When Montalcino released its 2015 Brunello vintage to great and deserved fanfare, it was hard to imagine the iconic hill town continuing that momentum. Whenever a great vintage debuts it’s inevitable that the next vintage released will seem somewhat of a let down. Well, with the release of the 2016 Brunello, Montalcino has turned that notion upside down! As a result, the markets are flush with excellent Sangiovese and there’s never been a better time to buy. Not since the 2006 and 2007s were released has the DOCG seen a pair of vintages this excellent and 2015/2016 are even better.
So, how do the vintages compare? Despite both being excellent, they are very different stylistically.
While 2015 had a warm growing season, it lacked the temperature extremes that marked vintages like 2009 and 2011. At the time, Lorenzo Sassetti from Pertimali told me that “2015 was almost the perfect growing season. The Spring rains were optimal and provided water reserves for the warmer temperatures in July and August. The Summer was mostly dry, but with no temperature spikes that can stress the vines and the swing between day and night temperatures allowed for optimal ripening.”
Although some writers decry 2015 for yielding overripe wines with alcohol levels that are too high, I didn’t see it. Winemakers across Montalcino were very well prepared to produce excellent Brunello and their meticulous care from vineyard to cellar paid dividends. From canopy management and optical berry scanners to soft pressing in the cellar, the wines retained their freshness despite their rich fruit character. It’s a masculine vintage that can be enjoyed now for its exuberant fruit but also age for decades.
Montalcino enjoyed a very even weather pattern during 2016. The winter was slightly warmer than normal but provided enough rain and snow to serve the vines. The Spring was rather rainy but ensured excellent growth of the vines through flowering and fruit set. When Summer arrived the average temperature was a moderate 85 degrees with excellent diurnal swings between night and day. This is critical for aromatic freshness in Sangiovese. Sporadic but useful showers marked the remainder of the growing season and producers enjoyed a long, stress free harvest.
The key descriptors for 2016 are perfume and freshness. Wonderful aromatics, with excellent structure and acidity, these are Brunello for your cellar. They will charm early, but the balance is so deftly obtained that from 10-15 years, these wines will be utterly amazing. Carlo Ferrini, consulting winemaker and owner of the Giodo estate remarked, “in 2016 you can see all the work we’ve done in the vineyards pay off. The vines are more mature, we cultivate better and even work better in the cellar. Even as recent as 10 years ago there have been vast improvements. It’s an exciting time for Montalcino.”
With that said, please enjoy Part 1 of my exclusive annual coverage. Oh, and before I forget, if you fancy finding some of these wines, many if not all of them will be available at Enoteca di Piazza. Use the coupon code “FODERA” exclusive to my readers and you’ll save 10%. No limits, no expiration and shipping is much less than you’d imagine. Now, off we go…..
I Vini di Brunello
Il Palazzone has undergone some exciting changes over the past year. First, they released a new Brunello called “Le Due Porte” with the 2015 vintage. Then, over the summer, the estate was sold to friends of the previous owner. In my interview with the new owners, they have vowed to keep the existing team in place and look forward to building on the estate’s great legacy.
The 2016 Il Palazzone Brunello is a medium violet color throughout. Everything about this wine screams grace and elegance. High toned floral notes mix with perfumed crushed morello cherry and essentially create a singular aroma. On the palate, this is juicy and fresh. Medium to full bodied, nothing about this is a bruiser. Moderate tannins are nicely integrated and the juicy, fresh core of fruit picks up tobacco as it closes. Soft spice lingers in the background. This will be an interesting evolution to watch. 92 points. Find this wine.
As part of my upcoming feature in the Somm Journal about Castello Banfi’s single vineyard projects, I was thrilled to receive an early release of the estate’s newest wine. Although this Brunello will not be released until later this Autumn, the wine has already been bottled for a little over a year. It’s going to be a vineyard to observe. Vigna Marrucheto is about 10 hectares and was planted 13 years ago.
