2013: Radiant, cool climate Brunellos for the cellar

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.

Olmo vineyard at Gianni Brunelli winery
© Paolo Tenti | Olmo vineyard at Gianni Brunelli winery

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

Together with the 2013 Brunellos 2012 Riservas also came out, of which a good number were oustanding, particularly two of them to which I awarded a perfect 100 points score.

2012 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Top-Rated Wines: 10 Top-Rated Wines by Kerin O’Keefe

Plus a fabulous 2011 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva:

Here you find all my 273 reviews  (181 Brunello di Montalcino 2013, 88 Riserva 2012 and 4 Riserva 2011)

Click here to read the article and to discover my top 10 2013 Brunellos and top 5 2012 Brunello Riservas (including 3 100 points among the two vintages): https://www.winemag.com/2018/02/14/2013-brunello-vintage-wines/

Bruno Giacosa è deceduto a 88 anni

Oggi il mondo del vino italiano ha perso una delle sue leggende, Bruno Giacosa, all’età di 88 anni.

© Paolo Tenti | a bottle of Barbaresco Bruno Giacosa Asili Riserva with the Asili vineyard in the background

I Barolo e Barbaresco di Bruno includono alcuni dei nomi più sacri del Piemonte, tra cui il Barolo Falletto, il Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto, il Barbaresco Asili e il Barbaresco Santo Stefano, mentre le sue bottiglie con l’etichetta rossa delle Riserve – realizzate solo nei migliori anni – sono tra i vini più ricercati al mondo.

Giacosa era un tradizionalista illuminato, che combinava un approccio largamente non interventista in cantina con idee innovative, come il cambiamento dalle tradizionali botti di Slavonia alle botti grandi di rovere francese non tostate fatte da Gamba fin dagli anni ’80, quando molti altri optavano per tostare le barriques che avrebbero mascherato le classiche sensazioni floreali, di frutti di bosco e di note balsamiche del Nebbiolo.

Ma furono le straordinarie capacità di degustazione di Bruno la chiave del suo successo. Ha lasciato la scuola a quindici anni per lavorare nell’azienda vitivinicola di suo padre, trascorrendo le sue giornate camminando tra le colline delle Langhe alla ricerca delle migliori uve, vale a dire Nebbiolo ma anche Barbera e Dolcetto. Il giovane Giacosa divenne presto noto per quello che molti descrivono come il suo palato d’oro, e avrebbe continuato a creare Barolo e Barbaresco di complessità, finezza e longevità dai vigneti più rinomati. Scoprì anche vigneti meno conosciuti che avrebbe reso famosi attraverso i suoi vini eleganti e impeccabilmente equilibrati. Il suo rispetto per le vigne e la sua comprensione del modo in cui davano ai vini personalità individuali arrivarono decenni prima del suo tempo. Le sue prime bottiglie da vigneto singolo, il Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva Speciale del 1964, il Barbaresco Asili Riserva del 1967 e il Barolo Vigna Rionda del 1967, sono stati tra le prime in Italia.

Giacosa ha influenzato diverse generazioni di viticoltori, tra cui Franco Massolino, dell’azienda Massolino a Serralunga. “Bruno Giacosa è stato uno dei primi a dimostrare agli amanti del vino di tutto il mondo l’incredibile potenziale dei nostri vigneti”, afferma Massolino.

“Era un vero ‘piemontese, con un carattere riservato e talvolta poteva sembrare, in apparenza, un pò irascibile”, afferma Aldo Vacca, amministratore delegato di Produttori del Barbaresco. “Ma era senza dubbio il più esperto conoscitore dei grandi vigneti delle Langhe, e ancora indietro negli anni ’60, Giacosa ha saputo fare alcuni dei capolavori indiscussi del mondo del vino italiano “.

Sebbene Giacosa fosse ben noto per la sua personalità un pò burbera, ho avuto la fortuna di vedere un altro lato di lui, prima e dopo il suo ictus del 2006. Un uomo di poche parole, quando era rilassato nella sua cantina mentre assaggiava, scherzava spesso con sua figlia Bruna, e il suo viso si illuminava di un sorriso disarmante ogni volta che parlava dei suoi vigneti preferiti, Asili e Falletto.

© Paolo Tenti | Bruno Giacosa

Ed è così che ricorderò Bruno Giacosa.

The Volcanic Wines of Italy

What sets apart some of the most exhilarating Italian wines today? New benchmarks for complexity and longevity have one thing in common: volcanic soils.
© Paolo Tenti | working Ciro Biondi’s vineyard on Mt. Etna

Some of the most exciting and intriguing wines coming out of Italy have one thing in common: the volcanic origins of their soils. While the wines of Mount Etna immediately pop to mind, a surprising number of great wines, from the Veneto down to Sicily, hail from volcanic terroirs.

