When I started Tuscan Vines, I did it with a clear mission. I wanted Tuscan Vines to be different. To be more engaged with my readers through the vast channels of Social Media, through my email list and through this website. I also had a different vision for what it meant to be a wine writer. I didn’t want to replicate two sentence tasting notes followed by an arbitrary number. I had no desire to arrange twenty wines in a line and taste through them in 20 minutes. I wanted context. I wanted to convey tradition and the cultural environment that Italian wines were born to thrive in.
In keeping with that tradition, I began thinking of all the recent vintages and how different they are. Recently I’ve tasted wines from across many different vintages and they are aging differently. The positive and negative aspects of each cannot hide in the finished wines. I began to think of the generic and ubiquitous vintage charts. You know the ones; with regions lined up next to stars or scores. General, bland, no context, no description; in short, utterly useless. So I conceived this article and hope it serves as a resource. I will try to add to it as time passes so that it remains contemporaneous.
What follows below are some general comments about the vintages. Where applicable or noteworthy, I have broken out the commentary by wine type. For example, if you look at 2008 you will see comments related to Brunello and Bolgheri but not Chianti Classico. This is because frankly, your 2008 Classicos should be long gone. Having said that, let’s get to it.
Musings and Commentary on Recent Vintages
2008 – Brunello
I remember when this vintage was released. After the classic and long aging 2006 and the warm, riper year of 2007, producers were a bit concerned about 2008. The growing season started with a very cool Spring that transitioned into a moderately warm summer. Toward early Autumn the vintage was marked by degrees of rainfall during harvest. The key for the producers was waiting to harvest until after the rains had subsided. Those who did fared better than those who did not.
Overall, the 2008s remain elegant, in a delicate feminine manner. They are highly aromatic and have pleasing, mouth watering acidity. Upon release, they didn’t seem destined for long cellaring because they did lack the structure required to do so. However, I enjoyed the vintage from release and I’ve not been let down since. As these wines are now 10 years old, I’d say break them out and drink. I think you will be highly satisfied. I still have a bottle or two and frankly, wish I had more. Here is a link to my 2008 Tasting Report.
2008 – Bolgheri
A recurring theme when discussing recent Tuscan vintages is the dichotomy that arises when comparing Central Tuscany to the Coast. This is highlighted especially in the more difficult vintages. The primary reason for this beside geography is the reliance on later ripening varietals within the Bolgheri zone such as Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot. These varieties can be a bit more resistant to rainfall and afford producers a larger window by which to wait out bad weather. The constant sea breezes in the area also help to dry the grapes and prevent mold and fungus on the plants.
With that said, 2008 was a strong vintage for the coastal wines. I remember being enthralled by Guado al Tasso and wines like Lupicaia and Saffredi. While I don’t think these wines will last as long in the cellar as their counterparts from better vintages, they should be delightful wines right now.
2009 – Brunello
The 2009 growing season in Montalcino will be marked as one of the hottest vintages recently recorded. A massive heat wave that arrived suddenly in August put a lot of stress on the vines and caused rapid spikes in sugar that were far ahead of any ideal ripening window. Sudden swings in temperature at such a key stage in the ripening process are not ideal to say the least, and as the heat wave extended into September, it clearly left its mark on the fruit and the resulting wines.
Most producers released Brunello in 2009 but a handful did not. Further, the notable single vineyard wines and Riservas are largely absent. I am no longer holding any 2009 Brunello in my cellar. They were, to me, the epitome of a “drink me now” vintage. Here is a link to my 2009 Tasting Report.
2009 – Central Tuscans
To my point above about more southerly vineyards getting warmer, the opposite can said for the Chianti area. Although a generally rainy spring and late September put a damper on the harvest in general, producers that waited made some wonderful wines. Personally, in addition to enjoying a number of Chianti Classicos from the top producers like Fontodi, Felsina and Castello di Bossi, I have personally bought many of the top wines from this year including Solaia, Flaccianello, Fontalloro, Coevo, Cepparello, Soloio and many others. Many, if not most, are still sleeping in the cellar. I don’t get a sense that they are in any danger of fading and many have had reviews published here already. Drink up your Classicos, but start testing the waters on the vintage’s premium wines.
