Wine notes

Thursday 30 September 2010


Nebbiolo Prima is a four-day immersion in what is arguably Italy's most enigmatic red wine grape, staged in pretty Alba, the vinous centre of the region, and gateway to the famous vineyards of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, this last a relative newcomer trying to join their ranks, of which more later.

Nebbiolo Prima was the last in a series of presentations of great Italian wines. My tasting notes on hundreds of wines from Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo, tasted blind, will be published subsequently here in the next couple of days. These tastings differ distinctly from the classic Bordeaux en primeur tastings in that the wines have been bottled and are ready to go onto the market without any of the price release game that characterises the Bordeaux primeurs season.

Alba, with its pink-brick cathedral and elegant shops, incidentally, seems to have fallen under a spell of postmodernism and its grand Cafe Savona has fallen victim to a cold, hard Milanese design facelift. Unfortunately, many establishments seem to have followed this example. The city is also the home town of Ferrero (of Nutella fame), with its factory just across from the hotel where I was staying. It meant waking up to whiffs of chocolate coming through the window, having fallen asleep to the sound of the local fairground, which had set up camp just in front of it.

Alba has become shorthand for culinary treasures, including the revered white truffle, hazelnuts - which compete for land with Chardonnay now that hazelnut growers have figured out that this variety also thrives on their cooler plots - and, of course, wine. The newly created Alba DOC seems the logical consequence of capitalising on the town's fame with foodies and wine lovers alike, and has been created to accommodate the allegedly classic blend of Nebbiolo (min 70% - max 85%) and Barbera (max 30% - min 15%).

Nebbiolo Prima is the annual presentation of the latest vintages of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero under the auspice of Albeisa, the Unione di Produttori Vini Albesi, a group of producers loosely grouped together under the banner of a single bottle shape, the Albeisa, and presided over by Enzo Brezza as well as the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe e Roero guided by Pietro Ratti, son of the late Renato. In shape somewhat reminiscent of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape bottle, the Albeisa was allegedly produced as early as the 18th century, but with the invasion of Napoleon, according to its website, the Bordelais and Burgundy shape became the norm as their perfect cylindrical shape was easier, and hence more cost effective, to mass produce.
In 1973 16 producers decided to come together to reintroduce the Albeisa to heighten the exposure and recognition of Alba wines. It is a non-profit organisation whose primary mission is the development and promotion of the wine production of the region by means of events, the most important being to showcase Nebbiolo Prima.

And so I found myself on the first morning in the Palazzo Mostre e Congressi in Alba, a functional building with white, airy rooms, looking for a socket for my laptop. It was thus that I had the great good fortune to sit for the following four mornings next to fellow socket sharer and Australian wine critic Huon Hooke. Each morning under blind conditions we were served 80 mostly embryonic Nebbiolo wines. Being under such time constraints and with such a large number of samples, even the most experienced tasters found it a tough exercise.

Under these circumstances I always consider the taster as much as the wines to be on test, and I did exchange thoughts with Huon on several of the samples, especially in the case of wines showing poorly. Surprises, good and bad, are inevitable. To paraphrase Huon, blind tastings can be a very sobering exercise, and I must say I have great respect for the producers who had the courage to put their wines in to such fierce test. After the second morning of our 'tour de force', I could not help but envy the buyers who, in a separate room, were served the same wines, but uncovered. The lingering doubt remains that, hard as we tasters may try, the last wine may not get the same attention as the first. The build up of tannins and relatively high level of alcohol take their toll on the taster's concentration, which is why I think it is so important to reduce the risk of overlooking or underscoring particular wines by discussing wines with fellow tasters.

The origin of Nebbiolo

Before we started our second morning's tasting of another 80 Nebbiolos, Anna Schneider, professor in ampelography at the Institute of Plant Virology at the University of Turin, gave us a concise and crystal-clear overview of Nebbiolo, dubbing it a 'tough, complicated, but fascinating grape variety'. It is an ancient grape, which remains much less understood than, say, Cabernet Sauvignon. Already mentioned in 1266, it does not seem to have travelled far from the original regions in which it was found: Piemonte, Valle d'Aosta and Lombardy's Valtellina.

The grape variety is a reluctant traveller, even within Italy. What until recently was considered 52 ha of Nebbiolo on Sardinia, proved to be Dolcetto, and practically all of Italy's total 6,300 ha of the variety is in the north west, with 5,000 ha in Piemonte, 900 ha in Valtellina and a meagre 26 ha in Aosta. Therefore, and unsurprisingly, Nebbiolo is not a global force. Schneider noted only 627 ha outside its natural shelter in the lee of the alps: 260 ha in Argentina, 160 ha in the United States, 120 ha in Australia and 100 ha in Mexico.

What little is known about its origins has only recently been discovered. DNA analysis has shed some light on Nebbiolo's parentage, and it appears that there are 12 varieties in the frame, almost all of which are either Piemontese or from nearby Valtellina. From those 12 only three could have been one of the parents: Nebbiolo Rosé, Freisa and Vespolina. But it could also be the other way around, with Nebbiolo being a tentative parent of any of the three. Schneider's conclusion is that so far we do not know how and where Nebbiolo originated. Although the grape is genetically close to quite a few varieties from Italy's north west, it may well be that its origins will never be fully revealed, if one of the parents is now extinct.

She also dealt a blow to another favourite myth, the one that claims that the disease-ridden Michet produces the superior wine. Although Nebbiolo is prone to mutation, there are only two genotypes: Lampia and Rosé, whereas Michet is more or less identical to Lampia. Schneider explained that Michet is the least vigorous of the types with low fertility, but this is primarily caused by the fact that all Michet is virus infected. According to Schneider, this virus results in low yields and, more importantly, low sugar and phenolic accumulation in the berries and lower general bunch weight. As this affects the overall quality of the wine, she considers healthy plant material of the utmost importance, and favours the security offered by clonal selection over mass selection. Pictures of healthy Nebbiolo vines next to virus-infected Michet showed us dramatically how very little colour material the latter has in the skins, and seemed to prove her point. Schneider concluded, however, that diversity is the key to complexity and therefore recommended planting several different clones.

Monday 27 September 2010


While the dust of Bordeaux 2009 en primeur has yet to settle, Italy seems to have taken a great liking to the same format in recent years. Traditionally the en primeur season is triggered by the Consorzio of Valpolicella with the launch of the new Amarone release in January, followed by the big three from Tuscany (Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile and Brunello di Montalcino). Not new but until now without the same exposure is the Sicilia en primeur in March and subsequently the new en primeur version of Piemonte, Nebbiolo Prima.

In actual fact, these en primeur tastings have little in common with those in Bordeaux. Although the tastings are meant to give a first glimpse of the wines to be released on the market, they are held much later in the wines' pre-release development - soon after or shortly before bottling - and the events seem to centre only on getting as much exposure as possible for the regions and their wines, and attracting the attention of journalists and professionals to assess the general quality of the wines and the current vintage. And as buying decisions don't have to be made on the basis of a snapshot impression, the atmosphere is much more relaxed and focused on the exchange of opinions, impressions and ideas.

Assovini Sicilia, an association of 60-odd producers from Silicy founded in 1998, has been organising its en primeur presentation for the last seven years. Their objective is the exchange of ideas and collaboration among wine-producing estates on the island. It is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to drive forward the quality of Sicilian wine while representing this in closed ranks to a national and international public. Alongside the necessity of operating as an econmic force, they see education and information as fundamental to understanding the Sicilian winescape. Perhaps you could call them a kind of über-consorzio, which refreshingly believes in marketing and communication. The en primeur tasting showed the wines of the members, and was intelligently set up in three ways: you could taste the true en primeur wines blind, or taste the wines in the presence of the winemakers and estate owners, or taste all wines which are currently available in the market in a separate room, sighted, with samples being poured by sommeliers.

I went against the en primeur sentiment and decided to taste only the wines that are currently on the market, as I wanted to get an idea where Sicily finds itself today from a quality point of view. Brand Sicily seems to work well on a generic level, but at the same time seems to be driven by price point. In the recent past it more or less copied the New World concept of the production of varietal wines, aiming at a wide audience. Sicily tried to transform itself into Italy's version of Australia, especially when large producers and bottlers from the north of Italy started to invest heavily in the island, turning out sun-kissed reds, and fresh but simple whites, much helped by the introduction of new technology in its vineyards and cellars.

