Please don’t tell the Consorzio, but I had my first taste of Brunello 2011 — and Brunello 2010 Riserva — a few days ago. Some of you in the wine trade might be interested in my impression, so I’m sharing here.
Before you proceed, please look at my profile and you’ll see I work for Banfi. Therefore those were the wines I tasted, and, yes, I’m biased toward Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino (not to mention my livelihood is somewhat dependent upon people buying these new vintages). With that out of the way, I will do my best to give you as impartial a review of the new wines as I can.
Regardless of which Brunello producer you prefer, you’ll probably agree that the 2010 vintage was absolutely glorious — one of the best years ever for Brunello di Montalcino. The 2010 growing season was a viticulturist’s dream: a bit of rain in the spring with cool temperatures that rose gradually and remained even through the summer; sunshine, showers, and mild temperatures in the autumn; and a late and healthy harvest. Ideally ripened grapes were turned into opulent wines providing generous fruit, complexity, and ample, balanced amounts of acid and tannin — wines that could be described as simultaneously powerful and elegant. As a result, 2010 Brunello wines were snatched up at record rates (and record prices).
So how to follow up that “vintage of a lifetime”? Easy — with MORE from that vintage, in the form of Brunello Riserva!
If you’re in the trade or an oenophile, you may already know that — by Italian law — Brunello di Montalcino cannot be sold until five years after the harvest, and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva requires a six-year waiting period. So we get to celebrate the beauty and perfection of 2010 again this year via the Riservas. But don’t be led into thinking the 2011 “regular” (we prefer to call it “normale” or “classic”) Brunello is a slouch. Far from it, in fact. The Brunello Consorzio rated 2011 as a “four-star” vintage, only a star short of the “five-star” 2010. A four-star vintage means the wines are excellent, albeit short of legendary. Sure, everyone would prefer the very best, but look at this way: you may not have to wait as long (nor feel as guilty) to uncork a 2011 as you may a 2010. Further, it will likely be much easier to find (and afford) a 2011 Brunello. Personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed 2011 Rosso di Montalcino and Sangiovese-based Super Tuscans (such as Castello Banfi BelnerO, which is an absolute steal at under 30 bucks) — both when they were released and as they’ve developed over the past few years. I expect 2011 Brunello to be similar, though with more structure, complexity, and age-ability. The growing season followed a similar pattern to 2010, with a cool beginning and a warm, even summer — up until mid-July, when copious amounts of rainfall entered the region and temperatures dropped. Then in August there was a spike in temperature — about a two-week heat wave — that stressed the vines and accelerated ripening. September and October were less extreme, but still very hot, sunny, and dry.
Enough with the background — here are my notes …
2011 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino
Nose was initially a bit closed, but eventually opened to reveal ample fruit, with notes of blackberry, cherry, violet, and vanilla. It was more open on the palate, which had good fruit concentration, tasting of dried cherry, cranberry, and cola, with good balance of acid and tannins, good length and a balanced finish.
2011 Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino
(this is the made from the grapes grown on the slopes surrounding the castle in photos you may have seen of the Castello Banfi estate; it’s an area that has been covered with vines for centuries)
Color is brick red, bluish hue on the edge. Nose is mostly closed. Tightly wound on the palate. Difficult to evaluate, as all of the layered fruit is wrapped up in blankets of tannin and acidity. It’s a big wine that will take some time to develop. After a good half-hour in the glass, some herbal notes became apparent on the nose.
2010 Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Mostly closed nose, but after some time sitting in the glass alternating with instances of swirling, mild notes of cherry and earth were coaxed from the glass. The palate was fairly tight but eventually opened with complex fruit, firm tannins, and plenty of acidity. I tasted ripe black cherry, cranberry, surprising highlights of star anise, and at the end of a long finish, a hint of cola.
2010 Poggio all’Oro Riserva
This wine is only made in spectacular vintages; the last was 2007. Grapes come from a small vineyard called Poggio all’Oro that is 250 feet above sea level. Production is extremely limited — we’ll be lucky to get a thousand bottles of it here in the USA. Like the others, this Brunello took significant swirling to coax an aroma from the closed nose. After almost an hour it emitted a cornucopia of fruit, spice, herbs, earth, tobacco, and even a bit of chocolate. In the mouth it was rich in flavor and almost thick — lots of weight — but with a velvety texture carrying gobs of fruit and enveloped in a cloak of firm tannins and mouthwatering acidity. Black cherry was the most apparent flavor to me, with spices in the background, that lingered through a lengthy, balanced finish. This one is a beast! Give it time before unleashing — minimum 5 years in the cellar, and I’m guessing it will keep developing for 20-30 years (if you want to wait that long).
Both the 2010s and the 2011 Riservas were “tight” and required plenty of time and swirling to open up — and even then, it was apparent that these wines are too young to enjoy just yet. If you choose to open them, definitely decant at least an hour or so ahead of time and give the wine time to breathe and open up. My advice is to cellar the ’11s for at least a year and a half before trying again, and as for the ’10 Riservas — if you can get your hands on them — uncork in about half a decade.
But don’t take it from me — find out for yourself at the “Benventuo Brunello” trade/press preview tastings this Tuesday January 19 in NYC at Gotham Hall from 1 PM to 6 PM or in Chicago on Thursday January 21 from 1 PM to 5 PM at the Drake Hotel (RSVP to either event here: http://www.ieemusa.com/index.php/upcoming-events). Be sure to stop by the Banfi table to say hello. And if you don’t live in New York or Chicago or otherwise can’t make the event, my apologies, you’ll have to wait until early spring when Brunello 2011s and 2010 Riservas start hitting the market. In the meantime, enjoy previous vintages, Rosso di Montalcino, and Super Tuscans.
If and when you have the chance to try the new releases of Brunello (and Rosso) di Montalcino, please feel free to post your impressions below.