VIP tickets to taste four Brunello di Montalcino from the acclaimed 2015 vintage
On Tuesday, November 17, 2020 I will play host and moderator for the second of six online seminars covering the entirety of Montalcino, joined by 25 producers and their exceptional wines. “Backstage pass to Brunello di Montalcino” welcomes Winemaker Francesca Arquint with her Collemattoni Brunello 2015, Oenologist and Proprietor Hayo Loacker and his Corte Pavone Brunello 2015, Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini with Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello 2015 and oenologist Stefano Tofanelli pouring his Il Grappolo Brunello 2015 Sassochetto.
The Rosso and Brunello of Montalcino have for decades been recognized as residing in the premium realm of Europe’s finest red wines. You might think that a territory with such rich history, iconic figures, foremothers, forefathers and next generation figureheads would be content to rest on laurels and see little need to fix something that isn’t broken. Not so and while the new or next era of wine producers are certainly the obvious catalyst for exacting evolution, if at times gentle revolution, the answers run deeper and the interconnectivity with the past is well, unavoidable. I’m not a clairvoyant. If nothing out of the ordinary happened or presented itself I’d still see things the way everyone else does, or sees. In that sense I am the epitome of the boring writer. But I am a most fortunate writer because I travel a considerable amount. My game can’t help but to be elevated with the knowledge that a confident Montalcino is once again passing through a portal into a time of re-invention. I am trying to get to the source of what in recent years has been the impetus for a more than discreet across the board profound rise in quality.
The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino vintage
This return to an unequivocally and universally declared vintage of prominence for Brunello in one of both quantity and quality. It has been described as one “made by God,” that is to say all a winemaker had to do was not screw things up. Pundits and critics can’t help but try to break Montalcinio apart by affirming that one area or sub-zone is better than another. What ’15 does is level the playing field and remind us all that the whole is far more profound than any single part. The vintage is one of those automatic ones, marketing itself due to so many good wines having been made. A very good one for business while delivering high quality and most importantly without having caused any undue stress, especially relative to 2014. Despite lockdowns and pandemic related complications many Montalcino estates have pre-sold much of their 2015 Brunello. Will it be one of the longer lived in Brunello lore? Does it compare to let’s say 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007 and 2010? Best that we allow the producers to address that question. What I can say is that the 2015 Brunelli speak to the wounded zeitgeist of our current situation with a knife that cuts straight through to the matter. They are sangiovese of purity, eloquence, accuracy and power.
These are some more comments I have made about 2015:
“A vintage of classic Brunello colour and the dichotomous relationship that bridges power and drinkability.”
“There is a perfume about 2015, a ripe cherry that stands apart.”
“The vintage question is far from a concern with respect to ripeness and a far more important consideration is more about the management of extraction, wood and acidity.”
“The come and get me vintage but don’t be misled, distracted or misunderstood. There are sneaky tannins everywhere.”
“In 2015, inexplicably and inescapably you can recognize the sangiovese from Montalcino.”
Collemattoni is the name of the podere in southern Montalcino dating back to 1672, very close to the village of Sant’Angelo in Colle. Giuseppe Bucci was the first Bucci, a.k.a. Zappaterra, “the digger,” but there are some other possible meanings that might not exactly make it the most flattering of nicknames. The amazing thing about Montalcino’s oldest families is how they don’t sugar coat their ancestry. Sinners and saints are all remembered as they were. Marcello Bucci is the current generation, son of Ado and Vera, who in the mid-1980s decided to start bottling their own wine. Marcello is responsible for having created what is today Collematoni, an organic company in Montalcino.
The wines are made from 11 hectares of estate-owned vineyards, divided into five areas (Collemattoni, Fontelontano, Sesta, Cava and Orcia) for an average production of approximately 50,000 Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. In favourable years Collematoni might prodcue 2,500 bottles of Brunello Riserva from grapes out of the Fontelontano vineyard. It is worth noting that thanks to the presence of a biomass fuelled heating system and solar panels, Collemattoni produces the 80 per cent of the electricity needed at the winery. The winemaker is Francesca Arquint who also happens to be married to Marcello. Arquint has also worked and made wines for Mâté and Caparzo in Montalcino.