Throughout its history, Sicily has always been a bulk-wine-producing region, and therefore regional diversity was not as developed, or cared about, as in other parts of Italy. A direct consequence of this was that when the island slowly started to focus on bottled rather than bulk wine, the simple concept of classification by grape variety was adopted, instead of a more intricate (but at that time little known) system of designated origin. Under the IGT banner, Italy's lowest quality designation, the wines could all be marketed as Sicilia, which didn't seem to need any further explanation, and the name proved to be very evocative and appealing. 'Brand Sicily' was born. As so often in the recent past, most upcoming and 'new' wine regions gained international attention more easily with modern versions of international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah than with indigenous ones. This strategy worked splendidly for Sicily but the success was due to only a handful of estates. This success attracted the attention of big national players, all of which bought vineyards and invested in new winery technology, aiming to produce more of the same.

However, although planted in a frenzy, the international varieties never managed to overtake the indigenous ones. The white Catarratto, Sicily's most planted variety with some 39,000 ha (96,371 acres), is followed in second place by the red Nero d'Avola with 18,000 ha (44,479 acres). It's not until you get to place number 6 that you find the first international variety, Syrah, with 5,179 ha (12,798 acres). And although the bulk of Sicilian wines still produced is exactly that, most producers willing to switch to bottled wines had no alternative than to come up with blends of indigenous varieties in combination with international ones to reach a marketable volume at an attractive price. Although the strategy did help to put Sicilian indigenous varieties on the map, it did little for the individuality of the wines, neither did it add anything unique to the individual wines. The 22 DOCs, the majority created in the 1990s and later, did very little to stimulate interest in, or scrutiny of, the individual terroirs, as many of them where neither historic nor relevant but simply put into place to comply with the European community laws. That is not to say that Sicily hasn't got any historic wine styles (Marsala, Passito di Noto, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Passito di Pantelleria, to name just a few), but they were of local importance and consumed locally, and only very recently have they been given the attention they need to restore them to their former glory.

It is at this stage that Sicily may be judged from the en primeur tasting. The island still can't resist taking the varietal route but this time the focus is firmly on its indigenous grape varieties, adding a much needed point of difference in the international market. In reality, however, the wine styles produced from these grapes are very much geared towards the so-called international style: deeply coloured reds with lots of extraction and noticeable oak; the whites clean, but predominanlty showing recipe-like cool-fermentation tropical-fruit aromas. At this moment a sense of regionality is achieved only by grapes that even for Sicilian standards are firmly local, such as Nerello Mascalese, Nocera, and Carricante, to name a few, or by headstrong producers, deeply curious about their terroir and how to get this into the glass.

It is striking that while the New World desperately tries to reposition itself in the market to fight off competition by focusing more on the origin and hence the originality of wines and educating the public about regionality, Sicily is busy trying to upgrade brand Sicily from IGT to DOC, covering the whole island, and with little regard for regional diversity. The Brand Sicily message is clear enough but it is doubtful if it will do justice to its diversity, which, in the end, still seems to be the main reason wine lovers are prepared to trade up on the cost of a bottle of wine.

Friday 24 September 2010


Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily's first (and so far only) DOCG in a sea of vino da tavola and a handful of osbcure, but potentially very interesting DOCs, showed itself with an easy-going confidence during my trip to the island last month.

The DOCG is at the southern tip of the island around the town of Vittoria in the province of Ragusa. As is often the case with Italian wine regions, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is actually two regions. The first, generic one, is broadly the triangle between the towns of Vittoria, Caltagirone and Gela. Within this area lies Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico, the original heart of the region. Curiously, a snippet of Classico also lies as an island around the town of Santa Croce Camarina outsite the main Classico region.

The difference between the generic and the Classico areas, however, is not immediately apparent, and this is mirrored by the Cerasuolo di Vittoria production regulations. Except for a mandatory ageing of 18 months for the Classico compared with the nine months prescribed for the normal Cerasuolo, there is no distinction between the two in terms of yield limits or grape varieties. As so often, the enlargement in 1995 of the original Classico region, which received its DOC as early as 1976, was nothing more than a quirk of politics. The 1976 denomination made intelligent use of the region's typical red sandy soils with a limestone substrata as the main demarcation criterion. This has subsequently been watered down by the 1995 extension to encompass whole stretches of land on different soil types as well as the aforementioned DOCG island outside the Classico zone, where apparently there isn't any real viticultural activity worth mentioning anyway.

Although the province of Ragusa has not been immume to the charm (and the prospect of a good financial return) of international varieties, the region has always shown a healthy interest in its own local grape varieties, and with good reason. First in line is the red Nero d'Avola, originating from the town of Avola. It is also known as Calabrese, albeit without any credible link to Calabria in the far south of mainland Italy, where it is virtually unknown. Apparently, the name comes from the word Calavrisi, local dialect and heavily influenced by Greek, with cala meaning 'grape' and vrisi 'from Avola', the town 70 km from Vittoria on Sicily's southeast coast in the province of Siracusa. In actual fact the vines are much more densely planted around Noto and Pacchino, the latter considered a cru by insiders, but perhaps nowadays better known for its very tasty cherry tomatoes.

With 19,304 ha (47,701) Nero d'Avola has become Sicily's most planted variety, followed, surprisingly, by Syrah (5,357 ha, according to 2008 data from the Istituto Regionale della Vite e del Vino), with which it is regularly blended. Nero d'Avola's success is nevertheless not a recent phenomenon.

In the past, Nero d'Avola was almost exclusively produced as a blending wine to beef up the wines of Piemonte and Tuscany, and known in France as le vin médicine, apparently for exactly the same reason. Nero d'Avola has colour in abundance and only a very short maceration time of a couple of days is needed to obtain a very dark, almost black juice. In additiion to its richness in colour pigments, it is high in acidity and, combined with high sugar levels, gives full-bodied wines with freshness. It is a fairly early ripening variety too, and unsurprisingly lends itself easily as a blending partner, especially with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and, more and more, with Syrah. Nero d'Avola has gone from being a workhorse grape to everybody's darling and is now a 'recommended variety', which means it can be planted freely throughout the whole of Sicily. So far, only the Etna region has resisted its obvious charms.

Much less is known of Frappato, which must comprise at least 40% of the blend of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the balance being Nero d'Avola, and most producers stick exactly to that. It has hardly travelled anywhere outside of the boundaries of Ragusa since the first records of the grape in the 17th century, although apparently there is a connection with Tuscany's Sangiovese. Compared with Nero d'Avola's omnipresence in hectares, there is only a tiny amount of Frappato planted (846 ha at the latest count, 2008) , and although it plays such important role in the Cerasuolo blend, intriguingly, the majority (454 ha) is planted in the province of Trapani, the far west of Sicily.

Unlike Nero d'Avola, Frappato has little to add in terms of colour to the blending vat. It is mostly praised for its perfume, with cherry and strawberry often mentioned. Although it is often considered as lacking in structure, I found that varietal bottlings of Frappato showed high acidity, fine tannic structure, succulent bright red fruits and fine perfumed aromas on the finish. When asked, Giusto Occhipinti told me that Frappato is actually praised for its acidity, and according to him, the misconception that Frappato is low in acid comes from grapes grown on heavy soils, and in hotter macroclimates.

If I have one tiny criticism it is that perhaps Frappato hasn't got entirely the interest or complexity to fascinate for long beyond its freshness, but in the blend it delivers something that is far greater than the sum of the parts. It has been suggested that Frappato was mainly used to lighten and soften the Nero d'Avola wines, but samples tasted during my stay gave a different picture. While Nero d'Avola on its own can be very impressive, it can suffer from overzealous extraction and new oak. The wines can often be very rich, and in some cases somewhat plump, while I found Cerasuolo much more refreshing and often lighter in alcohol too. Frappato is taken very seriously on its home turf, and has its own DOC, Frappato di Vittoria. More significantly, the producers that I had a chance to visit produce a pure version of it, allegedly designed for the local market, but Frappato shows such an enormous compatibility with food, from vegetables to meat and even fish dishes, it may well be the sommelier's next secret weapon.