And while minerality is one of the most debated subjects in the wine world, Italy’s volcanic soils impart undeniable mineral sensations that include flint, crushed rock and saline, lending depth and complexity to the resulting wines.

Additionally, many of these grape-growing areas have extremely old vines, some more than 100 years old in parts of Campania and Sicily. And nearly all of the “volcanic” denominations rely on native varietals that have had centuries to adapt to their growing conditions.

The vineyard altitude, grape varieties and cellar practices all play crucial roles in the final product, but volcanic soils lend structure, longevity and an extra layer of dimension to the final wines. Here’s where to find these complex beauties.

The full article will be published in the February 2018 issue, but it is already available online: The Volcanic Wines of Italy


From left to right: Feudi di San Gregorio 2016 Fiano di Avellino; Cantine di Marzo 2015 Franciscus (Greco di Tufo); Contrade di Taurasi–­Cantine Lonardo 2011 Vigne d’Alto (Taurasi); La Sibilla 2015 Falanghina (Campi Flegrei); Mastroberardino 2009 Naturalis Historia (Tau­rasi) / Photo by Con Poulos


From left to right: Palazzone 2015 Campo del Guardiano (Orvieto Classico Superiore); Sergio Mottura 2016 Tragugnano (Orvieto); Marchesi Antinori 2016 Castello della Sala San Giovanni della Sala (Orvieto Classico) / Photo by Con Poulos


I Vini vulcanici d’Italia

Alcuni dei vini Italiani più interessanti e intriganti hanno una cosa in comune: le origini vulcaniche dei loro terreni. Mentre i vini dell’Etna vengono subito in mente, un numero sorprendente di grandi vini, dal Veneto alla Sicilia, provengono da terroir vulcanici.

© Paolo Tenti | working Ciro Biondi’s vineyard on Mt. Etna

E mentre la mineralità è uno dei soggetti più dibattuti nel mondo del vino, i terreni vulcanici d’Italia conferiscono innegabili sensazioni minerali che includono pietra focaia, grafite, ardesia e sentori salmastri, conferendo profondità e complessità ai vini che ne derivano.

Inoltre, molte di queste aree viticole hanno viti estremamente vecchie, alcune più di 100 anni in parti della Campania e della Sicilia, in molti casi a “piede franco”, in quanto i terreni vulcanici rendono le viti meno suscettibili agli attacchi delle fillossera. E quasi tutte le denominazioni “vulcaniche” si basano su varietà autoctone che hanno avuto secoli per adattarsi alle loro condizioni di crescita.

L’altitudine del vigneto, la tipologia dei vitigni e le pratiche di cantina giocano tutti un ruolo cruciale nel prodotto finale, ma i terreni vulcanici conferiscono struttura, longevità e un ulteriore livello di qualità ai vini. Ecco una selezione di alcuni di questi vini complessi e affascinanti.

L’articolo completo in inglese sarà pubblicato sul numero di Febbraio 2018, ma è già disponibile online qui: The Volcanic Wines of Italy


From left to right: Feudi di San Gregorio 2016 Fiano di Avellino; Cantine di Marzo 2015 Franciscus (Greco di Tufo); Contrade di Taurasi–­Cantine Lonardo 2011 Vigne d’Alto (Taurasi); La Sibilla 2015 Falanghina (Campi Flegrei); Mastroberardino 2009 Naturalis Historia (Tau­rasi) / Photo by Con Poulos


From left to right: Palazzone 2015 Campo del Guardiano (Orvieto Classico Superiore); Sergio Mottura 2016 Tragugnano (Orvieto); Marchesi Antinori 2016 Castello della Sala San Giovanni della Sala (Orvieto Classico) / Photo by Con Poulos


Top Wine Getaway: Val d’Orcia

About 30 miles south of Siena and stretching to Monte Amiata, the spectacular, unspoiled countryside of Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia,

© Paolo Tenti | The Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento vineyard, with Castello di Argiano in the distance

a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looks like it’s been lifted out of a Renaissance painting. Dotted with farms, cypress trees, olive groves and vineyards, the gently rolling hills and fields offer the quintessential Italian landscape.

Brunello di Montalcino book cover
Kerin O’Keefe, Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines

The area is home to Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most lauded wines, as well as the Orcia Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. On top of fantastic wines and scenery, the picturesque towns of Castiglione d’Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Radicofani and San Quirico d’Orcia boast artistic and cultural gems, making this destination a wine lover’s paradise.

Read more here: Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

Traveling Back in Time With Nebbiolo

On November 18th, I traveled in a virtual time machine: a vertical tasting of 8 Nebbiolo-based wines from Alto Piemonte from 1842 to 1970.

© Assaggio a Nordovest | Kerin O’Keefe contemplating a historic Nebbiolo

The tasting, called Assaggio a nordovest (a tasting of northwest) – was organized by the Associazione Vignaioli Colline Biellesi and took place at the stunning Villa Era on the outskirts of Biella in northern Piedmont. I was also honored to participate in the tasting by providing historical background on the area’s long winemaking tradition for the other attendees.