2009 – Bolgheri
It’s easy to generalize here too. Though I didn’t “go long” on the wines from this area, they are expressive, fruity wines that are elegant (Sangiovese based) and muscular (French based). Examples of the former would be Tassinaia, Perlato del Bosco and Cavaliere. French based reds fared very well. Redigaffi, Lupicaia, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Saffredi, Guado al Tasso and others were and remain impressive. Yet, they are not long cellar candidates in my experience; though I am still holding onto wines like Lupicaia and Sassicaia. There are data points available here so make use of the search feature. It is robust.
2010 – Brunello
On the heels of the challenging 2008 and 2009 vintages, 2010 was a resounding change. Here’s what I wrote at the time of my 2010 Report: “As I spoke with winemaker after winemaker in Montalcino last summer, it was obvious that 2010 was clearly special; and they could barely contain their excitement. The growing season was utterly perfect in every way for the glorious maturation of the Sangiovese grape. The rain was optimal, the temperatures perfect, the winds gentle, and the season long and ideal. It showed in the barrel samples I tasted then and it shows in the finished wines now.”
I wouldn’t change anything about my summation. The 2010s are elegant, structured, fresh, balanced and ideal for long cellar maturation. Sure, you can dip into them now with a good decant. I recommend that regardless because the wines will likely be developing sediment, but as hallmark vintages go, these wines are still babies. From 2020 on they will begin to strut their stuff and drink well into their 20th birthdays. Here is a link to my 2010 Tasting Report.
2010 – Central Tuscans
There isn’t a whole lot to add here relative to my comments regarding 2010 Brunello. However, when the Chianti Classicos were released, it was obvious that the vintage was going to be special. Like the Brunello, the best Super Tuscan wines from 2010 have only begun to enter their best stages for optimal drinking. There is no rush to consume these wines. The same can also be said of the Chianti Classico Riservas and Gran Selezione. I am holding several different bottles of these wines including Castello di Ama, Volpaia, Fonterutoli, Felsina and many others. This vintage is so lovely that if you are still holding 2010 Classicos, they will provide some delicious and interesting drinking. I may have a stray bottle or two, but most are gone. It’s hard to go wrong in 2010 and that’s something that won’t be repeated until the 2015s are fully released.
2010 – Bolgheri
There are always exceptions right? Yes, even in great vintages. This isn’t to say that the quality of the harvest in Bolgheri wasn’t excellent, it was. However, it was generally cooler by the coast all season long and there was more rain there than there was inland. Did it make a difference? Again, not so much for the late ripening but the Sangiovese based wines, especially those from Morellino di Scansano, display some stemmy, unevenly ripened tannins. It’s a vintage to be picky over if buying wines from that zone. It’s an easy pass for me.
2011 – Brunello
2011 – Central Tuscany
2011 – Bolgheri
The same logic applied to Central Tuscany can also be applied to Bolgheri where 2011 represents the best vintage since 2007 – at least until the 2015s are released. The best wines from the area are powerful, ripe, concentrated and fresh, yet display a freshness that makes them attractive from an early age. Their balance will allow them to cellar well past their 15th birthday. This is also a vintage where the Sangiovese wines excelled. Tassinaia and Perlato del Bosco being two that show incredible purity. The Morellino di Scansano provides excellent value in this vintage as well. I cruised through a 6 pack of Val delle Rose’s Morellino. With careful searching, you can still find these wines and I would look; the value is excellent.
2012 – Brunello
2012 started out as a difficult growing season with a cold, wet winter that was followed by a long very hot summer. As I’ve said many times before, vines are living creatures and they can adapt. Like people, vines dislike spikes in temperature that can shock their equilibrium. However, gradual and steady increases are often well tolerated and such was the case with 2012.