And it is Frappato that gives Cerasuolo its cherry colour (cerasuolo means 'cherry-like'), although according to Alessio Planeta from the eponymous Planeta estate, which has a recently moved in to the Cerasuolo DOCG, the name actually stems from the very short vatting times the wines were allowed in the past. According to him, before the outbreak of phylloxera, the whole region of Ragusa was a sea of vines, literally up to the ocean, to produce the kind of blending material demanded in the north. Apparently the volume of grapes was so large, that the wineries could produce enough wine only if the vinification was speeded up, hence a much shorter maceration time in the area around Vittoria, and therefore less deeply colouredl wines.

As Sicily has always been used predominantly to mass-produce bulk wines, it is perhaps not wholly suprising that the history of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, at least as a bottled wine, is as recent as 1933, the year it was introduced for the first time to the public at an exhibition in Siena, Tuscany. This doesn't imply that Sicily doesn't have a tradition of local wine styles, but that remarkably few ever reached the international market in bottled, unadulterated form, except for Marsala perhaps.
This explains the willingness of many Sicilan wine producers, eager to bottle their own produce, to cultivate the international varieties untainted by a bulk wine past, and able to attract the attention of an international market. However, contrary to popular belief, the island is certainly still firmly in indigenous hands. For example: total plantings of Chardonnay are just 4,960 ha (12,256 acres) compared with 38,070 ha (94,073 acres) of the Sicilian white Catarratto. Producers therefore have no choice but to blend the prized international grapes with indigenous ones if they want to reach a certain number of bottles. But on the back of this necessity, the indigenous grape varieties have become internationally recognised, and this has increased wine producers' confidence in grapes that can better express their origin.

Does Cerasuolo di Vittoria deserve its elevated status as DOCG? On the basis of the samples I tasted, there seems to be little doubt that the handful of producers I met are extremely serious. Interestingly, the region is characterised by a colourful bunch of producers ranging from conventional to left field in their viticulture and vinifciation, from stainless-steel fermentation vessels to ancient clay amphorae. Organic and biodynamic viticulture are on the rise and wholly unstoppable. Therefore one can find a whole range of styles, from bold, dark wines flirting with the international market to medum-bodied, pale, perfumed reds. Whereas the whole of Sicily has fallen under the Nero d'Avola spell, it seems that Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG has a uniqueness that can only add to the variety's distinct profile in the sea of new-wave red currently coming from the Island.

One of the undisputed leaders of the DOCG, they were the first to draw international attention to Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and all this by sheer coincidence, or rather a scherzo, a joke, according to Giusto Occhipinti. A trained architect, Occhipinti used to help his grandfather with the harvest of the grapes, inviting his friends. These friends eventually became the founding members of COS and their initials (Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, Pinuccia Strano) formed the acronym for their new estate. This was all triggered by one day of foot-treading grapes, but it proved infectious enough. Their first real vintage was 1980 and, after a couple of years juggling jobs and wine-making, they decided in 1983 to truly invest time as well as money in COS. They can now show more than 30 vintages of Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Unhindered by formal training or preconceived ideas, their route pretty much followed what gave the best results in the vineyard, which very soon appeared to be to interfere as little as possible. This approach logically preceded a growing interest in organics, and biodynamics, which triggered a similar curiosity in the cellar.

At first COS aged its wines in barrique, and was not averse to international varieties either. However, 30 years down the line, the barriques have all but disappeared. Occhipinti explains that they became tired of endless, and, as he puts it, 'pointless' experimentations with assessing each vineyard and trying to understand the impact of oak and how to modify it: Allier or Tronçais? A different grain? Less toast? More toast? Larger percentage of second year oak? Third year oak? etc, etc. Their cooper would come up with endless advice, but in the end they gave up and now use only amphorae, and concrete fermentation vats which have been constructed 12 metres under the earth. With the barriques, stainless steel also went out of the door, as Giusto felt that steel didn't permit sufficiently gradual temperature control. Although the amphorae are without any temperature control, they do not want to rely entirely on ambient temperatures, hence the concrete vats have an ingenious system of water tubes running through the inside of the walls. This allows for very gentle temperature variation.

In addition to Cerasuolo, they produce a Frappato and a white, one entry level and one top wine, fermented on the skins for a seriously long five-week period. Come to think of it, the amphora reds also remain on the skins for literally months. When I visited the winery in early March, the 2009 vintage was still on the skins. According to Giusto, this allows them to work without any sulphur as the proteins in the skins absorb the oxygen and hence play the same role as sulphur would.

COS follows a strict biodynamic policy, and this is also where the amphorae come into play. According to Occhipinti, they try to do as little as possible to ensure their soils are healthy and alive. Only this, so Occhipinti believes, delivers healthy grapes and therefore fermentation is triggered by indigenous yeast. Barriques would only blur the terroir message, while stainless steel would render the wine industrial. The amphorae came in as a consequence of the biodynamic methods employed in their vineyards, because, like oak, they allow some transpiration, but without having an impact on taste and aroma. Occhipinti sees the non-interventionist method as COS's main tool to counteract a sea of similar-tasting wines which lack a sense of place and hence soul.

COS Frappato 2008 IGT Sicilia16.5 Drink 2010-11
Pale ruby, very light colour. Quite fresh and intense strawberry and strawberry preserve. Herbal. Quite enticing. High drinkability paired with freshness and zing. 12.5% (WS)
COS Frappato 2009 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2011-12 Cask sample. Pale, violet ruby. Young, very sweet nose, still somewhat unsettled, but very fragrant. The fruit on the palate is propelled by high acidity and grainy tannin. Will need another year in bottle to truly open up. (WS)

COS, Pithos 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16.5 Drink 2010-13
Fermented in amphorae, this shows an intense ruby. Complex and undeniably spicy, especially hints of nutmeg. Multilayered. The high acidity gives the red and dark fruit a crunchy quality. (WS)

COS 2007 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 17 Drink 2010-14
Medium concentrated ruby. Brooding and somewhat closed plum fruit nose. Compact palate with fne, powdery tannins. Delicious, lively acidity. Seems still quite young. 13% (WS)

COS, Nero di Lupo 2008 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-2014
Pale, Pinot Noir look-alike ruby. The nose pairs ripe strawberry fruit with plum and just a touch of dried fig and tamarind. Very gentle initial mouthfeel until acidity kicks in. Well balanced with chalky tannins, closes up on the finish. Very light alcohol level for its intensity. COS's Pinot Noir equivalent. 12.5% (WS)

Feudo di Santa Tresa is a joint venture between Massimo Maggio and Stefano Girelli of Casa Girelli from Trento, which in 2005 was acquired by La-Vis, the Trentino based co-op, which also owns Villa Cafaggio in Chanti Classico. The driving force behind the estate is doubtless Massimo Maggio, Sicilian by birth and the proud and somewhat curt custodian of the estate. The estate's history goes back to the 17th century, its main agricultural activity having been the production of oranges and olives. Although oranges are still cultivated here, many of the orange groves are now vineyards. The soils are a striking red sandy loam wich covers a layer of porous limestone, which has a very good water-retaining capacity. Nonetheless, the vineyards need additional irrigation, and an undeerground system has been installed to limit evaporation.

The estate has been lavishly endowed with investments and new plantings are very much the norm here. Although Nero d'Avola is the main protagonist, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered essential to create wines that appeal to an international market. Signor Maggio leaves no doubt about his unshakeable opinion that the Anglo-Saxon market demands deeply coloured, fruit-driven wines. It is something that Nero d'Avola can achieve on its own, but Frappato certainly not. Maggio laments that Frappato doesn't ripen evenly every year. They have tried to overcome this lack of colour by clonal selection, as well as by cold soaking the fruit before vinification and long maceration times. Still, the 100% Frappato is produced for the local market only.

Both Cerasuolo and the 100% Frappato play very much second fiddle to the international orchestra that makes the core of Santa Tresa's range. Maggio clearly doesn't believe that Anglo-Saxon taste might be shifting from deeply coloured and super-extracted wines with a recognisable dollop of Cabernet to a more refreshing, elegant style. This is perhaps a logical point of view for someone who has just invested in replanting vineyards that are just about to come of age. But it is not all brand new: a 1964 vineyard with Nero d'Avola was kept because it was not planted with one single clone, and hence is a source of different genotypes now used for their own clonal selection.

