Montalcino Vintages 2010 & 2009
The producers of Brunello opened this year’s presentation of new releases in Montalcino with a Trifecta—or, to use a more appropriate soccer metaphor, they did the hat trick. For the first time, all three vintages on show—this year, 2010 Rosso di Montalcino, 2007 Brunello, and 2006 Brunello Riserva—had been awarded Five Stars. Though the Consorzio of Brunello, which rates the vintages, has in the past been (rightly) accused of boosterism, this year’s rankings were definitely not grade inflation: all three vintages were the real thing, though in three quite different ways.
The Consorzio describes the 2007 Brunello as “both elegant and structured, with good polyphenolic components and balanced acidity”—a judgment most of the journalists present and all of the winemakers I spoke to concurred in. To my palate, its freshness and accessibility were striking: this is a Brunello vintage that you don’t have to wait for.
Pablo Harri, who has made wine at Banfi and Col d’Orcia and now oversees Ferrero, distinguishes between the ’07 and the ’06 vintages exactly in terms of their approachability. “If I were buying a wine to drink now,” he says, “I’d choose the 2007. If I want a wine to cellar, I’d buy the ’06. The ’06 has a little bit better structure, firmer tannins. The ’07 is already drinkable, and may not live quite as long.”
What neither Harri nor any other winemaker I spoke to remarked on, however, is a factor that I find very significant for the success of these wines: the dramatic reduction of the obvious traces of new oak. The 2007s I sampled showed almost no oak aromas or flavors to distort their solid sangiovese characters, and while a handful of 2006 Riservas had slight charred oak or espresso aromas, none revealed any oak dominance on the palate—just lovely sangiovese black cherry and mineral flavors. That’s a very big change from previous years, and a marked shift away from the international style back to a more traditional Tuscan taste.
Of the 2006 and 2010 vintages, the Consorzio simply says, with unaccustomed brevity, “two of the best vintages ever.” Most producers described the 2006 vintage as, simply, “classic” and the great majority of attendees, press and producer, agreed. As for 2010, in all the years I have attended Benvenuto Brunello, I’ve never seen such enthusiasm for a vintage. Maria Flora Fuligni, who has overseen 50 vintages at her estate, says flatly “These were the finest grapes I’ve ever seen.” The weather in both harvests was surprising in that it was very close to normal in both cases—cool, slightly rainy springs, warm but not torrid summers, alternating showers and sunshine in the fall, with mild temperatures, all combining to make healthy harvests. Given how erratic Montalcino’s weather has been in the intervening years, “normal” almost becomes abnormal.
Represented at the showing by what is usually regarded as the “least” wine of Montalcino, the Rosso, 2010 was nevertheless stunning. I tasted close to 50 of them, and they were across the board gorgeous, with big fresh fruit, soft tannins, and beautifully invigorating acidity—as good as Rosso di Montalcino gets.
A final word about the event as a whole: even with 141 different producers offering about three times that number of wines, I couldn’t help but be struck by the firmness of Brunello’s identity, particularly as compared to the diffuseness of Chianti’s. With its half-baked scandal rapidly fading into the past, and with the overwhelming vote of Consorzio members to reject blending varieties other than sangiovese into their Rosso, Brunello producers seemed altogether upbeat and positive. For my palate, their wines showed that their faith in their native Brunello clones of sangiovese is fully justified.