The Montalcino region has faced some problems in the past, but these days local winemakers can accentuate the positive. By Tim Atkin MW
Picture credit: Tim Atkin MW
AFTER THE front-page scandals that have affected Italy’s most famous wine town in recent years, the 2014 Benvenuto Brunello tasting was reassuringly lowkey.
The ructions caused by Brunellogate, when a number of producers were found guilty of illegally blending other grapes with Sangiovese, and the more recent expulsion (or was it resignation?) from the local Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino of Gianfranco Soldera, the DOCG’s most controversial winemaker, were forgotten in favour of something more positive and immediate: the quality of the 2009 vintage. We already knew about the official position on 2009: it was worth four stars.
- In the wake of scandals such as Brunelogate and the Gianfranco Soldera affair, the 2014 Benvenuto Brunello tasting was relatively low key and celebrated the success of the 2009 vintage
- According to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the 2009 is on a par with 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2013, just below the five star vintages of 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010
- In much cooler 2008, it was the warmer sites that tended to be more successful, whereas the opposite was true in 2009
- The northern and southern regions of Montalcino’s 2,100 hectares of Brunello are very different in terms of their vegetation, soil types and temperature.
One of the strange things about Montalcino is that the Consorzio rates the vintage a few months after it has ended but doesn’t allow producers to sell the wine, or journalists and the trade to taste bottled samples, for another four years.
The ratings don’t mean much, to be honest. Every year since 2002, a rainaffected vintage when several high profile names declassified their entire production, has been given four or five stars.
2009, according to the Consorzio, is on a par with 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2013, just below the five star vintages of 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010. REAL DEAL Local politics aside, we should be grateful for one thing: the wines presented at Benvenuto Brunello are always bottled.
Given the controversy that continues to surround the preparation of “special” samples during Bordeaux en primeur week, it is reassuring to know that, whatever their qualitative ups and downs, all the wines at Benvenuto Brunello are genuine. This is true in two senses.
Not only are they a true, bottled reflection of the vintage, give or take the perfectly legal addition of 15% of wine from a previous year, but they are made entirely from Sangiovese in purezza.
The days when Sangiovese was routinely blended with Merlot and other grapes (in 2010, the president of the Consorzio, Ezio Rivella, claimed that 80% of all Brunello was “not pure Sangiovese”) are over.
The fines are too great, the policing too stringent for people to risk cheating any more. And what of the 2009 growing season? It has been described in some quarters as a hot vintage, a little like 2003 and 2007.
But this is only part of the story. The first half of the year was unusually wet. This helped to create reserves of water in the soil – useful in the drier, southern areas of the DOCG – but it also promoted disease pressure. “We had thin skins because of the rain in spring,” according to Franco Pacenti of Canalicchio di Sopra,“and less colour and extract in the finished wines.
These are not wines for long ageing.” Summer was hot, especially in August, when temperatures hit 38°C, but as more than one producer pointed out, summers in Montalcino invariably are these days. (Average temperatures in the region have increased by 1°C in the last 30 years.)
Some vineyards suffered from stress caused by dehydration and drought, which resulted in alcohol levels over 15% in certain wines.
SUN AND RAIN
The summer heat wave also meant that the cooler zones to the north of the town had an advantage in terms of achieving freshness and balance in their wines.
Selection was important, both in the vineyard and the winery, partly because of some rain in September and October, but also because of shrivelling. Maurizio Lambardi says: “We had to work hard to make a good wine.” The result, he adds, are “fairly simple wines, perfect for easy drinking and a short life”.