Brunello di Montalcino 2015 Vintage Report

Filippo Bartolotta

With each new year, comes new vintages that each important wine appellation beckons us all to try. These “Anteprime,” (the Italian version of the French “En Primeur”) are what brings me to you today, February 24th, having already tasted 1800 wines in 2020. 

The appellations in these 1800 wines include Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, Valpolicella, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Morellino di Scansano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.

 

In the next few weeks, I will report on all of the different appellations either with an article on this blog, or over a podcast with Elisabeth Schneider https://www.winefornormalpeople.com/what-we-do/#podcast , or on my friend Divina Vitale’s site, WineAttitude.it.

Along with the excitement of vintage reports, I am eager to share a few more exciting things coming up on the site: 

  • Videoclips on Italian wines and grape varieties with Bianca Mazzinghi along with some awesome WSET wine programs with her brand new https://bwineschool.com 
  • With Asa Johansson, Emanuele Gobbi and Aili Puskar we are going to be tasting thousands of wines from all over Italy -plus some juicy bites from the rest of the world:)- to get everyone a little closer to this magical world. 
  • Elena Grigio, Benedetta Marinelli and Jen Carter of https://www.theamazingitalianwinejourney.com are hard at work for the 2020/2021 Road Show. 
  • Of course, my business partner Vanessa Held and my main company www.LeBaccanti.com will overview these new ventures!

There’s more on the pipeline but this is plenty for now 🙂

Now getting to our vintage reports. I will start right from the most recent one, the Brunello di Montalcino.

 

 

As most of you know, Brunello di Montalcino is one of the worlds most established and respected collective wine brands, and this is for many reasons.

Enjoying the presence of very diverse geographical features such as the Mediterranean sea breeze, this area is also one of the driest in Tuscany, with the presence of an extinct volcano, the ancient Eocene soil formation, it is no wonder that the temperamental Sangiovese (the only permitted variety in the DOCG) thrives here. 

Brunello is known for its generous, juicy, red fruit combined with some licorice, blood orange, Mediterranean herbs and spices, and a leathery finish with a pretty important structure and longevity. Sweet fruit, ample bouquet and age-ability has granted this wine a strong love relationship with most wine lovers.

From 12 wine makers in the mid ‘60s to 250 today, this appellation is now boasting an average of 8-9 million bottles every year and the quality is always quite high across the board.

The wine must age for 5 years minimum (6 for the Riserva) before market release, hence the 2015 finally being able to be released!

Coming off last years rainy, leaner than average 2014 showing, Brunello di Montalcino 2015 is already a very praised vintage by both winemakers and critics!

Asa, Divina and I have gone through over 150 wines and we felt that most of the Brunellos had a very expressive nose, with super ripe red fruit and a pretty strong alcoholic presence, which can deliver more nuances and aromas but it could also end up giving an un pleasant burning finish. The palate was typically found to have a very sweet beginning, but often with a drier-than -expected finish. 

This could probably be contributed to the very hot summer of 2015, which made the vine suffer so much that in some cases, everything shut down and halted maturation; ultimately resulting in harsh and unripe tannins.

Giovanni Neri, of Casanova dei Neri, said “this is maybe one of the best vintages ever…he paused with a little smile…until 2016 will come next year” I felt that both his White label and the “Tenuta Nuova” Cru delivered a really outstanding balance with very well extracted fruit and a perfect tannic extraction.

In my book, Giovanni is one of the most humble and prepared new generation winemakers that there currently is in Montalcino, so I am planning on following his train of thoughts closely.

Sebastian Nasello, of Podere Le Ripi, is another one of the talented newer generation winemakers worth noting. When discussing the 2015 vintage, he mentioned that he had to give up some of the crop due to the heat, but in the end, the grapes that he brought home worked their own magic, turning themselves into beautiful wine! 

Le Ripi, owned by Francesco Illy (yes, the coffee family), has recently turned unofficially biodynamic and everyone there seems to be very happy about this switch. As far as I am concerned, the seductive sweet fruit and the way that the wines shine in the glass with such bright transparency is what every Sangiovese should be.

While enjoying one of the most fun and delicious wine gala dinners run by Chef Enrico Bartolini, I had the chance to chat a bit with Giulia Harri, 28, owner and winemaker at Ferrero. 

On top of impressive profession, she also has a really gifted nose and shares the same impression about the drier-than-expected tannins but at the same time says that, “These wines are showing a very approachable palate and generous fruit.” Her tiny 3-hectare estate has managed to release one of our favorite wines of the lot, thanks to its juicy, high-energy style.

While sampling some 2016 and 2019 Sangiovese from barrel at Poggio Landi Winery, the sentiment that Giovanni Neri had voiced about the 2016 vintage was affirmed by the overall feeling also at Poggio Landi that 2016 will be a much more balanced and elegant vintage than 2015. 

Morever, at yet another barrel tasting carried out with Andrea Lonardi of Valdisuga, the majority of the critics felt that the elegant body of 2016 versus the 2015 was already showing to be more ready than the more upfront and slightly abrasive 2015, but it also depends where the crop is coming from! This winery visit was particularly interesting because it also included the best winemaker’s presentation I have ever assisted in about terroir: “often wine lovers talk about Montalcino as a one block, instead just by taking a closer look to the diverse vegetation around the appellation, one can figure out what type of wines are made: when you see the big 400 years olive trees, one can expect warmer and more generous wines, while the fir-trees indicated more austere Brunellos for example”, says Lonardi.

I gotta add that most of the great wineries produced a world class wine, pretty much as usual. While I was going trough the several samples, always trusting instinct and intuition first, the best wines stood out from the crowd with great sweet and delicious red fruit and a very food friendly character and depth. Wines like Marroneto, Salvioni, Poggio di Sotto, Lisini are still present in my tasting memory from last week. Also a couple of established wineries like Donatella Cinelli Cololmibi and Castiglion del Bosco released some of their best wines ever!

In the next few days Divina, Asa and I will be publishing tasting notes of our favorite ~25 Brunellos. In the meantime, I would like to suggest that while you are waiting for those cases of 2015 Brunello to arrive, start trying some Rosso di Montalcino! This little brother of Brunello not only has so much fruit and great acidity to offer but also, in the best cases, an unbelievable complexity and structure.

The majority can be found on the shelves for less than 20€ while some cult ones can go close to 100€. Among the latter ones are Poggio di Sotto and Biondi Santi, which are becoming more and more structured, with remarkable aging potential. Some great Rosso 2018’s are Le Potazzine (p.s. their Brunello has been in my top 20 for the past 8 years in a row), Baricci, Le Chiuse di Sotto (another safe, and always sound, Brunello), Pietroso and Col d’Orcia, just to name a few magical ones!