Besides the sheer wonder of trying such old wines, the tasting offered a potent reminder that wines – especially fine wines destined to age and develop for years if not decades – are undeniably alive. It also offered a rare glimpse into how Piedmont’s winemaking has evolved over the last 175 years.

© Assaggio a Nordovest | Nebbiolo-based wines from Alto Piemonte from 1842–1970

Most importantly, the tasting demonstrated the greatness of Nebbiolo from this unique growing area. The wines all hailed from the Biella hills, where ancient, yellow marine sands, and the vicinity to Alpine foothills – where marked day and night temperature swings prolong the growing season – yield intense, fragrant and mineral-driven Nebbiolos boasting vibrant acidity and firm, refined tannins.

Read the full article: Traveling Back in Time With Nebbiolo

It’s Time to Take A Fresh Look at Lambrusco

Looking for a dry, crisp and savory wine that pairs with just about any dish on the planet or makes an excellent aperitif? Then look for Lambrusco. Yes, Lambrusco. Once known as the cheap and cheerful, fizzy plonk served with ice cubes, today’s top Lambruscos are a far cry from the industrially made, cloyingly sweet versions that flooded into the US in the 1980s.

Hailing from the Emilia-Romagna region, Lambrusco is made from the eponymous red grape. Or to be exact, from the extended family of varieties grouped together under the Lambrusco category, although only a handful of the individual vines yield quality wines.

Formerly loved and then scorned for its candied sweetness, these days a number of producers make distinct, slightly sparkling Lambruscos that should be on every wine lover’s radar. But buyer beware: styles vary tremendously and include lightweight, sweet and semi-sweet wines, but the best Lambruscos are dry, crisp, polished and incredibly delicious. They are also extremely well priced. Here are the ones to look for.

Read the full article: http://www.winemag.com/2017/10/18/its-time-to-take-a-fresh-look-at-lambrusco/

Alto Piemonte: the “Other” Nebbiolo

© Kerin O'Keefe | Christoph Kunzli of Le Piane in his vineyard in Boca
© Kerin O’Keefe | Christoph Kunzli of Le Piane in his vineyard in Boca

If you’re a fan of Nebbiolo – the sole grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco – you’ll love the radiant, mineral-driven Nebbiolos and Nebbiolo-based offerings from Alto Piemonte.

© Paolo Tenti | Cinzia Travaglini in one of her vineyards in Gattinara
© Paolo Tenti | Cinzia Travaglini in one of her vineyards in Gattinara

Vibrant and loaded with finesse, the best are drop-dead gorgeous, possessing age-worthy structures and impeccable balance. And if warmer temperatures and drier summers are pushing alcohol levels to the extreme in other areas, vineyard altitudes, cooler temperatures and highly acidic soils in Alto Piemonte make it rare to find wines above 14% abv.

© Kerin O'Keefe | Paolo De Marchi with some of his Proprietà Sperino bottles
© Kerin O’Keefe | Paolo De Marchi with some of his Proprietà Sperino bottles

Located at the foothills of the northern Piedmont Alps, the most exciting wines come from five small growing areas: Lessona, Gattinara, Ghemme, Boca and Bramaterra that lend their names to the wines.



A bottle of 1921 Lessona Sella, tasted during a Master Class at Vinitaly 2017
A bottle of 1921 Lessona Sella, tasted during a Master Class at Vinitaly 2017

The wines are steeped in history: in the late 1800s, Alto Piemonte boasted almost 45,000 hectares (111,197 acres) of vineyards, most of them now long gone. Reds made with Nebbiolo (locally called Spanna) – often blended with other local grapes, like Vespolina and Uva Rara – were already imported to the US in the latter half of the 19th century, decades before anyone had heard of Barolo or Barbaresco.

© Kerin O'Keefe | large Slavonian casks at Proprietà Sperino
© Kerin O’Keefe | Large Slavonian casks at Proprietà Sperino

 Then, in the early 1900s, after outbreaks of devastating vine diseases and a catastrophic hailstorm in 1905 destroyed entire vineyards, growers abandoned agriculture en masse to work in the booming textile mills in the nearby city of Biella.

Thanks to a few brave producers, Alto Piemonte is now undergoing a full-blown Renaissance.


Read the full article here: http://www.winemag.com/2017/05/08/learn-about-italys-secret-nebbiolos/

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Reclaiming Its Throne

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.

Read the article: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Reclaiming Its Throne

 Check out my Vino Nobile di Montepulciano reviews

2012 Brunello: a return to finesse and age-worthy structure

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.

Read more here: 2012 Brunello: a return to finesse and age-worthy structure

Here you find the full reviews: 2012 Brunello di Montalcino reviews by Kerin O’Keefe