After years of challenges Vino Nobile is finally regaining its lofty reputation.
If you haven’t tried Vino Nobile di Montepulciano lately, you’re missing out on the return of an Italian classic. While it’s still a work in progress, the last few vintages have revealed a steady rise throughout the denomination of more polished, terroir-driven wines that boast aging potential and pedigree. And the best part? With few exceptions, Vino Nobile still costs way less than most other Tuscan wines at this quality level.
As the latest releases prove, Vino Nobile estates are finding their groove. Many producers have cut back on or abandoned Cabernet and Merlot and are returning to native grapes Canaiolo, Colorino and Mammolo to blend in with Sangiovese. Still others are using exclusively Sangiovese, known locally as Prugnolo Gentile. Better Sangiovese clones and more sustainable viticulture have had a big impact on quality while producers who have stepped back from less invasive cellar techniques are generating wines with more character and elegance.
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.
In February 2014, the Chianti Classico Consorzio officially debuted the newest category of Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione—touted as the crowning glory in the denomination’s revamped quality pyramid. The launch came amid a mixture of fanfare, doubts and sharp criticism from journalists, buyers and even local producers.
After the wild success of the 2010 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco, Bolgheri and Chianti Classico, all eyes are on Montalcino. Although the Brunello 2010s will officially debut at the annual press tastings in late February – along with the 2009 Riservas, I was fortunate to preview almost 200 of the new release in early January at the Brunello Consorzio’s headquarters in Montalcino.
My tasting of the 2009 vintage revealed that it was another challenging year in Montalcino, and the main problem was the weather. Scorching summer temperatures and a lack of rain dominated crucial phases of the growing season. As a result, most wines are prematurely evolved, and while this makes the best wines enjoyable now, many ’09s deliver sensations of cooked fruit, evident alcohol, low acidity and fleeting tannins. Others have more acidity, but dried-up fruit and aggressive, astringent tannins. And there are many styles in between, ranging from soft and sexy to lean and mean. The one trait that distinguishes almost all the 2009s is a lack of ageworthy structure—unusual for wines that are famous for racy acidity and bracing tannins that need years to tame.
Paolo Tenti catches up with the Brunello di Montalcino producer who lost most of six vintages when his cellar was vandalized.
Gianfranco Soldera established his Case Basse estate in 1972, leaving behind a successful career as an insurance broker. He’d looked for years for a Barolo estate, but as owners of good vineyards were not willing to sell, he searched elsewhere and found the perfect estate in Montalcino. Although the land was abandoned, with no vineyards, he had a strong feeling it would be perfect and his intuition proved right.
Soldera’s Brunello di Montalcino, almost always designated as riserva after five or six years’ aging, is among the most sought-after and expensive wines in the denomination.
Just before the annual Tuscan en primeur tastings (on which I will report in detail later this week) last February, I met up with Kerin O’Keefe in Florence. She reports on Italian wines for both Decanter and The World of Fine Wine magazines,while last year she published her second book, Brunello di Montalcino. Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines.
In her book she describes a system of sub zones in order to get a clearer picture of the diverse Montalcino terroirs, and the different wine styles as a result of this. It is something wine lovers and wine professionals alike are keen to know about more, but a controversial topic in Montalcino itself, where every producer considers his or her vineyards automatically to be of Grand Cru status as long as they are located within the Brunello di Montalcino designated area. It is the reason why the region has never tried to map its sub zones in any comprehensive or systematic way so far.
The latest releases from Montalcino’s cellars have had their first outing and they’re a mixed bag. The 2008 Brunellos and 2007 riservas shown at the annual Benvenuto Brunello tasting ranged from outstanding to unpleasant, and the two vintages could pose serious challenges for Brunello fans.
The first thing to do was to pull up tobacco and wheat; after that it was years of studying Sangiovese. All that work has paid off, says Kerin O’Keefe, and Col d’Orcia continues to set ever higher standards in Montalcino.
Perhaps one of Francesco Marone Cinzano’s most significant contributions to Montalcino was choosing the right areas to plant Sangiovese.