If you want to experience the energy, elegance and age-worthy structure that first drew wine lovers and collectors to Brunello di Montalcino decades ago, then 2013 is your vintage.
A classic vintage, the best 2013s boast remarkable aging potential, the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. I tasted 181 of the just-released Brunellos, and rated 112 wines 90 points or higher, with 21 receiving 95 points or more, including one perfect score of 100. The top wines are stunning, with a radiance that has been missing in many of the muscular, more approachable and higher alcohol Brunellos that we’ve become accustomed to from recent vintages. The 2013s will require patience to reach their maximum potential.
Unlike the extremely warm, dry years that have become the norm in Montalcino since the mid-1990s, (with a few exceptions, like 2002, 2005 and 1998 for example) 2013 was a blast from the past: a cool year, with abundant rainfall in spring and the first part of the summer. Vineyard management to keep grapes free of disease proved critical. The vintage was pretty much decided in September and the first half of October: while cooler temperatures prevailed, grapes benefitted from ample sunshine and breezy conditions.
2013 proved to be an incredibly long, slow growing season. Growers who made it to September with healthy grapes – and thankfully many did – were able to enjoy the mild, sunny weather, and produced fragrant, medium-bodied wines loaded with finesse. The best are impeccably balanced, with vibrant acidity and firm but noble tannins. Overall, alcohol levels in the 2013s also ring of the past, with many wines declaring 13.5% and 14% abv on labels, a stark contrast to 14.5% and 15% that have become increasingly common every year since the start of the 2000s.
“2013 is a classic vintage in every sense, and produced wines with intensity, elegance, energy and firm but well-integrated tannins. Unlike other cooler vintages in recent memory, like 2005 and 2008 that had more rain, especially toward the end of the growing season, in 2013, sunny weather in September and the first part of October significantly pushed back the harvest. We started picking our Sangiovese for Brunello on October 18, about twenty days later than usual. Picking this late hasn’t happened since the 1980s,” says Lorenzo Magnelli, winemaker at his family’s Le Chiuse estate. Located just north of Montalcino, the small estate has an impressive pedigree: it used to supply grapes for Biondi Santi’s lauded Riservas before Lorenzo, his father and his mother, Simonetta Valiani – who inherited the property from her mother, daughter to the legendary Tancredi Biondi Santi – began making and bottling their own wines in the early 1990s. The firm’s radiant 2013 is breathtakingly gorgeous.
Francesco Buffi, who runs the boutique Baricci winery along with his brother Federico and his parents, is also enthusiastic about the 2013 vintage, saying, “It’s a textbook Brunello, the kind of vintage we greet with open arms here at Baricci.” Founded by Francesco’s grandfather Nello Baricci in 1955, the tiny estate is located on the Montosoli hill, one of the most famous vineyard sites in Montalcino. “When compared to warmer vintages, 2013 shows another side of Sangiovese that’s all about finesse, freshness and vibrancy, characteristics that we now see less and less of due to climate change.” He points out that the vintage was far from easy. “2013 was challenging and tested our nerves, especially when unsettled weather threatened toward the end of September. But those who didn’t panic and waited until the first week of October were rewarded,” explains Buffi.
While overall the vintage is superb, there were some underperformers. While some growers evidently harvested before the grapes were fully ripened and made lean wines showing raw fruit, others apparently left the grapes on the vine for too long, and produced wines with sensations of stewed fruit and evident alcohol. Although there were less than in previous years, I was more than a little surprised to see a number of wines with 15% abv, and in 2013s, the alcohol was more often evident when compared to other years.
Given the wildly varied growing zone and sharply different vineyard altitudes in Montalcino, it’s almost impossible to judge vintages for the entire denomination. The experience and winemaking styles of producers, and where their vineyards are located, will always play a major role in every vintage, more so in Montalcino than in more uniform growing areas.
2013 Brunello di Montalcino: 30 Top-Rated Wines by Kerin O’Keefe
If you love wines with elegance, fragrance and longevity, then you’ll love the just-released 2012 Brunellos. And even though I’m one of the biggest critics of the Consorzio’s Brunello vintage classifications (I find most vintages have been overrated), when it comes to 2012’s five-star rating, I completely I agree.
Defying the intense heat of the growing season, many 2012s have the vibrancy usually found in cooler vintages. They boast juicy red berry fruit, noble tannins and impeccable balance that will allow them to age well for years. Out of the 140 Brunello 2012s I tasted so far, I rated 88 wines 90 points or more, with 20 of these getting 94 points or higher. I was pleasantly surprised to see a return to finesse, enticing aromas and generally lower alcohol levels when compared to other recent releases.
The 2012s even have more consistent quality across the denomination than the highly acclaimed 2010s. The latter were a mixed bag divided between majestic wines boasting structure and finesse, and subpar wines marred by low acidity, cooked fruit and alcohol of 15% abv or more.
Quality is more uniform in 2012, but in terms of weather, 2012 was an undeniably difficult year. Unstable conditions included a cold, wet winter and an extremely hot, dry summer marked by late rains. But the extended heat wave was gentler on the grapes than the turbulent temperature changes of other past vintages.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage facing the just-released 2011 Brunello vintage – awarded four out five stars by the Consorzio – is that it comes on the heels of the widely acclaimed 2010. And while the 2011s won’t be remembered as an historic vintage, overall they have an immediate, juicy allure that exceeded my expectations from what was a difficult, at times torrid vintage. The best also show some staying power, and more than a few showed unexpected complexity.
The best 2010 Riservas are displaying impeccable balance, restraint and complexity. And while many have cellaring potential, they are still more immediate than Riservas from cooler vintages. The good news is this also means you also won’t have to wait decades before you can enjoy them, as is the case with quintessential Riservas. I also gave a rare 100 points to Biondi Santi’s drop-dead gorgeous Riserva, which shows real aging potential to boot.
Italian wines have never been more exciting. Here are some of the best that I tried over the last 12 months.
One of the best aspects of my job is the number of fantastic, diverse wines that I get to try every year, and 2015 was no exception. Boasting more native grapes than any other country in the world as well as international varieties, grown in both lauded and emerging wine growing areas, Italian wines have never been more exciting. Here are some of the best that I tried over the last 12 months.
While the notion of terroir has been both celebrated and ridiculed in some of the world’s greatest wine-producing areas, one of Italy’s most illustrious denominations has instead chosen to ignore it—until now. Kerin O’Keefe discovers Montalcino’s unofficial subzones.
Majestic. Elegant. Powerful. Long-lived. Expensive. Rare. All these adjectives have been applied to Brunello di Montalcino by the world’s leading wine authorities, from Cyril Ray to Burton Anderson, but may soon be supplemented by another much less positive—overflowing. Due to massive overplanting, Brunello production is now on the brink of exploding, which has pushed the long-neglected question of Brunello’s tipicità to the forefront, as Montalcino winemakers search for ways to protect Brunello’s identity and prestige from the perils posed by a saturated market. As areas previously considered unsuitable for winemaking are cultivated, many producers feel the time has come to recognize officially Montalcino’s greatly varied subzones and to curb vinification techniques that render a more international style.
A modern-day war is being waged in Italy’s most renowned and treasured wine regions.
Of course there are no real battlefields and no loss of life. Instead, this war is being fought in seemingly idillic vineyards and winery cellars up and down the peninsula as two schools of tought clash. In jeopardy in this conflict are native grape varieties, prized wines and years of winemaking tradition. Some obeservers even argue that those who admire and enjoy Italy’s unique wines could suffer.