One doesn't get the impression that the eggs are laid in one basket only. During the visit it became clear that the estate is still trying to find its way, and expriments are part and parcel of the process to discover what may work best. Although 80% of the vineyards are planted with Nero d'Avola, there are apparently a further 60 experimental varieties and/or clones planted (Viognier being one of them), invariably on trellis systems. However, several older tendone vineyards have been 'tolerated' and not grubbed up. They were left intact to observe the growing behaviour of the vines versus modern trellis systems. And even Frappato is under close scrutinty, as their objective is to isolate a clone with deep colour as, according to Maggio, Frappato's tell-tale pale-coloured skin may well be the result of the poor clones planted in the 1960s and 1970s.

Feudo Santa Tresa Frappato 2008 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-11
6,000 bottles produced only for domestic market. I got the impression that the wine was only reluctantly shown. Medium concentrated crimson. Herbal, leafy blueberry and raspberry, cherry nose. Lively raspberry palate with just a touch of stalky tannin. Beaujolais style, but not without merit. 13% (WS)

Feudo Santa Tresa 2007 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 16 Drink 2010-12
60% Nero d'Avola, 40% Frappato. Still very youthful, violet ruby. Youthful too its nose, only hinting at sweet, concentrated fruit with the leafy, blueberry notes from Frappato framed by the more plum-like Nero d'Avola with soft, stalky and pleasantly bitter tannin. Slightly disappointing medium length 13.5% (WS)

Feudo Santa Tresa, Nivuro 2007 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2012-15
70% Nero d'Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate's 'battle horse', according to Signor Maggio, for all the obvious reasons. Very dark, purplish crimson. Very international profile with bags of sweet, upfront fruit and loads of caramel and spice from the oak (60% new). Seductive, despite the drying oak tannins, but impressively long plummy, cassis finish. However, this wine could come from anywhere.13.5% (WS)

Feudo Santa Tresa, Avulis 2007 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-14
100% Nero d'Avola. Very dark ruby. Immediate, and upfront oak with lots of concentrated sweet fruit. Really impressive, but again lacks a sense of place, and hence the wine seems formulaic, rather than an expression of the region. Despite the thunderous new oak impact, the palate is much more elegant, but hindered by drying oak tannins. Signor Maggio remarks the wine was made to appeal to an Anglo-Saxon market - we have a lot to answer for. 13.5% (WS)

Refreshingly different is the Cantine Terre di Giurfo, at first sight an unassuming operation but turning out some pretty classy wines. It is run by the amiable Achille Alessi, with Giuseppe Romano as consultant oenologist at his side. Terre di Giurfo has been in the Alessi family for more than 100 years, but wines have been bottled only since 2002.

The estate's vineyards are remarkably high, some 550 m, with calcareous soils high in rock content, and which seems to translate into altogether fresher, more elegant wines. But at least as important seems to be Achille's philosophy of restraint. Terre di Giurfo has not been able to resist Syrah either, but in their defence it must be said that the Syrah is neither blended with any other grape, nor does it see any oak. The Syrah vineyard was planted about 10 years ago, and Achille prefers the stainless-steel-only approach, because he likes the fruit flavour and according to him it is easier to understand the grape without it being blurred by oak.

The cellar is an undramatic collection of stainless-steel tanks, and the way of working is without great secrets. Giuseppe Romano explains that using cultured yeast is part of their philosophy, and the result of experimentation. In his own words, he feels that he can much more carefully determine the outcome of the vinification, while working out what he thinks are the characteristics of each variety. His explanation may sound plausible, but hardly convincing for purists, who consider natural yeast part of terroir, and hence a wine's personality. The introduction of refrigeration technology instigated modern Sicilian wines, and using natural yeast only seems to be the next logical step. Nevertheless, all Terre di Giurfo wines have a certain elegance and are extremely drinkable.

Terre di Giurfo, Suliccenti Insolia 2009 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-12
Concentrated straw yellow. Quite pure white fruit and lemon skin. The palate is still somewhat unsettled, but the finish shows perfectly balancing acidity in Satsuma fruit. 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Belsito Frappato 2009 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-12
Medium deep violet ruy. Bright, red, uplifting red fruit with spicy notes that suggests oak ageing, but this wine only sees stainless steel. Succulent and lifted palate. You can even serve this chilled, the perfect summer red. 13% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Kudyah Nero d'Avola 2008 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-13
100% Nero d'Avola fermented and aged in stainless steel. Subdued and earthy, incredibly seductive pomegranate and blueberry jam and cherry. Perfumed and concentrated. Very long, aromatic finish underlined by soft, rustic tannins. 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Maskaria 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16.5 Drink 2010-13
Medium concentrated violet, but very light in colour. The nose itself is concentrated with plummy notes in sweet, crushed fruit and raspberry jam. It has me wondering for a minute if all this upfront red fruit scent come from the cultured yeasts. Lip-smacking acidity and great balance, but finish derails slightly due to earthy note. This wine is fermented in stainless steel only. 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Ronna Syrah 2007 iGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2011-15
Violet ruby, with depth. Wine opens slightly leathery, and quite Syrah-like. Layers of sweet cherry and strawberry. Well made, with pleasant stalky bitter note. Seems ageworthy too, but the Frappato and the Cerasuolo are much more intriguing wines than this 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Kuntari Nero d'Avola 2006 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2010-14
The wine was aged in second and third year barrique. Deep, dark, violet ruby, no sign of age at all. Upfront, full-throttle dark fruit and vanilla, which actually can't be that pronounced if old oak is used. International, almost generic palate. Has plenty of freshness, but tries to hard to appeal perhaps. Sound winemaking, though. 14% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Uniku Frappato Dolce 2009 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-14
An intriguing sweet wine (with residual sweetness of 100 g/l) from sun-dried Frappato. Interestingly, it displays Frappato's signature freshness despite the sweetness. Quite versatile and with dark and red fruit flavours. 12% (WS)

The Valle dell'Acate estate lies within the Classico demarcation on the slopes of the valley of the Dirillo river. Exceptionally, the soils here are almost blazing white and chock full of fossils. This particular soil type is called milaro, and consists of calcareous sandstone with patches of clay, which provides moisture to the vines throughout the growing cycle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, part of the estate's vineyards has been planted with the apparently ubiquitous Chardonnay, but the results are impressive.

Gaetana Jacono, representing the sixth generation of a family whose vinous activities started at the beginning of the 19th century, had a little surprise for us: before pouring her Cerasuolo wine, she served us a flight of Bidis, the Chardonnay-Insolia (sic) blend, going back to 1997. These wines, even the ones that seem to have passed their peak, have something unique. And although Inzolia in my opinion is seldom interesting enough as a varietal wine, in this case the partnership adds something that makes the sum more than the total of the parts.
Since 1997 Gaetana has undertaken a range of experiments, trying to figure out what percentage of new oak to use, with a tendency to employ less and less each subsequent year. She seems very interested in Bidis, but is highly critical in its evaluation. She is also the one that blatantly states that the current revolution in Sicilian wine started with the introduction of refrigeration technology.

The blend is almost always 60% Chardonnay, 40% Inzolia. The varieties are fermented separately in stainless steel, while the Chardonnay undergoes malolactic fermentation in oak barrel and malo is suppressed for the Inzolia. The Bidis vineyard was planted in 1989 at fairly high density of 5,000 vines per ha. The first vintage was 1994.

