Special Report: Sicilia DOC

Nero d’Avola

A deep look into the island’s productive balance, qualitative probability, sustainability by nature and signature varieties in red and white

as seen on WineAlign

Sicily is, as they say, “casa quantu stai e tirrinu quantu viri,” or “home for as long as you need to be and land as far as the eye can see.” I always assumed it would be the water that surrounds the island that captivates and holds all attention, but from endless seas of wheat to grapevines covering plains, hills and terraces, the Sicilian quiddity would be its land.

You might also think this largest island spanning over 25,000 square km in the southern Mediterranean would ripen grapes with the sort of ease akin to some of the world’s warmest climates, like South Australia or the Western Cape of South Africa. Would that it were so simple. In Sicily they say, “austu e riustu capu i mmennu,” which says that “after August, winter starts.” Growing grapes is truly a matter of place. Sure there are arid and warm pockets all over the island but a grower must be specific with grape varieties matched to meso-climates but also soils. This is a Sicilian necessity. The farmers and producers in Sicily continue to prove that staying true to core values, paying attention to quality and limiting yields in the name of productive balance puts the island in a league with the country’s elite denominations. Where does this ring with more consistent truth than those that fall under the auspices of Sicilia DOC?

A recent concise and focused study by Jacky Blisson MW tells us that Sicily’s terrain is predominantly hilly and mountainous, with a mere 14 per cent flatlands. It is home to Europe’s highest active volcano, Mount Etna, which towers above the island’s other peaks at 3,350 m. A continuation of the Calabrian Apennines, Sicilian Ranges cover a large swathe of northeastern Sicily. Central and western Sicily are a mix of rolling hillsides and isolated mountains. The island’s only large expanse of flat land is the fertile plain of the Catanian central range from sea level to more than 1,000 metres on the slopes of Mount Etna. The wide range of grapes and altitudes means that harvest season across the island can last from the beginning of August until well into November.

 

Given its location, it is no surprise that Sicily enjoys a sunny Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, moderately rainy winters. Lack of rain in summer makes irrigation necessary in many of Sicily’s low-lying vineyards. Indeed, Sicily’s plains are its driest areas, with an average of 500 millimetres of rain annually. The mountainous regions are rainier, with up to 1,400 millimetres of precipitation per year. Vineyards in these higher altitude sites generally do not require irrigation. The island’s vineyards are located mainly in proximity to the island’s coastlines. Marine breezes ventilate the vineyards, resulting in lower disease pressure that allows for organic practices. Depending on the direction of the wind, temperatures can fluctuate significantly. On the southwest side of the island, the Sirocco, a hot, dusty wind from the deserts of northern Africa brings scorching summer highs.

The soil composition of Sicily’s vineyards are diverse – from sedimentary sandstone through limestone and granitic rocks, to volcanic areas. Ancient seas that receded over various geological eras are responsible for the calcareous nature of many vineyards. The chalky vineyards of the southeastern zones Noto and Eloro boast some of the oldest soils and are prized for their elegant wines. In south-central Sicily, soils of marine origin dominate alongside limestone-rich areas, but there are also sites with more sand and clay. The western provinces have sandy loam soils, as well as rockier areas with calcareous clay (and sandstone soils). Much of Sicily’s vineyards are planted on this fertile terrain. The northern provinces have sandy and rocky soils mixed with windblown silt. Volcanic soils are also prevalent, notably surrounding Mount Etna and the islands of Pantelleria and Salina. With multiple yearly eruptions, soil composition is constantly changing, which makes this the youngest soil type on the island. The volcanic areas are a mix of basalt pebbles, pumice, and black ash.

 

Take a trip to Italy’s southern-most wine region and you will be struck by the number of specificities Sicilian winemakers and producers have already figured out in order to make generational decisions. The success of any wine region depends on knowing where to denote qualitative probability so that it is possible to achieve the greatest results. Sicily’s vineyards are defined within a land of mono-estates, much like Tuscany, in that its crus are single-owner farmed. This means that in order to qualify their best blocks and single-vineyards they must do so with ambition and ego. Unlike Tuscany the complication is much greater because they are not going at the exercise with just one grape. This might be looked at as a most difficult undertaking but if you own your problems and your decisions you can make it happen. In micro terms there are two dozen DOCs and one DOCG. Look inward at the hundreds upon hundreds of “contrade” (districts within the Italian countryside), crus or small geographic areas defined in terms of soil types, including many layered volcanic lands. In macro terms this is also why the island has chosen to create an all-encompassing category, Sicilia DOC. It’s the only DOC unanimously chosen to represent the region as a whole. In terms of size Sicily is equal to South Africa, Germany and three New Zealands. The fact that a place of such breadth can unify under one umbrella is nothing short of an Italian miracle.

 

 

From relics of the Copper Age to present day quality:

A few years ago in Palermo, there was Maurizio Gily presenting a study by Gabriella De Lorenzis in which she explains that around ninth century BC the cultivated vine was introduced by the Greeks, in Southern Italy and in Sicily. Comparing the genetic profiles of Sicilian varieties with those from other wine-growing areas of the Mediterranean area, these are strictly connected with the vines of Southern Italy (Calabria, Campania, Basilicata and Puglia) and Greece. Numerous reports reveal how this area, historically known as Magna Graecia and defined as the Acclimatization Triangle for the varieties introduced by the Greeks, shows a certain genetic homogeneity.

Wine is an ancient Sicilian prospect. A study conducted by Davide Tanasi, Enrico Greco, Donatella Capitani and Domenica Gullì looks at fragments of jars dating back to the Copper Age in the third millennium BC found in some caves on the Kronio mount at Sciacca. The study has shed light on some components of the diet of the ancient population living there. Traces of cooked pig meat and of tartaric, proline and syringic acids have been found among the various remains. The last ones prove the presence of wine in the diet. The discovery dates back about two thousand years in the history of wine in the Mediterranean basin, whose production would be, therefore, much earlier than the colonization of Phoenicians and Greeks.

Sicily: sustainable by nature:

Where nature is generous, agriculture can also respond in the right way. Sicily is the first region in Italy dedicated to organic agricultural production, which results in excellence in the world of wine. The primacy is made possible by ideal climatic conditions, fertile soils and winds. But also, by prodigious human attention and professionalism that is maintained by individual producers and supported by the Consorzio di Tutela Vini Sicilia DOC (which, since 2012, has led the way in conservation and the promotion of the wine heritage).

The work of the Consortium was started and continues towards sustainability, reducing treatments on plants and vines that are not necessary, precisely because the island’s conditions are favourable for growth. Sicilian sustainability is therefore intertwined with respect for one’s activities and authenticity, aimed at protecting the richness and variety of the territory. The result is a high-quality product that fully respects the environment, a wine born from the privilege of an island that is sustainable by nature. Tradition remains the root of oenological culture, but does not limit its vision: new generations of Sicilian wine producers — which the Consortium supports — work on increasingly modern and fresh wines, which look to international cuisine.

A 2018 decision to allow producers and bottlers across the island to bottle under the appellative umbrella code of Sicilia DOC initially led to a 124 percent increase in the number of bottles produced compared to the first two months of 2017. “A just reward for quality and control,” noted Antonio Rallo, chairman of the Sicilia DOC consortium, also known as Consorzio di Tutela Vini Doc Sicilia. “This growth data is no surprise to us and confirms the level of interest companies are showing in the Sicilia DOC designation. An important element is that all of the Sicilian DOCs showed a pattern of growth in the first two months of 2018, confirming, as in the rest of Italy, that our aim is increasingly focused on a designation system capable of guaranteeing greater quality and controls throughout the entire supply chain, both in Italy and abroad.” In 2021 Sicilia Doc bottled 96-plus million bottles, a six per cent increase as compared to 2020.

 

 

Signature varieties in red and white:

Take nero d’Avola and now grillo as examples of how Sicily has wrapped its arms around native grape varieties to create market share. Both grillo and nero d’Avola can only be sold under the Sicilia DOC label. Grillo’s achievement as a top 10 selling Italian white wine confirms the legitimacy of this decision and above all that consumers have greater confidence in a product that is protected and guaranteed. Grillo’s bottling numbers increased 26 per cent in 2021 as compared to 2020.

“We are very proud of the results obtained for our Sicilian grillo wines, which further confirms the growth trend of the Sicilia DOC label,” says Antonio Rallo, “but, in particular, it highlights how safeguarding autochthonous vines can bring excellent results in terms of sales and induce greater confidence in a market that is increasingly aware of the importance of purchasing a traceable product. The adoption of monitoring and control activities highlights the value of our vine varieties and acknowledges the importance of a controlled and guaranteed supply chain.”

Grillo was born from the crossing of two varieties, lucido (known widely as catarratto) and the aromatic zibibbo. Both Italian and traditional method sparkling wines are becoming increasingly commonplace in addition to a plethora of stainless-steel raised and some oak-aged grillo. The variety has taken hold in more parts of the island as the most planted white variety and leads the Sicilia DOC category for white wines.

The most widely planted red cultivar, nero d’Avola is native to Sicily. More than 19,000 hectares are planted across the island. It’s surely much older than what records show, yet the first literary mention was made by Sicilian botanist Francesco Cupani in 1696. He called it calabrese. The word nero translates as “black” and Avola is the eponymous name of the southeastern town, where the variety is still heavily planted. The grape was a go to for the Tuscans, Piedmontese and also French winemakers looking to use the variety’s dark hues, flavours and acidity for blending. Now the unequivocal signature red and icon for the island’s and in particular DOC Sicilia’s wine production. Nero also plays so well with other indigenous Sicilian grape varieties, namely frappato and perricone, but also with international varieties such as merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

 

Sicily’s aromatic whites and wines today:

In Sicily, the climate and especially the many micro-climates bless the island with levels of aromatic complexity that come straight off the skins of the grapes, especially the whites. The winemaker in tune with terroir is not in search of fat wines because, quite frankly, Sicily already has so much of everything. So the question is asked, “why do they need bigger and richer styles of wine?” This fundamental approach is surely an existential one but also one that is highly practical and when followed always leads to some of the most truthful aromatic white wines on the planet. Beyond grillo, Sicily’s main indigenous white grapes include lucido (catarratto), inzolia, zibibbo, carricante and grecanico dorato. From Blisson’s report we know that some believe the modern era of Sicilian wine began with the planting of international grape varieties in the 1970s. The likes of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah were just some of the grapes introduced to the island during this period. Producers have worked to showcase these wines around the world. In recent years, many of Sicily’s top producers have reoriented their efforts toward the island’s diverse range of indigenous grapes. Sicily boasts over 70 documented local cultivars. Major focuses include the crisp, subtly floral and savoury white wine blends featuring the grillo white variety and powerful red wines from the peppery, dark-fruit scented nero d’Avola grape.

Food pairings anyone?

The 2019 Best Sommelier of Italy, Mattia Antonio Cianca, has made some stellar suggestions in this regard — and so allow us to share them with you.

Grillo sparkling (charmat method) with freshly shucked oysters with lime dressing or cauliflower tempura with lemon mayonnaise; grillo sparkling (traditional method) with Maine lobster, remoulade, granny smith apple and black truffle or crispy fried chicken seasoned with aromatic rock salt; grillo (stainless steel) with Thai mango and shrimp salad or octopus cevichs, orange, ginger, and coriander; grillo (oak-aged) with roasted pork belly with cider and cream sauce or grilled scallops, walnuts, yoghurt, marjoram, anchovy; nero d’Avola (rosato) with radish, pomegranate and fresh mint salad or Sicilian tuna tartare; nero d’Avola (unoaked) with spaghetti with sardines, pine nuts, sultana and wild fennel or smoked beetroot carpaccio, maple syrup, and chives; nero d’Avola (oaked) with roasted venison loin with rosemary and pickled cherries or beef stew with coconut milk and salted peanuts.

I recently sat down to taste through a varied set of wines with a focus on grillo, nero d’Avola, perricone and aromatic whites. Here are the top picks from the group, available at the LCBO or through consignment channels in Ontario agents’ portfolios. Please contact the agent directly to order the consignment wines.

Buyers’ Guide to Sicilia DOC wines

Caruso & Minini Naturalemente Bio Cataratto 2021, Sicilia DOC

Friendly, nurturing and comforting, tart in the ways of tonics and their botanical inclinations, superlatively complex.

Vino Lauria Grillo Giardinello 2021, Sicilia DOC

A smashing specimen, taut, concentrated and fulfilling. As savoury as it is perfumed, swelling in unctuous viscosity and the essence of flora.

Serra Ferdinandea Rosato 2021, Sicilia DOC

A joint venture between Planeta and the Oddo family from the south of France. Here nero d’Avola and syrah are made in the airiest salty and light-tart way; quenching and satisfying. You can drink the town out of this Rosato, any day, any time.

Dolce & Gabbana Rosa Rosé 2021, Sicilia DOC

A blend of nerello mascalese and nocera, two apposite varieties, one being the Dolce and the other Gabbana. Together they combine for exotic fragrance but also sweet candied florals, cottony feels and salty streaks right on through. Can’t think of a time when this Rosato would fail to please.

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2020, Sicilia DOC

Even at this consumer-friendly price you get the real varietal deal from all-estate fruit in a wine of silken texture and not a matter of wood. One of the most honest wines at this price made and readily available just about anywhere.

Planeta La Segreta Nero D’Avola 2020, Sicilia DOC

Light, pure and honest wine that speaks in an Ulmo varietal vernacular though there too is some fruit from Noto. More grip, pomp, power and oomph from 2020.

Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

The confidence and warmth exudes from this musky, violet floral and intoxicating wine that simply speaks to the grape’s ideal perfume. Fruit is ripe, at once delicate and then peaking with power, albeit tempered, purposed and restrained.

Centopassi Cimento Di Perricone 2019, Sicilia DOC

Perricone may have an uphill battle to rival nero d’Avola but its smoky-herbal nature also brings structure, fresh acids and earthy, lightly roasted fruit.

Vino Lauria Zio Paolo Nero d’Avola 2020, Sicilia DOC

Wise, seasoned and expertly reasoned, of herbals and fruits stirred and swirled. Some meaty or, better yet, cured salumi skin muskiness plus a sanguinity with a hint of raisin.

Caruso & Minini Naturalemente Bio Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

As unique as it gets, aromatically speaking, in the world of nero d’Avola of frutta di bosco (wild fruits) but also the nuts, woods, brush and soils of an equally natural and wild kind. A nero of musk and grape must hyperbole.

Good to go!

godello

Nero d’Avola

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WineAlign

Asti DOCG 2022 – Special Report

 

Asti’s ascent from authenticity to sustainability and unmistakable wines

as seen on WineAlign

The northwestern Italian territory of Asti DOCG covers the area of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato and together they form the first Italian wine landscape to be recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. The grape variety moscato bianco grows in vineyards in all three to cover the counties of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria. The area is a cultural and modern gem in the heart of Piedmont (Piemonte, in Italian), about 55 kilometres east of Turin in the plain of the Tanaro River. A sense of spirit, community and great heart echoes and reverberates through wines voracious in their appetite to capture both traditions and also the new and forward thinking Asti stories. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are challenging wines to produce but these folkloric producers have to do it. It Is their heritage, imperative and pleasure.

Asti Spumante DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG are considered as the two most authentically aromatic Italian white wines and rank among the great wines of Piedmont. Asti Spumante is undoubtedly the world’s best-known aromatic sparkling wine and Moscato d’Asti are among the few wines in which the sensory qualities of the grapes remain unaltered as a result of soft pressing and incomplete alcoholic fermentation. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are declinations of the same grape variety, made from 100 per cent moscato bianco grapes that grow on limestone soils in the UNESCO World Heritage hills between Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo. Asti Spumante can be tasted in different versions, from Extra Dry, Dry, Brut and the most popular Dolce, but also in the classic method or “Metodo Classico” version.

Asti DOCG Aromas

Asti Spumante DOCG

Asti Spumante DOCG is made entirely from moscato bianco grapes, gaining benefit from chalky soils and microclimates typical of hilly areas. It has a characteristic musky flavour, well-balanced sweetness, acidity and moderate alcohol content. In recent years Asti producers have set an important new course, paving the way to expanding the range of Asti styles, based on different residual sugar levels from Demi-Sec through Extra-Brut.

The concentration of the precious aromatic substances (called linalool) produced by the moscato bianco berries peaks in the last few weeks before the grapes are harvested in early September. Harvesting is still accomplished by hand to keep the bunches whole and preserve the characteristic aroma of the grapes – factors that contribute to making Asti Spumante the most widely consumed aromatic sparkling wine in the world.

Characterized by particularly fine and persistent beading, Asti offers a fresh mouthfeel that makes it suitable as a full-meal wine. On the nose, one can appreciate a delicate floral (acacia, lavender, sage) and fruity (apple, pear, banana) bouquet.

  • DOCG Status since: 1993
  • Grape variety: moscato bianco
  • Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
  • Color: straw to pale gold
  • Foam: fine and persistent
  • Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of linden and acacia
  • Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, well-balanced
  • Clarity: brilliant
  • Minimum potential alcohol content: 11.5 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol seven per cent by volume for Asti Dolce and approximately 11 per cent for the other styles from Demi-Sec to Pas Dosé

Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti DOCG

Following the recognition of the Asti Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG) status in 1993, Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti were identified as two different historical expressions of the same varietal. Moscato d’Asti DOCG is one of the most characteristic products of the Piedmontese wine tradition. The wine has a distinctively intense musky aroma of the grapes it is made from, a delicate flavour that is reminiscent of wisteria and linden, peach and apricot, with hints of sage, lemon and orange blossom. It has some residual sugar and a low alcohol content.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG is not technically or ostensibly a sparkling wine, as it only undergoes partial fermentation in pressure tanks. Fermentation is terminated when an alcohol content of about five per cent alcohol by volume is reached. The use of cold chain technology in the production process means the aromas and flavours of the grapes are preserved and the product can be stabilized, ready for storage and transportation.

  • DOCG Status since: 1993
  • Grape variety: moscato bianco
  • Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
  • Colour: straw yellow
  • Foam: fine and persistent
  • Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of sage
  • Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, characteristic
  • Clarity: brilliant
  • Minimum potential alcohol content: 11 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol 4.5 per cent by volume

For Moscato d’Asti it begins, as it must, with weight and measurements. The math is straightforward: 100 kilograms of grapes is equal to 86 of must. The first press of moscato yields 15 per cent of that 86, or 13 kg. Often only a small percentage is used for the top cuvée. The rest of the must is kept at freezing temperature (approximately -2 degrees celsius) and there are producers that keep past vintages (generally up to four) for the production of their Moscato d’Asti wines. The DOCG rule says that a vintage dated wine must consist of 75 per cent must from that year’s production.

As for recent vintages, 2021 is certainly close to the top while 2020 is widely considered to be la crème de la crème. That said 2019 was not the most aromatic, like 2016, very hot and the moscato grape does not need too much sun. The grapes will dry out, burn, lose freshness and perfumes. From tasting the must you smell honey which proves the grapes are not perfectly mature. This is where the vision of using 25 per cent must from the three preceding vintages works to great advantage. Phenolic holes are filled, absent aromas are engaged and layers of intricacy are cast. Smell an example of 17 and note the exaggerated development, rich and full of glycerin, nearly cloying. The 2016s are certainly sweet and somewhat out of balance, but there is delicacy, floral notes and it’s never cloying. The ’18s are clearer, easier to comprehend, showing nary a trace of honey. The presence of white flowers and apricot in a wine lighter in hue and more delicate in mien speaks exactly to what producers are after. When fermentation happens those aromas increase by 80 per cent. There’s the rub and the magic. Special terroirs like Castiglione Tinella are the kind that breed some of the highest acidity for moscato. A pH that averages out at 3.4 when bottled will lower to 3.1, because this is when the acidity rises.

Consorzio dell’Asti

The Consorzio coordinates and promotes the area of origin of moscato bianco grapes, whose cultivation covers approximately 10,000 hectares across 51 municipalities of the provinces of Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo. There are 10,000 hectares of vineyards for these lightly sparkling, off-dry to sweet Asti white wines and the Consorzio is entrusted to promote and protect the wines in the appellation. They are widely imitated and so undertaking legal action and registering trademarks in every country is a necessary side-hustle of the job. In terms of producer requests, all changes and modifications applied for must be approved by the consortium. An integral aspect of the work involves field, vineyard as well as laboratory research. More than 1,400 ha have a gradient over 40 per cent, with 330 hectares of this area over 50 per cent. These are vineyards historically named sorì, where no mechanical equipment can be used and vines are tended exclusively by hand. The Asti DOCG hills were the first vineyard landscape to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Born in 1932, the Consortium for the Promotion of Asti has a clear mission: to perform all the necessary actions to protect, promote and enhance the value of Asti and Moscato d’Asti, in Italy and the world. The sustainable manifesto is clear and one day spent inside the offices of the Consortium will instruct and explain all you need to know about economic, social, environmental, export, security and what Italians refer to as disciplinare policies. Regulations regarding vineyard yields, levels of alcohol, sugar, extract and bars of pressure are so defined as to ensure current production and sales viability but also explicitly what the next generation will need to carry the work forward.

Moscato Bianco

The Consortium carries out technical assistance, draws up research proposals and economic assessments aimed at enhancing the value of the designation. It is there to protect and safeguard from improper use, unfair competition and counterfeiting, Asti’s officers carry out, on behalf of all those who are subject to the designation-related checks, the functions of protection, promotion and valourization, as well as informing consumers and generally looking after special interests. Policies are adopted regulating supply in order to contribute to improved coordination of the designation’s distribution on the market, through consultations with sector representatives. The consorzio plans for improving the quality of the products that must appear before judicial and administrative authorities, in Italy and abroad, in order to safeguard and protect the designation and defend the interests and rights of the producers. Surveillance actions are carried out, mainly in the distribution stage.

The Hills

The hills of the Langhe are elongated, with extended crests and steeper slopes, while those of the Monferrato are rounder and gentler to look upon. Two different landscapes, with infinite variations. Where life prospers among the orderly rows of grapevines, tended by hand as they have always been. Where the seasons bring new colors against the majestic crown of the Alps, where the horizon stretches out to infinity. Where every detail amazes and warms the heart, to be treasured forever. Un territorio Patrimonio dell’Umanità. Sedimentary soils that date back 10-15 million years predominate. One is the Pliocenic basin of Asti to the northeast. The to the west around Canelli there are Serravallian (Middle Miocene) soils, stratified layers of blue clay, sand and lime. Many believe this to be the best composition for Moscato d’Asti. To the east in the area of Strevi the ground is Tortonian (late Miocene), younger at five to 10 million years, with more clay and more lime in deeper layers and colour.

The crux of the varietal situation is twofold, at once for vineyards subsisting at the foot of the Alps and also drawing energy being proximate to the sea. Seventy-five per cent of the vineyards are directly protected by the mountains. As seemingly everywhere, climate is changing here too. In the last 15 years average temperatures have increased by one degree. In the past 58 years the average increase has been by two. More important are temperature abnormalities. The centrepiece moscato bianco is a very sensitive grape and easily subjected to diseases.

Guyot training is appropriate for poor quality soils and lower yields. Broken down by altitude, 44 per cent of the vineyards are at 250-300m and 30 per cent at 300-450m. In terms of slope, 2,770 of 9,700ha have a gradient higher than 30 per cent, 336 ha with a gradient of more than 50. “Heroic agriculture” is the moniker bestowed. “The Sorì vineyards.” No mechanization is employed and a certain crucial must is picking times, especially in terms of the preservation of moscato bianco’s aromatic compounds.  Yields per hectare are set at 9.5 tonnes for Asti and Moscato d’Asti.

Moscato Vineyard

The Consortium’s Laboratorio Analisi for the Tutela dell’Asti DOCG is one of the most advanced and technologically impressive anywhere, with the mechanization capable of carrying out a diverse set of analyses. Under the guise of Guido Bezzo, who incidentally also happens to be a virtuoso trumpeter, the lab exerts its expertise far beyond pedestrian testing of alcohol, sugar and varietal purity. It delves deeper than mere organoleptic conclusions. The lab’s research works to investigate the impact analysis results for one 750 mL bottle of Asti wine covering categories that includes a mind-boggling set of parameters: Climate change; Reduction of the ozone layer; Toxicity and carcinogenic effects on humans; Particulate/smog caused by emissions of inorganic substances; Ionizing radiation effects on human inorganic health; Photochemical ozone formation; Acidification; Terrestrial, aquatic and marine eutrophication; Ecotoxicity in freshwater aquatic environments; Soil transformation; Resource depletion in water, minerals and fossils. Heady stuff indeed.

The 60,000 tonnes kept at negative four degrees in summer costs dearly in equipment and energy. It is widely believed that juice can stay in tank for up to two years without losing aromatic concentration. Fermentation takes place at 20 degrees in pressure tanks developed by Italian sparkling wine pioneer Dr. Federico Martinotti, director of the Research Institute for the Wine of Asti, who patented the method in 1895. Martinotti is credited with creating the method of developing the bubbles inside of tanks. The juice can stand pressures of more than 10 bars. Yeasts must be stopped abruptly (in a matter of a few hours) to avoid off odours and flavours, i.e rotten egg and cooked cabbage. Centrifuge and filters are used. In the past pasteurization at 50 degrees was the norm but now micro filtration screens out the yeast (at 0.2 microns) and stabilizes the wines. Agronomist/viticuilturalist Daniele Eberle also explains how Fratelli Gancia used the same techniques that the French used here in Piemonte in the late 1800s. The city of Canelli, cultural home of Asti holds the highest concentration of companies that make all the equipment necessary for bottling Spumante wines.

