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Brunello di Montalcino 2018: the power of lightness and agility

There’s a positive quality about Brunello di Montalcino 2018 — a force that allows the wines to show agility, transparency and light, which becomes even more apparent when compared to the weight, opacity and muscularity of the 2017 vintage, Filippo Bartolotta finds.

Biondi-Santi Vineyards

After the scolding hot and very alcoholic 2017 vintage, which saw the majority of winemakers handling their wines with an unexpected degree of elegance, the 2018 was colder – not so much cold as rather rainy. As Federico Radi, head winemaker at Biondi-Santi points out, “we saw 650 milliliters of water falling down between the 1 April and the 30 September, which is the amount of rain we usually get across an entire year”.

Santiago Marone Cinzano of Col d’Orcia on the South-West side of the appellation agrees.

“Our winery has been fully certified organic since 2013 and in a vintage like 2018,  we had to go in the vineyard every day, sometimes cleaning the berries by hand to get rid of the mould. We were also hit by hailstorm and as a result we lost 40% of the crop. What we brought home though was only the healthiest and juiciest grapes which allowed us to produce an elegant Brunello”.

However as Giuseppe Gorelli, producer of Azienda Agricola Gorelli in Montalcino, tells db “2018 is maybe the last cold vintage”. Gorelli has been making wine for many years, but this year saw the releases of his brand new Brunello label, which proved to be one of the most structured of the many wines I tasted.

Immediately after tasting almost 200 Brunello di Montalcino 2018, I had mixed feelings: on one hand I felt the wines were lacking body and structure – almost as if I was tasting some Rosso di Montalcino. In the worst cases when the oak overtook the scene leaving the wines too dry and with not enough depth for Italy’s most famous and prestigious appellation.

But as I tasted more and more of these wines, something else more evident and more positive became evident: my palate felt great! Usually after so many wines the weight of the acidity and the dry extract becomes very aggressive on the gums. And going back with a few final sessions of tasting, I started to realize that this vintage asks for a more mindful and accurate evaluation.

I was starting to get a little disappointed, so took a break from to taste some Riserva 2017: Mediterranean herbs, ripe black fruit, leather, sweet spices and a generous alcoholic touch with a lot of body builders like muscularity. In one word, more Montalcino. So when I went back for another few rounds of 2018 it felt like wearing Perseus winged shoes, so I started to look and analyze the wines with more concentration, looking for the finesse of the tannins, the delicate extractions, the refreshing gentleness.  Those winemakers who didn’t attempt to build a fortress but focus on a more severe section of fruit had allowed the life of an ethereal and vibrant Brunello –  more reminiscent of the elegant XVI century Sant’ Agostino Cloister where we had our tasting – than the mighty Fortress of Montalcino.

As a result, this vintage will fly in  restaurants!

A lot of the 2018 samples would be drank before the appetizer gets to the table. Gastronomic wines with a floral and mineral complexity which in some cases will give dispense also some pleasant surprises in a few years ahead. It has always been the case with Sangiovese that some of the “minor” vintages like the ’84, ’86, ’’92, ’98 or 2005, which now are showing some wonderful cold vintage austerity and nobility.

Montalcino shows once again its moment of maturity and adulthood in the world of fine wines, both under a technical point of view with the ability to produce great fine wines even in difficult vintages like the 2018 and under an economical side.

The economic data, on the other hand, speaks for itself: in the first 9 months of 2022, in fact, there was an increase in sales of Brunello di Montalcino equal to 21.5% in value and 6% in volume, with an estimate final for 2022 equal to 250 million euros. The numbers relating to Rosso di Montalcino are also growing, with increases both in value (+20%) and in volume (+9%). All numbers are well beyond the current inflation rate.

«It’s great to notice– said the president of the Consortium Fabrizio Bindocci – that this numbers show consistency throughout the years, even in these most recent not so easy ones, so this isn’t a trend or a bubble but the consolidation of our growth and reliability in the world of fine wines.”

So time to give a go to these more slender and delicate versions of Brunello ready to drink and to be fantastic food companions for the next holiday seasons.

Top picks from the tasting

Brunello di Montalcino 2017

1.  Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Sesti Phoenomena 2017

Mediterranean herbs, red driven ripe fruit with a wonderful deal of  medicinal herbs. A great coffee and tobacco complexity on the palate with a much juicier experience then expected form the vintage. Great bight finish with an orange zest and a mineral quality. 94/100 (drinks now-35)

2. Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Santa Giulia 2017

Pomegranate, sour cherries, bay leaf and licorice. A wonderful drinkability with some deep and yet refined tannic structure and a very lingering finish. 92/100

3. Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Teatro 2017 Salicutti

An elegant example of balance between the sweet black fruit and the freshness of some more red driven style juiciness. A touch of leather and earthiness with a lovely salinity. 93/100

4. Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2017 Mocali

Unusually ethereal and floral style Riserva with a lot of redcurrant, an enticing flintiness combined with some uplifting withe truffles and balsamic edge. 91/100

5. Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Patrizia Cencioni 123 2017

Extractive without being clumsy, powerful without burning, reaching every corner of the palate, this is a wonderful example of a great Riserva with aging potential and class. Black cheers, tobacco and a balsamic touch. 95/100 (drinks now-35)