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 1997 IGT Sicilia 15 Drink up
Apparently 1997 was the 'vintage of the century' in this part of Sicily. Golden honey colour with amber tinge. Breadcrumbs, hint of tinned sardines, caramel and caramelised nuts. First signs of oxidation. Mature, mushroom like notes initially with honeyed, nutty tones. Sprightly acidity has kept the wine alive, with some creaminess on the finish. 13% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2002 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-2012?
Sunflower yellow. Fresher, altogether more complex than the 1997 with first notes of pâtisserie, custard and hazelnuts. Honeyed too. Viscous and concentrated, with very good balance. Good length and very enjoyable, still. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2003 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-2013
Very deep, golden yellow. Exotic spice and walnut with hints of quince jelly, candied pineapple and oatmeal. Almost sweet, nutty, honeyed palate spreading out into apricot flavours on the finish. Acidity structures and melts in the finish. Very long, soft almond pudding with lemon rind. Cleary, but not obtrusively oaked. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2004 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2010-2013
Deep, brilliant yellow. Subdued and minerally with the noticeable impact of oak. Hazelnuts. Creamy fruit palate with candied white fruit and honeycomb. Attractive bitter liquorice finish. Very long, almost rich. 14% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2005 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-2015
Deep, honey-like yellow. Exotic fruit cocktail, but not overtly sweet. With aeration notes of grapefruit and only a touch of saffron. Very fine, nervy acidity. Viscous palate with delicious phenolic bite. Sweet oak and lemon tart notes on the finish without becoming pastiche-like. Only ever so slightly alcoholic. Could still open up further. 14% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate Frappato 2008 Vittoria 16 Drink 2010-2012
Frappato is fermented at a low 18C as it is not considered a red wine here. Molto delicato is how the estate's oenologist Francesco Ferreri describes the grape as, due to few polyphenols in its skin, it has a tendency to oxidise quickly.
Very pale ruby (as if to prove their point about considering Frappato more a white than a red wine), with first signs of age. Soft, peppery strawberry nose, followed by sweet, soft fruit with just enough acidity to keep the balance. Could very well benefit from chilling. Very good length. 13% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate 2007 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16.5 Drink 2010-2013
Medium concentrated, youthful crimson. It is clearly the Nero d'Avola that delivers the pigments here. Intoxicating nose of dark fruit and cinnamon bark, white pepper. Rich, concentrated, ending on an attractive bitter note contrasting the fruit sweetness. Very good length. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Il Moro Nero d'Avola 2007 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2010-2014
Deep ruby. A single-minded and highly individual wine, with leafy, spicy dark fruit. Wonderful richness with appealing acidity, and bitter note. Good length. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Rusciano 2006 IGT Sicilia 15 Drink 2010-2013?
Syrah 85%, Nero d'Avola 15%. After fermentation in stainless steel the wine is kept a further 18 months after bottling before release.
Quite genuine Syrah nose with hints of leather and olive tartare. A slight stewed fruit nose too. Sweet, almost monolithic. Quite bitter finish. 14% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Tanè 2004 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Nero d'Avola 70%, with 30% Syrah harvested overripe.
Very deep, almost brilliant ruby. Opulent, port-like big nose, with layers of spice. Baroque palate but balanced and carries its alcohol effortlessly. Valle dell'Acate's answer to Amarone. 15% (WS)

The last station on the Cerasuolo discovery tour is Planeta, the collectors of Sicilian terroirs. In addition to their base in Menfi, which is dedicated to international varieties, the Planeta family now has five estates scattered throughout Sicily, totalling roughly 400 ha (988 acres) in every important region, from Cerasuolo di Vittoria to Etna and Noto, where they revived the rare Moscato di Noto Passito. They are about to add another pearl to their string by reviving the ancient but more or less extinct Mamertino DOC. According to historical sources, Mamertino was the flagship wine of Sicily during the Roman period, but the DOC now exists only on paper, according to Alessio Planeta. The first results of the project, which is overseen by Professor Attilio Scienza, are expected in 2015, with the main protagonist being Nerello Nocera.

The Planeta family has come quite a long way since 1985 when they built the Menfi estate, turning out high-quality single-varietal Chardonnnay and Merlot wines, which took the world by storm and put Sicily on the international map. But even then the family was experimenting with blending the international suspects with indigenous Sicilian varieties.

Planeta's Cerasuolo di Vittoria outpost is situated near the town of Dorilli on the coast. The vineyards are planted on the typical red sandy Vittoria soils over tufa, which functions as a moisture retainer. One of the difficulties they faced when planting the vineyards was the limited availability of plant material, and hence the need to set up their own propagation and clonal selection programme.

The cellar, which was constructed in the 19th century, is yet another witness to the region's prosperous past which lasted until the arrival of phylloxera and the decline of the bulk-wine market. The Planeta family has lovingly restored the buildings, and replanted the vineyards with Nero d'Avola and Frappato only. The cellar's main fermentation vessels are concrete vats dating from the last century but Alessio is concerned that they may be tool old and hence the wines are made in stainless steel only. Alessio believes that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is all about perfume and the use of oak would only cloud this aspect. Tellingly, he suggests the wine is served in Burgundy glasses.

Planeta 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16 Drink 2010-2013
The only wine so far produced is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, while they wait for the vineyards to mature before producing a Classico version. Alessio Planeta sees Classico as a Riserva category, and expects a deeper-coloured wine from mature vines.
Medium deep ruby. The nose is marked by strawberry and pomegranate (Alessio mentions that the wine's aroma often reminds him of a Quality Street sweet, but it is not a flavour I seem to find in the wine), followed by an upfront fruit palate and soft, rustic tannins. Popular and appealing with class. 13% (WS)

Saturday 18 September 2010

BRUNELLO - 2005 V 2004

The Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino seems very pleased with the 2005 vintage of its most important wine: it bestowed no less than four out of a total of five stars on this vintage, although the growing season proved perhaps a tad too challenging to completely deserve this high accolade. Characterised by a cool beginning, affecting fruit set, it saw a hot and sunny July and August that accelerated the sugar accumulation in the berries. A wet and cool September, however, reversed the trend. While sugar levels were quite high, tannins struggled to ripen. Longer hang time on the vine to compensate for this tended to result in cooked and stewed fruit flavours in many of the final wines.

As a direct result, the colour of many a Brunello on this year's en primeur tasting in Montalcino looked dangerously mature, with several samples already showing brownish tinges. Combined with apparently high or unbalanced alcohol levels, giving the wines a burning sensation on the finish, this vintage, with some notable exceptions, seems to be for mid-term drinking.

It immediately raises the question as to whether the wines in general will prove to be worth their traditionally fairly high price tags. In several cases, it also got me wondering why producers had persevered in producing a Brunello at all, instead of opting out and producing Rosso di Montalcino, a category that serves as a 'second wine'. Rosso has the advantage that the regulations require a much shorter ageing period and it can be put on the market from 1 Sep in the year following the harvest, whereas Brunello may not be released until at least four years after the 1 Jan following the harvest. One can only guess that in 2005 neither recession nor Brunellogate was on the horizon, and hence there seemed no reason not to capitalise on the Brunello reputation. But even so, this seems an unsuitable philosophy in the long term if Brunello is to maintain its status as one of Italy's most important reds. And this reputation is, among other factors, based on the wines' supposed capacity for extended ageing, something that the 2005 vintage clearly hasn't got. Many wines will have reached their plateau of maturity within the next five years.

I got a completely different impression of the 2004, which, on the whole, is a vintage with real class and complexity, combined with freshness. In general, the colour of the wines showed signs of development, but looked much healthier with less browning. They also looked less opaque and impenetrable, which made me wonder, cheekily, and only for a split second, whether these wines are much more faithful, at least in colour and freshness, to the Brunello (Sangiovese) grape. Certainly, many of them will have a very good lifespan, although in some instances I can imagine it will prove hard to resist them right now. Prices will be invariably high, but I feel this vintage is far more interesting to invest in for cellaring and pleasurable drinking.

Although the Consorzio groups all 250 producers under its umbrella (and in its own words is the only consorzio in Italy to achieve this), the en primeur tasting did not reflect this fact, with several famous wines not available for tasting. This in itself is not surprising since these wines fetch prices on a cru classé level, and hence may have little stock and no real need to be present. But the most sorely missed, at least by me, was the 'next generation', ie the estates that only recently started to make a mark on the scene, those that are deeply involved with organic and biodynamic methods and demonstrate the quest for a clear sense of terroir in their wines. Not only would it have been very interesting to compare their wines with the more established names, it would also have shown that Montalcino is a dynamic region which has moved on after Brunellogate.


