunelli realized he could easily sell his production of Brunello. His wife Laura began working by his side and after his passing in 2008, became the sole owner of the estate. Today she is intimately involved in the it’s affairs, though Paolo Vagaggini is the winemaker. Today the estate remains a small 14 hectares and we are looking at it’s latest release.

Grape vines

~ The vineyards of Gianni Brunelli ~

The 2014 Gianni Brunelli Brunello proves the exception and reinforces the idiom that “there are no bad vintages, it’s just that in some years, we make less wine.”

Deep ruby in the glass, you are immediately struck by how expressive this is on the nose.  Fresh flowers, crushed ripe red fruits and hints of vanilla are very attractive. On the palate, this is medium to full bodied with impressive concentration of red fruit flavors that add tobacco and sage leaf. Very well balanced.  Hard to believe this is a 2014.  It’s absolutely delicious.  I’m betting this has the maximum allowed percentage (15%) of wine from other vintages, but I cannot confirm.  93 points. Not tasted at BB.  Find this wine.

~ Along with the Sasso di Sole, this may be the wine of the vintage ~

Winemaker Antonio Zaccheo told me at Benvenuto Brunello that his yields were done almost 30% in 2014.  This reduction in selection shows in the finished Brunello.  The 2014 Carpineto Brunello is a medium ruby color with violet reflections throughout.  Bright, crushed cherry, pipe tobacco and fresh fennel notes mark the aromas.   Medium bodied, with fresh, lively flavors of cherries and spices that carry through to a well balanced finish. Ready to drink but absolutely enjoyable.  90 points.  BB 89-91.  Find this wine.

~ This is another exceptional effort in 2014 that is drinking very well right now ~

There is a Poggiotondo Estate in Chianti that lies between Florence and Pisa.  I thought perhaps that the following wine was crafted by them with purchased grapes but I cannot confirm that.  The importer of record is Soilair Selections – but they have no information on their website about Pogggiotondo.  The Brunello Consorzio does not reflect the name of the producer (also Centolani like Pietranera) or the wine estate.  So… let us review the basics. The wine is labeled Brunello di Montalcino. Therefore, we know it is bottled within the DOCG zone and made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso.

The 2014 Poggiotondo Brunello is a light to medium ruby in color.  On the nose there is a nice amount of crushed red fruit, dried herbs, earth and tobacco. Very tertiary and seemingly advanced.  High toned, almost tart red fruit on the palate with lots of dried herb and cigarette tobacco character.  Medium bodied and quite austere.  It almost seems to need time but I’m concerned the fruit would dry out further.  Drink now.  84 points. Not tasted at BB.  Find this wine.

~ This isn’t bad where it’s at right now if you like a lot of dried herb character in your Brunello. Drink with hearty braised dishes and it’ll work nicely ~

Closing Remarks

There are a few things to say here that will likely bear repeating as subsequent Parts to this coverage publish.  

First, I think it’s important to note that regardless of how well the 2014 Brunello show, they are not wines to hold or cellar.  They are ready to drink now. 

Secondly, although some of the wines are nice, they are – as I said to my wife – still alcoholic!  And well, if I’m going to put alcohol into my body it’s damn well going to be something I enjoy.  This hurts the vintage in my mind.

Thirdly, is the notion of price.  These wines aren’t bargains.  After spending lots of time with winemakers I admit to being torn here.  The consumer in me says – this is a product that isn’t up to normal standards so why should I pay the same price as a better vintage?  The writer in me understands the winemakers/farmers plight. Many have told me, in a bad vintage we work much, much harder to make a quality wine. Therefore, we deserve to be compensated for the additional hard work.   I cannot argue with that.  I even agree with it.  But ultimately, it’s not going to get me to buy these wines.

If you have a deep cellar of better Brunello vintages, I  can’t see buying these except with two exceptions: 1) the wines are ready to drink. So if you’re in a restaurant and find one of these wines that are more highly reviewed, go for it!  It will make a nice meal companion.  2) Sentimentality.  Is 2014 a birth year? Wedding year?  Don’t want to create a hole in a vertical you might be collecting?  Then go for it.  Just realize, these wines will have very, very short life spans.

Stay tuned for more as our coverage continues.  For now, enjoy!

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