Brunello di Montalcino 2018

Juicy versions

6. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Argiano

Balsamic, cola, floral, leather. Sweet tobacco. Slightly lean with a good reactive acidity, juicy, saline, bright red fruit and sea breeze. red berry crush. 92/100 (drinks now-15)

7. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Ridolfi

Super juicy, very transparent light red almost rose color. Delicate rose petals and pomegranate fruit. So easy to drink and yet with a wonderful depth and savoriness.94/100 (drinks now-15)

8. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Tassi

Strawberries, blood orange, light and transparent, delicate and refreshing and very easy to drink. 90/100 (dinks now-15)

9. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Barbi

A sea breeze, Mediterranean herbs driven wine with a redcurrant driven touch, some licorice, violets and iodine. 92/100 (drinks now-2015)

10 Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Lisini

Juicy, refreshing and packed with forrest fruit, mirth and bay leaf.  A crunchy and sweet ’18 very pleasing Brunello. 93/100 (drinks now-18)

11. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Castello di Banfi

A simple and yet really well balanced Brunello with a pleasant black cherry driven nose, a touch of mint and bay leaf, some earthiness and a pine sap touch. 92/100 (drinks now-15)

Structured style

12. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Giodo

Wonderful interpretation of the vintage combining drinkability to structure, power to elegance. Vanilla, rosemary, cherries and a touch of leather. 92/100 (drinks now-18)

13. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Capanne Ricci Tenimenti Ricci

Juicy, mineral, saline, refreshing and juicy style Brunello with so much energy, intensity and character. I love the depth and the natural bright red fruit which lingers over the average. 94/100 (now-20)

14. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Altesino Montosoli

Elegant clay and some intriguing flintiness combining with sour cherries, orane zest and a lovely match of blueberries, forrest floor and leather. This is an intense single vineyard Brunello with a great balsamic power, strong structure and very lingering. 98/100 (drinks 3-30)

15. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Martoccia

A very structure 2018 with some smoked meat, dry mushrooms, licorice and black berries. A touch of coffee and orange zest with a good mineral finish. 93/100 (drinks now-20)

16. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Canalicchio di Sopra

Red fruit driven study Brunello with a well defined structure, some serious forests floor and tobacco mix with lavender flowers and juicy black cherries.  96/100 (drinks now-25)

17. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Casanova dei Neri

A mineral refreshing wine which reflects the light bodied style of the vintage without giving up intensity and depth. Sour cherries, incense and bay leaf. 92/100 (now-20)

Sweeter versions

18. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Val di Suga Poggio al Granchio:

This is one of the greatest example of how even in a difficult colder vintage Brunello che release sweet fruit, combined with a lovely sapidity and energetic juicy sip. Great  extractive power and amazing drinkability. 96/100

19. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Salvioni:

Blood orange, kumquat and cardamomo. A gun-flint mineral driven palate with a lot of sour cherries, sage and broom flowers. Structure, elegance and finesse. 97/100 (now-25)

20. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Salicutti Piaggione:

Juicy, yummy, reactive and packed with wild roses and redcurrant. Propolis, violets and a pulpy meatiness. 95/100 (now-25)

21. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Poggio di Sotto

A combination of delicious sweet strawberries, black pepper and mountain flowers. A great example of integrity, light-weight style respectful of the vintage and yet with and energetic fruit driven finish.  98/100 (now-25)

22. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Pietroso

A stunningly refined Brunello with a great tar and roses edge. Lovely black cherries and witch-broom flavors with a great medicinal herbs finish. 96/100 Drinks( now-25)

23. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse di Sotto

A dangerously easy drinking wine without giving up complexity, depth and sense of place. Love Mediterranean herbs, blueberries, early grey tea, some rustic edges but a sweet delightful finish. 93/100 (drinks now-2025)

24. Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Castello Romitorio Filo di Seta

Goji berries, rose petals and licorice. A very well built wine with a warm touch and some delicious mature black cherries. An intense Brunello which shows how lightness can go with depth. 94/100 (now-25)

Rosso di Montalcino 2020

25. Rosso di Montalcino 2020  Col d’Orcia

Always jumping out form the crowd, this Rosso is a great example of veracity, integrity, easy drinking style and yet complex. 90/100 (drinks now-10)

26. Rosso di Montalcino 2020 San Guglielmo

My favorite Rosso of them all for its never ending juiciness, refreshing and vibrant character. A super reactive wine with so much salinity red driven juice, propolis, wild fennels and a strawberry/umeboshi jam finish. 94/100 (drinks now-15)

27. Rosso di Montalcino 2020 Cortonesi

Some raw dark matter and black berries on the nose, turning into a juicier and more refreshing experience on the palate. Power and balance with a medium finish. 90/100 (now-10)

28. Rosso di Montalcino 2020 Caprili

An extractive style rosso with plenty of very well designed fruit. Some austerity and tighter tannins on the palate are making this wine a Rosso worth keeping. 91/100 (now-2015)

29. Rosso di Montalcino 2020 Castiglion del Bosco Deimassi

This is one of those “Rosso” which will disguised as a Brunello in a blind tasting. Wonderful depth, structure and elegance. So much Sangiovese intensity, licorice, violets and forest floor. Very lingering and well balanced. 94/100 (now-20)

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