Angelini, Val di Suga 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Medium brownish ruby. Heady, attractive, fruit is a touch stewed, but complex aromas at the same time. Peppery too, and the first hints of tobacco. Closed palate, but a good balance is struck between extract, acidity and stalky coating tannins. Approachable now – with food, that is. (WS)

Poggio Antico 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17.5 Drink 2012-2018
Deep ruby, only just beginning to show some brownish tinges. Very enticing, inviting modern nose, with hints of vanilla. With aeration more balsamic. Palate is more austere, with high acidity, and coating tannins. Marzipan and maraschino-cherry finish with hint of oak. Unsettled tannins at this stage but with very good length to compensate. Lay down. (WS)

Argiano 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2016
Very deep, evolved brownish ruby with orange rim. Sweet fruitcake with sexy oak and horse saddle, firmly pressing the populist button, shoe wax too. Contrasting astringency on the palate. Horse-saddle note creeps up, drying out the finish somewhat. (WS)

Banfi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Almost opaque dark brownish ruby. Quite subdued, fresh cherries steeped in chocolate. Quite mellow, round dark fruit and red fruit jam palate. Amazingly accessible and open already. (WS)

Banfi, Poggio alle Mura 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
The surprise of the en primeur. Even one of the sternest critics of Banfi, Franco Ziliani, expressed his amazement. Very dark developed ruby with orange brown tinges. Elegant and very appealing with quite soft, round, ripe fruit and hints of vanilla. Very good acid structure and stalky tannins complementing the whole. Charming, one with great mass appeal. (WS)

Barbi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Very dark and opaque, brownish hue. Oak and spice seems to take the upper hand at least at this stage. Touch stewed but also rich jam fruit and boisterous tannin. Fruit closes up, but a reprise on the finish with complex strawberry and cherry flavours. Very long, tannins will need time to settle. (WS)

Barbi, Vigna del Fiore 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17.5 Drink 2012-2018
Herbal and tobacco-leaf nose. Quite pure and focused fruit palate and firm coating tannins. Impressive for the vintage. (WS)

Baricci 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Already quite mature-looking orange brown. Orange peel and ironlike note on a compact, very tight nose. Hints of candied fruit. Stubborn palate showing very little. Perhaps this is yet to come? (WS)

Gianni Brunelli 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Very deep ruby with brown tinges and a narrow rim with orange brown tinges. Serious and quite complex, if subdued and peppery. Same compactness on the palate, with crunchy tannins. Acidity seems to emphasise the tannins at the moment, but it will settle. Complex finish. Slight doubt about its lifespan when the colour seems so developed already. (WS)

Camigliano 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2017
Deep, medium-concentrated almost youthful ruby. Concentrated and truly fruit focused, no stewed impression here. Quite austere and compact at the moment with a big tannic spine but enough extract and aromatic development on the finish. Sinewy. (WS)

La Campana 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14 Drink 2010-2010
Impenetrable, almost black-brownish ruby. Popular, sweet nose. Volatile. Very sweet, almost jammy on the palate. (WS)

Canalino 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2015
Deep maturing ruby, with a narrow rim showing some development. Cherry pie and spice with a herbal note and a touch of vanilla. Quite popular palate with vanilla hints and coffee bean and a touch of tar on a cherry layer, and looks like it will mature fairly quickly. Crowd pleaser, but to be enjoyed with food. (WS)

La Carlina, La Togata 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2015
Medium deep, mature, orange-tinged ruby. Christmas cake and cherry jam with cinnamon bark and touch of graphite. Quite elegant, almost light, perhaps lacking a touch in concentration on the mid palate, but refreshingly gentle and focused. (WS)

La Carlina, La Togata dei Togati 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Deep developing ruby. Maraschino cherry nose. Very good persistent cherry fruit palate with good extract. Crunchy tannins too. Warm finish. Very good for the vintage. (WS)

Capanna 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Deep, concentrated dark ruby. Orange brown tinges on the rim. Almost Mon Chéri-like opening, but develops more dark fruit aromas. Palate is much more restrained, and the structure indicates more time is needed to settle and for the fruit to open up, but there is quite impressive length here. Will the fruit hold up? (WS)

Caparzo 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2017
Medium-deep ruby, developed look. Very subdued cherry liqueur nose and oatmeal. Just the right amount of oak. Quite peppery. Youthful, and elegant palate with almost crisp acidity. Looks pretty well balanced. (WS)

Caprili 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Very dark medium-concentrated ruby and a lighter, brownish ruby rim. Dried cherry and oak. Very austere tannic structure. All bones and not a lot of flesh, it seems. (WS)

Casanuova delle Cerbaie 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2016
Medium concentrated, evolved ruby. Telltale hot vintage nose with dried fruit notes and a touch volatile. Quite elegant fruit palate with good length. Perhaps the dried fruit character makes it a bit one dimensional. (WS)

Castelgiocondo 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Almost opaque dark ruby with black brownish tinges. Plum and dried fruit nose, almost international with hints of sweet oak. Succulent palate, not heavy at all, with grainy tannins kicking in on the finish and hints of dried fruit. Firmly pushing the popular button. (WS)

Castiglion del Bosco 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Very dark, almost black-tinged ruby and orange tinges on small rim. Port-like and stewed. Less fiery, almost sweet on the palate, but fruit doesn’t hold up well to the high acidity and rustic tannins. (WS)

Le Chiuse 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2018
Deep ruby with orange-brown tinge. Shoe polish and minerals. Backward on the palate but there is some genuine fruit lurking underneath. Crunchy sweet-sour impression and interesting, almost complex finish. Big structure. Wait. (WS)

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17.5 Drink 2010-2018
Medium-concentrated dark ruby with a broad orange rim and brown tinge. Liquorice, marzipan, cherry liqueur and dark chocolate, touch of bacon. Heady, perfumed. Amazingly pure on the palate. Stalky, marzipan-like tannin. (WS)

Col d'Orcia 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Deep, dark ruby. Immediate stewed fruit impression followed by smoky, savoury notes. Somewhat one dimensional at this stage, but good length. (WS)

Collelceto 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Deep, developed orange ruby, bordeaux look-a-like. Pronounced, mature with hint of stable. Touch vegetal. Has not escaped the troubled vintage, but is more hindered by that vegetal character. (WS)

Corte Pavone 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Very dark, opaque with black tinge. Closed nose with hints of black olive and sweet cherry. Succulent crunchy sweet-sour fruit impression. Lovely long-lasting flavours. Quite good for the vintage. (WS)

Cupano 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 13.5 Drink 2010-2010
Impenetrable ruby with black tinge. Big nose of sweet oak and coconut cream. Coconut and lashes of vanilla cream on the palate. Is this a dessert or wine? (WS)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Very deep, dark ruby. Multilayered if a touch peppery and hints of oak and touch of tar. Nose and palate show restrained dark fruits, with hardly any hint of stewed fruit. Backward at this stage and quite tannic, but the fruit has a juicy quality to it. This will need some time to open up, but worth the wait. (WS)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Prime Donne 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2017
Very dark, impenetrable ruby. Sweet and quite intense, and youthful palate. Very compact but with great extract and good balance between sweet fruit, acidity and firm tannins. Warm finish. (WS)

Fanti 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Impenetrable dark ruby with black tinge. Very accessible and flirty nose, but also developed with dark sweet fruit, Black Forest gateau, tobacco leaf and the merest hint of tar. Cinnamon bark too. Same flirty, popular, almost rich sweet appeal on the palate. International and lacking somewhat in identity. But doubtless appealing. Seems set for immediate consumption. (WS)

Fattoi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2016
Very dark, already developed ruby, broad orange rim with brown tinge. Popular leather and candied fruit nose and perhaps a hint of horse saddle. Sweet, opulent fruit too on the palate, only to be tempered by acidity. Mass appeal? (WS)

La Fiorita 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2015
Very dark, almost impenetrable. Quite international chocolatey dark-fruit nose with hint of leather, almost horse saddle. Palate shows little generosity in fruit and quite stalky tannins, but more fragrant on the finish. (WS)

Fornacina 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14 Drink 2012-2014
Developed orange ruby. Forest floor and leather. A touch of horse saddle. Quite rustic and hollow on the palate. (WS)

La Fortuna 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14 Drink 2012-2014
Deep concentrated ruby, orange tinge. Almost youthful compared with many other samples of this vintage. Sweet, heady and with hints of candied peel. The structure has not a lot of fruit to hold on to. (WS)

La Fuga 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Very dark, almost impenetrable. Open knit with red and dark fruit, baking spice and cherry-pie nose, with the beginnings of tertiary aromas. Compact and stalky. (WS)

