Having just recently (two weeks ago) participated in Benveunto Brunello 2017 held at the Chiostro del Museo di Montalcino from the 17th to the 20th of February, I’m feeling the sangiovese groove, in multiple clones and tones. Less than a week after my return to Canada one of the prodigal sons of Montalcino arrived in Toronto for a presentation of his wines with local omnipresent agent/négoce Nicholas Pearce. Jonathan MacCalder hosted the get together at the cozy Yorkville haunt he calls work, affectionately known as Kasa Moto.
A team of over-achieving and wild bunch sommeliers gave up the better part of a morning and early afternoon to talk sangiovese, Rosso di Toscana and the Rosso-Brunello idiom with the precocious and serenely wise Tommaso, a winemaker from Montalcino with an old soul, uncanny slash conscious ability and powers of concentration to bely his youth. With Nicholas Pearce, Michelle Ratzlaff, Krystina Roman, Christopher Sealy, Ian Thresher, Madeleine Hayles, Courtney Stebbings, Lauren Hall and the aforementioned Lenny Bruce of wine, we delved deep into the heart of the Montalcino matter. Sometime soon I will publish 100-plus tasting notes from the Benvenuto tasting but for now it’s all Mannella from heaven.
Lèonus is sangiovese of natural and effortless appeal. With pocketed thoughts of Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino in mind you can extrapolate with elastic, proverbial stretch and easily wind up here. It’s simple really, straightforward and noted as a gulpable mouthful of rocks tumbling in wet concrete. The great round acidity equalizer acts for mostly northern Montalcino fruit plus 20 percent from the south. Tommaso Cortonesi comes at it with a threefold selection; at harvest, in fermentation and from élevage. It’s entry level so just drink it. The fruit is darker and deprived of firm astringency, spent four months in 3000L Slavonian oak and three months in bottle. For every day, especially with antipasti. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted February 2017
The advance is a young winemaker’s approach, using fruit from the youngest vines but from the same vineyards used for Brunello production. Clonal selection permits early success from the fourth to fifth leaf for precocious wines off vines so young. Others may use vineyards dedicated to Rosso, so farmed with ulterior motive and expectation, neither better nor worse, but different. The old way was simply a matter in selection of grapes, something young winemakers are abandoning for now one or the other ways of making Rosso. Tommaso Cortonesi’s is luminous and bright within a frame of ascension in reference to the darker cherry sangiovese point spectrum, with three levels of variegated hue and aromatic profile. Char, fennel and fruit. Great structure, agreeable and yes, drinkable now Rosso. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted February 2017
La Mannella, meaning the manna from heaven is a five hectare, five block vineyard in surround of the winery at the centre of the Cortonesi universe. A vineyard that is used exclusively for the production of the estate’s Rosso and La Mannella Brunelli. La Mannella (as opposed to I Poggiarelli) is a single block Brunello but not a “single-vineyard,” planted in 1985 and 1998 in a relative Montalcino colder northern clime. This emits and represents the epitome for floral sangiovese, a bouquet that speaks to violets and elegant, light purple fruit. The penetrability and explicability of purlieu is an act of focus and the cynosure of assessment. Brunello should be exacting, something you get and it must define itself in clear sangiovese-speak. Large slavonian oak for 36 months maintains and celebrates the perfume. The wood shows up late, in white peppery spice and that just have to lay on your tongue and swallow with sublime delight, liquid chalky finish. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted February 2017
This is Cortonesi’s single-vineyard sangiovese from the warmer, southern part of Montalcino at 420m of elevation. Expectation allows for deeper, and darker yet the display comes without the La Mannella block crimson and cimmerian variegation, perhaps instead more like the single-brushstroke, dark side of dusk angle created by a fuzzy, warm blend of fiery colours. More Galestro soil influence here as opposed to clay at La Mannella and two years in part new French tonneaux followed by stainless steel vats. A deferential élevage to the one exercised with La Mannella and one to encourage depth and structure without too much power. Classic, modern, elegant and an apple to La Mannella’s orange. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2017
Looking rearward into the recent past what comes into near focus is the combination of liqueur and firmness, a handful for sure and yet it seems that time (even just an extra year or two in bottle) brings out that specific Cortonesi perfume. The tang and richness of concentrated acidity really elevates at this stage so that tannin begin its resultion so young and impressively so. This is not the big, bad Brunello but the one to make enjoyment haste. The length is exceptional with pretty tonic and bitter moments that pop in and out. Drink 2018-2029. Tasted February 2017
If the argument was ever made to sway in the “yes it was and is” direction, this Cortonesi example from the exceptional vintage leads the parade with aromatics that go exotic and then return domestic. A spirit of the east, of bougainvillea and hibiscus plus a Montalcino gustatory aromatic spice. Then that return to fennel, a walk through flora Montalcino brush and sweet French tonneau spice. The liquorice is one bred out of aromatic acidity, like a fine chalky dusting of red crimson and ochre to purple powder on a plate next to a perfect charred slice of beef. Elegant sangiovese cuisine in a glass, deconstructed and all obvious in their parts but when you taste you pause and it all comes together. The flavours mingle and weave, of cherries and fruit leather, more mellowed spice, still lingering fresh, persistent and remarkably bright. Southern vineyard be damned, this is a cool, elegant and lithe drop. Harkens back to a mind’s eye and nose in memory of Brunello 1998, maybe a bit of 1999, but more like 1998. Drink 2018-2030. Tasted February 2017
There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031. Tasted February 2017
Good to go!