Kerin O’Keefe’s authoritative book on Brunello is in the Broadbent/Coates tradition…
…Brunello di Montalcino is a wine that makes enthusiasts push the expressive power of language to its limits. Even the normally reserved O’Keefe lets herself go when describing Biondi Santi’s 2004 Brunello: “a true masterpiece, a monument to Brunello . . . layers of wild cherry, earth, and mineral and a hint of tobacco . . . . A stunning, gripping wine with Grace Kelly-like finesse and polish”.
I must confess I don’t have much time for tasting notes. My eyes glaze over when I survey either Parker’s romantic rhapsodies or Broadbent’s classical sonatas. But the world of wine is baffling, full of opaque terminology, hyperbole, snobbery and downright deception. It is easy to make expensive mistakes. Many will have had the experience of coming across some quite stunning wine and wanting to repeat the experience – but finding too that it can be hard to locate the very same thing again. So we need a guide we can trust; and those once seduced by the delicate complexity of a perfect Brunello could hardly do better than O’Keefe’s book.
Kerin O’Keefe’s Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines (University of California Press; $39.95) is a must-have book for lovers of Brunello and, in fact, for anyone at all serious about Italian wine.
Brunello has burgeoned in my wine-drinking lifetime from a few more than half a dozen producers, mostly clustered around the medieval hill town of Montalcino, to well over two hundred, scattered all over the very diverse territories of the Brunello zone. Keeping track of that highly differentiated production – much more making sense of it – is a monumental task. O’Keefe has managed to do it by dint of persistence and equally monumental effort. As she puts it, “Rather than merely sit in my office and taste thousands of wines every year, I’ve visited all the Brunello estates profiled in the following chapters, some several times, and many more that are not in the book. I’ve spent years researching Brunello di Montalcino. . . . I’ve walked producers’ vineyards, visited their cellars, and talked for hours with the winemakers and their families. . . . I take [lengthy trips] to Montalcino every year.”
That kind of leg work produces the detailed and accurate information that makes O’Keefe’s book a milestone in our grasp of Brunello.
In an era where there is so much misinformation about any number of wines and wine news, it’s refreshing to read the work of an author who not only knows her subject in great detail, but one who is opinionated and tells her story in an engaging fashion. Whether you are just discovering Brunello di Montalcino or have been enjoying these wines for decades, this book is highly recommended.
Kerin O’Keefe’s Brunello di Montalcino is not simply an enjoyable wine book; it’s one of the rare wine books that is truly important.
O’Keefe, an American writer with many years experience in Italy and, particularly, in Tuscany, sets out to explain what makes this wine so special. And in doing so, she takes a sledgehammer to the developments that have threatened to make Brunello just another wine, indistinguishable from the masses.
The author’s values shine through in every chapter. O’Keefe speaks for many, many fans of Brunello who dread the internationalization of these wines. Her tasting notes are impressive, and she takes a brickbat to critics who celebrate the ubiquitous chocolate notes now so often lurking in Italian wines. Those notes come from wood, not the land, and not the grapes, she explains.
Ultimately, Kerin O’Keefe has done a great service to Montalcino and to wine lovers who appreciate a sense of history and place. Tuscany, as she reveals, has some growing up to do. It is unlike Piedmont in the way that it has allowed outsiders to dominate the conversation and the production. This book comes at a time when the region has the opportunity to determine its identity going forward. Thanks to Kerin O’Keefe, that identity is more likely to be mindful of Montalcino’s riveting past.