Such a consistently fashioned Rosso from Collemattoni, also a posit tug between freshness and structure, always to the proper precipice and edge of tang, tart and sour. Lingers with texture and wood rendering. A subtle wine that gains flesh as it works through the nervous system. Drink 2020-2023. Tasted February 2020
A highly specialized terroir-driven Rosso with intensely structured tannins shaped over solid and strong bones. Really intense Rosso with leathery cherries and lots of dried herbs. Very good length. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted February 2019
Collematoni is a ripe one without breaching the grey areas of 2014 Brunello. Fruit in the pomegranate and red currant spectrum is protected beneath a hard tannic shell with circulating acids. Quite a beast this young and needing three to five years to gain its charms. Drink 2023-2028. Tasted February 2019
Take a trip away from all you have noted, felt and perceived in the first 25 Brunello tasted from this 2013 vintage and begin anew. Imagine you know nothing of sangiovese nor how it translates from the Montalcino terroir. Take in this Collematini with open eyes, nose and mouth. It’s traditional, you would have to say and the most layered and variegated sangiovese imaginable. It transcends ubiquity and suggests a very personal affair. This is a religious, personal imposition from which there is no escape. The fruit is characteristic of vintage and specific to Sant Angelo in Colle but it comes replete first as a swell from the western sea and then a squall in the eastern wind. The fruit wave is massive, the stiff breeze of acidity equal to task and the tannins building, aboard ships whose masts flutter upon these seas. But it’s both a comfort and a charm, under a spell that you will not be able to avoid, not for a decade or more. Drink 2021-2033. Tasted February 2018
Gorgeous red fruit as generous and dare it be said, magnanimous as it gets. Collematoni is a fruit machine, but also a mineral maker and a long-distance, slow-evolutionary walker. The calcareous-clay impression (from San Angelo in Colle on the southern hill of Montalcino) leaves a lasting imprint on your Brunello soul. This carries fine millefoglie layers of fruit, woven in lattice and with alternative material from that fruit, of ground stone, acidity and sweet, fine-grainy tannin. No shards, no cruising and no need for rehydration. Carries it all in one bag, or bottle. Drink 2020-2032. Tasted February 2017
Heady and high floral aromas beget a formidable Brunello of fortitude and strength. Deep as black cherry emits in sangiovese from a certainty of high elevation, warm vintage solar radiation. A different sort of ’15 from the northwest adjacent Romitorio and surely a soil so different despite being so close. Rich, strong acids and loose tannin. Drink 2022-2028. Tasted February 2020
From Rainer, Hayo and Franz Loacker in Casanuova to the west of the village. The clay soils pack at upwards of 450-500m on slopes at one of the higher elevations in Montalcino. Here is a big wine from Corte Pavone and one that could only have been difficult to manage in a vintage that tested the communal mettle. Dark fruit, wood spice and finishing chocolate. Drink 2020-2023. Tasted February 2019
Since 1996 Corte Pavone has been owned by Rainer Loacker and his sons, Hayo and Franz. Hayo is the winemaker. It is located in the Casanuova area to the west of Montalcino with hillside clay soils upwards of 450-500m, certainly one of the higher elevations in the territory. Much of the 90 hectares of the estate is covered with meadows and forests. Only four hectares are dedicated to vineyards with vine age 30-35 years old and with a plan of converting another four also blessed with the best exposures. The organic wines are aged in Slavonian casks, French Barrique and Austrian oak barrels. Rainer Loacker is from the family that owns Biscotti Loacker and Remedia Loacker which produces and markets enzymes and other natural nutrients. He also owns Tenuta Schwarthof near Bolzano in Alto-Adige and Valdifalco in the Maremma. We often think about Brunello as coming from either northern or southern vineyards. In Casanuova and what separates it from other zones is the consideration of its western position and how the vineyards are affected by a closer proximity to the sea. More than this is the great altitude so that a cooler prevalence and diurnal temperature swing means Brunello of higher acidity. Though quite approachable for Montalcino sangiovese this ’13 is also reductive, fresh, energetic and its tones are set to high. Great food Brunello. Drink 2018-2026. Tasted March 2018
Donatella Cinelli Colombini
Donatella Cinelli Colombini comes from one of Montalcino’s longest running families, of a history and I quote, “where the lives of heretics, jurists, men of the church and grape growers entwine.” In 1998 when she went out on her own to create a new project and in reaction to the fact that wineries in Montalcino did not trust a female cellar master, Donatella created the first all-female run winery in Italy. The restored Casato Prime Donne is on the northern side of Montalcino on the road to Buonconvento, with sandy clay and Galestro soils and has been in Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s family since the end of the 16th century. Of the total surface of 40 hectares, 16.5 are planted to sangiovese and are cultivated organically. Aging for the first year was in (5-7 hL) tonneaux and then continued in (15-40 hL) Allier wood and Slavonian oak casks. The wine comes from six small vineyards in a 10 hectare area surrounding Casato Prime Donne. Two interesting facts about Donatella. One, she teaches wine tourism in the Master graduate programmes of three universities and two, in 2016 she was elected National president of the Donne del Vino Association. As for her daughter Violante, from 2013 to 2019 she was President of the Movimento Turimso del Vino Italiano, from 2016 to 2019 she was Vice President AGIVI (Young Italian Vine and Wine entrepreneurs) ands in December 2019 was elected President.
