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Jekyll and Hyde: 2017 Brunello di Montalcino and 2016 Riservas
There’s good news, bad news and some not-so-bad news out of Montalcino. Here we are with the release of the 2017 Brunellos only a month away, as collectors, speculators and lovers of Italy’s biggest name in pure Sangiovese prepare to either open their wallets or hold onto them tight. At this point, we’ve all heard the rumors that the 2017 vintage was challenging in Montalcino. There’s been talk of collectors’ plans to entirely skip the vintage, and retailers reserving their budgets for the next best thing. Why not, right? Especially after stories about grapes shriveling and drying on the vines in the south, as well as frost further reducing yields in the north. Or about producers declassifying their entire production to Rosso, while others declassified their crus and Riserva juice to straight Brunello. Anyone that follows Montalcino has likely tasted the 2017 Rossos by now, with their savage yet opulent fruit profiles and unexpected tannic grip. While these wines are wildly enjoyable, it begs the question of how the region could produce classic Brunellos through more rigorous selection and further oak aging. It’s an interesting question, but way too broad.
I think the first thing we all need to get past here is the word “Classic”. While every winemaking region around the world may have a certain style associated with what readers should expect from it year to year, it seems to be mainly in Italy, or, more precisely, Piedmont and Tuscany, where the mark of vintage can make or break the entire region. That’s not to say that a poor vintage in Bordeaux or Burgundy won’t affect the majority of producers, but that in those regions, consumers are much more loyal to the growers they love, and trusting that the best, most insightful and open-minded producers will still make great wines. The reality is that the 2017 vintage in Montalcino was torridly hot and dry through the entire summer, which interrupted the growth cycle, pushed sugar levels, thickened skins and prevented proper phenolic ripeness. In order to create a good, to possibly great, wine, producers needed to dig deeply into their bag of tricks. They needed to be in the vineyards working the soils, tending to leaf management and anticipating proper harvest times. They needed to be open to changing the techniques they use in their cellars, including, but not limited to, shorter macerations, lower temperatures in fermentations or drastically reducing the time that the wines spent in wood. Then of course there is the location, as the north slope varies from the south slope, and how Castelnuovo dell’Abate is quite different from Sant’Angelo in Colle. The actual variables are innumerable; and so, while one can say that 2017 was a tough vintage, skipping it entirely because the wines are not “Classic” Brunello would be a mistake.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many wines from this vintage that simply shouldn’t have been raised into becoming Brunello di Montalcino. Unfortunately, it’s these wines, many of which would have been much better as Rosso di Montalcino, that hurt the region and the perception of the vintage. Whether this is the result of greedy producers that simply hoped they would still sell their wines on the “Brunello Brand” or their name alone, versus those that did all that they could and simply were unable to find balance in the finished wine, and a third category that simply can’t afford to skip a vintage, the unfortunate reality is by releasing wines that are sub-standard and priced in the $50 plus range, smears the name of Brunello di Montalcino.
Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016
“A deeply sensual bouquet of freshly sliced plums, crushed violets, mentholated herbs and Tuscan dust rises up from the 2016 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. This is deeply textural while also cool-toned and refined, with mineral-tinged red and black berries cascading across a core of brisk acidity. Tension builds throughout, as grippy tannins mount toward the close, nicely contrasted by a burst of sour citrus. There’s a crystalline structure to the 2016 that tempts the imagination as to what the future will bring, and it tapers off long, youthfully poised, yet also remarkably fresh. Time will only increase the depths of the 2016 Riserva, a wine that I seriously look forward to tasting again in five to ten years.”
Costanti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2017
“An alluring, spicy and dusty mix of cherry and raspberry preserves, crushed stone and dusty flowers is lifted by cedar shavings and dried citrus peels as the majestic 2017 Brunello di Montalcino blossoms in the glass. This is fleshy yet delicate in feel, displaying pure ripe red berry fruit, nicely contrasted by salty mineral tones, and lacking only a bit of midpalate depth that might take it to the next level. It tapers off long while leaving the mouth watering for more, as a gentle tug of tannin slowly fades under rosy inner florals. Andrea Costanti didn’t produce a Riserva in 2017, and so all of that juice was used to try to bolster the Brunello. From what I’ve tasted, I’d say he succeeded.”
Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016
“The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva seduces the senses as it mixes savory and sweet, the dusty rose and crushed stone aromas giving way to wild strawberry and dried cherry. A velvety textural wave saturates the palate with salty minerals and tart raspberry fruits, lifted by stunning acidity and cooling herbal tones that create a cascading feel to the crunchy red fruits. While structured and dry, it’s also incredibly long, crystalline in nature, and lingers on notes of salted licorice and savory spice. This shows all of the best qualities of the vintage, expertly matched to the classic stylings of Fuligni. That said, the 2016 is a sleeping giant, in need of cellaring to show its best. Deciding between this and the estate Brunello from 2016 is like splitting hairs, but what I can say is that the Riserva has the potential for a longer life and possibly a higher score when at full maturity.”
Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2017
“The 2017 Brunello di Montalcino is punchy and spry from the first tilt of the glass, featuring raspberry, roses, licorice and hints of flowery undergrowth. The bouquet darkens over time, taking on shades of cedar, along with blue and purple flowers. It’s silky, pliant and savory, masses of black cherry and spice filling the palate with silky textures that leave saturating minerals in their wake. This tapers off long, dry and primary, perfumed with violets and lavender, as cheek-puckering, tart red berries linger on. The 2017 may be a riper interpretation of Fuligni Brunello, but it has enough power and energy to be quite pleasurable and balanced over the medium term. All of the Riserva juice from 2017 went into the estate Brunello.”
By Eric Guido| Vinous.com
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