The association soon yielded positive results. Production gradually increased from two million bottles in the 1940s to forty million in the 1970s. A figure more than doubled nowadays. The history of the Consortium is all Piedmontese and begins from the town that is considered the capital par excellence of spumante: Canelli. It was in its cellars that, day after day, with dedication and affection, techniques were refined that nowadays give us a fine, delicate and unmistakeable sparkling wine like Asti DOCG. The know-how handed down for generations, together with the latest scientific discoveries, have led to the optimization of the production process and the definition of important procedures indispensable to guarantee the high quality of Asti DOCG.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Montalcino Previews: 2020 and 2019 Rosso, 2017 Brunello Annata, Vigna and 2016 Riserva DOCG

The year was 2020. We said arrivederci e ci vediamo to Montalcino on a mild and still February afternoon. Little did we or anyone know that a return engagement would not be possible until the fall of 2021. During that 20 month hiatus I hosted and moderated six webinars in Canada with more than 25 Montalcino producers, Each session was accompanied by a thematic article published to godello.ca inclusive of an account for each producer. With thanks to the recent forward thinking and openness of the Conzorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, along with compatriot, friend and travelling companion Michaela Morris, we chalked out our homecoming and dove headfirst into more than 200 current releases. Two immersive eight hour sommelier assisted assessment sessions of Montalcino’s sangiovese, 12 estate visits and meetings, all over the course of five days. Benvenuto Brunello 2021, Drogheria Franci, Caffè Fiaschetteria Italiana 1888, Il Giglio and Trattoria Il Pozzo. Cortonesi and Tenuta Buon Tempo. San Polo, Le Potazzine, Tenuta Fanti, Poggio di Sotto and Fattoria dei Barbi. Biondi-Santi, Conti Costanti, Castello di Romitorio and Le Ragnaie. All because of and in the name of sangiovese, tissue of Rosso, bones of Brunello, grape of the future.

Related – Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials: 40 years of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Consorzio President Fabrizio Bindocci and Direttore Michele Fontana

Summing up that last Benvenuto Brunello in 2020 I noted that “Anteprime di Toscana’s culminating 2020 presentation of 2018 Rosso DOC and 2015 Brunello DOCG raised the bar for Montalcino’s venerable sangiovese.” Later I would write, “no one of sound mind passes up the opportunity to taste Brunello from Montalcino. When I think of Brunello di Montalcino there are two things that come to mind: Sangiovese and time. Longevità e tempo. Contrasts and comparisons are unnecessary, neither to other grape varieties nor to wine regions that also fashion structured red wines. The sangiovese of Montalcino are like the eponymous medieval hilltop village, an island in a sea of vast varietal openness. They share the impossibility of undergoing the slightest shift in meaning or change, that is, without the assistance of time. They are incomparable, generous and durable but also part of a great community, finding permanence and always seeking to endure. As do their makers and protectors.”

This most recent trip in Montalcino with @michaelawine has taken my lifelong plan to another level. Grazie Miha for teaching me so much about Sangiovese, staying calm, focused and balanced over long days and just plain having a grand old time.

The 2021 vintage

On April 8, 2021 mail from Tommaso Cortonesi brought news of the early April frosts. “Here in Montalcino the Covid situation is under control but in the last couple of days we had to fight a dangerous enemy. Temperatures lower than 0’C. Last night several producers in Montosoli including me, Capanna, Baricci, Val di Suga, decided to burn hay bales to try to protect the vines with the smoke. Fortunately the vegetative state of the vines is still quite early so we hope this action has limited the possible damages. I send you attached some pictures from last night.”

Burning fires at Montosoli, Montalcino April 2021

Despite a significant reduction for yields in many parts of Montalcino, the reasons for optimism are manyfold. Higher elevations above the frost danger zones, say 400-450m and up, especially to the northwest, for the most part remained unscathed. The vines had yet to fully awaken at estates like Corte Pavone, Le Potazzine, Castello di Romotorio and Le Ragnaie. By September things were looking up in many sectors of Montalcino. Though production will be down, significantly so for many estates, the promise for outstanding Rosso and Brunello is surely in the air.

Related – Backstage pass to Brunello di Montalcino

Godello at 450m, San Polo, Montalcino

At the end of the harvest prospects looked very promising, not for a bountiful vintage but surely one of high quality. A week to ten days into September the temperatures fluctuated 15-20 degrees. On the 7th the high was 29 and the low was 11. Made for excellent acidity retention aboard the march to phenolic ripeness. Younger and lower elevation vineyards began picking around the third week of September while higher points at the beginning of October. The challenge was to find a way to keep the link with the sangiovese of Montalcino and in a warm vintage not to go too far, neither in extraction nor maceration and to deliver a respectful wine. Usually 25-30 days but more like 18-20 in 2017. Also a 26-30 degree fermentation when some vintages it can be as high as 34, if only for a few days. In many cases the fermentations were some of the slowest on recent record. In fact as of November 18th one of Cortonesi’s vats was still at 4-5 g/L of residual sugar and would only likely finish in the first week of December. What Tommaso called “sluggish because of the lowest level of yeasts.”

Related – Ready for a long-term relationship? Brunello di Montalcino Vigna and Riserva

The 2017 vintage

The elephant in the room is obvious and most producers answer before the question is even posed. From a winemaker, oenologist and proprietor you will be hit with this recurring refrain. “You will be surprised by the freshness and acidity of the 2017, despite the warm vintage.” It was hot and dry and “that’s what you need in high elevation vineyards surrounded by forests,” is how Filippo Chia of Castello di Romitorio assesses the situation. When asked what to do with 2017 the pragmatic Andrea Costanti suggests it is a vintage “to introduce new people to Brunello di Montacino” and by extension a good Brunello for restaurants, sommeliers and licensees to take notice.

Related – Stamina and staying power: Brunello di Montalcino

Francesco Ripaccioli of Canalicchio di Sopra remembers 2017 with almost wistful affection. He explains that following a summer during which there were 20 days above 35 degrees it was September that brought about the big surprise. After 40mm of rain on August 31st, through the course of the next month the phenolic maturation happened very slowly and finished late. Veraison at CdS did not begin until September and took nearly 30 days. “Even if you had a dry season (like 2017), you had this temperature fluctuation of on average 25 degrees by day and nine by night. That allowed you to harvest late, with preserved acidity and alcohol not so high. The plants were working very slowly with their reserve of water. (The vintages) of ’17 and ’12 for me are very similar, as seasons, where grapes and their skins wanted to oxidize but September changed everything. We went to school from 2012.”

With Consorzio President Fabrizio Bindocci and Chef Carlo Cracco

Low does not due justice to how small a vintage was 2017. “We tried to extract less and keep it on the lighter side,” tells Alberto Machetti of Tenuta Buon Tempo. For Riccardo Campinoti of Le Ragnaie yields and production were down 10-15 per cent, at least as compared with the previous two vintages. For Campinoti 2017 is a vintage of “unfinished tannins.” Not quite fully ripe and yet acidity never fell away. Another example of how Brunello can be sold now and for the next five years, especially to restaurants and shops for immediate or near-term consumption.

Related – Sangiovese is the future: Montalcino’s Rosso and Brunello

Riserva 2016

“In the beginning ’16 was…not enough,” begins the soliloquy by Fattoria dei Barbi’s Stefano Cinelli Colombini. “But after a year it changed.” Reading deeper one understands that time is the answer, for sangiovese, Brunello and 2016. “This is why Riserva should be sold after eight or 10 years,” continues Cinelli Colombini. “The problem with tradition is we make a mistake that if it exists, there must be a meaning inherent, otherwise it would not have taken so long. The mistake we make is between what is actually a tradition and the sense of tradition. You only need to taste to know that wine is the most democratic thing in the world.” This so beautifully sums up Riserva and 2016. As a vintage no other in the last seven-plus years is so intrinsically bonded with the grape and how it raises from the territory. Sangiovese and time is the connection and though ’16 is not one of those touted in barrel as of the decade, century or of the ages, it is in fact one of those, if not all.

Montalcino sommeliers

Molte sane, repeats Andrea Costanti as if by mantra through the course of the 45 minutes while we taste, consider and assess his Riserva 2016. Not just Costanti’s but dozens upon dozens of ’16 Riserva. The healthiest sangiovese of great, sheer and utter clarity. Wines that may be described as possessive of a fineness running with liquid chalkiness, fluido or scorrevole. The 2015s may have shown heady structure, power and also generosity but the 16s are the complete package because they are also filled with delicasse, elegance and grace.

Related – Benvenuto Brunello 2020: Montalcino surges ahead

Changes in agriculture and fermentation

Federico Radi is the incumbent oenologist at Biondi Santi, having worked previously at Isole e Olena and Mazzei Bolgheri, Radi is looking at regenerative agriculture, making compost integrating manure (which must be like black butter, aged several months before mixing into the soils), beginning now with cover crops and little disturbance to the soils. “We really want within the next five years to reach two point five per cent of organic matter in the soils.” A real fan of Chomsky, Federico feels the need to keep the carbon in the soils, to help reduce that 25 per cent that agriculture contributes to the release into the soils. “I’m sad when I see the grey and dusty soils. It shows they are dead. This needs to be improved. We have seen in two years that we have different soils so we have to tailor the cover crops to reach section. Not just regenerative but also preventative agriculture.” The plan is to keep alcohol levels from rising even further. “We want Biondi-Santi to stay under 14 per cent.” And so a nursery was started, “since the beginning.” Like when Bob Marley was asked “how long have you been a Rasta?” “Since creation.” Radi insists that it would be dangerous to live with only one clone of sangiovese, so 50 varieties are propagated.

A pensive Alberto Maccheti of Tenuta Buon Tempo. Must have been thinking about the 2017 vintage.

Filippo Chia of Castello di Romitorio is getting even more specific. He talks about one of the major introductions being smaller berries, spargolo berries. Moving away from traditional cask aging may also be a step towards a future in which producers combat climate change with fresh ideas. For instance at Tenuta Buon Tempo Alberto Maccheti has been installing new concrete tanks to replace the more than 20 year old 64 hL Garbelotto casks. Whatever it takes seems to be the prevailing attitude for a region that has to, must do something.

Related – Gambero Rosso’s red wine of the year leads a vertical tasting of Argiano’s Vigna del Suolo

Morning in Montalcino

Much ado and what to do about Rosso di Montalcino

In 2020 I wrote that “culturally speaking Rosso di Montalcino is the most important wine. It’s what the Montalcinese drink daily. It’s a Monday night, a winemaker’s night off. There is work to be done in the morning so it wouldn’t be prudent to drink anything heavy or expensive. What to open? The answer is obvious and easy. Rosso di Montalcino. More than one Montalcino winemaker has used the phrase “it’s what we like to drink” and just as many will tell you that Rosso must reflect sangiovese’s character more than any other wine. What we know is that the Rosso are the protagonists of the new market.”

With Francesco Rippacioli and Tommaso Cortonesi

“The most fascinating thing about Rosso di Montalcino is that every producer has a unique philosophy and a personal relationship with the appellative wine. To some it persists in the old-school way, that is to think of it as a “baby Brunello,” or second wine, if you will. The days of Rosso being considered only in this way are long past. The baby Brunello concept now acquiesces to the notion of Rosso strictly made for Rosso, with great purpose and also meaning. There are some Rosso that really need to be considered and assessed just as you would Brunello and it is only where such structured sangiovese fit relative to the estate’s other Brunello that need qualify it as Rosso. In today’s Montalcino one’s Rosso is another’s Brunello. It’s now more than ever a matter of location, soil and altitude.”

Annual pic with the hardest working sommeliers in the business

“Rosso can refer to the sangiovese berries themselves, meaning the winemaker will pick the largest for Rosso, the medium berries for Brunello and the smallest ones for Riserva. Others will designate vineyards to the Rosso, or plant new ones and use the youngest fruit. Still there will be some who pass through all their vines and designate specific blocks, referring to it and even labelling it as a cru. Finally there are some who wait and craft Rosso in the cellar, after the fruit has come in and been pressed. There are many ways to skin a Rosso but these days it is always a wine treated with respect. In terms of elévage, Rosso will more likely than not be raised in big barrels but not the Grandi Botti often used for the Brunello. As for vine age it seems the sweet spot is between 15 and 20 years.”

Related – What the winemakers drink: Rosso di Montalcino

Rosso di Montalcino could and should be elevated to DOCG status. To do so requires investment and also a mandatory minimum aging period in wood. The 2019 vintage is proof of why Rosso needs to once again be revisited, to be considered in its own light and of its own accord. This is because as a vintage much less Rosso was made, simply by the reason of across the board quality, raising the prospect of making more Brunello. A matter of available quantities and as an extension, economics. Which means that many vineyards capable of being purposed either way went in Brunello’s direction out of 2019. Which also means that more vineyards need to be designated as Rosso and were a DOCG awarded the rules would need to be altered to make sure the wines are pre-declared as such. There is enough Brunello to go around and the world needs more Rosso di Montalcino.

Drogheria Franci Restaurant Montalcino

Further to that the Consorzio’s decision to hold an anteprima in November causes producers to make choices they would not have had to think about before. The 2019 Rosso would have been shown in February and so November is both too late for producers who have already sold out or at least allocated their’s, but also too early for the 2020s to be presented. I purposely tasted only seven examples and each one was intensely youthful, tighter and more inaccessible than the next. The ’19s on the other hand were glorious, open and generous, as they would have already been just a few months earlier. Late April or early May would be an ideal time to show off the latest Rosso di Montalcino vintage, early enough for the early releasers and late enough for those who need 18 months before putting their Rosso to bed. Keep the Brunello anteprima in November if that works for the majority because the extra nine months (from the usual February event) works wonders for all three levels; Annata and Vigna plus the previous year’s Riserva. I can think of at least one more noble sangiovese producing appellation that would benefit from doing the same.

Here are 222 reviews, mostly from the November anteprima and estate visits but also some drawn from attending the October 2021 Gambero Rosso Awards tasting in Rome. There are 35 Rosso notes, 23 of them for the 2019 vintage. One hundred and seventy-one Brunello reviews, including seven from 2018 and for 2017 there are 103, 69 for Annata and 34 to Vigna. For 2016 there are 61 tasting notes, 45 on Riserva, the rest Annata and Vigna. Also 16 older vintages and IGTs.

Rosso di Montalcino 2020

Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

While so many 2020 Rosso are going to be intensely youthful, this from Caparzo is really quite approachable. Classic estate red, like a liquor dosage of itself running and integrating through itself. Tart and expertly crafted with express intention to please. Of this there can be no doubt. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Taverna dei Barbi

Fattoria Dei Barbi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

A vintage of viscosity and deepest of red cherry fruit, off of vines five to fifteen years old. While really young there is access here for drinking a 2020 ahead of many others. Classically dark Barbi fruit and a Galestro feeling. Bottled just less than one month ago and settled into a calm state by now. Will remain stable for a few years, not necessarily gaining in complexity but surely keeping on. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Patrizia Cencioni Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Extremely youthful, full deep fruit and whilst the carbonic feeling persists you can’t help but intuit a depth in this Rosso. Mix in an early high tonality and expectation then dictates this will offer up the fullest of mouthfeel. Charged and rich, a luxe Rosso with chalky underlay, a fine rage of acidity and a wine very much working in progress. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Talenti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Tight, young and early bracing Rosso from Talenti, showing off the darker fruit of the vintage and surely offering a glimpse into what the Brunello will bring three further years down the road. A vintage of well developed fruit and sharp acidity, vividly captured in a sangiovese just like this. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Tenute Silvio Nardi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Very much a work just beginning its progress, both carbonic notions and sulphur completely unresolved. Needs a revisit to see where the darkening fruit will go. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Ucceliera Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

A Rosso further along than many, at least in terms of fermentative culmination and post-shock living. Shows off the hue and depth of vintage fruit with more redness, cherry ingress and tannic redress. You can feel the grip and the controlled power in this sangiovese. Will be a very good one because it already is. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Voliero Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Tight, taut, wound around itself like a wire around a spool and yet having found its way out of fermentation and through bottling. Less fruit than brother Ucceliera and also lower toned, earthbound, grounded and yet the acids are right on point. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Rosso di Montalcino 2019

Armilla Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Lovely red, red fruit, supple and stylish. As if cherries grew on rose bushes and this light, dusty feeling improvised by a Rosso with a tender modicum of fortifying structure. The right pressing, pushed and from a location ideal for Rosso out of 2019. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Castello Tricerchi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Pushes the boundaries of red fruit into something deeper though the clarity and transparency are evident and true. Lithe yet subtle if also sneaky structured Rosso, one that will please those needing immediate gratification yet with an ability to travel further, while treading lightly into a whole other realm. Great curiosity and possibility here. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Castiglion Del Bosco Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Well-pressed, expressed and all tenets captured Rosso having taken full advantage of a vintage willing to give it all. Feel the ripeness pushed and the effects of so much greenery, a forest of hope and dreams also pressed into this fulsome Rosso. All the immediacy one could want is here for the taking. Drink this young and impressionable. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted November 2021

Collemattoni Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Classic Collematoni liqueur, a glycerin texture that fills every pore, pouring through and through. Just the sangiovese goods in purest form and a Rosso that speaks in clear, ernest and knowable 2019 terms. What’s really special is the way the wine lingers and stays with you without any astringencies nor finishing nut, pith or bitters. A top Rosso for the vintage. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

With Andrea Costanti and Michaela Morris

Conti Costanti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Vermiglio 2019

The level of purity multiplied by concentration from 2019 is off the proverbial sangiovese cross referenced by Montalcino charts. This from a vintage when much less Rosso was made because the quality of the Brunello was so important. The fruit is of course deep cherry but branching off into a spectral expanse of darkening reds. The well runs deep, pooling with cool, ethereal and mineral licked waters, the textural breadth reaching into three-dimensional fabric. Also a tomato reduction, sweat of San Marzano, viscous and flessibile or perhaps flessuoso. Nothing remains out of reach or control, instead all is in focus and structured. Most would kill to reach such potential, have, show and sell this as Brunello. In a way this ’19 Costanti is a first of its kind, impressive for Rosso with a set of finest tannins. Long on the chain, capable of the most age-worthy extension. With 20 minutes of air a swarthiness emerges, putting this Rosso commensurate with some historical vintages, say 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1997. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Relatively lithe, dusty and crafty Rosso, giving away the impression of a really purposed example, a sangiovese of credibility and composure. That said there is some grip and intention as well so perhaps wait a year and better still two before seeing where this will travel. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

The 2011 planted vineyard is the youngest at La Mannella and is used exclusively for Tommaso Cortonesi’s Rosso. “In recent years, for my generation we are trying to approach Rosso di Montalcino is a more personal way,” tells Cortonesi. “A fresh wind, brought to the production and (especially) the communication. Finding a real identity, not as a baby Brunello.” The clay soil does not necessarily give big concentration but more so ease, elegance and classic sangiovese. Seemingly dark in hue but bright and tart in such an accentuated way. Can’t really shake the idea of the quality inherent in this specific scope of concentration. A liqueur of sangiovese, moving towards the finish swiftly and courteously across the palate. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

With Violante Gardini, Donatella Cinelli Colombini

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Casato Prime Donne 2019

Having a moment with the outward exhale of this perfume because it’s unlike most other Rosso and so the time taken to breathe it in will do all parties well. Clarity of roses and spring flowers, an exotique nearly equal and surely apposite to the ulterior presence of a gamey note that’s so intriguing. This is what Casato Prime Donne brings to the table. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Elia Palazzesi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019 Collelceto

Crisp and pure Rosso for Rosso’s sake, as automatically and knowable as sangiovese as a Rosso from Montalcino can really be. Tugs straight at the heartstrings by offering a cherry red, tightly focused and lightly grippy wine. Perfectly representative for a now to three years Rosso for all who query and consider, each and every day of the week. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Fanti

Fanti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

From 15 hectares of Rosso vineyards with the potential to produce upwards of 50,000 bottles, though in truth much less is actually made. The rest of the unselected juice is sold off or portioned over to the IGT Torto Rosso. So yes a selection, aged for a year and a half in larger (30 hL) casks and some barriques. Not just another high quality and ready, rock-steady Rosso but here in 2019 a bolder and more substantial version of its always loveable and solid self. Gotta love it, any which way, all the time. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

La Colombina Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Somewhat older-schooled, firm and grippy sangiovese in Rosso, a squeezed and captured liqueur that takes hold without letting go. Plenty of portents and intendments in a wine that will need time to ease, settle and deliver. There will be more earth than fruit when that time comes. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted November 2021

La Fornace Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Beautiful gelid liqueur of sangiovese emits with fineness from La Fornace 2019 Rosso, making the vintage happen as it should from this part of town. Really fine tart red fruit capture and equal tannic ability but what’s really special here are the acids merging and making for great freshness. Parts are bigger than some and so well integrated. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

With Riccardo Campinoti, Le Ragnaie

Le Ragnaie Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Still a barrel sample because Riccardo Campinoti leaves his Rosso for two years, even though there are hundreds of the appellative wines already having been long ago released on the market. Still this is the final version, of 30,000 bottles produced, more or less. The barrels for the blend were chosen in October and bottling is imminent. Did not make it into this November’s anteprima because there was not enough notice given, also considering when Le Ragnaie puts Rosso to bottle. In 2019 there is 30 per cent Montosoli mixed in with Castelnuovo dell’Abate and even some estate vineyard fruit. A firm and chewy Rosso, not yet settled and ready to play as it will. Substantial everything, beyond fruit, especially texture and real tannins for a Rosso. A harbinger for the Brunello to come, especially with all three (zonal) fruit sources layering their involvement. This will age really well. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Cacio e Pepe, Il Giglio

A Rosso of interest because of the ulterior aromas and motives, of a pomegranate to blood orange citrus tartness and a wish for immediate gratification. This is contrary to many Rosso of more grip and structure. This changes and then the wine shows its teeth. More interest than many and still in a Brunello vein. In a sense this Rosso does it all. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Mastrojanni Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Firm yet a Rosso with more than ample charm and grace, full red fruit and tannin interposed, layered and sharing the sangiovese stage. Takes some time but the fulsome and dusty work here really gains and makes haste of your senses. Takes hold and really does not let go. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Pinino Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Intensity of Rosso aromas, rich and invigorating while showing more wood than many. Perhaps some barriques or possible new wood quite seasoned and throwing much in the way of dark chocolate into the wine. Espresso too in a Rosso of such ilk. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Renieri Srl Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

From the word go the Renieri feels like a true and purposed Rosso, with no aspirations but to be Rosso and to take the appellation to a most important next level. This is the thing about Rosso today and in how the last five years have seen to arriving at moments like these. Chewy with red fruit in a liquorice way, lithely tart and a blood orange moment but incremental, a sangiovese climbing up as if on steps, not so much rising as getting to upwards levels. Length is outstanding. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

San Polo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Released in September of 2021, at the time when 2020 Rosso are allowed to be released by the Consorzio. Aged in 40 hL casks, from fruit selected each season out of the eight parcels at San Polo. Oh my what an inviting and reeling Rosso, purity of exacting 2019 red fruit and really quite a deft touch to tie all parts together. Fresh and spirited, a chewy interior but always smart, energetic and gracefully powerful throughout the outer layers. Surely a Rosso of crunch but also a salinity with thanks to all the rocks in these “mountain” Montalcino vineyards. Just feels like a Rosso for Rosso sake. Quite ideal. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Trattoria Il Pozzo, Sant Angelo in Colle

Sasso Di Sole Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Sasso Di Sole’s is a northeasterly Montalcino location in the neighbourhood of Torrenieri, a cooler sub-zone of the territory. Doesn’t necessarily apply when a vintage like 2019 is in bottle because beautiful weather and near perfect growing conditions will put just as beautiful Rosso into the bottle. Still you have to appreciate and focus on the added freshness, perhaps as compared to some jammier and lush examples made in the southern reaches of the region. This is quite a salty and structured little Rosso number, tart and sassy, full of sun yes but also dried herbal, brushy and dusty substance. It’s all in here, a touch idiosyncratic and then with tannins that really turn arid, as felt in the mouth long after the wine is gone. Strong for the DOC, dark of fruit and mildly astringent at the end. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted May and November 2021

Tenuta Buon Tempo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

For Alberto Machetti a similar and equally “cool” vintage with grapes in Castelnuovo facing Monte Amiata. Picking started on the 16th of September in a vintage with great freshness and in this case an intense level of savour. From the seven lowest hectares on alluvial clay soil only 50 metres from the Orcia River. Of double density and yields which work best for Rosso. Fine but relative ease and linear concentration for an easy but more than notable substantial essay of Rosso. Purple fruit and proper acids. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta La Potazzine Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Bottled in June 2021 and a Rosso of real identity, on its own, connected to Brunello but so much a wine of its own accord. Truly Rosso for the sake of aromas, subtlety and for a starting point for drinking three to four years forward. The 2017 must be at perfect peak now with five years easy left at that level. Indicates what will happen with this 2019, a Rosso delicate and in charge, with power, of itself and also us. Complex and yet easy. The opposite of so many of us. Wait another year or so for the wine to soften and arrive at the right place. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta San Giorgio Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Ciampoleto 2019

An old-fashioned Italian term meaning single-vineyard, from “Ciampolo.” Stainless steel and 15 months in Slavonian oak, from a vintage of excellent interchange and alternating between sunlight and rainfall. Also a vintage from which Monte Amiata really aided with airflow for freshness and kept acidity. Vineyards face southeast (next to Podere Le Ripi) and their age is up to 20 years of age. Youthful and charming Rosso, a snapshot of young vines and a luxe vintage getting together on the same page for sangiovese surety. Richness to be sure in that regard and a chocolate rendering, part milk and part dark, swirled through the texture of the wine. Fine grain of tannin runs through as well, taking over and finishing at macchianto. A savoury freshness and if you’ve tasted enough vintages of Ciampoleto you will know this is tops, exceptional, potent and seductive. Sweet fennel at the finish. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Ventolaio Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

High spirit and tonality, a Ventolaio speciality and what is expected from their Rosso. This especially when considering a vintage that could entice a maker to go further and deeper. The commitment to restraint and even more importantly consistency makes this a special wine. Crisp enough to call freshness the lead and with a fullness of texture to feel the barrel and lead this down a four to six year road. Exemplary, dictionary entry. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Rosso di Montalcino 2018 and 2017

Biondi Santi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Tenuta “Greppo” 2018