The 2016 Castello Banfi Brunello Vigna Marrucheto is a deep garnet color with dark violet highlights. Decanted for 60 minutes. The aromas are complex with blue flowers, cured salume, savory herbs, and black cherry. Impressive concentration for such a young vineyard. Ripe and elegant on the palate with juicy freshness to the cherry flavors. Full bodied but with an elegance and plushness to the structure. Yet, make no mistake, this is masculine all the way. Cracked black pepper and spices round out the package. Very seductive. Can’t wait to see this vineyard and wine evolve. 96 points. Find this wine.
Despite the rich history of winemaking in Montalcino, it’s not uncommon to find small properties making giant strides and ending up in a position of prominence. Over the past few vintages, Armilla has made such an impression.
In 1980, Silverio Marchetti purchased 4 hectares of land near Tavernelle. At the time, only a dilapidated farm house graced the property. Immediately, he began planting vineyards and since he was close to retirement, decided to begin making wine. Eventually he registered his property within the Brunello zone in 1995. Sadly, before his first Brunello could be released, Silverio passed away. Today, the estate is managed by his wife, his daughters and his grand children.
The 2016 Armilla Brunello is a classic medium ruby color that fades to a precise sunburst, iodine colored rim. Crushed wild raspberry, freshly cut flowers, soft wood notes and spices mark the enticing nose. Bright, juicy and almost cheery on the palate; the freshness here is amazing. Mouthwatering cherry and berry notes are accented by powdered spices, cypress laced tobacco and fresh fennel. Bursting with juiciness. I just adore this and think it’s better than their 2015. 95 points. Find this wine.
Not unlike other wineries in Montalcino, Argiano has undergone its share of ownership changes over the last few decades. A founding member of the Consorzio, the estate was sold in 1992 to Countess Noemi Cinzano who revitalized the property and winemaking by enlisting Giacomo Tachis as a consultant. She sold the estate in 2013 to Bernadino Sani who is also the current winemaker.
The 2016 Argiano Brunello is a deep violet in the glass. This is very similar to its 2015 sibling. On the nose, the crushed cherry fruit is ripe and prominent with toasted tobacco leaf and black pepper present as well. On the palate, this is meaty with juicy crushed berry, savory herbs and iron character. The tannins are largely structured and although integrated well, they are notable and muscular. This needs a long decant and a hunk of meat right now but what it really needs is 5 years in the cellar. 93 points. Find this wine.
I have long experience with Tenuta Fanti across their entire, excellent portfolio. However, over the last two vintages, I count this Brunello as one of my favorite. It hits what I call the “Trifecta of Vino” – High Quality, Affordability, Availability. Seek it out.
The 2016 Tenuta Fanti Vallocchio Brunello is a Cru selection of several vineyards on the Fanti estate. Deep ruby in the glass with vibrant violet reflections, this is a floral bomb on the nose! Red flowers, lavender, fresh sage and cherries are harmonious. On the palate, this is so graceful and elegant. Mouthwatering, juicy and fresh the full bodied crushed wild berry glides from front to back. As good as this is right now, its best days lie ahead. Give it 5 years if you can. Tremendous value. 96 points. Find this wine.
Poggio Landi is the Brunello estate of the Vagliagli based Dievole. The estate stretches over 75 hectares which are scattered throughout the zone. The patchwork begins near the historic center of Montalcino and dots the denomination to the southern part of the zone. This provides Poggio Landi with a varied terroir as soil, altitudes and exposure vary across their vineyards.
The 2016 Poggio Landi Brunello is an intriguing wine. At first blush, the color looks a bit more advanced than one might expect. Deep ruby fades to violet and expands to copper at the rim of the bowl. However, the wine is fresh and lively. Bright aromas of berries and cherry are accented by dried cigar tobacco and herb notes. On the palate, the wine is sapid and juicy with slightly chewy wild cherry and strawberry character. Hints of balsamic and tobacco give this an earthy streak. Aged 38 months in large French oak and at least 6 months in bottle before release. 92 points. Find this wine.
When I recently tasted Casanova di Neri’s 2015 Brunello, I was amazed at the purity of the fruit and the length of the wine. An additional bonus is the approximate production of about 50,000 bottles per year. As a result, finding the wine is not too difficult.
