The July 2021 edition of Decanter features, for us, three particularly special and top-rated Italian wines:
Few Italian wines - or anywhere else - seem to get wine buyers quite so hot-under-the-collar (normally, in a good way) as Brunello di Montalcino. It has achieved a prestige and status well above rationality. Only its northern neighbour, Barolo, seems to excite such fevered pasions and cause headlong demand rushes in quite the same way. These are wines of mystique, rarity ... and, crucially, huge worldwide demand relative to their supply.
Which is not - for a second - to doubt their quality. Both are wines of the very highest class: they exhibit some brilliant translation of terroir, show the utmost winemaking skill in most cases and are the ne plus ultra of their respective grape varieties.
It's just that that huge global demand - especially in the USA for Brunello - has driven prices to high, high levels. Typically, you're clearing at least £40 for a bottle of Brunello, and three-figure prices are far from uncommon. As a committed Chianti fan (a view I often voice), I'm personally of a view that the upper echelons of that Tuscan region typically offer superior value if seeking the very best that Sangiovese has to offer, especially if you're not altogether convinced about the combination of Sangiovese with (normally) significant amounts of oak.
But that is a personal view. Let me not talk down Brunello. I remain a huge fan ... and alas lack the budget required to be an even bigger one. A glass of 2007 Brunello (from Barbi) - consumed in Montalcino in 2017 - ranks among the very best wines I've ever tasted. For a power, depth and fullness of Sangiovese that is unmatched elsewhere, Brunello is your bottle of choice. For cellar-ability and intrigue-in-ageing value, it's hard to beat. And the appellation (a DOCG here) rules on production, ageing and release are some of the very tightest anywhere in the world of wine: there is very little bad Brunello out there.
Brunello fans and buyers will not need the new few bullets, but here's a very short potted guide to Brunello for non-cognoscenti.
photos courtesy of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montacino
... which takes us (obliquely, bear with me) to the all-important question of
Personally, I'm of a view that no grape variety varies as much as Sangiovese from one vintage to another; it's a very late-ripening variety, and it doesn't take a lot to dislodge it from a schedule to decent ripeness. But get that right and - personal view again - few other grapes can match it. It does mean - rather as with Bordeaux and its Cab Sauv - that, even beyond the tight supply/demand position, the better vintages are all the more sought-after still. Put simply, the demand for good years of Brunello goes bananas. Word gets out, get around and then some sort of fever takes a hold. As a merchant, it is quite a thing to watch. We are in the grip of that fever for the 2016 vintage at the moment. There is no doubt that 2016 is a very fine - perhaps even incredible - year of Brunello, but the clamour for it is Off The Chart.
Our friends at the Consorzio rate each vintage shortly after the harvest on a 5-star basis (the Consejo Regulador of Rioja do the same, you may recall). Some regard this as a premature measure of quality as it allows for no evaluation of the development of the vintage in oak or glass. Be that as it may, the last two released vintages of Brunello- - 2016 and 2015 - have both been 5-star affairs (of the previous 20 vintages, 7 were 5-starrers. Here's the Consorzio's table of the various vintages and their ratings (you may need to scroll down to locate).
2015 is the vintage in in question in the Decanter panel. It wasn't just the Consorzio that thought so, although it's worth a look at their press release at the time of the rating which leaves nothing to the interpretation or any compliments unturned.
And so to the
Decanter panel test
There were some limited reservations of 2015 in general (which we'll mention below), but this was a vintage that Decanter very much liked. To whit:
The reservations? Brunello is a wine legendary for its ageworthiness. Twenty years in the cellar is a pretty standard timeframe. Some of the very best Brunellos drink very well at over fifty years of age. The judges here assessed the downside of a warm harvest as reduced/shorter drinking windows, mostly being the next 10-12 years (ie from 2021). As one expressed it, "The wines are already approachable. You could easily open a bottle tonight and drink it. The wines have got potential, but I don’t think you’re going to get a lot out of them in the long term. In the next few years, though, these are outstanding wines; aromatic, flamboyant – they tick all the boxes."
Another expressed the upside well: "Stylistically, there was everything: there were elegant wines, there were show-off wines. I would say it’s a really good, modern vintage; it’s a warm, ripe vintage. If you’re looking for a vintage to drink over the next few years, then Brunello 2015 is a top contender".
So there it is. The question is: what do you want from your Brunello?
An anniversary /christening present for 20 years' time? Maybe not a 2015, then.
For some die-hard fans, this riper 2015 style may not be how you see your Brunello. 2016 could be the vintage for you.
A glorious Brunello to drink in the next 12 years? Ah, now you're talking.