The harvest started on September 16th, from a season where 800 grams of bunches per plant was almost double the norm so intensive selection was necessary. A tramontana wind came in and so the harvest was quickly concluded on the 26th. There was some fear of botrytis. Though there had been a great variability of ripeness 10 days earlier, the point was reached by the end of the season. Just a two week maceration, noted in the old-school colour, fragrant, never pushed, also perfume in the tannins, replicating the fruit. More to the point is the mimic of acidity so that all three are on the same page. Bottled just about one year ago so really coming into a drinking window. Labeled 13 per cent but in reality clocks in at exactly 12.8, which is nothing less than incredible. “There is something in this estate that is magic” tells Federico Radi. “This is Il Greppo, from the beginning there is balance and you can feel this in the first steps of alcoholic fermentation.” Could there be an easier place to work, in a sense, “because the quality of tannins are so fine.” So very true and as a Rosso an exact mirror into the vintage, lithe and elastic, pliable of structure and ready to drink quite soon. Textured of it’s own accord, disposition and way. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Poggio Di Sotto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

Rainy season early, cool enough with some sun but problematic at the outset by a daily pebbling of the two, followed by a terrific climatic summer. Definite herbal, Mediterranean aromatics, almost like walking and brushing past the hedges on the terrace overlooking the valley. Notably linear and demanding for Rosso, a Brunello (from barrel declassified) after three years. Hyper real, serious and gripped with no less mattering intendment. Remember that this too comes from a selection in the vineyard and so the backbone and probability begins from the day the grapes leave the vine. Teenage angst, rebellious, a bit angry and it will grown up. Proper role modelling and upbringing guarantees this Rosso 2018 will be fine and be great. Peppery piques at the finish and then all goes quiet. Elegance emerged. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Tassi Di Franci Franca Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

Lean and transparent Rosso of purity and clarity, fruit far from full extraction and the wood very much a part of the easterly mix. Spice and chocolate shavings, intensity overall and while the barrel makes this immediate statement it falls away and the wine finishes with smooth, morbido and really pleasant consistency. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Poggio di Sotto

Poggio Di Sotto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

The work of Luca Marone (oenologist) and Federico Staderini (winemaking) surely had their cards laid out on the table from which they’ve managed to pick, sort and arrange in the creation of shared common ground sets of elegance and finesse. Not as other vintages per se but there are signs all over this wine to say it will pour like Brunello for years to come. The tannins are chalky overtop maximum sapid occupancy and mineral cuts in angles all across the body politic of this wine. Wait another year. You will be thankful for it. The volume was split between Rosso and Brunello, considering there was no Riserva produced. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

With Gigliola, Sofia and Viola, Le Potazzine

Tenuta La Potazzine Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2017

Poured from magnum, as Gigliola wishes all sangiovese were but knows it’s not really possible. Put thoughts of a hard vintage aside and just focus, use imagination and pay close attention to realities that tell the ’17 tale of this place. From vineyards upwards and exceeding 500m, a natural ferment, unfiltered and as fresh as any in Montalcino. If Montalcino were a perfume this might be it, inviting but with secrets, open and subtly so. Few sangiovese are as elegant and in such control, youthful but showing the cards to tell us what we should expect. Eventually. Slowly.  Last tasted November 2021

Very pretty pulchritude in the Potazzine Rosso ’17 with spice, charm and a great pulse of energy. This is so very Rosso and so very what Rosso wants, needs and can be. All pulse and vitality, with striking acids and sneaky formidable tannin. Delicious Rosso di Montalcino and a great harbinger for the vintage. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted February 2019

Brunello di Montalcino 2018

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2018

Ahh freshness, the first 2018 in my glass and no offence to 2017 but after tasting 150 ‘17s over four days this is surely a breath of new air. Bright and almost a marine wind blowing through while at the same time showing some substance and bones. Fleshy but elastically so and these tannins are not sharp, nor austere, but forgiving and even generous. Left the barrel after the minimum amount of regulatory time to keep the wine from being tired by the wood. Drink 2023-2028. Tasted November 2021

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casanovina Montosoli 2018

As for Casanovina from Montosoli there is everything one could hope for in fresh, sapid, saline, mineral expressiveness giving in to amenability as it pertains to enjoying, or projecting the enjoyment of Brunello Vigna looking a few years ahead. There is more depth and reserve in 2018 from Montosoli and if the previous vintage did not tell us just how special this northern fruit can be then better attention need be paid. Here we experience the prescience and extension to continued futures of Montalcino. A fruit to acid continuum of fresh sweetness and singular expressiveness. Also a backbone but not one rigid and compact, rather linear and stretching northward. Crisp and with terrific crunch, upward movement and great potential. Drink 2025-2035.  Tasted November 2021

Ragnaie Vineyard

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Paso Del Lume Spento 2018

As with the Brunello Annata and in fact all of his ‘18s, Riccardo Campinoti decided to take this out of wood at the discipline number of months to stave off any chance of tiring and oxidation. As with the Annata there is of course great freshness but here magnified with even greater clarity, blue sky brightness and what a palate cleanser it is. Thanks to the 621m of altitude the wine maintains a level of acidity at the top of the tops but it is neither spicy nor piqued, no sign of peppery grinds nor sharpness neither. Cool, gelid, sandstone salt licked and a sangiovese that will never blind a traveller nor turn out the lights. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2018

Vigna Vecchia as it always does makes sure to remind how this vineyard delivers the most compact tannins in the Brunello portfolio of Le Ragnaie. Mix this omnipresent austerity with the fresh breath of 2018 vintage air and the combination could only be a most excellent and rewarding one. In fact there is less early aggression, either because of the freshness or simply because the vineyard speaks this way in this year, but also because the wine spent less time in wood than other vintages. Sweet meanderings of acidity zig, swirl, zag and twirl to lift and elevate all the parts. Not exactly integrated fully but also not that far away. So much pleasure will come from this wine when that happens. Magnifico. Drink 2025-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

A fully macerated, extracted and vintage captured Brunello with a charming run through of transparency. More than a shake of wood spice and earthy grip, a sangiovese of immediacy but also intensity. You can feel the fruit of suffering and the resiliency. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

As one would expect the Argiano comes streaming with magnificent fruit on the heels of a string of recent vintages inclusive and in many ways culminating at their near perfect 2016s. What has been learned and essential changes that have been made have led to making this effortless ’17, relatively speaking but heat being little matter when acumen runs this high. Bernardino Sani has found the sweet spot, a place where optimum fruit ripeness can linger and develop all the necessary accoutrements to acquiesce at a positively proper meeting point. The length on this classic ’17 is outstanding with thanks to the work put in. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Armilla Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Armilla’s is truly honest and forthright, ripe cherry captured with zing and more than ample tannin making for a strengthening of multi-tiered structure. Admittedly closed at first, reluctant and reticent with so much lurking below, behind and underneath. There’s a richness that belies the closed nature of this sangiovese which purports to explain and make one expect more. Time is the necessary feature to make this happen. Be patient and allow Armilla to come through. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Banfi’s presents a bit of a conundrum because the fruit is luxe and ripe yet the tannic structure is both tight and demanding. There are two parts to this ’17, the warmth and full character up front and the wall of expectation out back. Many will purchase and consume this early as per the awareness of the name but more than the lion’s share of bottles should better be doted upon, kept sealed and opened a minimum six years after vintage. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Camigliano Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Quite the rich and fulsome Brunello 2017, all parts deep and intense, acidity running really high, all else running to keep up. A sangiovese of heat yet one that streaks through its world. The kind of Brunello that makes you feel like you must hurry to taste and figure things out when really what is required is tempo, for qualità and also longevita. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Campogiovanni Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Classic Campogiovanni and Leonardo Bellaccini, full fruit and barrel intertwine, each supportive and enraptured in each other. Hard to imagine and believe that a Brunello di Montalcino could be traced and placed to such a specific locale, estate and winemaker but if there is only one this would be it. Chewy and textured sangiovese, spiced and seasoned, the kind that will impact many lives and offer a very specific kind of pleasure. At full ripeness, wood-aging and frosting of ganache. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG “Canalicchio Di Sopra” 2017

Considering the location of Canalicchio di Sopra’s vineyards to the east and north of Montalcino there should be every reason to think that 2017 would not pose a problem to making a top Annata. Francesco Ripaccioli would likely smile that wry smile when he knows that the year was in fact a magnanimous challenge but he would also follow up with that confident smile of his. Ripaccioli has the fortune and the instincts, to mix and match, to layer and compliment, to figure with mathematical precision and this wine expresses all that and more. There is cut and linearity, a finest architectural line and a freshness that belies what heat might want to take control. A fine classico for Montalcino that speaks to the best of all worlds within. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Capanna Di Cencioni Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Capanna has found the righteous path in 2017, a road paved with credible is softened tannins ushering fruit picked late and having reached great vintage maturity. This was no easy task and their’s is a wine from which higher alcohol is so well mitigated and controlled by the substantial quotient achieved. It helps more than a lot that their location is north of the hill which allowed the longer hang time without the amount of desiccation unavoidable in so many parts of the territory. Capanna’s is flat out a lovely ’17 that drinks like Brunello in the most unassuming and proper way. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Capanne Ricci Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

A spike and pique like many 2017s though fruit hangs in there for some extra time and effort. High acid and drying tannins complete the trilogy yet all the sections are set apart. Can’t really see this ever fully coming together as one. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Notable depth and intensity lead the way in Elisabetta Gnudi’s 2017 Annata, a sangiovese for sangiovese’s sake and a wine to consider earlier than some. Quite rich and welling with fulsome varietal liqueur, lightly tart, power in restraint and clearly designed for sooner rather than later enjoyment. Give this an hour or so aeration and get at the fine juice contained within. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Caprili’s is a 2017 Brunello of great bones, back rhythm and structure. A sangiovese from 2017 calculated and so very far from over-pressed, in feeling of vintage warmth plus seasoning but needing years to flesh away. The palate is full of meaty tones currently residing in swarthy pools while finest tannins work their way through the comports of this wine. There can be little immediate gratification here and considering the style and also the build, there really shouldn’t be. Wait three years on Giacomo Bartolomei’s strong and sure Annata. Drink 2024-2031.  Tasted November 2021

Carpineto Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

A tightly knit, forcefully wound and really serious 2017 here from Carpineto, full of all the seasoning and spice that can be coerced into crowding an Annata. Crisp, crafty and formidable. Big, big mouthful of Brunello, savoury and brushy to the end. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

It was hot and dry and “that’s what you need in high elevation vineyards surrounded by forests,” is how Filippo Chia sees the situation. Romitorio as a place of lower sun exposure received the hot and dry vintage for what Chia calls “the best vintage ever at Romitorio.” More woodwind instruments and less drums. Vinified and malolactic in cement, aged in 5000L barrels with some 3,600, 2,000L and a few per cent tonneaux. Only 10-12 days of maceration, much less than other years and this is consistent with others who know and do the same. Sourcing from 10 hectares of old and seven that are newer. In a vintage without water a plant like sangiovese saps up the minerals and in this place it’s a red earth, ferrous grab that can’t help but be expressed in the wine. Both pH and acidity really change and there is no rise of the former, or lowering of the latter after malolactic fermentation. A countercurrent Brunello, lithe, effusive and showing the nakedness of the land. Yield was down 40 per cent, concentration is up but not to look at, nor to feel in terms of polish. Healthy vines adapted and survived where others may not have been so fortunate. Big props to the older vineyards, ones that date back to 1985. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Castello Tricerchi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

As with their 2019 Rosso tasted just an hour earlier there is great poise, grace and also functionality in Tricerchi’s 2017 annata. A sangiovese that captures the grape’s essence and Montalcino presence while tempering and filtering the vintage demand. A wine crafted with strong hands holding an infant with delicate and appropriate ease. Also a wine that captures imagination which is so very much the point more than most of the time. When a producer steps up in a vintage like this you know they have moved on to new a greater heights. Do not miss out on this or any of these wines starting now. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Cava d’Onice Brunello Di Montalcino 2017

Top grape and emotive spirit emit from Cava d’Onice’s 2017, high-toned in slow-ripened and well-preserved acidity for the vintage. A sangiovese of fine lines, good bones and linear rising attitude. The alcoholic warmth is felt somewhat but the peppery pique is only a fleeting moment in what is otherwise a really good tempered wine. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Celestino Pecci Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

From a location northeast and just downslope from the Montalcino hill and a Brunello of notable depth but most of all a linear, saline, elemental and purposed Annata. Benefitted from position and timing, feeling late picked enough and still maintaining red fruit freshness while also accessing full phenolic ripeness. Solid ’17, a success in the end result. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

If the wine’s perfume scents like Col d’Orcia then it must be Col d’Orcia. If one estate could be counted on to keep the faith and consistency of classico Brunello alive then once again, think Col d’Orcia. Here the warmth of the vintage is noted but the mineral and elemental saltiness that cuts through makes sure to keep freshness always at the fore. Will this live in infamy like decades of Brunello that have come before, per haps not but as always, many opened bottles will deliver the experience of being pleasantly surprised. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Collemattoni Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Lovely and balanced capture of what 2017 has to offer, luxe and seasoned sangiovese but also that which speaks in spirited spikes of freshness. There needs to be more of this style available because it’s pleasing and Brunello di Montalcino will always be inherently taut and structured. Collemattoni’s wines are both consistent and like the chameleon, able to adjust as necessary for and from what happens in every changing vintage. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Andrea Costanti

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2017

Though beauty may be an elusive animal there must be sound reason for Andrea Costanti to follow through with making a Brunello in the 2017 vintage. After all he made the choice to not do so in 2014 and put the best fruit into Vermiglio Rosso. But Costanti clearly saw the forest for the trees and the difference; beyond simply one being cold and wet, the other hot and dry. Substantial fruit and ample tannin are clearly present, the former cherry with a minor key of pith and the latter liquid chalky. A cherrystone Annata, subtle in savour, sweetly stinging in sapidity. Fine and precise, a mimic of the maker, as it is written. Brunello 2017 is a wine needing to be mulled, chewed and considered, things that speak to how it was built and where it will go. Only 14 per cent alcohol adds to the mystique and curiosity for a sangiovese of temperance, divine skill and site. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Off the top one of the deeper 2017 Annata and of a density that speaks not to excess but to the northwestern red soils of Corte Pavone’s Montalcino sector. There is nothing about this Loacker Brunello that does not talk their localized talk nor walk with style the way a Corte Pavone wine is want to do. Fulsome and highly expressive, a sangiovese of many layers and commentary. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

The elephant in the room is obvious and Tommaso Cortonesi answers before the question is even posed. “You will be surprised by the freshness and acidity of the 2017, despite the warm vintage.” So how exactly can that be? Picked as usual, for one thing, at the end of September. “Montalcino can approach each kind of season and situation during the production process,” explains Cortonesi, meaning climate events, extremes and change be anathematized the vines have been nurtured and equipped to handle stress, especially drought, to sleep if necessary, call upon reserves and take full advantage of late season miracles. The ’17 is smartly piquant, wisely wily, youthful above reproach, even if technically requiring some correction. Levels of acidity and even volatility are high, as per the vintage but in reality drying fruit and tannin are not. Take your time with La Mannella, don’t rush or make any immediate demands of its emotions or time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casato Prime Donne 2017

Straight away the multi-layered and generational floral perfume mixed with earth, grace and musk that only a Casato Prime Donne will do. There is just something about the layers and treasures in a Donatella Brunello, gelid fruit first, textural movements second and finally the kind of qualities that make for futuristic classicism. Always a matter of how things must be. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Casanova Di Neri Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Casanova di Neri is one of those Montalcino estates with the fortuitous ability to combine wines from a few terroirs to forge a most consistent and impressively layered Annata. Seeking, finding and capturing the best of the vintage is not just a specialty but a rite of passage. Our palates and senses are put on high alert in accessing the levels of variegated fruit, fine to striking acids and several ways in which structure envelopes it all. Just seems like this 2017 Brunello resides at the epicentre of what is right, correct and also knowable for the vintage. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Lovely capture of fruit from the warm 2017 vintage that while over-stressed it is important to note each and every producer that found the way. To capture freshness and that honesty of sangiovese spirit, here from Montalcino’s south and with fortuitous elevation to keep the acids and the energy alive. Well done Tommasi, what else to say. Bravo. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Elia Palazzesi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Collelceto 2017

The Annata 2017 from Elia Palazzesi Collelceto is one meant for everyone, meaning the combination of fruit substance and constructive optimism makes this so well rounded, formed and adjusted. No longer a child or even an adolescent but a responsbile adult with a sense of fun and adventure. Here sangiovese is beautiful, handsome, fresh and fleshy. Works every rounded corner of the glass, palate and room. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Fanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Fanti’s 2017 is just about as transparent a response as is possible for a Brunello to show where it comes from, a brushy, herbal and very micro-climatic territorial wine. Some thankfully refreshing rain at the end of August allowed for an extra two to three weeks of hang time so that this Annata could reach phenolic ripeness. Much of the fruit comes from 450m of elevation in nine hectares near San Polo’s Podernovi, a fruit source so essential for making a ’17 Brunello of energy and freshness. Very much a Brunello with ample concentration and yet that transparency tells you this is a Fanti. Will make itself available as early as any. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Wildly and exotically perfumed, here in Brunello finding the floral expressiveness not always so easy to access in this particular vintage. Follows the aromatique with a well-rounded if full to fleshy palate and then the sangiovese really digs in. Not in a particularly overt tannic way yet surely with some extensive and extending control. Really fine work in 2017 to be sure and a sleeper with all parts working as one. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

An aromatic Annata for Brunello and without a doubt a Barbi, belonging to no one else. There is bosco and brusco, or the decades forward extension thereof, with an average production of 180,000-200,000 bottles, though it could be much larger, selection notwithstanding. Fruit stylistic, cool, sweetly savoury, of clay, sand and Galestro infiltration. The estate style is the most important which means the cellar-master (Maurizio Cecchini) is more important than the oenologist(s). That is the truth. Not a rich wine or vintage obvious but so perfectly correct for style and place. That said there is a Mediterranean feel here, especially in 2017, of black olive, autumn floor and finally sweet wood. Worked as it should be and careful to carry the crest and the flag. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Fattoria Del Pino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Il Pino 2017

Major jam as confiture or at least a basin filled with cherry liqueur is the order of del Pino’s 2017, a sangiovese that speaks straight from the varietal heart. Truly of itself yet missing something after that, meaning middle palate substance and length despite the crust of finalizing tannin. Just missing that spark. Blame the vintage and del Pino’s kinship in time and place. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Fornacina Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Lovely lift, red current to berry fruit and real stage presence put this 2017 in a fine and bright vintage light. The timely picking has allowed for good ripeness and phenolic lift, not to mention a level of beauty too many have failed to find. A sangiovese of resilience that will drink with pleasure for more than a few years time. Drink 2022-2027. Tasted November 2021

Franco Pacenti Brunello Di Montalcinio DOCG 2017

A bigger wine in total control from Franco Pacenti in 2017, following the cues of vintage and hallmarks of location to make a wine of necessity and also promise. Quite an effusive aromatic spray moving and grooving into a most gregarious set of palate parameters. Chewy wine that maintains freshness in the face of warmth and great spice. Needs time and will live long. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

A crescent moon of a Brunello Annata, partially formed with curves and angles, showing an asymmetrical symmetry as only a poetic sangiovese of this ilk may do. There’s an herbal quality and ulterior style that captures imagination while also doling out the fruits of bosco, noce and earth. A veritable spice, dried fruit and nuts market in a glass of sangiovese. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Il Poggione Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

More than expectation and in fact understanding directs the immediacy of Il Poggione’s fine and fulsome Annata. The guarantee of quality fruit makes the high spirit, vitality and energy of this 2017 all that much more exciting and especially palatable. Oh how knowledge and experience can work in an estate’s favour to bring charm, freshness and elegance into a Brunello that rises to meet a challenge. Ottimo per duemiladiciassette. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

La Fornace Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Quite a strike of limestone red lightning from La Fornace in 2017 and yet another way for the name and the place to maintain a sense of itself. Tart and just a bit underripe or underwhelming which means an early pick (likely), following by a gentle pressing. No astringency but also no gregarious flavours coming through. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

La Gerla Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Big and juicy Brunello, fully extracted and from fruit hung longer than some who chose that early exit route. As such there is plenty of character and flavour in La Gerla, but also some tannic demand and sour edging. Gets most qualities right and finishes a bit brittle. Drink 2023-2025.  Tasted November 2021

La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

La Lecciaia’s Annata emits a vivid and dramatic set of aromatics, namely brushy herbs in a rosemary to tarragon vein. Quite a tannic sangiovese for 2017, rich and fortifying, strong mocker, not shy and likely to outlive many of its peers. Not finding some of the charm and grace most La Lecciaia winds are want to express but this does choose the firm and grippy ’17 side so at least it has made a choice. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Always a most interesting and ulterior aromatic profile, brushy and herbal while shifting gears to juicier and quite frankly fruitier positions. Has its moments here, there and everywhere, drinks with gratification but also reminds of vintage variation. Timing and winemaking are high end here so expect a wine of composure and length. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021
Lorenzo Magnelli’s picking scheme is most beneficial to vintages like 2017 because he’s thinking about berry size matched with appellation and so these medium sized grapes could only be at their optimum, regardless of when they came off the vine. Magnelli would have chosen which plants for when their fruit could do nothing but the best for place and time. Freshness, acidity and tannins are all on point, consecutively arranged while layered within and without. The bonding, seamlessness and insulation show no holes, nor leaking neither. Top quality and come together for the vintage. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Excellent quality fruit was had from Le Ragnaie at 600m of elevation, also from northerly Montosoli and yet Riccardo Campinoti’s decision was to use southerly Castelnuovo dell-Abate (including that of Le Fornace) for the Rosso di Montalcino. Generally and frankly speaking the fruit at the estate was picked a minimum two weeks ahead of “normal” schedule, usually hanging well in October, but what is normal anymore? Some Petroso fruit was used in here as well. Yields and production were down 10-15 per cent, at least as compared with the previous two vintages. Remained on skins for 40 days, although Campinoti often does 60 or more and has even gone for 90 in the past. He also aims for the lightest extraction when considering skin-contact time and for him 2017 is a vintage of “unfinished tannins.” Not quite fully ripe and yet acidity never fell away. Another example of how Brunello can be sold now and for the next five years, especially to restaurants and shops for immediate consumption. Bottled at the end of August, good glycerin texture, finely sweetened bitters and all that said, one of the Annata’s better set of mostly resolved tannins. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Lisini gets much of 2017 right and beautiful with gently squeezed red fruit from an early but thankfully not too early a pick. Just enough development and juiciness comes through without any serious tannic or astringent concern. A perfectly middle road taken 2017 Brunello that pleases and will drink quite effortlessly, with red citrus bites, in the short to mid term. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021
Later picked of that there can be little doubt and a full throttle red fruit juiciness expressed as only Montalcinese sangiovese can. Some swarthy funk and earthiness, no game or meaty behaviour but surely some acetic and high toned behaviour. This is a style that many relish because it captures a kind of authenticity for producer and territory. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021
Padelletti gets some integral and essential things right in 2017, namely fruit well developed and pressed where no grapes were harmed. The ripeness levels of acidity and tannin are really close to ideal, higher for the first and then lower for the second. Some oscillations are noted on the sangiovese EKG but not enough to cause any distress to the heart and soul
High tonality, great citrus freshness and a sense of pith are part of the overall thematic in extraction from this racy 2017. Notably vintage related and likely picked on the early side. Plenty of character comes on through while some parts are a bit demanding on the palate, including some chains of brittle tannin. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021
Expert consideration revolves and evolves from the ’17 Pian delle Vigne, a wine of combinative picking, layering and exposure. The result here is full fruit expanse, well enough acidities left alone and plenty of structure. Well made through the processes of proper execution. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021
Lovely Annata from owner and winemaker Matteo Perugino, elegant, saline and briny. A perfectly subtle and salutary ’17 from an estate just south and west of Montalcino, close to Ragnaie and well heeded by elevation. Consistent sangiovese from start to finish with fine acids and veritable succulence. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the palate of the imbiber and if Pietroso does not capture all attention the we may not be paying enough attention. This would have been plucked from the vines at the ripest and most perfect time and the juice pressed with soft hands. Delivers a juiciness and a structure that captures the best of 2017 with charm and grace. Will come together in two years time and drink well to the end of the decade. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021
Really nice work here from Brizio in 2017, not a risk-reward Annata per se but one well managed. A lighter, on par with the vintage Brunello yet in delivery of more than ample substance. Crunch and startling red fruit, plenty of forging acidity, simple yet complimentary structure. Neither exciting nor overdone. An explanation of Brizio’s position and their relationship with 2017. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

There will be very few Brunello di Montalcino that act and taste like Poggio di Sotto from 2017. To gain some sort of understanding you would have to go back to the transition of 1989 when the purchase of the property initiated a vision to see how wines and palates would surely converge looking forward 25-30 years. This 2017 does not offer creativity, concentration and construct without that foreshadowing foresight and here it is in the glass. Glycerin, textural seamlessness, torch taken in hand from 2015 and 2016 despite the track being cracked, broken and blistered by the vintage sun. No matter to winemaker Federico Staderini and oenologist Luca Marone who knew and know how to handle such truth because we clearly see that Brunello’s time in wood has brought it to the window. Rosso is no further yet near equally further along. The vintage messes with the relationship but as we pay attention we see the matters of extract and finesse for how they react when poured into glass. This is actually quite ready to drink. Drink 2022-2027.   Tasted November 2021

Renieri Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Quite a depth of fruit from Renieri and a darker hue, but also a sensation of all parts existing in such a realm. Crisp sangiovese, of an earthy crust that compounds that croccante sensation and while the acid-tannin formation is equalizing there is an herbal-earthy-spice quotient that offers some vintage distraction. Solid if weighty 2017 in the end. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021
Nothing else smells like Roberto Cipressi’s Annata, aromatically gregarious of an intensity not really noted anywhere else. Smells like a pine forest, a bowl of chopped rosemary, essential oils and so much more. A waft like no other, wood spice in waves and glycerin texture, almost appassimento in feeling and that is something I thought I’d never say. Gets no more parochial nor specific than this. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021
Really aromatic 2017 by Salvioni, hyperbole of Annata maceration and development, deep inhalant of varietal meets vintage pooling. Luxe and filled the with fluid and flowing sangiovese blood, naturally sweet and developed. Fine if grippy and slightly bitter tannin will eventually soften and help this wine find a true path. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

San Lorenzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Lithe, medium-bodied and a notably dry, herbal and dusty Annata profile. Older schooled, say late 80s/early 90s feel. Fine stream of fruit and good length albeit drying at the finish. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Once again the variability of 2017 is on display with great and ever altering difference. Another stylistic shift and this time into gelid and pectic filled Brunello that takes full vintage advantage with immediacy on notice. As early drinking as a San Polino has ever shown. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021
Super warm vintage and quite dry. The wines can only reflect the vintage and San Polo is one of the estates where position made for good fortune in the face of a great challenge. A season to make more Rubio and only Brunello from a stringent selection. One of the juiciest of all ’17 Annata and the elévage remained consistent, using 1000hL Slavonian plus 50 and 60hL Tonneaux. Regard the professional and emotive work in San Polo’s Annata, of fruit clearly allowed to travel long and develop the kind of phenolics and also glycerin needed to hang with these 2017 tannins. Yes there is some late arriving astringency but that is the vintage, perhaps not in every Montalcino sector but more than most. Tannins are grippy yet fine and also sweet on a wine of juicy substance. Sure it’s a red tart, almost sour raspberry vintage but the rocks and the approach harmonize the parts and the style. The great and forward moving positives are the substantial fruit and savour, aspects of a Brunello most needed to be there when the grip softens and melts away. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Sasso Di Sole Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Warm, glycerin and luxurious Brunello, a liqueur of sangiovese in the most sweetly aromatic, jammy fruited and silken way. Almost feels as if there could be some residual sugar left in, that’s how sultry and seductive this acts. Curious for the vintage and beautiful in it very own way. A wine with no major structure that needs revisiting to see how it will react with age. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Warm location and elevation conspire to raise the vintage bar for and from Sesti, an Annata of great expectation, fruit force and brut grip. Here sangiovese stands firm, linear and tall, the kind you could almost put a stick inside and watch it stay upright. That’s the concentration and the effect created in a wine that is so substantial and on so many levels. A kick of bitters at the finish is very vintage related but the aforementioned substance will stand up, be counted and last. Wait three years for the troubling tannins to start their subsiding and sliding away. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted November 2021
Riccardo Talenti’s 2017 is an aromatic one, a sangiovese of fruit, earth, forest, brush and herbs. A dusty one, a deep inhalant of place and trust, an Annata that captures all there is to know about this most obtrusive and demanding vintage. So curious in how the palate replays all these notes and notions, in seasoned flavour and savour. A big wine for Talenti and one made in contract with estate vineyards producing fruit of a very peculiar vintage. Here’s how you do it and fulfill what’s promised. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021
Really fine work for a lovely Annata from the Franci family, high-toned and eclectic sangiovese of red fruit at the top end of the spectrum. Crunchy fruit in the true sense of croccante but also scorrevole, sliding across the palate and extending onwards. There is raspberry and blood orange, tar and roses. Feels a little bit like having gone through some Piedmontese cappello sommerso, by long extraction and textured as a result. Fine tannins, finish, some red pith too but time will heal any wounds. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021
Picked between the 7th and 10th of September and only 22,000 bottles made from 12 hectares of vineyards. Low does not due justice to how small a vintage was 2017. “We tried to extract less and keep it on the lighter side,” tells Alberto Machetti and an exception was made to age 100 per cent in used tonneaux (and no Slavonian oak). This is mainly due to dry tannins and the lowest of low yields. So many dried grapes, 25 per cent of the production discarded, the berries so small, the liquid to skin ratio completely out of balance. “More off a Rosso style adapted to make a little bit of Brunello.” The decision had to be made to avoid alcohol through the roof, too risky overall and too little too screw it up. This has turned out as a really well made and blessed Annata with thanks to decision making that pushed the right buttons. Truth conceived, spoken and executed by Machetti and team. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021
Big wine from La Fuga in 2017, fully ripened, pressed and expressed for breadth of sangiovese possibility. Pectin at a high level and full throttle actionability for a full on example to sell, discuss and impress. This is a wine that will help licensee/restaurant and bottle shop sales because it delivers Brunello expectation. That said it won’t necessarily gift longevity. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Le Potazzine Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

From the moment the Potazzine perfume comes from the glass it is known that few if any Montalcinese 2017 Brunelli will be like this. The advantages are manyfold, a northwest location, high elevation above 500m, later picking times, natural and longer fermentation, no filtration. Even in a vintage like this the women of Le Potazzine, Gigliola, Viola and Sofia can look to take risks for eventuation at reward. More herbal and savoury than ’16 and less concentrated than ’15 but still exhibits characteristics consistent with those bigger and easier vintages. As cool, fresh and salty as it can get but always with that perfume. Le Potazzine style, unassuming and bellissima. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta San Giorgio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Ugolforte 2017

From vineyards facing southeast aged up to 25 years and really now coming into their own. Definite alcohol elevation balanced by fruit hung well into September, also with kept acidity. Perfectly reasoned seasoned ’17 here from Poggio di Sotto’s sister and second property. Fruit spirit and juiciness run up the middle of vintage possibility and as a result there is nary a bitter, overtly herbaceous or astringent moment. This with thanks to plot position, aid and abetting by Mount Amiata. Tannic as a ’17, drying and yet precocious as compared to Poggio di Sotto, concentration a matter of younger vineyards. Unfair perhaps but they are a family and the simplicity here is well-loved, needed and accepted. Different planet, same philosophy, embracing the land and the people who make it happen, without pretension. Brunello simplicity is the captured moment in time when vintage and stylistic merge as they do in San Giorgio’s ’17. No harm, no foul. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

Quite a fortuitously heady Annata for Tenute Silvio Nardi out of the vintage ranging through many derivations or this one way. There are early picked, light and simple wines and their are later picked Brunelli with a full head of fruit and steam. This falls unto the latter with no lack of barrel seasoning and weight behind the thickening fruit. Needs time to settle and allow both wood and density to integrate and get on down. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Big and brawny it might seem is the order of Andrea Cortonesi’s ’17 Annata but these are the things that elevation, solar radiation and poor soil will talk about together. The bones in Ucceliera’s Brunello are one thing but the fruit, the substance and the presence are all together another. These are the types of wines that stand out, separate and shine in a vintage such as this. Fully developed, phenols at the top of the requiem and then a come together because the work once inside is accomplished without supposition. Every estate in Montalcino should be so lucky to receive such consultancy. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted November 2021
Dense, thick and chalky Brunello, fully extracted and developed, nothing left in the vineyard or on the table. Actually quite impressed by how much has been assembled in this super Annata cuvée without the oft-seen ’17 astringency that usually comes along for the ride. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021
That Ventolaio perfume, heady and gracious, always a wine that finds a way to climb into the nether regions of your heart. Alternatively crisp and then chewy, exterior and interior, a sangiovese of layers, spice and relatively early integration. Does well to bring all parts together with elasticity but also finesse. The vintage snapshot is very much in focus. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021
One sniff of this Annata and only 2017 could come to mind. It is important for sangiovese and vintage to come together, forge a symbiotic union and express what only this place can. Villa al Cortile finds the sweet spot between fruit and tannin in a place where ’17’s acids lie, lay and linger. Not too much of anything with respect to excess here and plenty of possibility. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021
Perfectly middle of the road Brunello in ’17, well developed, extracted and pressed though well shy of any distraction. A bit aromatically reticent which goes against the vintage norms but the palate here is quite heady and expressive. The tannins are serious and bit drying but there should be enough fruit to hang in there once the wine begins to turn in a year and half or so’s time. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021
Such a similar profile to Ucceliera if perhaps a bit more sun worship mixed with lower tones to create a deeper and more pressing example of Annata 2017. In that sense a bit of a dualistic sangiovese in this Voliero while true to harmonized, focused and right proper Andrea Cortonesi form. Hard to imagine this wine needing to be anything but what pours into this glass. More fruit and less structure for the correctness of it all. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2017 Vigna

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Montosoli 2017

The northern aspect of Montosoli is perhaps no further benefitted from than in this vintage, a cooler location befitting the warmest and driest of vintages. That said a Spring frost meant lower production but never the mind as the famous and important hill gifts Altesino with a fine Vigna sangiovese. Graces the charms and substance of 2017 with equal rights and finds the sweet spot for what is truly a full throttle and seasoned Altesino. Will be ready earlier than most might think. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Benvenuto Brunello 2021

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Poggio Alle Mura Vigna Marrucheto 2017

Strength in fruit is Vigna Marrucheto’s calling card for a 2017 of true black cherry depth. Travels well beyond fruit to a place where all the necessary parts collect, integrate and repeat. Shocking good acids lift spirits and even more shocking sweet tannins tie the entire work together. Banfi’s team surely had an edge in this challenging vintage and while many Vigna canibalized their Annata it is clear that Banfi had plenty of riches to go around. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG La Casaccia 2017

This is where all the recent hard work put in by Francesco Ripaccioli and team really comes to light and fruition. La Casaccia is northerly-ish but certainly not Montosoli and yet the aromatic profile of this Vigna-designate Brunello is laced with cool nuance and found to be full of fine finesse. As per the Canalicchio di Sopra idiom there is plenty of wood casking through the bones of the wine and yet one can feel the highest quality of those large vessels gifting a select strength leading to chic style, surely to be followed by one and a half decades of aging. All what needs, what is and must be for La Casaccia. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG La Casa 2017

Grandiose La Casa from 2017, full of depth. breadth and shadowy nuance. Just a terrific and most important northern Montalcino vineyard with Altesino’s Montosoli side by each, both upon the hill of hopes and dreams. The Corton of Montalcino if you will and here an example of a Vigna wine showing high glycerol content mixed with the mineral white, blue and grey Galestro of the vineyard. Makes for a potent and beautiful mix. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Filo Di Seta 2017

Filo di Seta, done up only in concrete eggs, the first vintage being 2010. A clay and Galestro vineyard, ancient soils at 180m just above Montosoli. Aging in 500L barrels of first, second and third usage. Looking for crunch, chew and roll. Two picks, two or three weeks apart and “you feel the down valley character,” says Filippo Chia. The opposite of high altitude Brunello, “we call it the campone,” a vineyard that existed going back to the 1700s. A place “where there are monks there is wine.” Potent by glycerin as viscosity and an intimate connection to sangiovese’s chiaroscuro. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted November 2021

Castello Tricerchi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG A.D. 1441 2017

High-toned, fruit cumulate, juicy appropriated and just fine textural example of Vigna. In just a few vintages Tricerchi has climbed from there to here with a refreshed and nuanced understanding of how to turn their vineyards into the freshest andsmartest of Montalcino wines. There is a fine complement of wood on A.D. 1441 but not without reason and merit. The fruit is up to the task, especially because there is a naturally curated swarthiness to its character. This Vigna will show best in two to three years. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Castiglion Del Bosco Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Campo Del Drago 2017

Here Vigna in a prime example of a wine showing brilliantly if less concentrated than certainly the previous two vintages. That said having tasted both the ’16 and ’17 Annatas it seems apparent that some ’17 fruit normally destined there has remained in this Campo del Drago ’17. A gain to a loss and such is life though hard to think another avenue might have been taken. Nevertheless this fortunate one drinks with substantial weight, stone, fruit filling and desire. Spicy piques at every turn and a long, creative if turbulent finish. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Cava d’Onice Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colombaio 2017

Colombaio steals the 2017 Cava D’Onice show, perhaps to the detriment of the classico but as with past adversarial vintages such is life and the show must go on. Here the fruit is plenty good and substantial, pooling with macerations of cherry accented by hints of rosemary and fennel. A fine, stylish and even chic Brunello that shines and will live well into the future. One of longer probabilities it would surely seem. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Fiore Del Vento 2017

The first of three Hayo Loacker investigations into the specificities of his Corte Pavone terroir is this Fiore del Vento, literally “flowers of the wind,” an expression that does well to describe this windswept section to the west of Montalcino. A lovely and fruit pectic thickened Vigna in 2017, concentrated yet expertly so, pretty and almost soft but with some shadowy power beneath. Smooth, silky and yet red chalky, almost an iron sensation though the wine that never feels elemental or metallic. Fine bone structure and far from grippy. Lovely, as mentioned at the top. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Fiore Di Meliloto 2017

These flowers in Hayo Loacker’s second of three Vigna Brunelli are the delicacy in an otherwise firmer and more distinctly gripper one, again with florals also poking in tines and ferric under tones. This time there is an ionic, mineral and powerful feeling, with stronger tannic chalk and stony address. Still resides in the realm of fine and precise, a bit more chiseled but not expressly demanding. Will take longer to develop and with fruit in good shape this should drink well into the next decade. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Campo di Marzo 2017

Clearly the most concentrated and also powerful of the three Vigna Brunelli produced by Corte Pavone and then one to wait, wait some more and finally wait again before seeing this fruit and that structure work together as one. Great and important concentration with vineyard intendment makes Campo di Marzo (field of March) a sangiovese to reckon with and one you will have to show great patience for best results. Drink 2025-2036.  Tasted November 2021

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG I Poggiarelli 2017

I Poggiarelli is picked a week to 10 days later than La Mannella and so necessary to allow the acid-tannin structure to develop, lengthen and replicate. A Brunello very much set up in a community and chain of command, fruit imagined as the lead bird behind which all other parts draught, for ease and decreased resistance. In I Poggiarelli’s case the length of time requires acids, texture and tannin to all take turns, in formation, in antecede and relegation. Depending on when this is tasted in the first seven or eight years from vintage there is no telling which will stand out and above the rest. Equally or rather proportionally perfumed and fragrant like La Mannella but from the start you sense the higher levels of backbone and structure. “But our idea is to play with the balance, to keep the link with the sangiovese of Montalcino and in a warm vintage not to go too far,” tells Tommaso Cortonesi. Neither in extraction nor maceration and to deliver a respectful wine. Usually 25-30 days but more like 18-20 in 2017. Also a 26-30 degree fermentation when some vintages it can be as high as 34, if only for a few days. Definitely a vertical Brunello and time matters. Always with sangiovese and especially with I Poggiarelli. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Progetto Prime Donne 2017

Most excellent exhaling of sangiovese blood, sweat, tears and love emits from Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s 2017 Vigna of great northern Montalcino importance. A project that Donatella, her daughter and team of women have come to create, foster, nurture and gift. For all of us today and set up to keep giving throughout future generations. Few wines find the precise nature of their vineyard and in how they are able to interact so gracefully with human emotion and flavour. The earth and deep-rooted fruitiness in Prime Donne acts swarthy and wild in youth but this wine has not yet begun to become the fine Vigna example it will eventually accede. Top ’17 for sure. Drink 2025-2036.  Tasted November 2021

Fanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vallocchio 2017

Vallocchio at 320-350m and its old 35-40 year-old vines has done well to find resiliency in 2017 with thanks to its very deep and experienced roots. Faces south by southwest and though the lack of water and 35-plus degree temperatures were a clear and present danger this vineyard knew what to do to survive. A selection more direct than other vintages because no Riserva was made and so Vallocchio is both and neither at the same time, with the maceration kept shorter (25-30 days) to minimize bitter aromas and possible astringencies. Certainly a warm Vallocchio for Fanti steeped like a viscous cherry tisane and seasoned with extra spice but always maintains its pedigree and then length. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Del Fiore 2017

More specific of course, focused and looking at a vineyard that has been studied for decades. A vineyard of more than five hectares with the resilience to handle the stressors of the 2017 vintage, thanks to many stones and the surrounding woods. “We have been paying taxes on this vineyard for 400 years, so that’s how old it is,” tells Stefano Cinelli Colombini. The current vineyard was planted in 1982 but some parts have been redone. Finding fineness is no easy seek and task at all times but most of all when water and cooling temperatures are absent for many months at a time. This is Vigna of polished fruit, consistency in hyperbole and while less austere than many vintages there is that elusive and often hiding combination of elegance and finesse. The wine achieves what it sets out to do, if no other way, in attitude. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Franco Pacenti Brunello Di Montalcinio DOCG Rosildo 2017

A fine and finessed Rosildo, concentrated though at the precipice without asking too much of 2017. Rich and inviting, picked late enough to gather the optimum quality available through vintage adversity multiplied by possibility. The length and linger here is outstanding, a quality response to how fruit sumptuousness and fine-grained tannins interact. Quite symbiotic in relationship it needs saying. A requiem for specialized success. Drink 2024-2032. Tasted November 2021

Fattoria La Màgia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Ciliegio 2017

A Massive attack of fruit and power comes at you fast and furious in Ciliegio from La Màgia. Not just a wine of concentration and substance but some of 2017’s grippiest set of surrounding parameters. Big bones, barrel impart and really impressive facial structure. Chiseled and upright, linear and near formidable. A bruiser now that will bring so much umami later. Imagine the porcini possibilities. Drink 2024-2031.  Tasted November 2021

Fattoria La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Manapetra 2017

Manapetra exhibits no shortage or lack of fruit flesh and development and it must be wondered what filled this glass that the Annata did not receive. A top vineyard is needed in times of trouble and so mother Mary fruit was surely reserved in full for this Vigna sangiovese from La Lecciaia. This packs a wallop and a punch though the acidity remains shy and remote. No remorse though as a big glass of Brunello with Vigna credentials is available by the factor this Manapetra emits out of 2017. Perhaps a but atypical for the estate if a credible response to vintage variation. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

La Rasina Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Persante 2017

Sweet and substantially rendered fruit forms a great and needful response to a vintage of hoops and hurdles, frost, aridity and grapes so desperately wanting to shut themselves down. The rose to violet florals and high toned peppery piques are quite unrelenting and there is some real structure here. A bit on the acetic side and something that can’t be ignored but the wine maintains its composure and seeks out its main objective. Real Brunello in 2017. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Such an earthy, swarthy and ferric wine from this northwestern section of the northerly Montosoli Hill and a wine that’s really hard to get to know. So much wild behaviour, microbial manifestations and conjecture. Where to begin and when will it end? Needs time and the question is will it go sideways, will the fruit outlast or will the feral-ness get stronger and stronger? Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Casanovina Montosoli 2017

From the northern hill at approximately 300m facing east, just past the cellar on the right. Another 2017 that stands apart because of the location though not as glaring as the Paso del Lume Spento at 620m. A sweetly sound and calming liqueur of red fruit and fresh herbs, well scented, floral and as a Brunello, notes darker of fruit and even a bit of tar. More complexity than many, severing and forking into the dimensional and though comparison can be pedantic there is a tightly wound tannic feeling that reminds of nebbiolo. Surely not one to last ages and live in infamy but it should be considered a 10-12 year wine. From a bottle opened two days so that really tells us something. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Paso Del Lume Spento 2017

A most dramatic way to describe a place that essentially means “a pass so windy it could blind travellers, or literally put out the lights.” Actually the pass across the highest point in Montalcino before heading down towards the southern valley below. The most ironic and interesting single-vineyard wine in Montalcino, formerly an IGT and here from the warm and dry vintage. The elevation is 621 meters above sea level and unequivocally the most singular aromatic profile of any in Montalcino. Approximately 60 per cent is used for this Vigna of sandstone on a plateau, flat and even keeled across its perch. Smells of the freshest herbal field but on a dry and crisp day, or crispy perhaps. That cured salumi aroma is so special for sangiovese and especially Brunello and then the palate really elevates the freshness, with just terrific acidity and the precociousness of young vines (planted in 2012), excited plants that could afford to be a little bit more aggressive in a hot vintage. Oh if more ‘17s could be like this and if more vineyards in Montalcino were above 600m. But I digress. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2017

V.V. as in Vigna Vecchia, a place of old vines, planted in 1968 at 600m. With the concentration of ingress by the vines this is a very structured wine of depth as compared to the new vineyard and also Montosoli. Faces southwest so plenty of sun, especially in 2017. Also the most texture of the 17s in terms of glycerol from Le Ragnaie but also the most backbone and early austerity when it comes to the tannins. Yet there is an orange component, not the skin but a gelid or granita of orange. Time is the vanishing point essential perspective and plenty of it, as V.V. always needs, with 2017 being no exception. As much Vigna Vecchia as it is anything else. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Just a classic 2017, fruit ripe, juicy and red cherry inflated, a specific vintage concentration and made all the more pinpointed in Vigna form. Loreto does what needs and wants for a consumer looking for vintage answers and reply. Likely an earlier drinking Vigna for ’17 and one that will gift plenty of mid-decade pleasure. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

San Polino Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Helichrysum 2017

My if Helichrysum does not double down on San Polino’s classico, here in a Vigna with quite a push in terms of tannin. Rides to the end of the fruit’s property and build a fence so high there can be no escape until the barriers begin to fall away. In this case that could be ten years but worth beginning to taste and check in three or four. Chalky in swirling liquid form, forceful, youthful, exuberant and maybe even rebellious. Will see where this travels. Drink 2025-2033.  Tasted November 2021

San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Podernovi 2017

The 1991 planted vineyard of three hectares faces southeast across the Orcia where on a clear morning in November the fog layer settles in the Valley. Aged in tonneaux of 40 and 50 hL for approximately 30 months. Cool and reticent aromatics whilst sweetly floral and easily leading towards the succulence accessed upon the palate. Very gardenia in fact, like a vertical herb garden leading the senses up to clay and stones that compact and make for a concentrated restraint. Podernovi’s softer complexion reflects a more delicate and perhaps also finessed Vigna as compared to sister block-designate Brunello Vignavecchia. The names alone should tells us this in a new versus old vein and so fineness and delicate structuring is the order of this very pretty wine. While the disposition may be understated the white peppery acids and scintillant of piques are surely not. Delicate perhaps but Podernovi still opens one’s eyes and palate to the possibilities of 2017. Awake now because of the freshness and croccante character of this wine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vignvecchia 2017

The 1989 planted vineyard of two hectares faces southwest on a steep slope aged in tonneaux (lightly toasted) of 60 hL for approximately 30 months. Smallest of the estate’s berries, ratio of flesh to skin minimized and without equivocation the most concentrated wine at San Polo. Like Podernovi also a cool and reticent nose but you can feel the power behind the veil. Hard to hide the ability, musculature and grip of the tight juice extracted from the small and profound tract of localita San Polo land. Clearly the stronger, deeper concentrated and more structured of the San Polo’s Vigne Brunelli and such a contrast in hue, texture and grip when tasted side by side with Podernovi. There is a thickness and swath of Rothko brushstroke in Vignavecchia, its sale captioned and finalized by a firm grip in handshake. Such a chewy wine, of tree fruit in pods and liquorice. Needs time to settle, integrate the notable amount of wood and elasticize towards a brighter future, more so than Podernovi, perhaps to outlive and outlast. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Sasso di Sole Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Sasso Di Luna 2017

Cherry sangiovese liqueur in all its pooling and welling red fruit incarnations with fine acidity and not easy but also not formidable structure. A Vigna that surely does not try too hard and if it’s not the most substantial version of “Brunello” it surely takes off straight from where the Annata left off. All about love and happiness. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Piero 2017

Riccardo Talenti’s Brunelli spend over two years ageing in fine Allier and Slavonian oak. Pian del Conte is a Riserva from the oldest vineyards, near the centre of the estate (400m above sea level) and only made in exceptional years. This selezione Piero comes from two of the 20 estate hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate dedicated to the vineyard Paretaio, planted to a sangiovese clone selected by Pierluigi Talenti. Fruit gets no more developed and carried along to this level of ripeness and while Talenti’s Piero is showing evolution so early in its tenure the purity, honesty and admonition here must be noted. Not just a remark but an opening for props, kudos and general lauding. No pretence and absolute Talenti heart worn on a Vigna sleeve to say this is the vintage, deal with it, work with it and run with it. No forevers but drinking windows open and ready as soon as anyone feels the necessity for ready. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Tassi Di Franci Franca Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna Colombaio DOCG 2017

Quite the open and blessedly pretty Vigna from Tassi di Franci Franca, on the lighter if lightning red fruit side of Vigna 2017 things, sappy tang, cherry liqueur and fine circulating acids. Simply stated, put and offered. No pretence neither, either way you look at it. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Buon Tempo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Oliveto P. 56 2017

Oliveto is the original name of the farm and the winery before the change in ownership in 2012. From the iron-rich red clay soils and the finest blocks of the vineyard. The location is a hot one but in 2016 there was not too much adversity to find and marry both sugar and phenolic ripeness. Also thanks to a vintage of higher acidity, picked between the 16th and 18th of September. There is a balance between some of Tenuta Buon Tempo’s best ever quality of fruit and a level of acid meets fine tannin structure that also reaches an historical peak. Two weeks of fermentation followed by four days of cappello sommerso and here some new Slavonian oak. A beautifuL Riserva, crisp, sweetly savoury and in perfect harmony. Says Alberto Machetti, “I think it’s the best wine we’ve made at Tenuta Buon Tempo. By a wide margin.” Who are we to argue and so the recommendation is tend to agree. Drink 2023-2033. Tasted November 2021.  Drink 2023-2026

Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Poggio Doria 2017

Casale del Bosco dates back to XVII century, but the origins of this site are Etruscan. It was bought by Silvio Nardi in 1950 and is the source for the cru Brunello Poggio Doria. Uniquely singular Vigna-designate 2017 Brunello, deeply welling like an aperitif with fine bitters and natural sweetness, black cherry type fruit and well developed texture. Turns fiercely tannic and so the ultimate takeaway is big pressing, full extraction and every little grain that might come through from those stressed 2017 skins. This wine needs plenty of time. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Tiezzi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Soccorso 2017

Quite the developed and verging towards oxidative Vigna Brunello from 2017 with sharp acids and tight if also brittle tannins. Continues along the road to acetic and stays the course. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Pomona 2017

Pomona in 2017 is a fine and bright Vigna Brunello of sharp red fruit, tart angles, piques, valleys and blessed pinpoint control. Tart and direct with enough finesse to keep a straight and fine line. Finds the best it can be from a less than generous vintage. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Il Greppo