Of the first couple of dozen Rosso tasted this is the one with some true, purposed reduction, if only as an early veil of protection, to lock in freshness and deliver this forward. Some pretty firm and fleshy fruit directs the body politic so that the first two years will seem hushed and suppressed. It will open like a flower and reveal some charm, soon after that. Another clear winner of purpose and focus from Donatella Cinelli Colombini. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted February 2018
The 2015 is a deeper study in DCC soil and Brunello invention. You need to know that the northerly Donatella Cinelli Colombini terroir is more than offset, singular and testable. The makers of these Brunelli investigate every grain of sand, mould of clay and tumble of stones to forge the various cuvées of their sangiovese stable. This Annata carries a lyrical contralto in as much as that is a thing in Montalcino. A Cher, Annie Lennox, Nina Simone voice. It is precise and profound. It will live longer than the men. Drink 2023-2033. Tasted February 2020
Prime Donne is a highly specific single expression of the most important fruit raised by Donatella, Violante and team. The dichotomy here is more perfume cross referenced in adjacency to more barrel inflected structure. More notions to consider, vineyard dirt expressed through morbido tones and wood scents in gentle baking spice. Quite weighty in tannins, surely a love song so divine, certainly a wine that will stand the test of time. Drink 2022-2032. Tasted February 2020
Despite and in spite of the northern vineyard’s location of six small plots in a 10 hectare area surrounding Casato Prime Donne this from Colombini is quite ripe for the vintage. Strawberries and dusty, savoury accents drive the fruit into a pool of fine, welling and syrupy acidity. It’s an unusually simplified and somewhat flatlined wine for Donatella out of a vintage neither old-school nor flashy modern, yet major challenges are no obstacle for this estate and so her sangiovese is still very full of charm and grace. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted February 2019
In 1998 when she went out on her own to create a new project and in reaction to the fact that wineries in Montalcino did not trust a female cellar master, Donatella created the first all-female run winery in Italy. It is now an estate run by a team of no fewer than eight passionate women. The restored Casato Prime Donne is on the northern side of Montalcino, with sandy clay soils and has been in Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s family since the end of the 16th century. Of the total surface of 40 hectares, 16.5 are planted to sangiovese and are cultivated organically. Aging for the first year was in (5-7 hL) tonneaux and then continued in (15-40 hL) Allier wood and Slavonian oak casks. The wine comes from six small vineyards in a 10 hectare area surrounding Casato Prime Donne. Donatella describes 2013 as “an old style vintage, a Brunello that is elegant, complex, deep and harmonious, that will last decades. The scarce vintages are nearly always the higher quality ones.” There have been exceptional wines from Donatella in the recent past but the most impressive thing she can do is make a great wine in a challenging vintage. This 2013 does what needs; it’s delicately passed fruit avoids the intensity and drying angst of others, keeping the bright faith, binding it to tannin through the coursing dialectical collection of acidities and then making a valid request for patience. All 2013 Brunello need time, some will never come into their marriages and others, like the ’13 from Casato Prime Donne are already there. It will go further than many. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted February and March 2018
Welcome to the Brunello Riserva you may just want to drink right now. From estate vineyards at Casato Prime Donne. The fruit is luscious and as full as ’13 can be, ripe to the max and this from the northern zone. Herbal in an Amaro way, some desiccation to create this red, black and blue sangiovese liqueur. Rich and chewy with a silky mouthfeel and even chewier tannins. Not particularly grippy or tannic by demand, it flows and apportions full circle, ode to the earth, all in and blood orange bright. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2019