Fossacolle 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2015
Deep ruby with brownish orange tinges. Vegetal and shoe polish opening. Elegant body, but seems to struggle between overripeness and underripeness at the same time. (WS)

Fuligni 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Medium-concentrated very mature-looking orange ruby, but with concentrated centre. Cherry cake and tiramisu, hints of vanilla. More fruit driven with aeration. Except for the grainy, dominant tannins, it cannot shake off the somewhat sweet impression it leaves behind. (WS)

Fuligni, Le Chiuse di Sotto 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Dark, and well-developed ruby, with broad orange rim. Also here the first hints are of dried fruit, but with very sexy oak handling. Quite skilled winemaking, but palate sways between austerity and sweetness. Will improve. (WS)

La Gerla 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2017
Quite lovely Bordeaux-like maturing ruby with orange tinges. Backward and closed, sweet, almost oriental spice. Lovely freshness and sweetness on the palate with medium-bodied feel. Quite understated and appealing. (WS)

Innocenti 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Medium-concentrated orange ruby with brown tinge. Earthy, balsamic, hints of bacon. Touch vegetal. Very sweet fruit impression on the palate reinforced by the low acidity. Astringent stalky tannins. (WS)

Lisini 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Maturing ruby tending towards brownish tinges. Warm, peppery, quite complex, but firmly in the dried fruit spectrum. As heady as the nose is, the more austere the palate. High acidity dominates the dried fruit finish. (WS)

Leonardo da Vinci, Da Vinci Collezione Speciale 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2014
Evolved orange ruby. Attractive at first, but much more restrained on the palate, lacking concentration. Does not live up to its 'Speciale' tag. (WS)

Le Macioche 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2015
Deep, brown-tinged ruby with brown-orange rim. Ever so slightly farmyardy. Firmly closed and astringent, and hard to detect fruit underneath, which pops up on the finish. Will the fruit ever come out? (WS)

La Magia 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2015
Opaque dark ruby with brownish-red tinges. Powerful nose with dried fruit notes, meaty notes too, and parmesan. Underneath it all lingering cherry. Livelier on the palate, with good length, but there doesn’t seem to be sufficient extract to balance out the astringency. (WS)

Mastrojanni 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2018
Medium ruby with brownish tinges. Balsamic nose and taut, compact palate. Tannic but not astringent. High acidity melts away on the finish. Ends warm with subdued aromatic development. Wait. (WS)

Cantina di Montalcino 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2014
This Cantina was acquired by the Cantina Leonardi Da Vinci from Vinci, near Florence. Medium-deep ruby with brown tinge and orange rim. Almost Amarone-like nose with hints of cinnamon. Quite attractive fruit, but very big, stalky tannic structure. (WS)

Silvio Nardi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2016
Very dark with orange/brown rim. Intensely sweet fruitcake and dried fruit nose. Palate much less forward with astringent tannins. Seems very unsettled at this stage. Wait. (WS)

Silvio Nardi, Manachiara 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2016
Very dark with a broad orange rim. Backward, slightly alcoholic opening. Same backward palate, with what looks like an elevated level of alcohol. Fruit just about to shine through. Needs more time. (WS)

Il Palazzone 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14 Drink 2012-2014
Deep, mature orange ruby. Distinctly vegetal underneath fruit cake. Vegetal notes too underneath sweet fruit. (WS)

Il Paradiso di Manfredi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 13.5 Drink 2010-2010
Brownish red ruby. Opens with Sunmaid raisins aroma and the merest suggestion of Marsala. The palate resembles a skeleton with cloth wrapped around it. Oxidative finale. (WS)

Pian delle Vigne (Antinori) 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2015
Medium deep, with orange/brown rim of medium concentration. Fine nose, sweet and with hints of cinnamon and incense. Good balance between fruit and acidity. The palate seems quite mellow and soft with fairly low acidity. Slightly rustic, drying tannins and a warm finish. Already quite approachable. (WS)

Agostina Pieri 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2018
Medium deep and quite youthful looking for the vintage. Inviting sweet complex peppery nose with maraschino cherry with a pinch of spicy oak. Herbal notes too. Impressive, rich sweet fruit, kept in check by lifting acidity. Bitter tannins, which complement the wine. Slightly burning finish. (WS)

La Poderina 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2014
Opaque, deep ruby with black tinge. Somewhat vegetal and spicy and reluctant. Quite interesting on the palate, though, but it remains to be seen if this turns into something more complex. (WS)

Il Poggione 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2015
Deep developed ruby. Chocolate fruitcake and cherry. Alcoholic. Similar aromatics on palate but struggles with the big structure. Astringent. (WS)

Le Ragnaie 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Medium-concentrated with broad orange-tinged rim. Stewed nose, fruitcake. Sweet stewed fruit and high acidity. Unbalanced. (WS)

Castello Romitorio 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Evolved dark ruby. Opens up slowly to fine, subdued strawberry and spice. Restrained cherry and black tea leaf. Drying but finely structured tannin. Elegant, not unlike a very slim supermodel. (WS)

Villa Poggio Salvi 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Deep mature-looking ruby with an orange-brown tinge. Savoury, earthy, tobacco-leaf fruit nose with the merest suggestion of leather. Palate marked by acidity, but fragrant fruitcake and liquorice finish of medium length. (WS)

San Filippo 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Very deep ruby with black tinge. Subdued with hints of farmyard. Palate is all spine and little flesh. (WS)

San Polino 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Medium-concentrated maturing ruby with a broad orange rim. Dried fruit and cherry. Quite sinewy and a touch austere. Slightly rustic persistent tannic structure, but finish shows multilayered and complex if in the fruitcake and spice spectrum. (WS)

San Polino, Helichrysum 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Deep, almost impenetrable. Sweet, multilayered, almost powerful nose. Dried fruit spectrum but lots happening here. Palate shows great freshness and compactness of fruit, very well balanced with crunchy tannins. Very long and satisfying. (WS)

Poggio San Polo 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Deep, if somewhat lacklustre ruby with orange tinges. Sweet and a touch jammy. Sweet-sour fruit, quite refreshing if not overtly complex or long. For mid-term drinking. (WS)

Livio Sassetti (Pertimali) 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2015
Very deep, concentrated brown ruby with concentrated orange-brown rim. Opulent, sweet and somewhat stewed. Hints of kitchen spice. Lengthy sweet fruit on the palate. Not the most complex, and the hot vintage shows itself clearly in the fruit character. (WS)

Sesti 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2017
Evolved medium-concentrated ruby with orange tinges in broad rim. Garden herbs and forest-floor nose with hints of tar. Elegant lively fruit palate. Elegant too, the long finish. Tannic core. (WS)

Talenti 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Developed reddish-brown ruby, concentrated rim. Balsamic, herbal. Herb liqueur and dried fruit. More complex flavours on the palate, with sweet fruitcake notes balanced by succulent acidity. Tannins frame a long, almost sweet finish. (WS)

Terre Nere 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Deep dark evolved Bordeaux look-a-like ruby. Very appealing, posh well-balanced oak nose. Mellow sweet fruit with a layer of stalky tannins and acidity only making its mark on the finish. (WS)

Uccelliera 2005 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2017
Almost opaque, dark brownish ruby, with a narrow orange rim. Sweet herb liqueur and Black Forest gateau. Same generosity on the palate cut by high acidity, but overall balance is there. (WS)


Angelini, Vigna Spuntali Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2010-2017
Deep, dark ruby with slight orange-brown tinge. Ripe, multilayered and very appealing. Full-bodied sweet-sour fruit palate and generous long finish with pleasant grainy tannins. Popular style. (WS) 14.5%

Poggio Antico, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17.5 Drink 2012-2018
Very dark, impenetrable. Opens with nutmeg, hints of black pepper becoming increasingly more complex with aeration, followed by wonderful intense but not overtly sweet fruit. Long and persistent finish with flattering crunchy tannins. Distinctly international apppearance, but very well made. (WS) 13.5%

Banfi, Poggio all'Oro Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2010-2016
Deep, dark ruby of medium concentration. Soft, warm nose with hints of tobacco, new oak, and the beginning of tar. Not overtly complex on the palate but concentrated nevertheless, with a warm finish. (WS) 14%