Brunello di Montalcino and Vigna DOCG 2016

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Tenuta “Greppo” 2016

As with Rosso 2018 there is magic in 2016 and for Federico Radi it was just a matter of blending, having inherited the wines already waiting in cask. Magic because a tempered in control level of alcohol and purity of satin-glycerol consistency is purely and expressly Biondi-Santi. Bottled seven months ago and will be released in March of 2022. The notion of optimum balance will likely set in two or three months from now with a lingering peppery pique and kick still in tow. Also a freshness of summer making for a minor balsamico but one that is far from concentrated in dark syrup. The alcohol is at 14 which for the vintage and current day Montalcino is relatively low, or at least modest. And yet the wine captures your immediate attention, partly because the fruit is fortified but more so by dramatic acidity and a lingering austerity. Also the reddest of citrus notes, almost pomegranate. The acidity number is actually 0.5 per cent higher than (Riserva) ’15, with notes of orange skin, violet and subtle underbrush. More Paco de Lucia than Slash. The latter will fall away in two, better still three years. The Brunello will likely remain in that next state for 10 years and then begin to evolve, slowly, incrementally towards and through a few to several decades life. Drink 2024-2041.  Tasted November 2021

Castiglion Del Bosco Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

Here a perfectly tidy and veramente example of the possibility for existential beauty out of the 2016 vintage. Ripe fruit beyond harmonious compare, weighted in concentration, mildly structured and right there for the taking. Just another year will allow this Brunello to drink at peak. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Filippo and Elisa Fanti

Fanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

The clarity and translatable Fanti terroir in 2016 from the “normale” shines like the bluest of Montalcino days. It’s that simple in terms of growing, picking, fermenting and aging sangiovese from a grounded, persistently consistent and harmonizing vintage. Not a hot one but one hitched upon a long and linear even keel for the Brunello to reach that coveted arena of the elegant. Just what those who get it now want and quite frankly need from Brunello di Montalcino. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Taverna dei Barbi

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

“In the beginning ’16 was…not enough,” begins the soliloquy by Fattoria dei Barbi’s Stefano Cinelli Colombini. “But after a year it changed.” Reading deeper one understands that time is the answer, for sangiovese, Brunello and 2016. “This is why Riserva should be sold after eight or 10 years,” continues Cinelli Colombini. “The problem with tradition is we make a mistake that if it exists, there must be a meaning inherent, otherwise it would not have taken so long. The mistake we make is between what is actually a tradition and the sense of tradition. You only need to taste to know that wine is the most democratic thing in the world.” Yes this Barbi is showing as it should or as it should be beginning to, but tradition is what holds it back, for now. In time it will speak on behalf of what it must be. That is as a sangiovese with a true sense of itself and the tradition it not only represents but one it intrinsically and existentially is. Here from 2016 is one of the great Barbi Annata Brunello. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

Fuligni’s is well, Fuligni. A classic Brunello with new bones and old school heart. Spice above freshness, seasoning over warmth. The most properly developed layers of southern Montalcino red fruit in a vintage aching to speak in a vernacular passed on through generations. Well seasoned casks impart their wisdom, structural slats and flavours, piqued right across the palate. Feels like white sand with calcareous veins and grey to ochre argiloso, a.k.a. the pangs of tradition and soil tang that historically run through Montalcinese sangiovese. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Giodo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

A different sort of 2016 feeling here from Giodo’s Località Casanova, Sant’Angelo in Colle Brunello. Mixed sensations, savoury and hillside brushy, of rosemary, fennel and lavender, but also mustard, arugula and cress. A masala of Montalcino earthy spice, seasoned purple fruit, tart and full of high-toned energy. Quite wood spiced and very long. Needs time to settle and find the grace. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Pietroso Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

Same 35,000 bottle production and like the 2015 a Brunello of great freshness and acidity yet here deeper and less immediately motivated interaction. A sangiovese of richness, layers and yet to be discovered nuance, fleshy to the point of distraction and seeing the structure for the trees. Once again Andrea Pignattai shows the sensibility, humility and grace in his very personal Brunello, capturing the northwest of Montalcino with sincere and respectful exigency. His ’16 is built to age very well. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted October 2021

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

Tasted side by side with Riserva 2016 so its would not be stretch to expect great similarities. First things first. The difference between a Poggio di Sotto Annata and Riserva will always be on blatant display. Moments of clarity each of their own and this ’16 shows something specific, neither lesser nor better but a faithful and loyal expression of the upper vineyards. Great intensity, optimum concentration but not as if or needing to be compared to Riserva’s. Here sapidity swaths over the palate, pesto of herbs and brushstrokes of red velvet ganache. Sweetness of all parts, fruit to tannin, amongst the top for the vintage. Drink 2023-2033.   Tasted November 2021

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Nastagio 2016

Lovely Col d’Orcia liqueur from a newer Vigna-designate wine for the estate and here with as good a vintage as might be to come flying from the gate. It may be unfair because this is being tasted in the middle of dozens of 2017s but my how finesse, focus, depth and concentration all come together in this fine Vigna wine. Cool, ethereal, salt-licked and well, special. Can imagine drinking this for two plus decades. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted November 2021

Francesco Ripaccioli, Fabrizio Bindocci and Tommaso Cortonesi

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG I Poggiarelli 2016

It seems that I Poggiarelli will always be subjected to comparison because of the contrasting style to Cortonesi’s homefront La Mannella. Here the single-vineyard sangiovese rewrites itself in every vintage from the auspices of a warmer, southeasterly Montalcino location at 420m of elevation. Galestro sandy-grey is the ante-soil structure building block whereas La Mannella’s clay gifts earlier charm and elegance. Furthered élevage is a necessity, to instigate depth and structure but not to encourage too much power. Lastly I Poggiarelli is almost always picked a minimum seven days after La Mannella. In 2016 this all adds up to one important, profound and vintage defining word. Fluidity. That’s the ideal to emulate, replicate, relipucate and remunerate. Tommaso’s ’16 Vigna is a fluid mosaic of sangiovese, as if its components were composed of phospholipids, cholesterol, proteins and carbohydrates. Even if they are seen simply as fruit, acid, texture and tannin they all move seamlessly as one, within one membrane, a perfect biological model, effortlessly layered elastic and fluid. Poetic structure. La liquidità di Montalcino. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted November 2021

Luigi Peroni and Natalie Oliveiros, La Fiorita

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Fiore Di NO 2016

First vintage was 1993 and Natalie Oliveros came on board in 2011. Fiore Di NO is a special wine for her, a combination of three vineyards and only made in abundant years so as not to cannibalize the Annata. NO, as in the owner’s initials but also “no compromise,” no chemicals, barriques or tonneaux. NO is a wine of grace and power, one that exhales instead of holding in thoughts, emotions and feelings. It expresses itself with confidence and control, deserves all of our respect. Drink it now and for the next five years. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Claudia Callegari, San Polo and Michaela Morris

San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

One of the few estates that made the decision for 2016 (by winemaker Riccardo Fratton) to not produce any Riserva. Simply because it was too fresh a vintage and the thinking was that an extra year in wood would compromise that ideal. Still a combination of Vignavecchia and Podernovi which means that all the best fruit outside of the single vineyards are in this freshest of fresh Annata. If you are at elevation and want to maintain the integrity of your vineyards then this is what you do. A wine of ethics, unification, probity, trenchant purpose and if simply idealized there is much complexity to assimilate. Grande. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Viola, Gigliola and Sofia, Le Potazzine

Tenuta Le Potazzine Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016

This and this only, at least for today is the vintage of “I parfumi di Potazzine,” a set of aromas that define and depict this very particular place. A volumetric aroma set of land and space, woods and air, the transfer by “le donne” through a capture of their home. An “eleganza” and “ricercatezza” unparalleled, a wine of charm and obvious grace, controlled passion and incremental steps taken towards the most natural world of parochial perfection. Wild ferment, no filtration, 42 day maceration, long and slow, a risk taken and now such important reward. You had to do it it is said to Gigliola. “I didn’t know exactly,” she says. I don’t believe her. Such a special Annata and one we can trust with every part of our palates and hearts. Drink 2022-2036.  Tasted November 2021

Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura DOCG 2016

How can there be any surprise to behold this massive capture of fruit and structure in Banfi’s much heralded yet somehow under-valued Poggio alle Mura? A wine clearly Riserva over Vigna, not just stylistically but all ways counted and speaking. Feel the barrel spice, notes of iodine, soy and scorched earth, the depth and the welling deep into the ground. Baritone sangiovese, a bit of an ode to the past, set in standard bearing and harmony. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

With Elisa Fanti

Fanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vallocchio 2016

The emotional calculation for Fanti’s Vigna wine in 2016 is a special vineyard multiplied by an exceptionally understated vintage to equal a Vallocchio for the ages. The old vines block upwards of 350m could only love the cool, mostly cloudy and elongated season. Every year the best sangiovese comes from this plot on the hill looking up and to the right (north) of the winery. Vallocchio’s Galestro soil is poor and filled with grey to charcoal stones and was identified back in 2006 as the best block for sangiovese. More depth here than Annata to be sure but also an extenuating and extended level of calm, comfort and satisfaction. Just a wonderful and singular estate expression. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Bright red and juicy concentrated fruit defines and designs this ropey, rosy and ripe liquorice Vigna from Lisini. Tightly wound but with ample to exemplary 2016 fruit of a very specific kind. A Selezione that exhibits all that 2016 truly is, can and wants to be. A vintage of fruit that benefited from hang time so that acids, texture and structure could all catch up to sugar and alcohol. The balance is here. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Classica, an Argiano perfume that fills the glass and then the air, florals and wispy earth, a spray of rose, violet and finely decomposed argilo. There is a restraint, closed constraint and almost no tempt of fate in such a Riserva, sangiovese of maximum occupation if no real hurry to go anywhere and certainly not too fast. It can be imagined that this 2016 will remain almost frozen in this meditative state for up to 10 years. Having tasted through older vintages recently and knowing the current winemaking oeuvre, this grand notion is a given. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted November 2021

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Some 2016s come out at and with great force, or speak so vividly. Riserva by Cannalicchio di Sopra is not so much quiet as it is confident, linear, upright and perfectly sturdy. A wine of great force but only willing to use that power incrementally, one essential step at a time. This is 2016 in a perfectly captured and preserved photograph, a mix of eastern and northern vineyards that gather with near perfect equanimity. Nothing left behind, all there and yet not quite ready, a preserve of Montalcino 2016 that will always persevere. Bank and bet on such a wine to pour with strength and elegance for decades.  Last tasted November 2021

Barrel Sample. A deeper well filled with that cherry liqueur and clearly more extract and concentration. The tannins are still fierce, intensely chalky and fine bitters are very much a part of the mix. A furthered texture Brunello with no less strength than most 16s will surely exhibit but the power is tempered by this feel and polish. Quite a potential here for 20 plus years of longevity. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted February 2020

Capanna Di Cencioni Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Lithe and graceful for 2016, full yet reserved, a Riserva of purity and tight wind, also linear and sure. The fruit works a rich citrus edge, from pomegranate through blood orange, feeling healthy and spirited, at times coming down to a dry forest floor but always climbing back up. Quality grains of tannin run in chains, not just at the back but regressing in return through the channels of this most complex and grippy wine. Can’t turn away. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Deep and fulsome Brunello Riserva for Caparzo out of a vintage that offers as much as any winemaker wished to make use of. The richness of fruit is so northerly Brunello from an ideal vintage cut with argilo-limestone-Galestro mineral wealth. There is truly nothing lacking in the grape-acid-tannin structure in this all in sangiovese and the only question might be is this too much of a good thing? Is there such a thing? Ultimately time will provide the answer. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Carpineto Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Gone for broke, full vintage capture and all in sentiment here from Caprineto’s warm and developed ’16. Will need a few years to render, melt and come together but there will always be the classic dustiness of a Carpineto sangiovese, seemingly no matter the Tuscan area from where it comes. Can there be a more consistent and recognizable house style? Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Drogheria Franci, Montalcino

Casanuova Delle Cerbaie Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Vigna Montosoli 2016

Full-fruit in darkening cherry tone and the one Riserva 2016 to show some blueberry, unusual maybe but there it is. Good combinative crunch, some definite lift, salumi and while some may find this a touch acetic it should be suggested that the line is perfectly acceded and never crossed. There is a full compliment of Botti adding spiced and textured commission, also needing time to work within the parametric style. This will settle and when that happens all the parts will come together, swim in a pool of sangiovese liqueur and make for a truly promising future for the wine. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Looking east towards Montalcino from Castello di Romitorio

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking croccante but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a fluido or scorrevole to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Only the old vineyards participate in the ’16 Riserva composition, in which beautiful means small in that air can pass through. A Riserva of sparsity, spargolo chicchi d’uva (grapes), from eight vineyards selected into one tank. Only the 10th Riserva in Romitorio’s history, harvested at 7.5 acidity and lower alcohol. There is muscle, ancient DNA, clonal diversity, forest floor, air and flora and then, time sliding into light strings and dappling all around. Not a flicker but a hum, almost imperceptible of electricity, kinetic, disciplined and smooth. No rattle, out of synch vibration, nor waste of notes to movement neither. A finished composition, Live at the Fillmore, effusive and light, of comfort and potential. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted November 2021

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2016

Molte sane, repeats Andrea Costanti as if by mantra through the course of the 45 minutes while we taste, consider and assess his Riserva 2016. Many healthy grapes, calories, syllables, words and then adjectives are needed to describe this important if never lithe or shadowy sangiovese. No, it is instead immediately upright, enduring as a vinous edifice and demanding of attention. Aromatically magnetic, floral and prepossessing of magnitude, drawing in close yet tantalizingly teasing at a safe distance. Intimates a feeling, as if standing in a deserted public space rendered in simple geometric forms. Animated de Chirico, mystery and melancholy, vanishing points and parallel lines. Crosses over the palate in mathematically fine lines, everything in order, at peace, perfectly groomed. A strict and generous Riserva, fruit moving two by two, contrapositions of history, tradition and life. In a Brunello for the sake of a Costanti Brunello there is so much to feel and say. Such a wine makes it hard to stop thinking but you must and you will, content with looking forward 12-15 years. Everything is in its right place but should not be disengaged. Not yet, or for a while. Steadily, fermamente, healthily, costantemente, constantly. Drink 2025-2041.   Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Anemone Al Sole 2016

This first of two Loacker Estates Riserva for their western Montalcino property is the “anemone in the sun,” surely a reference to sea fossils found in the vineyard, so very typical of this part of the territory. Also remarkable considering the elevation and the aspect where sangiovese does in fact bask in the radiation of the sun while also enjoying some of the area’s greatest temperature fluctuations. Deeply cherry, almost blackening but maintaining brightness with top quality acids. Not the most demanding tannins but they are there and will help see this wine move effortlessly through ten years easy. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted November 2021

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio Molino Al Vento 2016

The second of two for Corte Pavone in Riserva terms is from “the hill of the windmill” and speaks to the windswept crest where the vineyard is perched. As such there should be and clearly is more air and breath in this Riserva as compared to the saline cut that runs through Anemone al Sole. Crisp and crunchy sangiovese here, fruit just a shade less dark than the sister vineyard, tannins finer and also grainier with less openness and more waiting time required. One and then the other. Isn’t that always the case? Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Having an understanding that Tommaso Cortonesi knows how to make his wines and though Riserva is only made in what are deemed “suitable” vintages then 2016 is not an unexpected happenstance. Just so happens to emerge from that stellar growing season and if memory serves correct comes replete with a La Mannella upbringing poised and paused into the very fabric of this wine. A sangiovese of veritable home-front DNA, a torch passing from father and son with oenological consultancy aid and abetting by Paolo Caciorgna. Cortonesi’s Riserva is a linear one, firm of backbone built by later picked fruit and kept acidity. Neither dust nor agitated affectation presides as tannin over juice and in fact this is a very expressive Riserva. One of depth but also one that rises with constant upward movement. Onwards as well with 2016 a high point in the pantheon of the last 15 vintages. Tombola! Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2021

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

The purest sangiovese of greatest clarity for the Donatella classics is this Riserva, not just because it comes from 2016 but for the very fact that time has had a great effect in resolving the special needs of such a wine. What’s so very special about a Casato Prime Donne Brunello di Montalcino is the complex weave of northerly fruit, swarthy sumptuousness and textural crema. Never more on display then in this Riserva and from this vintage, bright and you can almost sense the smile on the face of this expressive and inviting wine. Also structured with great sneak and sly movement, sure, unlike the others, so beautifully crafted, painted as opposed to sculpted. Timeless. Drink 2024-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Elia Palazzesi Collelceto Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

On the lithe and even jammy side for Riserva out of 2016, pretty enough and fruit red, fine, sweet even though there is a difficulty in shaking the feeling of cherry to raspberry confiture. Chewy and ropey, red liquorice and salty tannins. Intriguing Riserva, more like a really fine Annata but lacking depth and complexity. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Fanti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Le Macchiarelle 2016

As for Le Macchierelle ’16 the contrast to 2015 is not so much night and day but 2015 (and its extra year in bottle) is showing more caress and Riserva delicacy as compared to this really grippy and tannic 2016. More concentration of tannin and not necessarily conversion of fruit. But to split fruit hairs is silly and there is no doubt the grape substance will easily pace and run with the structure to make Le Macchierelle live a very long, fruitful and slowly developing life. Where this diverges into the realm of special and profound is in the architecture that starts from the ground up. Iron-rich, calcareously cemented, skilled and seasoned. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted November 2021

Fattoi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Fattoi presents what can best be described as a Riserva for their place and time, a bright and effusive sangiovese of honesty, purity and estate vineyards’ transparency. Who could not be wooed, swayed and allayed by the freshness of such a pretty in pulchritude Riserva, cool and composed, with some of the finest acids and sweet grains of tannins imaginable. Top quality for the ilk and style. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Taverna dei Barbi

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

The question is increasingly asked whether 2015 or 2016 is the true Riserva vintage, of the two. Assessing Barbi’s at this early stage does not answer the question straight away but there are some clues. The mineral swath that owes to iron, volcanic and sedimentary Galestro presence really does dominate the aromatics on what is again a could be nothing but a Fattoria dei Barbi sangiovese. Dark cherries that swim, bob perhaps but never over-macerate in their own sweet juices is the hallmark notation of this vineyard’s aromatic pool. Fine tannins are tight but not overtly demanding, acids stream freely and easy, supportive but not in authoritative control. A bit closed (or let’s say contained) to be honest and the warming finish indicates the need for a few years more time. As opposed to 2015 which was necessary and now here a ’16 that might remind of Brunello from the 1970s. Drink 2025-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Fornacina Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Slide nearly due east down from the Montalcino hill and you will come to Fornacina, an estate set in this idyllic quadrant of the area where cypress and grey to white sandy clay mineral soils predominate. Expect classic deep dusty plum fruit from a Riserva and a vintage as co-conspirators of calm, breadth and ease of collective breath. These and this are so true to form if not a serious Brunello, then one so knowable, unshakeable and just bloody proper. This ’16 gets it very right. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Fossacolle Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Quite a deep and developed Brunello Riserva ’16, moving well along its way to arrive at the near your and its destination. Slip sliding away, slowly yet surely, feeling no adversity, pouring soft and simple. Make use of this now while so many firm and tannic kin take their time to find a way. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Franco Pacenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Pacenti’s Riserva straddles two worlds and works both rooms with remarkable distinction. The fruit is open knit, effusive and perfectly consistent with the vineyard’s gifting but there is also a depth to this sangiovese that makes for a two-part wine. By depth this means a down to earth, low tonality and an herbal, fully formed and dense foundation. This is really solid, grounded and architecturally sound Brunello di Montalcino. More so than many and definitive of style. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Il Poggione Brunello Di Motalcino Riserva DOCG Vigna Paganelli 2016

Hard to find a more amenable and also soundly structured Riserva than this by Il Poggione, a Riserva that doubles as a Vigna (single-vineyard) Brunello di Montalcino. This is sangiovese for sangiovese’s sake, from a defined sense of place and made in a style that depicts meaning for a storied estate. Bright with depth, light tripping acids and grounding. Solid construction while always able to dance upon its feet. One of the best ever for the crew. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted November 2021

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Hard to imagine a Riserva from 2016 with more openness and inviting behaviour than this from La Fiorita but what’s clearly at play is the attention to detail, starting with dedicated and regenerative agriculture. A warm location is a challenge and yet fruit here is so well preserved and lifted at the very same time. The mix of textures, at once chewy and then crunchy, the blessings of commitment, passionate and respect, finally the way this wine seamlessly moves with delicasse and power. These are all stages and layers that knit a really fine Riserva. Brava. Veramente brava. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2021

La Gerla Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Gli Angeli is true Riserva, of a density in the depths of earth and fruit while conversely rising with lifted guide. Bone density too, then highlights before returning back from whence it rose. Loads of charred herbs, dusty tannins and a late drying sensation. Needs aeration and time. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

A Riserva from Vallafrico southeast of the Montalcino village set in some of the territories’ most beautiful hills. While the rise and the piques alert the brows and put the buds on alert there too is sensory territorial understanding that gives this wine a grounded and calming sense of place. Leccaia’s fruit wells dark, climbs airy to ethereal and fulfills every point along the tasting journey. A complete wine in every respect, just, stylish and very fine. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

La Màgia Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Rich and wholesome Riserva of great depth and breadth, though easy on the tannic power. They are there and highly involved but already developed, fine and near to relenting. A vanquished Riserva is a particular style, ready and willing but far from airy and light. Not so much a big 2016 but rather one of density in and amongst the many layers. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

La Poderina Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio Abate 2016

From a hill above the abbey of Castelnuovo dell’Abate and a warmth running through this Riserva as much as any in the collection. Running tart and a bit brittle, hard tannins and sharp acids taking full control. A year should help settle the anger and the score. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021

La Rasina Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Il Divasco 2016

At the height of what could be considered a lifted Riserva, especially for 2016, tones set to 11 in a sangiovese of great pulse and fiery style. After comes the wood, fulsome and chalky, grains of spice and chocolate through all its iterations. A bit old school and lovely for the sentiment. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2016

Never overstate the Lorenzo Magnelli way of crafting Riserva, that is by aging in cask longer than not just the average, but indeed all others. His Le Chiuse Diecianni carries, drifts and gifts the most succulence whilst exhibiting a spice force to ignite the most sensation and emotion. A veritable melting pot of a sangiovese, complexities bound and wound, circulating throughout the wine’s coefficient of existential and elementary positions. These are the smallest of berries picked to forge what only Riserva can, to be cool, mineral licked, ethereal. Already exhibiting fruit purity and also density for a look at what two decades forward will come from this finest of Brunello wines. Drink 2024-2037.  Tasted November 2021

Padelletti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Finely composed and structured Brunello Riserva here from Padelletti out of the full and complete 2016 vintage. A sangiovese of cherries darkening to blue and black, of fruit oscillations that rise and fade, return and submit to the acids of this wine. Mighty acids they are, lifted and full of vim, vigour and relish. Not quite a vivid Riserva but surely one of what feels like a northerly ilk, cool, savoury and in its own world, blessed of a particular kind of wine. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Solaria Patrizia Cencioni Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Brightness of tight lightning, red fruit sparked and ready to take on the world. Sharp tang, crisp and crunchy, shifting now, heading into an area occupied by the wood in the wine. Of a school where big cask and time conspire for older fashioning yet here of a clarity that speaks with clean admonition. In the end capitulates and commits to being a fine wine, nice and amenable. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Vigna Ferrovia 2016

Hard to imagine more warmth and deeply rooted red fruit development accessed and gathered in a Riserva from 2016. Pian delle Vigne’s doubles down on the vintage ideal, acting as both a Riserva and a Vigna wine, luxe and direct, full throttle and yet finely finessed. The lover of Brunello for Brunello’s just further back than most recent history will fall in love with this style of Montalcino Riserva. The credibility of the work can never be called into question. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Pietroso Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Pietroso’s Riserva from 2016 is a lifted affair and also incredibly youthful, precocious and yet to be understood. Of all the Riserva from 2016 tasted in this session it seems to be one that needs air, contemplation and time. The fruit seems to mimic and intimate so many ilk, freshness mostly but also some moments feeling leathery and dry. Like cacchi (persimmon) for instance, also pods from certain trees and liquorice. A unique Riserva, solo artist from winemaker Andrea Pignattai, so worthy of distinction and as mentioned off the top, must be given plenty of time. In assessment and much further aging. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Podere Brizio Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Brizio’s gives away so many aromas in Riserva, from herbs and brushy hillsides to all the spices in the world. A wine of forest proximate scents mixed with barrel affectation like few others and finishing where all the chocolate lays. The finish is quite soft and the tannins relenting, already at this time. Drink this earlier than many. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Wanting to head straight away into superlatives it must be cautioned not to do so because thinking about how 2016 Riserva relates to what Poggio di Sotto really is must be the first and last consideration. La nota di magnete, a metallic note, florals, red to black fruit and the sapidity of località is more than anything else a classic way to imagine and convince the world that this is exactly what Poggio di Sotto has been, is now and always will be. The same team that has been here and will be here has made this wine, humble professionals that support the Poggio di Sotto expression. Penetrating, intense, opening slowly, acids doing everything they can to elevate the sweetness and persistence of fruit. Keep in mind there is no single vineyard 2016 to cannibalize the top selection for this wine. The idea for this Riserva was known going in and the wine achieves every aspect of the goal. Meraviglioso. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted November 2021

Renieri Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Straight away on notice for lovely work in Riserva by Renieri with more upfront, right, pure and proper fruit than many. Hard to combine and manage freshness with textural chew and that is the fine accomplishment in this 2016. That and a fineness of acids and tannins also working as one for structural gains. A harmonized, nearly settled Riserva in upright position that will round out when the time is right. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted November 2021

San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Il Quercione 2016

Classical Campogiovanni, clearly Quercione and indisputably a wine factored, figured and crafted by Leonardo Bellaccini. Exceptional fruit quality meets barrel excellence, engages with one on one commitment and emerges married until death do they part. Richness and textural luxuries abiding and forever. Likely one of the biggest Riserva to discover out of the idealism of the vintage. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted November 2021