Giacomo Neri founded his winery in 1971 but didn’t release his first wine until 1978. For such a young endeavor, he has made an enormous impact on Montalcino.
The 2016 Casanova di Neri Brunello is a worthy successor to the great 2015. Though for me, at least right now, it’s a step below its older sibling. But, that’s not a very big step. Deep, bright ruby color. Boisterous aromas of cherries and blue flowers. Hints of leather and tobacco too. So fresh! Juicy, pure and bright on the palate with mouthwatering flavors of wild cherry and fresh herbs. Turns chalky and dusty on the finish where there is a slight hint of bitterness. Approachable now with decanting or wait 5 years. 94 points. Find this wine.
Quality Brunello produced in large enough quantity to remain affordable and available is noteworthy. These factors are some of the reasons I always enjoy the Estate Brunello from Castello Banfi. As I began transcribing my notes for the next wine in this report, I wondered if I was being overly negative. Then I went back and looked at all the scores I’ve ever awarded the Estate Brunello. The highest ever was 94, in my 2010 Retrospective Tasting Report. When I reviewed my note on the 2015, my impressions of the 2016 seem to fit the pattern.
The 2016 Castello Banfi Brunello is a medium violet color. Expressive on the nose straight from the bottle; the wine exudes aromas of crushed wild berry, soft spice notes, sandalwood and a hint of tobacco. It’s attractive. On the palate, the wine is elegant and fresh. Medium bodied flavors of cherry are accented with soft spice and wood notes. Tannins are unobtrusive. As Brunello goes, this seems a bit light in body for my taste. Will be interesting to see if aging changes the evolution here. 90 points. Find this wine.
La Magia is a producer that doesn’t get a lot of discussion in Brunello circles. I first tasted their wines as part of my 2011 Brunello Coverage and they’ve only gotten better as witnessed by their 2015 Estate wine. Ignore them now at your peril.
The estate was founded in 1976 by the Schwarz family who farm their 15 hectares that lie on sloping hillsides within view of the famed Sant’Antimo Abbey. At 450 meters above sea level, the La Magia wines retain a fresh elegance. Fabian Schwarz runs the estate operations and tends to the vineyards; many of which are 40+ years old.
For this installment, I am reviewing their excellent 2016 Cru Brunello Ciliegio. Named after the twin cherry trees that flank the vineyard which provides the fruit for this wine, Ciliegio mean cherry, the vines are 42 years old. First produced in 2010, the wine is only made in outstanding vintages.
Deep ruby in the glass with violet highlights, the wine sports an enticing aroma of black cherry, violets, pipe tobacco, toasted Asian spices and chestnut. It’s so inviting. On the palate the wine runs the gamut from vibrant to savory. Juicy wild berry notes are full bodied but nimble. Fresh and lively, flavors of tobacco, fennel and cured meat add complexity. A dusty mineral streak marks the finish. This is tannic, but not so intrusive as to be unapproachable. It’s so delicious now but I can only see it getting better as it fleshes out more. A wonderful effort. 96 points. Only 1,108 bottles produced. Find this wine. PS – to Lisa, who moved heaven and earth to get her wines to me, again, thank you!
The 2016 Talenti Brunello is a deep ruby color throughout that lightens just slightly at the rim. Oddly, in contrast to the 2015, this is a darker wine which is somewhat unexpected. On the nose, the wine is vibrant with loads of wild cherry and red berry that are framed by roasted chestnut, leather and worn wood. I love it! On the palate, the wine screams freshness. Crushed berries abound that are sapid and crunchy with ancillary notes of cigar tobacco, fresh fennel frond and roasted coffee. Juicy and lively, the tannins are perfectly balanced. This is another wonderful effort and a must buy that is widely available. 97 points. Find this wine.
That will wrap the first installment of Brunello 2016. However, there are many more parts coming. As I taste, snippets will be available via Twitter and my Newsletter in advance of appearing on the website. So follow along or subscribe if you want the information first.