Andrea Costanti told me recently that “unlike 2011, where rising temperatures came on suddenly and left the grapes little time to adjust to the intense heat, during 2012 most of the summer was hot and dry, so the grapes had the whole growing season to skillfully adapt. Quality was outstanding with small bunches and tight small berries, which are ideal for Sangiovese.”
Despite the high quality, the quantity of the vintage wasn’t similar. 2012 will easily be among the smallest harvests in the last ten years as the drought conditions significantly reduced yields throughout the zone. Brunello production was down 14% overall compared to 2011, but many producers told me this past May that their production was notably lower. Costanti told me that he had “about 30% less grapes than normal in 2012.”
My Brunello Report from 2012 was so large it was broken into many parts. A good starting point is the Editor’s Pick section at the bottom of the site’s home page. From there, you can refer to many of the reviews. While many of the 2012s were nicely accessible early on and during my tastings, I don’t think they’ve hit their stride yet and many have closed down. Several recent tastings of 2012s over the past few months have left me scratching my head a bit. Leave these in your cellar for at least another 5 years.
2012 – Central Tuscany
These wines have not been favorites of mine. Many producers refused to bottle their top selections. Some declassified their Gran Selezione’s, others decided against Riservas. Wines like Cecchi’s Coevo were passed altogether. I have found a certain austereness to many of these wines that is unappealing to me. They lack a bit of fruit and freshness. They are often somewhat lean with some exhibiting a certain stemminess to the taste profile that again, hints at a lack of optimal ripeness. Tread cautiously and stick with the top bottlings, or put 2012 Brunello into the cellar.
2012 – Bolgheri
Again, the heat and drought at the coast greatly reduced berry size and yields. Relative to its string of successes, 2012 was the weakest vintage in Bolgheri going back almost 10 years. I greatly enjoyed some top bottlings like Sassicaia and Saffredi so the quality can be found if you’re keen to pay for it. However, the “normal” to “average” wines are just that – not very compelling. Stick to the top bottlings.
General Impressions from Umbria
The many similarities between Tuscany and Umbria are not lost here at Tuscan Vines. While the region is dominated by Sangiovese, it’s most widely planted grape, it’s Sagrantino that carries the banner for Umbrian wine royalty. That said, the commentary on the vintages below is mostly directed at Sagrantino and Montefalco Rosso, which is a blend of red grapes including Sagrantino and Sangiovese. Here are links to comprehensive articles on Montefalco and Sagrantino.
Probably the most elegant and accessible vintage of the lot discussed here. The slightly cooler year didn’t push alcohol levels to the extent of the warmer years like 2009 and 2011. Some of these wines are already shedding tannins and I still have examples in the cellar. (Tabarrini, Caprai, Bea) Don’t be fooled into thinking these are soft wines. Open them this winter with roasted meats and hearty pasta ragus.
A good year, though most of the Spring and the first part of Summer was rather rainy. This weather, although at the beginning caused some problems for the plant management, allowed for better management of the dryness during the second part of Summer. The season continued with good development of the plants and a regular harvest. The resulting wines are characterized by good structure and aromatic intensity.
The year started in a very difficult way with the Spring marked by heavy rainfall and low temperatures. This caused a delay in bud break and in the growth of the plants. However, the rainfall turned out to be rather useful in avoiding the water stress from a Summer characterized by moderate dryness and hot temperature swings within a wide range. The harvest started late as a result but gave wines with good alcohol percentages and aromatic intensity, in addition to high acidity. A masculine, incredible vintage that produced Sagrantino to age for 2 decades.
Sagrantino takes a long time to ripen. In fact, it’s not odd to see grapes hanging into November in some of the regions highest areas. That said, many producers mitigated the heat of 2011 very well. In fact, the 2011 Scacciadiavoli was an exceptional example of an elegant wine in a difficult vintage. Other 2011’s are equally gorgeous such as the DiFilippo, the Lungarotti and the Tabarrini Cerqua. These wines are mostly off the radar; are very nice values and can cellar up to 20 years. Seek out these top producers in 2011 and you won’t be disappointed. Be wary of weaker producers. I’ve tasted some 2011s that are way overdone with the wines featuring roasted, raisiny aromas and flavors verging on Amarone.
