“There is something new in the sun today, indeed something ancient…. A breath of sweet air…. an air from another place and another month and another life: a celestial air that holds many white wings suspended…”
The medieval tower of Palazzo dei Priori stands alone in the clear sky of this day of winter as a proud stronghold of sturdiness and resilience; the round arches of La Loggia observe with composed joy a Piazza del Popolo animated by the coming and going of passers-by. The shutters are up, the stores are open. Montalcino is absolutely beautiful! We enter what was the only bar open in March and sat down comfortably at a table for breakfast, after showing our green pass. The bar is full of life within the limits of actual constraints. The tinkling of the cups, the click clack of the coffee machine that runs fast to offer its precious morning pampering to the numerous guests, their voices in the background, some still sleepy, others already busy. I will never take the noise of life for granted again. It is November and we are heading towards the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino because something extraordinary is about to happen…
This all happened a couple of months ago and by now the time is approaching for Brunello di Montalcino 2017 to make its official debut on national and international markets together with Riserva 2016 and Rosso di Montalcino 2020. For the first time the Consorzio has decided to anticipate the tasting of the new vintages to the month of November 2021, a decision that has aroused several perplexities among both producers and wine experts. I read all the articles published so far on this November edition of Benvenuto Brunello, I took part in the tasting myself and I am ready to give my opinion.
I must tell you first that I visit wine cellars quite often, in Montalcino and all over Italy, and I love to indulge in barrel tastings, even of musts. A well-known Sommelier, much more experienced than I, objected to this approach of mine, because he rightly claims that the story of such tastings is totally irrelevant to the final consumer’s choice. He may be right, but truth be told I do not exactly represent the final consumer, as well as all my colleagues who have been able to taste the new vintages a few months in advance, with all that this implies.
Well, it’s been two years now that I have been suggesting to all winelovers to put some money aside for the 2016 Brunello Riserva, and that vintage 2019, tasted in at least six of Montalcino’s most representative wineries between January and February 2020, often still in malolactic, already carried the promise of the most fabulous of vintages, a promise always confirmed by the numerous tastings that came later, and will continue in the future as well! (I am already planning a new tour!) This is why I do not think it is such a bad idea to anticipate the tasting by a few months to the experts who have developed the skills to be able to read and narrate a wine also in perspective after all!
In the meantime, it must be said that with Brunello 2017 we can immediately dispel a false myth: difficult vintage = wine of inferior quality. This is the rumor that was already circulating among buyers, unfortunately, and to be able to disprove it as soon as possible with the facts in hand can only be a competitive advantage for the entire Appellation. A difficult year, certainly, but for those who had to manage the vineyard while dealing with a capricious Nature, but not for us consumers! Quite the contrary! The tastings do not lie, and contrary to what one might expect from a hot year, I was personally surprised by the freshness and liveliness of the sip that I was able to find pretty much in all of my tastings. Montalcino once again proves to be more than ever a DOCG of excellence, whose production is based on the widespread ability to do well regardless the specific terroir and stylistic orientation of each winery.
Rivers of words have already been used to describe the enchantment of the 2016 Riserva, I have tasted many of them both at BBOff and in several wineris, and all of them were superlative to say the least, even long before bottling. Once again, put your money aside, and buy lots of bottles, to drink immediately, to store, but buy plenty of them because you will never have enough! I don’t like to tell names or list my best tastings, but I must tell you the story of Sanlorenzo’s 2016 Brunello Bramante Riserva, extrapolating a passage from a previous article of mine that you can find here
” And then there’s the masterpiece, the barrel on the far right, the one I would have taken home in one piece, and I swear I’d be able to finish I all! It is the Riserva 2016 that rests quietly and blissfully and has reached a level of perfection that we will find only in a few years after bottling, scheduled for the end of this summer. Because bottling is a trauma that upsets everything quite a bit! You may be able to wait until 2022, but not me however, because I have already tasted it and therefore it would be a truly poignant wait, and that is why I will go back and visit Luciano in August! “
P.S. … and I did go back three, four, five, maybe six times! I’ve lost track! The last tasting a few days before bottling, postponed to March 2021 due to space problems.
And what shall I tell you about the two barrels of Madonna delle Grazie 2016 and their blend improvised in the glass by Alessandro Mori in February 2020. Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Because it was already breathtaking and left me speechless! So very moving! A wonder. And I would have many more stories like these, if you’re a fan of lists read more here, but I am due to write an article, not a book. Going back to the original question whether it is possible to anticipate the tasting by a few months before its release and still appreciate the qualities and the potentialities of these wines, well I think I have answered thoroughly.
I will wrap it up with some brief considerations on Rosso di Montalcino 2020 (a good number of wineries presented 2019 however) because here too the 1,000 characters recommended for an article like this would not be enough. We should stop defining it as the little brother of Brunello and stop looking for similarities with it, I confess, I have done it myself in the past. Rosso di Montalcino deserves its own personal kingdom as it plays its own game and tells a different story of equal excellence; it is graceful, dynamic, accessible and on average with a value for money that has no equal. It has great aging potential but is so good that you always end up drinking it all at once. The tastings done were very eloquent! In conclusion, a winning initiative in my opinion, with two prescriptions: it should be mainly for wine professionals and considering that maybe ten days are a bit too many for everyone, especially for small producers with fewer bottles to be destined to the various trade fairies and professional tastings. We all still missed the producers however!