Barbi, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Well evolved, very dark ruby with orange rim. Fine backward nose of sweet black fruits and hints of undergrowth. Concentrated, and quite youthful on the palate with grainy tannins. Just beginning to open up. (WS) 14%

Gianni Brunelli, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 18 Drink 2012-2019
Very deep, almost opaque. Sweet, dried cherry and tea leaves. Lip-smacking red and dark fruit and fine powdery but persistent tannins. Refreshing and elegant. (WS) 13.5%

Gianni Brunelli, Le Chiuse di Sotto Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Deep, maturing ruby with broad orange-ruby rim. Shy to open up, red fruits and hints of graphite. Youthful. Crunchy sweet-sour fruit impression. Ripe tannic structure. Fragrant, sweet and long. Ends a touch warm. (WS) 14%

Camigliano, Gualto Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2017
Almost impenetrably dark with a light orange rim. Seriously concentrated and a touch alcoholic. Juicy red and dark fruits and an edge of candied peel/dried fruit. Persistent but finely structured tannins. Long, generous finish. (WS) 14%

Canalicchio di Franco Pacenti, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17.5 Drink 2012-2018
Deep, evolved and quite mature-looking orange ruby. Sweet and earthy, but a lively bright concentrated cherry. Lots of juiciness here and firm tannic layer. Endlessly long. (WS) 14%

Capanna, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Deep, dark ruby with an almost black tinge. Oatmeal, cherry liqueur, hints of vanilla and the beginning of tertiary notes. Good persistence on the palate, but slightly rustic structure. (WS) 14.5%

Caparzo, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2015
Dark and slightly lacklustre ruby. Very backward, closed nose. Concentrated, intense dark fruit, with astringent and slightly bitter tannins. (WS) 14%

Caprili, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2010-2014
Opaque deep ruby, with almost black tinges. Opulent and popular dried fruit and cherries in alcohol with spicy oak note. Contrasting sweet, dried fruit and high acidity. Lacks stuffing? (WS) 14.5%

Castelgiocondo, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2016
Deep dark ruby with a black tinge. Interesting but very subdued nose. Same restrained palate opening up to sweet, jammy fruit, but astringent tannins are fiercely dominating at this stage. (WS) 13.5%

Castiglion del Bosco, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2010-2017
Very dark ruby with black tinge. Opulent forest-fruit nose. Big mouthful of dark sweet fruit and cherry and cassis notes. Very long and alcoholic and rich, quite a balancing act. (WS) 14.5%

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2018
Evolved dark and mature-looking ruby. Nose not yet opening up, but hints of liqorice, oatmeal and candied cherry. Intensely sweet fruit attack with bitter, coating tannin. Long and big. (WS) 14.5%

Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Dark, somewhat lacklustre ruby. Developed leathery fruit at first, with aeration more depth. Concentrated sweet fruit with acidic play giving tension to the palate. Slightly rustic, but not coarse, tannins. Very nice, multilayered length. (WS) 13.5%

Le Chiuse, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2015
Dark with brownish-orange tinges. Sweet vanilla and leather, and a vegetal streak. Slight vegetalness or earthiness seems at odd with the sweet, dark fruit. (WS) 14%

Col d'Orcia, Poggio al Vento Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Deep medium-concentrated ruby with a broad orange rim. Herbal, almost vegetal and savoury nose. Length indicates more is to come. (WS) 14%

Fattoi, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2010-2015
Very dark, opaque. Sweet caramelised dark fruit and horse saddle and nutmeg. Acidity gives the palate a juicy quality, but the finish ever so slightly dries out. (WS)

La Fiorita, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2017
Dark ruby. Slightly sweaty nose with hints of oak and touch of band aid. Lots of dark, ripe fruit on the palate, only tempered by drying tannins. (WS) 14%

Fornacina, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2010-2018
Deep concentrated ruby, with an orange tinge on the concentrated rim. Heady, ever so slightly port-like with hints of rose petals. Concentrated, succulent fruit, and compact, drying tannins, great frame. (WS) 14%

La Fuga, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2010-2016
Cask sample. Very dark, impenetrable. Openly international with plummy fruit and the beginning of tertiary tobacco notes. Vanilla hint on long extracted finish. Slightly drying finish. (WS)

La Gerla, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2017
Quite youthful, dark ruby, small rim just starting to lighten up. Balsamic and slightly vegetal nose. Intense sweet-sour contrast with a port-like, slighly stewed sweet fruit finish. (WS) 14%

Innocenti, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2014
Quite mature orange ruby. Sweet, rich, a touch alcoholic. Quite sweet attack too, but lacks lasting power on the finish. Bitter note. Already tired? (WS) 14%

Lisini, Ugolaia Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 18 Drink 2012-2020
Deep, almost impenetrable ruby with a tiny rim beginning to lighten up. Dark brooding fruit with hint of moroccan leather. Herb liqueur hint. Well balanced palate, fruit keeps on opening up into the finish. Classy with potential. (WS) 14%

La Magia, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2012-2016
Very deep, almost opaque with black tinge. Balsamic, savoury nose with hint of black olive. Richly fruity with somewhat rustic tannins. Popular. (WS) 14%

Siro Pacenti, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2012-2015
Deep, almost opaque but more youthful looking than most wines of this vintage. Touch leathery and not entirely focused. Lacks concentration. Somewhat coarse finish too. (WS)

Il Palazzone, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2019
Deep, mature ruby with orange-brown tinges in rim. Closed nose, hints of liquorice. Slow to open up on the palate, but lots of ripe dark fruit on the finish, with balancing acidity. (WS) 13.5%

Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 14.5 Drink 2012-2015
Dark ruby. Quite vegetal nose. Sweet fruit with unripe highish acidity and slightly astringent too. (WS) 13.5%

Pian delle Vigne (Antinori), Vigna Ferrovia Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Cask sample. Dark ruby with broad orange-tinged rim. Very sweet fruit nose. Richly fruity and long but with distinct dried fruit character. (WS)

La Poderina, Poggio Banale Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2018
Very dark, imprenetrable. Posh oak and forest fruit. Jam, stalky tannins. Deserves cellaring. (WS) 13.5%

Il Poggione, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2016
Evolved dark ruby. First impression is of fruit steeped in alcohol, port-like, almost. Same rich sweet fruit on the palate, shot through by jumpy acidity. Ends warm. A big drink. (WS) 14.5%

Castello Romitorio, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2012-2019
Very deep, dark, opaque ruby with a black tinge. Beautiful mature fruit and oak nose. Restrained but succulent fruit palate with juicy acidity. Closes slightly up on a complex, fragrant finish. Very young still. (WS) 14%

San Filippo, Le Lucere Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16.5 Drink 2010-2016
Very dark and starting to look mature with small brickstone rim. Savoury with hints of white pepper. Palate shows much more open. Well balanced with good extracts and length. (WS) 14%

San Polino, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2010-2017
Deep ruby with the beginning of orange on a narrow rim. Quite sweet initially with notes of vanilla, and hint of cardamon. Great balance and richness of fruit, with depth and hint of vanilla pod on the finish. Accessible and with depth. (WS) 14.5%

San Polo, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2010-2016
Cask sample. Deep, almost opaque ruby. Hints of new oak and leather. Concentrated and sweet on the attack, the leather note dominates the stalky, warm finish at this stage. (WS)

Livio Sassetti (Pertimali), Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15.5 Drink 2010-2015
Cask sample. Dark and dangerously mature looking. Savoury, white pepper and dark chocolate. Just enough acidity to keep this big, plummy mouthful going. (WS)

Sesti, Phenomena Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 15 Drink 2010-2015
Cask sample. Very mature, deep ruby with brown tinge and orange tinges. Balsamic, herbal opening and very round and accessible, quite un-Sangiovese-like. Seems to mature quickly. (WS)

Talenti, Pian del Conte Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 16 Drink 2012-2017
Mature-looking ruby with orange-tinged rim. Black tea, dark chocolate and cherry compote. Subdued. Intense fruit lifted by acidity. More mellow finish. (WS) 14%

Uccelliera, Riserva 2004 Brunello di Montalcino 17 Drink 2012-2018
Opaque, deep ruby. Quite plummy, cherry, herb liqueur and orange peel. Perhaps only a touch oxidative. Surprisingly lean, tight palate, but very long. Will need more time. (WS) 14.5%