The other key point with these reviewed 2015s is how many of them you can actually and now find/buy. Most of the ten toppers have never reached the UK in this or any other vintage. That's often the caso with Brunello - many labels never leave Italy and many find themselves destined for more lucrative, higher-margin markets (esp Japan, USA).
That doesn't stop us pursuing them for you. And we very much did. For quite some days. The story was almost everywhere the same: it wasn't just that the wine wasn't in the UK ... it was also sold out in Montalcino.
Of the ten Outstandings, you can only buy two of them now. Which takes us to:
Our 96-point panel-topper
We are delighted to offer one of those two. We're particularly delighted that in the world of Brunello, this about as affordable as it comes. What is more, owing to some careful procurement, we are able to offer it a price well below the market average (that is, compared with its few other UK stockists).
It's from Campogiovanni, they being the sister estate of San Felice in Chianti. Their vineyards are all situated to the south of the Brunello zone, and thus tend to give rise to the fuller end of the Brunello flavour spectrum. However, it largely avoids new oak, being aged mainly in larger, older oak vessels. The Decanter panel weren't in much doubt about it:
It's noticeable that, of the ten Outstandings, the Campogiovanni has almost the most distant outer drinking window stated by the panel (2032). Personally - and I do like a spot of cellaring - I'd be happy with that timeframe as not being sold short on the potential of a Brunello.
This isn't the first time this wine has shone at/in a Decanter panel, especially from a wamer vintage: the 2012 vintage landed Outstanding/95 points in the November 2017 edition - see here for that review. It's also featured many times in the Wine Spectator Top 20 (wines overall, not just Brunellos) in the last few years.
Our own tasting note: see here for our video tasting, but the key points are:
As to price: we're £32.50 on this.
Sorry to go on, but that is daftly good. The other outlets listed in Decanter for this average some £12+ a bottle higher.
We hold some 90+ bottles in immediate stock but can access some hundreds more, those to be here with us by the end of the first week in June.
Also well-reviewed were the 2015 Brunellos of Fossacolle and Castelgiocondo (both 92 points). However, the Fossacole 2015 ran out in the UK some months ago and we have just a handful of bottles remaining of the Castelgiocondo 2015. We offer both in their excellent 2016 vintages (handy for those hunting the 2016 vintage in general), both of which have received 17-point reviews from the Jancis Robinson team. See links here or icons below for details (those Jancis team reviews appear on the product pages) and/or to buy those.
An excellent article: 20 Best Buys - Soave by Richard Baudains does exactly what it says.
He reminds us, "DOC Soave can’t be beaten for pure pleasure, and its apparent simplicity can be deceptive: a bottle forgotten at the back of the cellar for a few years can reveal intriguing complexity of aroma and a perfectly intact palate".
I'd not been a huge fan of Soave; it was a wine I regarded as being a wee bit wishy-washy and lacking much interest or intensity until I discvered the excellent wines of Pieropan (the La Rocca being one of my Desert Island Whites and one of the best whites for ageing on the planet!). Now I recognise that the good ones can be quite outstanding.
Mr Baudains highlights the differences between the 'standard' DOC wines (normaly unoaked) and the DOCG Superiore wines (normally oaked) and draws out his favourites. Many are quite pricey (£20+).
Not so the two we offer.
The first is Gini's La Frosca 2016. It's unusual: La Frosca is a noted plot (cru, if you will) in the Classico Soave DOC, famed for its volcanic soils. It's also a 2016, and the (approaching) 5 yers of age here makes this a very interesting glass indeed, as the review makes clear:
Supplies are tight on this: we've 180 bottles to work with, and then it's all gone, here and in Veneto!
The second is a 2018, also from the Classico DOC, which we've only just been able to track down today. Yes, that is a stumpy wee bottle it comes in. This is Suavia's Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2018. It is just arriving into the UK: I myself am keen, when it does, to experience the "sensations of rapier-like intensity" of which the Decanter review talks. Again, there is not a whole lot incoming - some 240 bottles for the entire UK - so we advise swift movement!
** Please note that it is only just landing in the UK in the first week of June **, so we would hope (fairly safely) to have it here by 17th June. Orders with this wine included will obviously be delayed until it arrives!
** STOCK LANDS IN THE UK IN THE FIRST WEEK OF JUNE. WE EXPECT TO HAVE IT WITH US BY JUNE 24th. OTHER WINES WAITING TO BE DESPATCHED WITH THIS WILL NECESSARILY WAIT UNTIL ITS ARRIVAL! **
** YES - ODDLY-SHAPED BOTTLE! **