General Impressions of the Rest
For the most part, I’m keeping this article focused on vintages that have been completely released. That said, I’m encapsulating what we know so far of the three vintages succeeding 2012.
In Brunello, it was called a return to classicism. While many, though not all, of the wines have now been released, my coverage continues. Here’s a link to the first installment of 2013 Brunello and many more parts are in the works. Classicism is a nice word. To me, the best possible spin. What I can say so far is that while many 2013 Brunello can be excellent, they require some cellaring to charm. They have somewhat monolithic appeal at this point and some exhibit stemmy, green tannins, that hint at under ripeness. I think the better producers will have endeavored to make classic wine, but time will tell. Stay tuned for my installments and stick to the best producers.
In Central Tuscany I have not been impressed. I remember reading in Wine Spectator when this vintage was released that the wines were “sleek and vibrant at best, lean and tart at worst.” Well, I’ve seen more of the lean and tart. Thin, lean and tart. Stemmy flavors with drying austere tannins. You can tell the quality in Brunello is slightly better, but a step down from there, gets this. I’ve not bought much (any?) wines from this vintage for my own. There are simply too many better wines around. Look, it’s not hard. I’ve recently found 2010 Nardi Brunello and 2009 Biserno Il Pino at compelling prices.
At the coast, the vintage was better. Again, the reliance on French Grapes makes a difference. While the wines are not bruisers; it was cool there too, they are elegant and the better wines I’ve tasted have been aromatic and fresh. Saffredi, Perlato del Bosco, Lupicaia, Sassicaia, and many Morellino are worth seeking out.
Carmignano Riserva and Poggio dei Colli from Piaggia and Saffredi. Those are the 2014s I’ve had that I really enjoyed and that I would happily drink again. That’s it. Period. The producers can say what they like about harvesting late, thinning the yields, etc. I get it. They need to make a living and I’d do what they are and say what they’re saying if I were in their shoes. However, I’m not. And I still have to pay for the wines. Tignanello 2014 was very good. But it was still $75-$80. Sorry, it’s not that good. I waited for the 2015 or bought 2013. Those are the kind of value judgements I as writer have to make for my readers. Your money is better spent elsewhere. Despite how I began this paragraph, I haven’t bought a single bottle of 2014 for myself. Not at home; not in a restaurant. It will be interesting to attend Benvenuto Brunello in January. Or not.
The polar opposite of 2014. The Goldilocks vintage where everything was “just right”. The temperature, the length of the season, the rains, the wind, the winter and the spring. Clearly the best vintage in 15 years; maybe in the last 25. Tignanello 2015 is legendary already. Sassicaia was just named Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator. The Chianti Classicos I’ve had, and there have been many, are fresh, lively, juicy and ripe and deliver quality beyond their price point. Felsina, Fontodi, Castello di Bossi, Volpaia, Cecchi, Gagliole, Antinori, Scallete, Villa Cerna Primocolle, Castellare, Monteraponi all have data points on this website. Use the Search Feature – it is robust! In two years, the lines will be out the doors with people trying to get into Benvenuto Brunello. This is simply a vintage that you can buy almost blindly and feel confident that you’ve put great wine in your cellar for 15-20 years or more.
Ahhh yes, the bastardized vintage after. Not too much has been released from 2016 yet. Distributors and the like are holding back Chianti Classico while the shelves are stocked with 2015s. That said, I’ve previewed quite a few here and they are very good. I’ve also covered the 2016 Rosso di Montalcino which many people were pouring at Benvenuto Brunello in January. So stay tuned here and via our Newsletter for more exclusive coverage.
We will update this article as more wines are released and vintage quality crystallizes. In the meantime, salute and happy hunting!