On 25 hectares with 16 planted south of Montalcino around Camigliano, in an area dense with Mediterranean scrub lying between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Val d’Orcia. The vines look south towards Monte Amiata and west towards the valleys of the Maremma. Sassocheto, meaning “stone quiet” is Il Grappolo’s iconic Brunello made from 20-plus year-old vines in the south-facing Piano Nero vineyard, planted at 300 metres of elevation in deep, pebble-rich schist soils with decomposed rocks of Galestro, Alberese, and sandstone. The wine ferments in temperature-controlled open vats and is given a lengthy maceration; it then matures at least 24 months in French and Slavonian oak barrels and a further 6/12 months in the bottle. Without equivocation and to keep us comfortably seated in the plush authenticity of traditional Brunello it is Sassocheto that confirms our notion of a sangiovese-Montalcino world.
“Stone quiet,” signature wine for Il Grappolo, from 20-plus year-old vines in the south-facing Piano Nero vineyard, planted at 300m near Sant’Angelo in Colle. Schist soils are strewn with Galestro, Alberese and sandstone, the whole Montalcino masala, all in veritable contribution. Sassocheto, exacting sangiovese, as in Brunello that is just like looking in the territory’s mirror. Pure and harmonious with sly power both “subdolo” and “furbo,” because tannins like these wind in two directions, depending on which was the fruit winds just happen to blow. A worthy “campione” of the 2015 vintage, to set an example for how to win when your vineyards gift such exemplary fruit. One of the great values of the year. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted February and November 2020
On 25 hectares with 16 planted south of Montalcino around Camigliano, in an area dense with Mediterranean scrub lying between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Val d’Orcia. The vines look south towards Monte Amiata and west towards the valleys of the Maremma. Sassocheto is Il Grappolo’s iconic Brunello made from 20 year-old vines in the south-facing Piano Nero vineyard, planted at 300 metres of elevation in deep, pebble-rich schist soils with decomposed rocks of galestro, alberese, and sandstone. The wine ferments in temperature-controlled open vats and is given a lengthy maceration; it then matures at least 24 months in French and Slavonian oak barrels and a further 6/12 months in the bottle. Without equivocation and to keep us comfortably seated in the plush authenticity of traditional Brunello it is Sassocheto that confirms our notion of a sangiovese-Montalcino world. Should Il Grappolo’s be considered as more traditional than most? Yes, but just as this 2013 tells us with utmost clarity, the vernacular is spoken through an ever evolving and forward thinking lens. No pretence and all in for the right reasons. Drink 2020-2029. Tasted March 2018
The 2012 Brunello vintage is taken to an extreme side in Il Grappolo’s Sassocheto, with very firm and vacuumed aromatics shut and locked in so very tight. The depths are occupied by cherries drying, losing their body weight and settling into a floor of forest leaves and a future occupied by mushroom and truffle. The old-school, fine leathery and old barrel tonic bequeathes much hope for the mouthfeel and it gives every reason to confirm the possibilities. The world as we have known it here in Brunello sits right in this glass. It’s both comforting and filled with ancient wonder. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted February 2017
Sassocheto is Il Grappolo’s Vigna 2010, a Sant-Angelo in Colle ripper, intense, brooding, formidable and still raging. Some 2010’s have already evolved and settled into their skin but Sassocheto is just getting started. If you are unfamiliar with the house then think of Poggio al Vento from Col D’Orcia for a stylistic comparison. The leather and cherry liqueur mix into roses and volatile syrup for a heady stew that is more traditional than modern. This is serious sangiovese, Montalcino style. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted July 2017
Good to go!