San Polino Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

The 2016 Riserva from San Polino continues a string of most excellent wines tasted by this esteemed producer, including high quality Annata and Vigna 2017s. The depth and commitment to finesse in the face of power lays somewhere between exemplary and extraordinary with a Riserva unrelenting in its nature of calm, poised and collected spirit. Plenty of backbone and drying grains of fine to wispy tannin helps to drive forth the definitive point. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Sesti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Phenomena 2016

Exemplary and necessary Sesti vineyards put in the work here for a Riserva 2016 of real gastronomic presence. Feels like a complex preparation, locally sourced and raised, as if by nightshades and also beefy, slow cooked and lean, seared to act as a perfect compliment with a glycerin salsa rossa tying it all together. Chewy and ropey as a savoury confiture to sidle up to cured salumi in yet another gustatory way of looking at Montalcinese sangiovese. All in all a fine and delicate wine. An execution, style and finished plate of own purpose, tradition and accord. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2021

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Pian Di Conte 2016

Pian de Conte is without equivocation a very special wine. The best of Talenti’s vineyard blocks and selections make for a 2016 Riserva as finessed and fine as any. Perhaps the most important aspect and what matters to know about this Riserva is the restraint, the way the wine has gently travelled through its universe of maceration, fermentation and elévage. Pian de Conte is poised, perched and prescient within, upon and without all the points in between picking and pouring, always with an eye on the ultimate prize. That would be aging well into the next decade with one incremental structural step taken at wide, lengthy and unhurried intervals. Such a wine only comes around once in a while. Drink 2024-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Azienda Di Franci Franca Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Tassi Di Franci Franca Selezione Franci 2016

Franci Riserva is a gift of fruit, actually a gift wrapped package with red fruit at its core and a surround sound of sweet acidity tabled by even sweeter tannin. The lack of grip, pomp, astringency and circumstance is almost remarkable in a Riserva for 2016 that well, hits the sweet spot. Gainful, respectful of place and just a really lovely drop to enjoy nearer and dearer to time and heart. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta La Fuga Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Unusually reductive, especially for sangiovese and for Brunello. Don’t even get started on this but…20 minutes later it has blown off. Make sure to aerate your ’16 Riserva to give them the full respect they so deserve. Behind the curtain is a Riserva of full riches, richesse and real magnanimous behaviour noted by how it swirls in the mouth with so much flavour. Truly a cup runneth over Riserva that will stand a good and credible test of time. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Ucceliera Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Have of late come to know and understand what a Brunello by Ucceliera smells like and this is it. In Riserva form but one of those sangiovese that feels like it has aged to an optimum point yet will almost surely remain right at this state of extant etiquette for many years to come. A Riserva that speaks to fruit edging into a cured, oxidative and dried spectrum though clearly suspended in fresh stopover animation. Brunello of salumi and the earth, of berries, plums and fragola, of bosco and nocie, umami and the future. If more were going in this 2016 there would not be enough bandwidth to take it all in. There is fortunately enough and at just the right amount. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Val Di Suga Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Spuntali 2016

A combination of variegated fruit, red, also some orange and then this deep rooted earthiness. Hematic and a brush with forest floor success. Up level acids foil the earthbound nature and emotions run high in a Vigna Brunello of great parochial curiosity and much moving, stirring and complex behaviour. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted October 2021

Ventolaio Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Ventolaio’s Riserva is one of the very few that is simply not a really noticeable departure from the Annata. A sangiovese of incredible clarity and also transparency. If ever a Brunello would speak in exacting, this is what, who and why terms then Ventolaio’s might just be the spokesperson at the head. These are their wines, highly specific, notable, bright and fine. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Verbena Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

A recognizable style of Riserva here, part darker fruit and part high tonality, lifted skywards. Down to earth in terms of substance yet very much submissive to acidity, some tannin but much more of the former. A tart, edgy and drying sangiovese, likely best before too long and not too deep into the years following. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

 

Older vintages

Tenuta Le Potazzine Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2015

Bigger and more concentrated vintage, even for high elevation, cool and freshest of them all Le Potazzine. Clarity combined with finesse meet at the point where that clarity becomes vivid reality. More tannin and a sense of the Grandi Botti are in this vintage which means more time is still warranted to bring this to fruition. Will live as long as any in Montalcino. This is the reason 2015 is a Riserva vintage for Potazzine, more than most. It can handle and wants the extra year in wood. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted November 2021

Casanova Di Neri Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Cerretalto 2015

Explicit, outward, gregarious and highly expressive sangiovese, expansive in every way, by depth, width and breadth. Stretches elastically and widens fleshy with each inhale and exhale, sniff and sip. Wood is a major compliment with fruit the willing acceptor. Able to move freely, stitching parts seamlessly together and the length on this Brunello goes on seemingly forever. Prototypical Cerretalto from paradigmatic Neri, both of which always seem to calibrate shifts in Montalcino connotation. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted October 2021

Tommasi Casisano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Colombaiolo 2015

Starts slowly out of the gate, a wine of understatement setting an even pace and in no rush to take the early lead. Charming no doubt, builds power, releases energy, based on high quality vintage fruit substance. Continues on a forward trajectory through sangiovese’s ability to self-assimilate reliable and relatable acidity throughout the taster’s experience. The wine takes over and you realize the freshness of volatility speaks to youthfulness and potential. Needs three more years easy. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2015

“2015 in my opinion, you will find more structure, the power and the generosity of this wine,” says Federico Radi. Submits to the idea that you won’t feel the power of 14.5 per cent alcohol and the power in your mouth. A gastronomic Riserva, gregarious, more grip than many Biondi-Santi Riserva while maintaining the DNA of pace in place. The vintage is felt, like a warm blanket and only 1997 reached this level of generosity and alcohol, with decisions made by Iacopo Biondi-Santi and a later harvest around the 21st of September. This is when poly-phenolic ripeness was finished but the alcohol rose over those past two weeks. A big wine for the estate, such a bambino now, full of ripe fruit at the apex of possibility, not austerity but near fierce tannins. They surround the grandiosity of fruit so that everything exists at a higher level. Needs more time and though will age for decades it should be suggested to drink these well before 2040. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted November 2021

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio Al Vento 2015

Since the 1980s it has been Count Francesco Marone Cinzano who continued plantings to the current number at 140 hectares, 108 of which are dedicated to Brunello production. Since August 27, 2010 the whole estate including vineyards, olive groves, other fields and even the gardens are farmed exclusively following organic agricultural practices. The vineyards are located on the southern slope of the Montalcino territory, on hilly lands and extend over 540 hectares, from the Orcia River to the village of Sant’Angelo in Colle, at about 450 metres over sea level. Tasting Poggio al Vento in the midst of dozens of 2016s is more than curious indeed and in fact this island in that deepening stream is a red faced beauty. Shows the great contrast in vintages with higher tonality and fruit of a very different ripeness. Makes for a style not quite apposite but of a clarity that shows place with more transparency. Also a liquid chalkiness to reflect on the more baritone notes played by many ‘16s. Hard not to compare and contrast at this time while in Col d’Orcia terms the PaV resides in that pantheon with great distinction. Will grace tastings through the ages as well as any that have come before. Drink 2023-2034.  Tasted November 2021

With Elisa Fanti and Michaela Morris

Fanti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Le Macchiarelle 2015

Le Macchierelle is a bit lower down on the slope below and to the south of Vallocchio, same Galestro stone-strewn type vineyard but less grey and now some rosso, iron-rich soil. And so there is less calm and more power here but really only in a slight if relative quantity. Such a rich expression of Vigna Brunello, also concentrated by even older plants, three and a half hectares of 40-plus year old vines. Remarkable for the vintage, full and satisfying, not the meditative wine that is Vallocchio. Also remember that this is Riserva so accordingly acts and disseminates as one. As it should. Just about ready to go. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2015

Still at this time a closed, iron-gated fortress, yet to reveal the expectation of aromatics but one taste and the full phenolic thrush circles right back to begin the begin again. Says so much about structure and time needed for this house and their truth with respect to Riserva in the vintage. A wealth of fleshy red sangiovese willingness is the dream to hang onto while knowing that three further years minimum are needed before the movement and evolution of the interested parties involved will initiate a secondary response. Only then can the entry be accessed with ease for a seamless and transitional parlay through Poggio di Sotto’s Riserva ’15. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted October 2021

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2012

Really quite perfect to taste this side by side with 2016 because it was also one of those vintages that would have also been a bit contained or constrained until a year or two ago. Now expressive in a gregarious and generous way, a Riserva excavating and expediting historical attitude and execution to the present day surface. Riserva 2012 is in a wonderful place, wide open and giving, Barbi cherry fruit mixed with Galestro mineral mining and this cool smoulder that graces every part of your insides. Timing for the lover of timeless wines. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Le Potazzine Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2011

At nearly ten years there is clear development in this 2011 and also a most obvious stylistic that has since changed over the years. A little over 3,000 bottles were made and while wines have changed and are made differently these last five years or so this represents what Riserva is and must be with distinction. Persistent Botti spice and texture plus secondary notes in a tartufo, porcini and herbal Amaro vein. All parts have rendered and there is a ganache painting the berries long since melted through this wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2010

The 2010 was the second Riserva made in a string of six vintages between 2004 and 2019, the others being ’12, 15 and ’16. A bottle showing so well tonight because of its ideal structure (and a really good cork). Still some unresolved tannin, quite fresh, some layers, tiers and parts still needing to break down. Tart and demanding, fruit very much intact and surprising how little it has moved forward. After 30 minutes the umami, frutta di bosco, scorched earth and tartufo emerge. Which is just perfect.  Last tasted November 2021.

Now talking post-aggressive behaviour in Riserva not yet advanced ahead of time. There are secondary aromatic hints but the tannins remain in tact, charged and controlling. There’s a circular motion happening hear as fruit and acidity whirl around, outrunning the tannins or at least attempting to. All the sweet things that grow wild and are picked to accent your braises are swirled into the aromatic potpourri of this fine sangiovese of whispers, shadows and silhouettes. It’s a chiaroscuro of a Brunello, all in and we are in turn fully engaged.  Tasted October 2019

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

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2004

Old leather, cigar box, aging yet raspy singing florals. Whether or not the consensus is top vintage matters little because this ’04 has travelled to reside in a slice of Montalcino heaven. Like a dream and a trip back to the club, as if in the 1980s or 90s, the band playing your favourite song, playing it all night long. As the wine airs the dream continues, spice, tar and brewed notes emerge, all tied back to beginnings, naïveté, early passions and plans for the future. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Fanti

A few IGTs

Tenuta Fanti Rosato 2020, IGT Toscana

Solo sangioivese from a very late green harvest in the first week of September. If you like soft-pressed, fresh from stainless, salty, little bit of lees cheesed Rosato then stop right here. Only 5,000 bottles are made of this thirst-quenching, satisfying and delicious stuff. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted November 2021

Cortonesi Lèonus Rosso 2020, IGT Toscana

Sangiovese, as always, like Rosso and Brunello but in Lèonus a quicker skin maceration on earlier harvested grapes. A performative style with low level extraction, especially of tannins and any possible green or astringent distractions. Looking for and finding immediate amenability with the same sangiovese from Montalcino indicator lights that signal place and time. Also higher acidity, better for matching food right now, easy to drink and the bottle will disappear before knowing it has happened. Fresh, clean, crisp and simple. So smart. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Le Ragnaie Troncone 2019, IGT Toscana Rosso

Bottled in August, of lovely sour orange, currant and pomegranate, just tart enough to call this spirited and full enough to keep you satisfied. Easy and functional with an extra layer of depth, fun and by the glass quality. In 2019 there were 40,000 bottles produced of this sangiovese from vineyards inside and outside of the Montalcino zone. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted November 2021

Tenuta Buon Tempo La Funba Toscana Sangiovese 2019, IGT Toscana

The label is drawn by a French painter (a friend of Camilla’s) that depicts “the first Thanksgiving.” Amphora raised sangiovese for six months, just for fun, pure sangiovese, woolly and youthful, a terroir wine doubled down by the whole bunches and the clay. It’s delicious sangiovese, a new texture and only Gaiole in Chianti’s Riecine IGT sangiovese compares, or perhaps that of San Donato in Poggio’s Le Masse. Changes in the glass so concertedly and becomes a beautiful wine. Just beautiful. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

Another year comes to a close, one filled with the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and debacles, highs and lows. In life, love and wine, here with any reference to a gesture, gaze, smile or any other sensory reaction coming from an account of someone who witnessed it. In this particular case that would be Godello and much of what he saw and heard included odd little episodes that reveal how grapes really lived under the conditions of not only this vintage, but also the ones that came before. This ninth edition of 21 Canadian wines that rocked in 2021 comes out as a derivative, spin-off and postscript to all of this.

Godello in the Similkameen Valley

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

As a reminder, year-end lists are a matter of personal fascination and should be met with a certain level of judgement so that highly subjective descriptors such as “best” or “most” can be consumed with doubt, thoughts askance and even heated moments of disbelief. That which makes us feel moved, stirred, excited, ignited and set aflame could very well be someone else’s nothingness. Classification, indexing and charting is truly personal and as such opens up wide for criticism and hopefully, healthy debate. So keep it real but also civil, if you please.

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

If we thought the 12 months that made up the 2020 calendar took things deep into the arena of the unfathomable and the absurd, then 2021 left the stadium and flew into the stratosphere of the preposterous. One silly year led to another but this one just seems to be concluding with some sort of level best described as fraught with “Vonnegutian violence.” Thank goodness there is Canadian wine to fall back onto and though it has been said before, this was indeed the very best year for the local stuff. A 2021 from which the highest to date level of greatness was achieved. Though these holidays are bittersweet and conditioned with some great unknowns, take solace in Canadian wine and what can be learned from their progression, evolution and continued excellence. They never give in or up but always strive forward, getting better all the time. To quote and then paraphrase from Britt Daniel and his band Spoon, “when you think your thoughts be sure that they are sweet ones. Don’t you know, love, you’re alright…don’t you know your (glass) awaits and now it’s time for (tasting).”

Related – Godello’s 24-hour Nova Scotia revival

This latest rocking roster of Canadian made wine is now the ninth annual for an exercise that first began back in 2013. When 2022 comes to a close the 10th will come to fruition in print, with 22 of Canada’s best laid to order. In 2021 Canadian wines were made available at every turn, especially at the WineAlign tasting table. In July the WineAlign critics’ crü took in Niagara for a pseudo-i4C 2021 Cool Chardonnay weekend. Godello made his own way to Nova Scotia in September to meet with and taste alongside eight of that province’s great winemaking teams. In October the WineAlign judging cartel sat through more than 2,000 entries at the National Wine Awards of Canada in the Okanagan Valley. Events such as the VQA Oyster competition, Somewhereness and Terroir Symposium were still no shows, or gos, nor walk-around tastings neither. Once again sad to miss Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and David Lawrason’s Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates. Here’s to hoping 2022 will finally usher in a return to assessing and celebrating together.

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

As per previous incarnations of this annual compendium, “the numbers chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine continue to march ahead, as promised by the annual billing. In 2019 the list counted 19. In 2018 there were 18 and in 2017, 17 noted. In 2016 that meant 16 and 15 for 2015, just as in 2014 the filtered list showed 14, after  13 for 2013. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 20. “Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art?” Note that a third of the 21 most exciting Canadian wines of 2021 are in sparkling form. Does that need to be qualified? Of course not. Godello gives you twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Racy sparkling wine of traditional ways, dry, toasty and of great vigour. Top notch autolysis, fine lees and guesses to the end would have to be in the 48-plus month arena. The real deal, richly rendered, acids in charge, instructive and carrying the fruit to the mountain’s peak. Hard to top this in Canada. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Avondale Sky Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noir 2013, Nova Scotia

While Ben Swetnam had wanted to dabble in sparkling going back to 2009 he can thank everyone in the Nova Scotia industry for showing him the ropes. That includes Gina Haverstock at Gaspereau, Bruce Ewart at L’Acadie, Simon Rafuse at Blomidon, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers at Benjamin Bridge and others. The 2011 would have been the first vintage of pinot noir production with the intent of making sparkling wine, of hot to cool years and all others in between. Dijon clones and a warmer edge of a ’13 season, a riper style but brought in at classic sparkling numbers, acids 11-12.5 and brix 17-19, picking in the third week of October. An early vintage. Intensity meets richness halfway there, fruit flavours are exceptional, just shy of eight years on lees, disgorged three months ago. “For the pinot I always wanted to do a minimum five years and the acidity was always there,” tells Ben. “The tertiary qualities were not out yet so the pause every six months kept the decisions at bay.” Got this apricot chanterelle fungi character, mousse and bubble are really in tact, dosage is 7.5 g/L almost fully hidden by that Nova Scotia acidity. There is something about this sight that maintains higher acidity levels while sugars rise but as an example perhaps it’s the gypsum based soil underneath the whole vineyard, or the tidal rivers and the specific diurnal fluctuations, cooler at night and “it’s something we can always rely on, in every year, that backbone of acidity.” So very Nova Scotia. Usually 500 bottles produced per year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut Rosé 2017, Nova Scotia

One of the first wines to come to the surface with Pascal Agrapart’s involvement with winemakers Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Alex Morozov. When tasted the sentiment was that this particular vintage of this very particular sparkling wine was not yet there yet in terms of readiness or rather publicizing but truth be told, never have texture and acids come together as one in a BB Rosé. Crunch and chew, riff and rise, bellow and beauty, all despite the spiralling zeitgeist that underscores its urgency. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blomidon Estate Winery Méthode Traditionelle Blanc De Noirs 2016, Nova Scotia

Give or take 76 per cent pinot noir and 24 meunier, a similar vintage to 2015 (though a touch warmer) and here picked on the 17th of November. Almost all from Woodside Vineyard and some meunier off of the Blomidon estate vines, no longer here. Disgorged today, yes today and my oh my the potential here elevates to a very high ceiling. Just under 6 g/L RS so exactly extra brut, really primary but with the dosage that will arrive before you know it. The pinot delivers more fruit than the chardonnay, perhaps a counterintuitive concept but that’s Nova Scotia. And every vintage will flip the head and make you think again. Small lot, 50 cases or so. Searing succulence, a structural richness and transformative beyond the complex, curious and interesting. Assiduous if conceited blanc de noirs, pejorative to chardonnay, entangled inside enigma, mystery and riddle. Literally. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

A varietal estate grown chardonnay that spent upwards of 78 months sur lie is nothing short of dramatic, if not unconscionable. Not that no one else, anywhere else does such a thing but to do so, change so little and deliver unquestionable excellence is what dreams, expression and delivery are all about. If the Brut Reserve is Fillmore East than this Blanc de Blancs is Montreux, electric, mind-bending and so very exotique. João Gilberto, Marvin Gaye and Lou Reed wrapped into one, a sparkling wine of influence that only incidentally expands into mainstream visibility. This has stage presence and breaks fresh ground with creative sensibility, not to mention a deliciousness of flavour and mousse. That and 2012 in pocket permanently affixed to to the album cover. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted March 2021

Henry Of Pelham Estate Winery Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc De Blanc 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario

As a reminder this top H of P traditional method sparkling wine is named after Catharine Smith, Henry of Pelham’s wife and this Centenary is the crème de la crème for the label. A rarity for the estate and for Canadian wine, partially (20 per cent) barrel fermented and aged for up to 100 months on the lees. All Short Hills Bench chardonnay, all in with a hyperbole of toasty development and the most brûlée of any bubble in the village. The sparkling stage presence and prescience of being so connected to grape and place make this true to itself. Not to be missed. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2021

L’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut Estate Méthode Traditionelle 2014, Nova Scotia

Was embargoed until September 9th after having just received the Lieutenant Governor Award. Has evolved into a seriously toasted arena, gone long with lees contact, looking for peaceful co-existence between yeast autolysis and the fruit of the wine. “You don’t want conflict, you want that harmony, tells Bruce Ewart.” Disgorged January 2021 and so spent more than the minimum five years on lees. An insignificant dosage (more than most of these wines). Bruce’s program goes at it in terms of two and five year aging and he believes that while Nova Scotia can do ten or more there is only a minor incremental increase in complexity by doing so. This at six-plus has hit such a sweet spot, still in retention of currant and white/red berry fruit but also low and slow golden, tanned and long as an August afternoon Gaspereau shadow. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Two Sisters Blanc De Franc 2018, VQA Niagara River, Ontario

Stellar work here in blanc de franc, understated and effusive, lifted of black currants and sweet pepperoncini yet grounded by serious grape tannin. A sparkling wine of grape extract so full of depth and breadth. Not a wine of high autolysis but rather tart, tight and in command of all it wants to be. Last tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021.

The third vintage of Adam Pearce’s ground-breaking Blanc de Franc is as you would imagine a white sparkling wine made from the red cabernet franc grape. The aromas are distinct and secure, squarely wrested from the red currant and sweet peppery varietal post, expressed in a uniquely Two Sisters bubble that may once again, or rather should continue to rock one’s world. More richness and also excitement than ever before, risk taken and reward achieved. No acquiescence, no adjacent meanders but head down, goal in sight and hurdles overcome. At the end of the day this is one of the most impressive and essential wines made in Ontario. Nova Scotia is on the franc idea and others locally are beginning to follow. Autolytic and delicious, on point and regal. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted September 2021

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

From vines planted by proprietor Martin Malivoire “close to home” in what is the eponymous vineyard. Moira is a Beamsville Bench icon and has been for quite some time now, without question, nothing to discuss here, case closed. There is a complex and layered developed notation that Vivant does not have, not fort better or worse but Moira requires more thought and consternation. You can no longer think on it in terms of salinity, sapidity and satisfaction. Something more and other must be considered. Style. Style is what separates Moira from most other Ontario Rosé and in 2020 it exudes with prejudice and finesse. When a sip of a wine in this category stays with you for as long as Moira does, well you just know greatness is in the glass. This can saunter with the very best of Southern France. That’s the truth. Kudos to winemaker Shiraz Mottiar for this. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2021

Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Shane Munn’s riesling from the volcanic, clay and white quarts Fritzi’s Vineyard continues to get better, all the while with a wine he seems to do less and less to try and control. Must be the place and the fruit from this 21 year-old block (as of this 2018 vintage) seeking a 48 hour skin-contact for oxidatively handled juice. Pressed once, lightly and so softly treated, then transferred to German casks where it stays for up to eight months. Just bloody delicious, hard to not conjure a frothie for this freshest of phenolic rieslings, which incidentally was only sulphured once, four months into the trek. Walks about from grippy to lovely and back again, with silk stops along the way. Will shine brightest two years from now. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted twice, October and December 2021

A really creative sémillon, rich, creamy and fulsome which is classic Mt. Boucherie while never abandoning the grape’s pointed and intense linearity. Hard not to be impressed by the soil intendment and how it creates a backbone in the wine, beyond acidity and into something sarsen-like, upright, timeless, forever. Plenty of grip, essential elements, minerals and metallics. Keeps the sémillon sensibility alive of an unconquerable nature, varietal invictus, solid construct but with more than ample fruit. Convincing follow-up to 2019 and really quite on par in every respect. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

Notable reduction marks South Clos’ youthful entry and with that first nose in the glass we are put on immediate notice that 2019 will be a structured year for winemaker Keith Tyers’ and Closson Chase’s chardonnay. This and the following vintage will trade blows for bragging rights, longevity and excellence, so pay attention to this pool of varietal estate wines. That is something CC so generously affords their customers. Here at the top level the fruit is glorious, pristine, pure and cut by diamond clarity. The reduction flies away and a nose of marzipan, lemon preserve and a fresh bitten Ida Red apple come away from the vineyard. Acids here are tight, crunchy, friable, felt from the tongue’s tip to the wisdoms. The liquidity is so finely chalky with all signs pointing to spirit and balance with that ’19 crop of South Clos fruit at the core. Does not get much better from PEC, Ontario or Canada. Anywhere. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2018, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Frost year for the valley but again an escape by the vines at Lightfoot & Wolfville with thanks to the tidal influence to keep the chardonnay vines happy, healthy and secure. So much fruit and warm summer sunshine, a glade bathed in light and a luminescence rarely found in chardonnay. Consistent L & W elévage, increasingly into puncheons and away from 225L barriques. You can never forget and not remember what chardonnay has done for L & W, while now the richness and restraint work in optimized tandem. Less reductive than previous incantations, with new and improved connotations, consistencies and harmonic sway. Also a matter of vintage and cooperage. Stability is the key to being great. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted September 2021

Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario

Almost seems redundant to say anything about the Reserve from 2020 because what more is there that was not already expounded upon from the Estate chardonnay. Same soft entry, slow developing charm, fruit neither richest nor gregarious but yet in Reserve truly ideal, less variegated and hinting at opulence. That is the crux and the key, hints, in shadows, speculations, possibilities and in Reserve form most surely probabilities. Elevates the crisp crunch and gets real trenchant with the pulverulent and tactile sensations. Seriously credible, professional and still emotive work here from Westcott at the pinnacle of Vinemount Ridge, but also Bench and Escarpment chardonnay. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2021

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

Bachelder Bai Xu Gamay Noir Niagara Cru 2019, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Bai Xu is unique within the Bachelder gamay domain encompassing whole cluster ferments and cru investigations. It reminds us all that time and patience are a must, an academic approach is not enough and one must follow their intuition, instinct and heart to deliver appreciated wine. In Niagara the philosophy has merged with gamay in ways the monk could never have known were possible. Here 20 per cent whole cluster may be less than the 22 and 52 crus, but this is a broader matter and one that fruits beyond the Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard. In a sense, a villages-plus wine (think Côte d’Or) but as a conceptual one. The clarity and slow release of flavour in Bai Xu happens without power, grip or forceful intent. The acidity neither startles nor does it cry out, but instead acts as architect for the infrastructure and the mosaic. Bai (it is presumed) from a Chinese language, meaning “pure,” (depending on the dialect and vowel’s accent) and Xu, “slowly, calmly.” Thomas Bachelder is surely looking for the chaste gamay, unadulterated and one that rushes nowhere, takes the slow and winding path, feet securely on solid ground. More than anything else, this gamay cru won’t chase after what it thinks may make us happy or search for things that deliver one and done, immediate and short-lived excitement. As another one of nature’s mysterious constructs the captured poise and effect make cause for great delight. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Cloudsley Cellars Cuesta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Cuesta as a vineyard has more history behind it than one might have assumed, having been planted back in 2002. Adam Lowy has made 65 cases from Cuesta’s deeply resonant and soulful fruit, so as a consequence given it more new oak (28 per cent) than any of his other three single-vineyard pinot noirs. Clearly the brightest, most tonally effusive and transparent of the quadrangle, as Burgundian as it gets when it comes to mapping or contemplating the connectivity with the mothership. Just a lovely, elegant and sweet-scented pinot noir, classically arranged, scientifically opined and romantically delivered by Lowy’s prudent if so very hopeful elévage. The Côtes de Nuits notation is clearly defined, intuited and understood. Not quite but resembling Marsannay, or perhaps even something just a plot or three further south. Cuesta conduits as the “Robbinsian” one for which “the scientist keeps the romantic honest and the romantic keeps the scientist human.” Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted August 2021

Checkmate Silent Bishop Merlot 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

One of four Checkmate merlots, regional expressions, here a blend of three benches, Osoyoos West, Oliver North and Golden Mile. A Silent Bishop and a merlot are more powerful than those who speak and their ordinations may also be called consecrations. Here the silent 2015 is one that is dedicated, coordinated, devoted and sacred to proprietors, winemaker and place. When a merlot is silent it moves in dynamic tactical effect and like the bishop moving on a position, does not capture or attack an enemy piece. Truth be told this is a stealth merlot, of fruit so dark and mysterious, of structure hidden, enigmatic and prepared to go the distance. Such an efficient wine and the kind to cause a ripple effect. Taste this and you too will want to pursue making profound Okanagan merlot, an endeavour as frustrating as it can be elusive. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted June 2021

La Stella Maestoso “Solo Merlot” 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The decision whether to listen to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 or Handel’s Allegro Maestoso (Water Music Suite 2) while tasting and sipping through La Stella’s “Solo” merlot is a difficult one. Less obvious than it might seem and the question is which piece best exemplifies “the highest peak in the crescendo, that moment of realizing you are in the presence of majesty.” Both, to be fair and so I find myself in good ears, and taste by the triad grace of Chopin, Handel and La Stella hands. Let’s revise to encompass all three, in decadence, rolling rhythm and Okanagan Valley merlot-defining precociousness come crashing onto a shore of strings. This is where the maestroso moment happens, in cumulative fruit substance joined by fine acid intensity, wrapped up in structural soundness. All this after a great deal of strong tempo variations which are prominent features in this Severine Pinte interpretation. The instruments are Glacio Fluvial and Fluvial Fan; Clay and Gravel mix, Alluvial deposit and Clay, playing in the orchestra of Osoyoos Lake District and Golden Mile. Support from the Okanagan’s best, written as a top merlot composition and executed flawlessly by the winemaking team. Bravissimo. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Two weeks later than the usual norm defined the 2017 spring but hot and dry summer weather confirmed the intensity of Phantom Creek Vineyard’s southern Okanagan growing season. The cabernet sauvignon grows on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench’s Osoyoos sandy loam and it has been approximately 15 years that these vines have been fostering these wines. Magnanimously ripe and conspicuously copious fruit sees the unabashed generosity of (75 per cent new) French wood in a bone dry, healthy acidity endowed and elevated pH cabernet. This is essential edging up and into quintessential Okanagan varietal chattel, a wine of substance, grip and winched binding, oozing with expensive taste, fine dark chocolate and a depth of fruit that aches to be heard. That will have to wait and so should you because the structural parsimony will need three years or more to release and allow for stretching and breathing room. A prouheze as they say. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Roes floral, elegant, ethereal, really effusive and just lovely stuff. Nothing remotely over the top, no blow to the head nor a crashing upon the senses. Sweet acids and silky tannins are the finality in what is clearly generated to conclude upon the notion of a very great wine. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Good to go!

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WineAlign

Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The greatest wines are considered as the ones that talk to us, connect with that part of our being that elicits sensory and emotional responses, feelings of zeitgeist and great release. Throughout the course of a year I taste thousands in my glass, countless banal, innumerable competent, others correct and many exceptional. Then there are the rare and peerless capable of altering time and space, chosen ones that after listening we then speak directly to. The mind-blowing wines.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

This is what I might say to such a splendid creature. “I look upon the flash of your sheen, you a wine of scientific strategies. Your aromatics sum up for me my educational studies in science and lifelong memories. Your flavours remind me of experiments in vinous physics, your textures of exercises in galactic mechanics. Your structure recalls infinite chemical reactions and architectural engineering. Your energy, though carefully controlled, threatens to ignite and destroy my laboratory and yet binds my existential life together. You blow my mind.

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

Last year’s 20 for 20 was a much different list than ever before. Only 25 days of travel and while I did finally make a return to global discovery that number was even less in 2021. Two trips to Italy and one to B.C. in October and November. Once again just 25 days in total. A yearly schedule usually adds up to 100-plus but fortune also shines on the critics of WineAlign. Through quarantine, isolation and safe-distancing we still managed to taste through thousands of wines. I recorded well and above 4,000 tasting notes in 2021 so it would appear that palate discovery is still alive and well. For the first time ever there are three dessert wines on the list because well, stickies just don’t get enough love. And never before have I included a Canadian wine because I pen a separate list for local but a Thomas Bachelder chardonnay is wholly deserving of going global. These are Godello’s 21 mind-blowing wines of 2021.

Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG 2001, Lombardy

A blend of chardonnay and pinot nero matured on lees for 218 months and a further 31 months after disgorgement. Zero dosage, tirage in June 2002. Tasting from “the stolen bottle,” and one would swear there is some sweetness in this wine, offset by twenty year-old persistent and rising acidity. The state of grace and ability this 2001 finds itself sitting royally in is quite something to behold. Stands firm and can stride with most any 20 year-old sparkling wine. A simple fact tells us that Arturo Ziliani’s father Franco and Guido Berlucchi decided to create sparkling wines in Franciacorta. They are the pioneers. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Krug Vintage Brut Champagne 2002

The year 2002 dubbed as “ode to nature” marked the first Krug “vintage of the millennium” and was presented after Krug 2003, just as Krug 1988 left the cellars after Krug 1989. A clement year, relatively dry to make for a homogeneous harvest. The blend is 39 per cent pinot noir, (40) chardonnay and (21) pinot meunier. Disgorgement would have been in the autumn of 2015 after having spent at least 13 years in Krug’s cellars. All this tells us that the vintage is one treated to great respect with the acumen to age seemingly forever. This bottle shows some advancement but mostly in toasted and spiced notes while acting so expertly oxidative, in total control of its own and also our senses. Smells of orange skin, zesty and by citrus spray, then pickled ginger and wild fennel. Tasted blind it feels just exactly 20 years old but it’s not hard to be tricked into imagining even older. I admit to guessing 1995 with thanks to a presentation of at once wildly exotic and then exceptional bubbles. Just a matter of being hoked up with celebration. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Kabola Malvazija Amfora 2017, Istria, Croatia

Kabola’s is malvazija istarska raised in traditional clay amphorae in combination with oak barrels. Kabola is found in Buje, not far from the coast and south of Trieste. While the combination of clay and wood seem to confuse or blur the game there is something wholly credible and intriguing about this wonderful aromatic mess. You can not only smell and sense but more deeply intuit the phenolic qualities inherent in here. Skins, pips and even a bit of herbaceous stem. Peach and orange tisane, exotic spice and high, high quality lees. Great winemaking here in the context of leaving your grapes to do the work but both timing and execution are spot on. Raises the varietal bar and shows what’s possible. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted April 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Bachelder Grimsby Hillside “North Slope, Starry Skies” Chardonnay 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

New in the pantheon for Bachelder and Niagara wines as an entity is this from Grimsby Hillside, the new frontier, next level up and future for the industry. In fact the time is already upon these precocious vines and their fruit specially formulated for the most wound and cinched kind of chardonnay, so precipitously witnessed in Thomas Bachelder’s “North Slope, Starry Skies” 2019. The vineyard was planted to vitis labrusca and used for Kaddish wine through the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and just less than 20 years ago re-purposed to vinifera. Just two decades later winemakers like Thomas and Ilya Senchuk have discovered the magic of possibility and greatness of probability. Tasted this first in July with Thomas though it had just gone to bottle. Now the textural level of this GH-N triple-S has hitherto arrived at the immaculate, sweetly viscous, gleefully gelid and just right there at the apex of sensory enjoyment. Tight and delicious is a good combination. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

With Sofia Ponzini and Vico

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso Vigna Vico Pre-Phylloxera 2018, DOC Etna

Just another immediately memorable Piano dei Daini Etna Rosso Vico, Sofia Ponzini’s Cru-Vigna nerello mascalese (with 10 per cent nerello cappuccio) at 700m from the northern side of Mount Etna. Grown as alberello on a volcanic, sandy matrix with some stones from 100-plus-plus pre-phylloxera vines located in the town of Passopisciaro, Contrada Santo Spirito, parcels “Belvedere,” “Seimigliaia” and “Calata degli Angeli.” A tempest of steel and a feeling that runs with waves of acidity throughout, in many parallel and horizontal lines, at all levels. Spice cupboard, rich waves of red fruit, viscous wisdom, confidential and confident elegance, finishing at precision without recall. True value, scattered patterning, significant and relevant. A vintage of force, restraint and powerful lightness of being. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2021

Domaine De Bellene Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Aux Chaignots 2019, AOC Bourgogne

The limestone soil Climat of Chaignots lies in the northern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges, up the slope and edging in location but also feeling towards that of Vosne-Romanée. The affinity is much discussed, real and therefore puts the Premier Cru at the top of what is most desired out of Nuits-Saint-Georges. A tiny (0.14 hectare) plot and simply a coup for Nicolas Potel to be able to secure this fruit. Everything about the aromatic front speaks to the Bourgogne mind and Chaignots heart. Cola but from the root, a tuber underground rubbed, that and a cocoa nut crushed between fingers. An almost diesel waft but not gaseous, instead sapid, nut-based, a liqueur toasted and intoxicating. The fineness of structure is the sort of wiry winding by winch that could cut through limbs due to tension so taut. All that you know, love, don’t know and hope to experience is in this wine. Neither I nor Nicolas Potel will be around when it blows someone’s mind in 2074. Look forward to that day young Alphonse. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted May 2021

Angela Fronti, Istine

Istine Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Istine 2019, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany

One must have to look at, walk this and stand in awe of of this vineyard, the steepness at 30-50 per cent grade with a terrace in the middle to break it up. Heavy in Alberese inclusive of massive yellow calcareous boulders and also Galestro. In fact the medium stones removed were transferred to create terraces for olive trees on the other side of the cantina (by Angela Fronti’s father no less). The vineyard faces north so the freshness is off the charts, while the ripeness is so matter of purposeful vintage fact. The label represents the position of the vines in coordinates, echoed in the machicolations of a Fronti sangiovese that drops all the Radda stones on unsuspecting palates through fruit openings between supporting acid corbels of a projecting tannic parapet. Vigna Istine is at the forefront of Chianti Classico’s battle to win over the world. Follow this example. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted October 2021

“Molto parfumato,” binds an aromatic agreement between myself and Paolo de Marchi upon sniffing this ’11 found on Locanda Pietracupa’s wine list. “Cepparello needs time,” says Paolo, understatement of the obvious for the evening, year, decade and history with respect to sangiovese grown in the Chianti Classico territory. Also truth succinctly spoken, roses and violets exhaling and a 100 per cent varietal (or so it seems) profile of succulence and one to fully draw you in. Mint to conifers, multiplicity by complexity value, not to mention vigorous acidity sent straight to a mouth with a full compliment of wisdoms able to think about the situation. A linear Cepparello seeing its wide open window at the 10 year mark. And now a Paolo de Marchi story. “One side of the vine’s grapes were burnt and so I called up (Consorzio Direttore Giuseppe) Liberatore and asked are we changing the name of the appellation? Liberatore said what? To Chianti Amarone replied de Marchi, or sangiovese Port? Joking aside, a stringent selection and a five per cent inclusion of trebbiano did for this ’11 Cepparello what viognier might do for syrah. Not a Chianti Classico so perfectly kosher. A secret until now but all above board. Totally cool. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Filo di Seta is Filippo Chia’s intuitive “transavanguardia” sangiovese of place, over the ancient beach where he and his father Sandro once painted the Montalcino sea. Mostly early picked fruit, all in tonneaux, at first thinking “croccante” but that’s too simple a way to describe what texture and sensation is combed in this reserve wine. Bottled on the 29th of June so just arriving at the ready, to look at if not to consume. Here there is a fineness of liquid chalkiness, a “fluido” or “scorrevole” to drive the way this sangiovese plays and also sings, a Riserva to move with the wind and musical sway. Somewhat unknown, finely tannic and clearly what could and should be described as “mountain” Brunello. Coming in late is the spice, almost cinnamon and such. Hate to refer to any wine as the best from an estate but too bad. That this is, beyond the avant-garde such as it is. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2021

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Tenuta Greppo 1985

The longevity of this vintage is almost not to be believed. Has been in bottle for as many years as it would have matured in casks. The next year (2022) will se the re-release of this vintage (in 2021 that vintage was 1983) and the year 1985 is the one I entered university. A Biondi-Santi of resolved tannin but remarkably youthful. A wine that saw Grandi Botti more than before, seen in the gentlest of spice notes and the back to the future return of balsamic and pomegranate. Followed a winter of major snowfall, long and cold winter, a regular spring and uneventful summer. The acidity is just incredible, also youthful and so sweet, those lengthened tannins in liquid powdery-chalky form. The connection with 2016 may seem to be an uncanny one but so help me if the chain is not there. The bottle was opened one hour and forty five minutes earlier so grazie to Federico Radi and Biondi-Sandi for perfecting the timing. We can all learn so much from this wine, to be patient, calm, well-adjusted, confident and gracious. Style and temperament to live by. Should continue this way for at least 10 more years. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany

A cooler vintage, especially as compared to 1978 and truly a Piedmontese style because the cellar workers closed the tanks, went on strike and returned two months later. Resulted in some carbonic maceration and surely an increased amount of vim in freshness. That mixed with true porcini, fungi and fennochiona. The extended maceration makes this act 43 years forward like an older nebbiolo, rich and once demanding tannins now long since melted away, tar and roses still showing with earthly perfume. Fabulous mouthfeel, lingering and lively. Surely the mean steak astringency would have been in control during the first 10 to 15 years but the beast relents and gives way to charm. Patience breeds gentility and the story is now unfolding. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

With Stefano Cesari, Brigaldara

Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2016, Veneto

Stefano Cesari’s farm concerns itself with all things sustainable and while that may seem like a catch phrase, In Brigaldara’s case it most surely is not. The family supports its workers financially, culturally and in health. The young winemaking team is encouraged to study and stage abroad, to learn new oenological skills and languages. The other farm workers and their families are additionally supported by being given stake in the profits of the farm. How can this not reflect in the qualities of the wines, including this very special vintage 2016 Amarone. A magnificent wine and one you can easily drink beyond one glass. Not that it’s a light example but it speaks in soft tones, clearly and with a distinct, precise and honest weight, in vernacular and feeling. All things fruit lead to roads of sweet acidity and fine tannin. A rare Amarone of this ilk and one to savour. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted October 2021

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2012, Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Don Maximiano 2012 is a blend of 75 per cent cabernet sauvignon, (12) carmenère, (8) petit verdot and (5) malbec. No cabernet franc back in 2012 and aside from the obvious notions ushered in by age there is a distinct lack of herbal notes as a result. This is just in a great place nearly nine years forward from vintage, now settling, acids still in charge but tannins having done most of their melting and rendering. This wine is far from done, in fact the next level notions have just begun to have their say and from a vintage as great as this there should very well be nine years nigh before true earthiness, umami and truffle set in. Pour this blind at dinners with old world counterparts and watch with awe as to the results. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2021

Château Pétrus 1993, Pomerol, AC Bordeaux

Never easy to live in the shadow of siblings clearly designated as mom and dad’s favourites but sometimes overlooked vintages left for dead show greatness later on in life. The 1993 Pétrus is definitely a late bloomer and from a year when only 200 cases were produced, where normally 4,000-plus is the standard. Softened to an almost Burgundian sense of calm but the richness and concentration multiplied by a Spring verdant freshness and sweetly herbal pesto can only indicate one thing and that is Right Bank Bordeaux. I tasted this blind and immediately thought of Pomerol and its close proximity at the eastern border with Saint-Émilion because of the “fromage à pâte molle” feeling gained, along with vestiges of once formidable black fruit supported by a push-pull posit tug of merlot-cabernet franc acidity. A good hunch indeed and a more than surprising set of excellent parameters come to this for a 1993 Bordeaux. All in all a really satisfying and come together wine to hush the naysayers and win in the end. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1990, AC Hermitage, Rhône

Jaboulet’s 1990 La Chapelle is a kind of an echo of the year in history, an Hermitage of impeccable harmony, much like balance restored in relative peace and prosperity. In 1990 the Soviet Union fell, ending the decades-long Cold War. Hard to find more shiny opaque purple in a 30 year-old syrah plus a splendid floral nose of stone roses, pencil shavings and graphite. The combinative effect of heft and freshness elicit pleasantries from a bad boy able to play soft ballads to mellow a crowd. La Chapelle is a communicative, entertaining and business-like syrah, a link between the northern Rhône and the taster, an internet Hermitage that changes the way we think and feel. Things will never be the same after tasting Jaboulet’s 1990 and for good reason. Has 10 years left without worry of decline. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2021

 

Reynvaan In The Hills Syrah 2017, Walla Walla Valley, Washington

Reynvaan is a family production of Rhône-style wines from two vineyard properties in the Walla Walla Valley. “In The Rocks” is their first vineyard located in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and the second vineyard is called “In the Hills.” short for “Foothills in the Sun.” It is found at the base of the Blue Mountains on the Washington/Oregon border and is planted to syrah, viognier and a gaggle of cabernet sauvignon rows. As one of the highest elevation vineyards in Washington (at 1200ft) and in this syrah co-fermented with up to 10 per cent syrah you might get a rendering of a northern Rhône-ish picture. Sure enough the perfume is floral but more than anything a smoulder of pancetta and smoked meat. Reductive as well, different as such than any syrah, anywhere else on the planet but liquid peppery and tire on asphalt nonetheless. The credibility and accountability here is profound and while the sheer concentration and beauty of In the Rocks in captivating, this In the Hills is alternatively vivid, dramatic and powerfully restrained syrah. Which one is you? Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted January 2021

Sine Qua Non Syrah The Hated Hunter 2017, Santa Barbara County

The hated hunter is named after Austrian immigrant and Los Angeles restaurateur turned winemaker Manfred Krankl’s grandfather, depicted on the label in gear, with rifle and hound. The blend is led by 82.4 per cent syrah with (7.8) petite sirah, (5.2) mourvèdre, (2) grenache, (1.2) petit manseng and (1.4) viognier. Clocks in at 15.9 alcohol but in this regard hardly garners even one per cent of the discussion. All anyone can talk about is the infinite expanse of pretty, pretty floral capture and personally speaking it simply reeks of syrah. A game of meat juices and marbling, part smoked meat and part pancetta. The only question tasting blind is whether to imagine it as Hermitage or Central Coast California. Once the abv is disclosed the answer can only be the latter but a syrah of such reclusive exclusivity is hard to pin down. Derives from a group of prized vineyards; 32 per cent Eleven Confessions (Santa Rita Hills), (41) The Third Twin (Los Alamos), (25) Cumulus (Santa Barbara) and (2) Molly Aida (Tepusquet Canyon). Adds up to the most luxe, deluxe and ultra-fantastic instrumental of a syrah, no lyrics needed. Man, Manfred, take a bow. A hunting bow. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted November 2021

Fèlsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany

An absolutely lovely vintage for Fèlsina’s Vin Santo and for Chianti Classico Vin Santo as a rule because extract, temperament and adaptability are all in collective balance. All that you want, need and expect from this traditional and loyal dessert wine are present and accounted for. Dried and glazed fruit, low and slow developed nuttiness and a freedom of territory spoken through airiness and layering. The upside cake of life turns over to reveal a generational wine of clear standards, perfect layering and endless conversation. Nonna and Nonno would be proud. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted June 2021

Agriturismo Hibiscus Zhabib Passito 2020, C.Da Tramontana, Sicily

From the island of Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 70 kilometres (36 nautical miles) of the coast of Sicily’s capital Palermo and the work of Margherita Longo and Vito Barbera. The vineyards for this zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) are grown very close to the water on volcanic soil and Hibiscus is the only winery game in town. There are other farmers that contribute grapes to this tiny production; also grillo, cataratto, inzolia to go along with the zibibbo that makes this Passito. A place where tomato, grapes and peached co-exist, in the gardens and in the wine. This carries that uncanny sweet to savoury feeling in the most specific and ethereal dessert wine both mind can conjure and emotion shall receive. Of orange, grapefruit, peach and tomato. Balanced, harmonious, silky, woollen and with a super-tonal capacity to love. Drink 2021-2032.  Tasted October 2021

Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port – Kingsman Edition, Douro, Portugal

A bottle of wine is rarely tied to a film, let alone a Douro Port but Taylor’s Very Old Tawny has been blended and bottled to coincide and be product placed in the second Kingsman film, in this case a prequel to the first, this time set in the 1920s. Head Winemaker David Guimaraens chose reserve Tawnys from 70-100 years of age, wines crafted and set aside by generational predecessors past, no stretch for the master blender because we are talking about a house with extensive stocks from which to reach back into. Guimaraens was looking for harmonic balance between concentration and elegance and just a whiff will tell you he and his team have achieved a crossing between a magical vortex and a vanishing point of complexity. Two manifest matters have developed; concentration of sweetness and in this case by association, a focus of acids as well. Together they inspissate and cling comfortably to the skeletal structure. It feels like you are nosing 100 unique aromas, with just seven of them being marzipan, red velvet hazelnut cake, candied ginger rose, rau răm, roasting banana leaf, calimyrna fig and grilled pineapple express. Step six feet away from the glass and the aromatics persist just as sharp as if the glass were in hand. As for a sip of this maraviglioso Tawny, warmth, comfort, delicadeza and forever length make just an ounce last forever. Timeless. Approximately 1000 bottles were produced and in Canada 100 will be made available next September. That is when theatre goers should likely make a return to the cinema to take in the Secret Service spy thriller and Tawny Port fantasy up on the silver screen. Drink 2021-2050.  Tasted February 2021

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte vertical with Gambero Rosso’s 2022 white wine of the year

Livio Felluga Terre Alte Vertical – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

This tasting of one of Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s most knowable, respected and consistently worthy white wines is the second of three at Gambero Rosso’s three-day celebrazione weekend for the Guida Vini d’Italia 2022 top wines of Italy. The date is October 15, 2021 and the location inside the Chorus Cafè inside the Auditorium della Conciliazione. Terre Alte, literally “high lands,” obviously speaks to the hills in northeastern Italy but also to loftiness and something connected to a higher calling, as in an “atmosphere of spiritual tranquillity” which would attract an “increasing number of the faithful.” The friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco that make up Rosazzo Terre Alte are like the cells that bind an abbey together.

With Laura and Filippo Feluga

Related – Gambero Rosso’s red wine of the year leads a vertical tasting of Argiano’s Vigna del Suolo

Livio Felluga is located in Brazzano, near to the Abbazia di Rosazzo, in the Colli Orientali (eastern hills) of Friuli in an isolated area to the northeast of Manzano, around twenty kilometres from Udine and ten kilometres from the Slovenian border. The origins of the abbey are still not fully known (or at the very lest contentious), but it was built around the year 1000, in Romanesque style and is dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle. Tradition has it that the hermit Alemanno settled in the area in the year 800 to find peace of soul and construct an oratory and a cell. The number of cells increased such that the oratory became a monastery for which Canons Regular of Saint Augustine were called upon to head. In 1070 the church dedicated to Saint Peter was inaugurated. In 1090 the monastery of Rosazzo was elevated to the status of abbey and in the following year Augustinian rule was suppressed and replaced by Benedictine rule.

Laura and Filippo Felluga – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

The family farms 160 hillside hectares in Collio Goriziano and Colli Orientali del Friuli. Now into the sixth generation of the family, third in the family wine business, though when it comes to the Fellugas, the word generational must be regarded in the abstract. Filippo Felluga is Laura’s uncle though they are not many years apart in age, as he was born when his father was 60. There is no actual generational shift or definitive changes of the guard in this family. No real age gaps make for a fluid situation. 

Filippo Feluga – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Laura Felluga’s grandfather and Filippo’s father Livio started from scratch after the Second World War, releasing the first vintage of his wine, bottled and labeled in 1956. He chose an ancient geological map (during Napoleonic times) as the image for the label. When asked about the adjustments needed and how Terre Alte has adapted over the years, Filippo answers by saying “the way we observe the climate change is with its unpredictability. With each passing year it’s harder to foresee what is going to happen.” In other words, the vines and the blend do so holistically, automatically, without any real human interference. Nature and a connection to place are what makes Terre Alte.

Laura Felluga – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

The Livio Felluga vertical tasting includes 1996, 1998, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2014 and the White Wine of the Year Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte 2018. Once again it is Marco Sabellico of Gambero Rosso’s tasting team that leads the event. Grazie ancora for this opportunity goes out to Luigi (Gigi) Salerno (CEO/GM), Paolo Cuccia (President), Marco Sabellico and Gianni Fabrizio (Authors, Editors and Curators of Vini d’Italia guide), Tiina Eriksson (International Business & Event Manager), Lorenzo Ruggeri (Author and International Editor), Michela Ricotta, Giuseppe Carrus (Author and co-editor of the Gambero Rosso Vini d’Italia guide) and Crystel Barkany. If it carries the name Felluga you can be sure the wines will age gracefully for 25 years. A great pleasure to taste this vertical. Grazie Filippo e Laura Felluga with the team at Gambero Rosso. These are the eight vintages and my tasting notes.

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2018

A remarkable combination of salty and fresh, airy, part hillside and then winds blowing in, mainly from the northeast, through the wine. This combination of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco carries a rare combination of light dancing upon sweeping feet and veritable oily richness. Hints at smoulder, flintiness and therefore adds up to complexity and fascination. The gentle linger is seemingly forever to tell us much about history, location and possibility. So soft spoken, not surprising considering the ease and what Filippo calls “the boredom” of the vintage. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2014

Marl and sandstone, flesch and ponca soils, rainfall, winds and position within the Goriziano hills make for a complex weave of saltiness and flesh, here more of the former in a three-part harmonic blend of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco. “Our area is a champion of diversity,” tells Laura Felluga, “geographically, economically and culturally.” This idea includes grape varieties, “and our mission is to nurture the stories, values and diversity.” And so a synergistic white blend that does all that, felt with sapidity and emotion. Lots of similarity with 2018, likely more than any two vintages. Incredible youth. A fountain. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Felluga round table – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2011

An oily and textural vintage, surely fleshed out by time yet there’s more than just that. It just had to be ripe, bold and spicy from the beginning, golden sunshine filled, hued and expressive. You feel the aging here but not necessarily the flint and smoulder. Very friulano it would seem, less so pinot bianco though perhaps a little bit of faux botrytis involved, sensed by grapefruit and tropical fruit inherent. And so ultimately a sauvignon vintage in many respects. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Marco Sabellico – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2010

Though only a year apart, 2010 and 2011 are night and day, just like that. The saltiness and sapidity are at the fore and though it is not without flesh, glück and Brazzano blood, the linear quality is what still drives the white blend. Thanks to or because of September rains, aromatic intensity, spiciness on the back palate and a singular style of charm draws you in, wraps around your finger and tongue, lays there for a good long time. Lively, savoury and far from done. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Vertical – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2006

While spiced to the hilt this is a blend showing its age but perhaps even more so the style of the early to mid-decade ways. Tiring now, oxidative, orange peel and anise, acidity still alive but the fruit wanes. Feels like the alcohol is elevated and as such there is some heat on the finish. Certainly a factor of August harvesting that really began starting in 2003. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 2001

It may just be the diversity of massal selection friulano that brings the plethora of character to the table and to express the complexity and culture of the area. The Felluga mantra is repeated. “We believe this is part of our duty, to nurture the diversity of the area.” A most unique vintage, clearly warm but other than spice and nuts there is no further distraction. Not by alcohol or density, nor undue viscosity neither. Shows a lemon brûlée to poached pear fruit character, mostly replaced by rendered spice and liqueur, with mild acidity and good balance. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1998

A wine in which the switch has been flicked at least five times, at least three past the family’s preference but let’s be frank. This is a fascinating Friuli-Venezia-Giulia wine to taste. Oxidative in the most beautiful way, sapid and laden with 23 year-old tang. Very much a young adult of confidence and swagger borne out of phenolic fruit maturation. A long-hanging vintage, a note of botrytis, a late harvest sensation but truly salty, mineral and showing the biodiversity in clones and vineyards that one would expect a white blend of this ilk to display. Just a terrific example of friulano, sauvignon and pinot bianco in their arena of characterful array. Drink 2021.  Tasted October 2021

Image (c) Gambero Rosso

Livio Felluga Rosazzo Terre Alte DOCG 1996

Was Filippo’s first year in the cellar and at a time with very little wood, lots of bâtonnage and a wine that was kept “dirty” for an extended amount of time. An oily wine to be sure, no shock considering the age and the sauvignon character really stands out. Very citrus, lemon preserve, a touch of salt and some bitter phenolics. Leads to a special kind of character with this sort of botanical, gingered nuttiness at the finish. Freshness, smokiness and minerality at its 25 year-old finest. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Livio Felluga Terre Alte Vertical – – Image (c) Gambero Rosso

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WineAlign

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

Last month the WineAlign judges spent an evening under the Similkameen Valley stars against a rugged mountain backdrop of glacial rock formation, the vineyards quiet, their fall foliage bright at dusk above stony, gravelly, and silty loam soil. The pizza oven was firing and the Similkameen growers hosted our motley crew with wines pouring all night long.

Similkameen Valley

Related – WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

These are the facts. The Similkameen Valley lies west of Osoyoos with the majority of vineyards located around Cawston and Keremeos. Significant winds help naturally keep vineyards in this arid valley free of pests and disease, making this region well-suited for organic farming. Due to the steep surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley long after the sun sets. Did I mention how beautiful a place this is?

WineAlign judges Janet Dorozynski, Michaela Morris and Michelle Bouffard

Our hosts were the owners of Crowsnest Vineyards, a Cawston property purchased by the Heinecke family in 1985 and named after the Crowsnest Highway #3. The family was an early contributor to the development of the Similkameen wine region, led by  second generation family siblings Sascha and Anna Heinecke. Here are 12 wines tasted that evening.

Clos Du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Pointed and punchy pinot blanc, stone fruit with a verdant piquancy. Not exactly edgy but crisp, quite precise and yes, surely punchy. Early picked acids maintain freshness and this is nothing but bloody delicious. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Clos Du Soleil Capella 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

From the Upper Bench of the South Similkameen Valley and winemaker Michael Clarke’s signature Bordeaux-inspired white blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Knowing the maker’s education and professional past one might look at this Capella as a branch of blancs that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words Capella a.k.a. the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, presents a case of two complimentary grape varieties made profound by the abstractions of soil, gently inclined land and the reflectivity of mountain rock. These building blocks of terroir and warmth may be real but it is the philosophies and methodologies of growing and winemaking that allows us to vindicate the greatness in this 2020. A virtuoso deportment of fine salinity and truffled perfume speaks in subtle Similkameen tones and a light touch is noted by both délestage and elévage restraint. This pure citrus distillate is sharp and pointed but then come the poignant flavours. Like the assyrtiko of the Similkameen with Bordeaux structure. Theoretical and physical, void of experimental tools and yes, c’est bon. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Micro Lot Series Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Fulsome, not bullish, cream centred and with exteriors all bite and wood spice. Almost too youthful still, previously misunderstood, not yet in full perfume bloom. Hinting at what’s coming, tree fruit part orchard and part tropical but no bloody pineapple. Chard of interest.  Last tasted October 2021

Part of the Micro Lot Series and a cool to gelid chardonnay well into the yogurt and lemon curd with finishing almond flavours. Texturally speaking there is flesh and fluidity in a Similkameen chardonnay that receives much barrel addendum. Silky and creamy, all about mouthfeel and development. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Brad Royale and Crowsnest Gourd

Crowsnest Family Reserve Chardonnay Stahltank 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Stahltank as in stainless steel fermentation for full retention of freshness, which this energetic 2020 shows, but also big and substantial fruit. Crowsnest Vineyards is located near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley and chardonnay is clearly a specialty. Soft, creamy and devoted, available and amenable. Subtle spice, crafty and just crisp enough to remind of the fresh intendment and lively persistence. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Hugging Tree Moonchild Merlot 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Solid merlot in many respects, rich and caky, thick and chock full of ripe fruit. Edgy as needed, split by a streak of right proper greenness and out of a quality vintage. Steeping in acids and tannins running down grain for a result that has and will continue to please for a few years yet to come.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021

Orofino Riesling Hendsbee Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Made from the other Alsatian Clone (as opposed to the oft employed 49) from the 2006 planted vineyard by Cheryl and Lee Hendsbee adjacent to and with great soil similarities to Orofino’s home block on the Cawston Bench. A place of rich caky soil atop gravel and river rock for 100 feet. Prudent to experience this with some but not too much age and the hope is to have an experiential moment, say one or two years forward to do so again. Just now moving into some development, a secondary dance step, trip of the tongue, coupling fruit and mineral salts. Quite dry with elevated but knowing and promising acidity. At present a true matter of delight mixed with complex notions in this time of emerging secondary emotions. The appendages work together, in rhythm and forward motion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Gamay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

So bloody primary, a fresh smack of Similkameen juice, a touch turbid and seemingly not quite at the curtain call of its final act towards being a finished wine. Still swimming in carbonic waters, openly fragrant and inviting. A squeeze of blood orange and tart edging while in full control to effect positively on the palate. You think it might turn botanical or volatile but it never does, instead staying a fruit persistent course. Can see this being underestimated when in fact it is simply a joy to drink. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A well developed smoulder, purely be variety and place, not by wood. Still persistently and openly fragrant, earth, brush, flora and fruit intertwined as one in a syrah of end game integration. What was once folds, waves and shadows is now seamlessness, inertia and assimilation. Orofino’s WFS resides in a place of great comfort and equally important regard. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Robin Ridge Winery Gamay 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Has advanced well into the denouement of its life with fruit persistently black of cherry and what tannins there ever were have melted into a glass darkly. Even the acids wane, effecting little to no meaning at this stage. Drinks quite well actually if showing signs of imminence. Nothing wrong about a glass with a good slice of pizza on a cool Similkameen night. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Seven Stones Speaking Rock Estate Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Reductive even after all this time, spicy chardonnay chai and wasabi spiced though still some juicy fruit. Showing well for its age, far from oxidative, of clotted cream and some drying to desiccating flavours. Lemon namely and a dollop of that cream. Fully developed and soon to finish all the softening. A lovely drop at this moment. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Quite a big syrah expression while balanced and showing an ease with which it carries itself this way. Maintains composure and control in the face of a deep and hematic meatiness, high-toned culture, level, pulse and pace of play. Clearly a wine of site, revealing in a meaningful style because it just seems to be the kind of weighty wine it needs to be. No two ways around it. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A whopping 16 per cent alcohol but truth is you’d not really fully feel or know it. The level of fruit and the flesh it expounds hangs snugly, fitted and tied to the bone. The chalky and peppery liquidity want to be about juiciness and freshness, some way, somehow. The cigarillo smoulders still and the wine finds those realistic and honest moments. Suffers and survives, delivers the varietal goods. Well perhaps there is a moment of shock and awe but ultimately the wine is the wine, for its time and place. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

vvv

Niagara’s cool for chards

 

Niagara chardonnay, cornerstone of an industry, another one of nature’s mysterious constants, long-time member of both local and globally recognized greatness. A pandemic be damned the time had finally come to glide on down the QEW, inch by inch, to arrive in Niagara’s wine-lands and taste recently bottled vineyard bounty, plus some older surprises. At the behest, felicitations and facilitations of WMAO we the crü at WineAlign abided by the invitation. The visits included Le Clos Jordanne, On Seven Estate Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Trius Winery and Restaurant, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Tawse Winery, Redstone Winery and Restaurant and the Bat Caves at Bachelder Wines. The next trip will take in at least seven more and after that, no less than seven again. And so on. Niagara is not conquered in a day, or a weekend.

And everybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat
Cool for cats (cool for cats)

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The steamy and canicular July varietal sally coincided with the physical return, if only in part and to limited display, of the region’s annual i4c Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Ontario’s most famous annual gathering inclusive of international winemaking stars is one that so many media, sommeliers, producers, importers, marketers and consumers have come to know, embrace and love. With a commitment for more arms to get jabbed and further progress towards community safety be made in these next 11 months, there should be every reason for optimism that i4c 2022 will return in full force next July.

Thomas Bachelder between Hanck East and West

Related – David Lawrason’s Canadian Wine Insider – Niagara’s Regeneration

In addition to chardonnay (that cool refreshing drink) there too were touring pours of sparkling wines, riesling, pinot gris, skin contact whites, rosé, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gamay. Those tasting notes are included in this report because quite frankly Niagara’s varietal diversity and inclusivity on full display should be duly noted. The festivities concluded on Sunday afternoon with not one but two Bat Cave barrel tastings with the stupefied, hyper-hypnotized and monkified winemaking tour de force himself, the other tall and thin white duke, Thomas Bachelder. No I did not make any formal notes on the dozens of chardonnay and gamay thieved from his barrels because frenetics and focus do not jive, not when Bachelder, barrels and argumentative discourse are involved. Bachelder began with some re-visits of finished “Villages” wines in the guise of Mineralité de Niagara and L’Ardoise, same same but for different markets (Ontario and Québec), both from the 2019 vintage. Then the surprise of the tasting emerged, two unmarked magnums, as of that very moment yet untasted and very special. “From the Heart Cuvée Number 1” is a project with fellow enlightened, philanthropic aiding and abetting abbot Steven Campbell. Their chardonnay crushes the concept with its dynamic and lush configuration. Why because of the very notion of being figuratively layered, blessed with a frictional vitality burnished into its collective heart and chardonnay soul. I had to stop after each sip to reassemble my nervous system and scrape my mind of the cosmos, not to mention the universe, galaxies and stars.

Crazy eyes in the throes of a four-hour Bachelder barrel tasting

The concept began as an annual Canadian Charity Wine Auction in support of the battle against climate change and then further developed into the Rescue the Grapes auction in NYC in partnership with Christie’s. Campbell and Bachelder convinced dozens of winemakers to donate small-ish lots of unfinished wines to be gathered and vinified as a single wine, an Ontario supergroup-cuvée if you will and finished by Thomas, acting as lead singer and songwriter. In Canada he and Steven are asking wineries to sponsor winemakers dinners in their home province and if they do host a dinner also support our auctions in the other two provinces. For the other province they donate a six pack of wine and will include  VIP “Passport” to the winery to promote interprovincial wine tourism. So far in Ontario Trail Estate, Malivoire, Southbrook, The Farm, Trius, Cave Spring, Pearl Morissette, Bachelder, Henry of Pehlam, Tawse and Rosehall run have all stepped up with a few more in the wings. In British Columbia Black Hills, Stag Hollow, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tin Horn Creek, Tantalus, Quails Gate, Mission Hill and an Arterra winery are in with more to come.

The Bachelder Vineyard Map

The chardonnays were pulled from Willms Vineyard, Wismer-Wingfield est and ouest, Wismer-Foxcroft, Saunders Organic and Bio and Grimsby Hillside Escarpment Red Clay Barn Block. The gamay barrels tasted were Bator, Jackson-Bai “Bai Xu,” Wismer-Parke, Hanck est and ouest. Thomas did reveal the first ever bottle of Grimsby Hillside Chardonnay. The personal connection to that storied plot along the Lincoln Lakeshore in Winona will be investigated to the fullest extent of Godello law in a report coming soon.

Godello with Hidden Bench winemaker Jay Johnston

Has one really taken full advantage of a cool chardonnay weekend if one has not gone nose, palate, heart and mind deep into a seven year Hidden Bench Marlize Beyers to Jay Johnston Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay vertical? Methinks not. Not to mention a viticultural tour with J.J. and Joel Williams, Brut 2014, Rachis & Derma skin-contact and of course, Gamay. Thanks to proprietor Harald Thiel and congrats on being bestowed with the honour of “Champion Chardonnay of the year!” Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving and industry leading partner. 👏 👏 👏

Hidden Bench Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturist Joel Williams

New to the Niagara Peninsula scene is On Seven Estate Winery, headed up by Vittorio de Stefano and with the charge in the hands of Canada’s most accomplished consulting winemaker Peter Gamble. Just as he has made giant viticultural and vinicultural strides with the likes of Stratus, Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville, in typical, ambitious and big picture defining fashion it is Gamble who sees unlimited qualitative potential in the mineral-rich soils of OSEW’s Niagara-on-the-Lake soils. 

The sit-down at Stratus Vineyards titled “To lees or not to lees? That is the tasting” explained from the word go about the new direction concerns all things lees. To see two winemakers, they being J.L. Groux and Dean Stoyka existing on the same mad scientist solids page is something all Ontario wine pursuers should choose to follow. The pursuit is being played out in chardonnays and multifarious sparkling wines, in Blanc de Blancs, Brut Nature Zero Dosage and “Field Blend” Ancestral. For Ontario this means serious sparkling wine business.

Panko-Crusted Pork Rilette, poached plum & charred fennel salad, toasted hazelnuts, honey dressing, pickled mustard seeds – Executive Chef Steve Sperling, Tide and Vine Oyster House

“Lunch and Launch in Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard” moved us in many ways, first through distant Upper and immediate Lower Jordan Bench views, of Le Clos, Talon Ridge and Claystone Terrace. Tide and Vine Oyster House was responsible for feeding us to the breaking point, by oysters, yellow fin tuna tartar, cold smoked salmon, vichyssoise, pork rillete, surf & turf and olive oil cake. The chardonnay flowed, with Village and Grand Clos examples by hosts LCJ, but also international stars; Tasmania, Australia’s Dalrymple, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California’s Gary Farrell. Here are my notes on those three wines.

Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2018, Tasmania, Australia ($70.95, Noble Estates)

A steely year with the vineyard’s hallmark acidity in a cracker Tazzy chardonnay with lip-smacking energy, intensity and drive. Soil, site and place in relentless pursuit of a focus at the head of body and game. Crunchy, crisp, indelibly fresh and piqued with the finest wisp of white peppery kicks. Nuts, complexity, bolts and length. All in. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($47.95, Noble Estates)

From the air-conditioned, cool breeze motivated vineyards (52 hectares) 100 miles from the ocean. Wet vintage, cool and long-hanging. Concentrated flavours in chardonnay that draws from all parcels which is more than just the Hamilton Russell way but in fact the only way. No fruit is wasted, all parts commit and contribute to the whole. A vintage like this is special, restrained, understated and one should not be misled by the shadowy depth and layering. Fruit is but a conduit for all else happening in this streamlined chardonnay. The alcohol and opulence are subtle, the pleasure calming, the capitulations promising. Methinks time will be long, slow and kind to HRV ’18. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Garry Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($69.00, Noble Estates)

Pellegrini’s 1975 planted Olivet Lane Vineyard sits on 65 acres of sloping benchland in the Santa Rosa Plain, in between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. If taking a step up from Gary Farrell’s estate label is even a possibility then yes Olivet Lane is just such an animal. Threefold (or ten times) more expressive, from jump started to flying ahead, in freshness, vitality and tightly wound intensity. Flesh and opulence submit to energy, motion and emotion. Captivated and caught up in a bold embrace. Forget bracing but surely feel the fineness and the purpose towards effecting satisfaction. Top, right, fine. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2021

Tres Cool Chardonnay

We’ve called on many estates over the last 10 years but truth is the visits were epic this time around, with thanks to the talent involved; Thomas Bachelder, Elsa MacDonald MW, Eugene Mlynczyk MW and the Arterra Wines Canada crew; Tide and Vine’s Mike Langley, Chef Steve Sperling and team; On Seven Estate Winery’s Vittorio de Stefano and Consulting Winemaker Peter Gamble; Stratus Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka and Estate Director Suzanne Janke; Trius Winery and Restaurant’s Executive Chef Frank Dodd and team; Hidden Bench Estate Winery’s Winemaker Jay Johnston and Viticulturalist Joel Williams; Tawse Winery Winemakers Paul Pender and Jessica Otting; The Restaurant at Redstone Executive Chef Dave Sider and team; Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney. These are the 40 finished wines tasted over a near 30-hour period on July 24th and 25th, 2021.

Felseck Vertical

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench ($42.20)

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2018, VQA Beamsville Bench

First a walk through the Felseck Vineyard and then a tasting with winemaker Jay Johnston and viticulturist Joel Williams as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical retrospective. Very warm season, much like 2016 though not quite as scorching and sun-filled. Would not call this stoic but would say that concentration, grace and all things stretched are in optimum balance this time around. Pretty quick turn around for Johnston to exact an ideal Felseck chardonnay just a year and a bit into his tenure at Hidden Bench. Just crunchy enough, more than ample and most importantly understated within the context of a great richness inherent in its varietal meets plantation DNA. There is no denying how enticing, invigorating and attractive this chardonnay is and will be to many who showed buyer’s foresight, but also those now lucky enough to come across its terroir-motivated beauty. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A vintage of survival, saved by a glorious September and into October. Looks like the richness made it with thanks to the fall weather and yet the elongation, length, elasticity and texture are all what matters to speak, walk, talk and tow the Felseck line. Solid, mid-weight, mid-acid and structure chardonnay that acts with perfectly middling emotion between the warm ’16 and ’18.  Last tasted July 2021

Felseck gifts what chardonnay needs with fruit equipped to start out subtle, gain traction and then commit to gliding into grace. That state of delicasse is now, with a natural orchard-stone-melon sweetness and an integration seamless, layered and eternal. Drinking this now makes great sense and the honey notes that may follow will only add to the mystique. The Ontario epitome of intelligent and refined chardonnay. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2020

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. Smoking hot season, much like 2018. No other vintage will impress and woo a more general if elevated palate than this ’16 (save perhaps the high award winning ’18) because both concentration and grace reside in the arena of the beautiful, together, side by side. Not the tightest grain in the vertical retrospective Felseck ship. Can’t say this will live as long as the ’13 and ’14 but there is plenty of life in this gorgeous and not so alone 2016. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted July 2021

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year, “we got slammed,” says winemaker Jay Johnstone, “but a wine of definite concentration.” Showing evolution and age in tones, developed richesse and caramelization well beyond both that of ’13 and ’14. No corn however, despite what the initial nose might have indicated. A faux creamed presentation that ended up more peach to apricot in drupe, not niblet. Nutty too, again idiosyncratic and a unique Felseck as such.  Last tasted July 2021

Sometimes I’m “walking down the street, minding my own business” when a taste of a chardonnay makes my eyes go wide. Like this lovely thing of really compelling and nuanced aromatics, diverting, bright and effusive. Intoxicating really, “must have been the sun beating down on me.” A soulful chardonnay, Darondo luscious, strutting at you, with golden fruit, layers of slaty under-vein, a bit of ancient bivalve fossil shell, piqued and long. Gets its texture from a pinpointed cru for sure and is very cool-climate Canadian, almost certainly Bench Niagara, more than likely in Beamsville. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. A short crop year but a solid year. Now expressive with croccante and cracker sensibility. Aromatically touched by croissant to brioche biscuit richness, with still pulsing acids and mouthfeel second to none. This is a next era Hidden Bench Felseck and the launch point from off of the work put in through the previous five or six vintages. Tasted blind four years previous to now was a completely different experience. Drink 2021-2026.  Last tasted July 2021

Unction and creaminess, lost in a chardonnay dream because to nose it’s a sweet, floral, demure thing. Lees apparent so you can smell the work in progress and feel the texture. But it’s wound loosely tight with just enough give to make it so readily available. Beautiful little wine though I can’t help but imagine there’s more single-focus structure than a blind taste wants to give. Hope to come across this hard to get beauty again someday soon.  Tasted blind at NWAC17, June 2017

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench

Tasted with incumbent winemaker Jay Johnston as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. The vintage may very well be considered much like 2021 is shaping up to be, wet and humid, culminating in a late season. A short crop year but surely one of the Bench’s best dating back to 2009. Persistently flinty and aromatic, holding the citrus and stone fruit line, still quite tight and yet to evolve with any considerable haste. Not one to think on as a specific Bourguignons terroir per se but definitely Hidden Bench, amphitheatric Beamsville of origin, expression and conclusion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Jordan Village Chardonnay 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)

The first attempt and rather obvious pronouncement towards creating a Bourguignons Villages wine is this over-delivering for the price chardonnay from Thomas Bachelder and the re-invented spirit of Le Clos Jordanne. Jordan Village as in grapes gathered from the lower and upper Jordan benches. When warmed in the glass and were it drawn from a warmer vintage there might be even more fleshy opulence but with 2019 and this collection of LCJ single vineyards there is fresh magnification and edgy dance moves, shimmer and glitter, not to mention of glimmer of what this commercially viable brand will ultimately bring to the collective entity that is cool climate Ontario chardonnay. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2018, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($44.95)

Le Grand Clos signals the return of the lower Jordan Bench and “I’m very happen it’s back in the (Escarpment) lexicon,” says winemaker Thomas Bachelder for a chardonnay of origins truly different than the upper benches in Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan. A svelte vintage, not lean by any stretch but surely tight and what some might say restrained. That may or may not include fine white caramel, liqueur glazed fennel and a mild sense of grilling. A chardonnay from vines in a season that needed not shut down to either hydric nor heat stress. Funny how both 2018 in Niagara and Hermanus produced similar results. The big “E,” fine-tuning, chiseled features and sneaky structure.  Last tasted July 2021

Thomas Bachelder’s second vintage since the reprise of Le Clos Jordanne’s chardonnay and pinot noir is perhaps the most nurtured (and nurturing) because he and team treated this varietal fruit through all the early stages; newborn, infant, toddler and child. The attention to detail, from choosing cooperage, forests, barrels and in elévage design is both mathematical and surgical. After 22 months the result is just so imperfectly perfect. Unequivocally noted as a high acid vintage and rather then fatten up this fruit the monk chose the direction of vintage seasoning and identity. Drills down into the Clos and where it fits within the Twenty Mile Bench. The exiguity and heretical transparency makes this a great ’18 Le Clos because ambiguity is the enemy of accountability and also progress. As a forward thinking chardonnay it represents itself, the maker and proffers a sense of place. Perfectly easy to drink right now and imperfectly set up for aging, but that’s just not the point. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2020

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

On Seven Estate Winery The Pursuit On Seven Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($45.00)

Perhaps not the highest of knowable excellence yet clearly the most intriguing chardonnay that may never be emulated any time soon, certainly not out of 2019 or 2020. Singular stylistic wine, reductive and opulent, more Pouilly-Fuissé (with thanks to 2017) and a warmth that creates such a textural buzz. More fat in spite of that 8 g/L acidity, but such energy and considering the age at this point it almost seems the wine is going a bit backwards. That said the vanilla and caramel comes in wafts and waves, the flavours and textures in layers, long, lingering, forever. Only 108 cases made.  Last tasted July 2021

The newest Peter Gamble consulting joint is this from upstart The Pursuit of Seven. The chardonnay fruit is Niagara-on-the-Lake and the concentration suggest established vines (of at least 15 years-old it would seem) and no holds barred in terms of extraction and wood support. The density and fruit bang for buck are impressive and there is some volatility in distraction. Ambitious to be sure and the acumen employed true to form, not to mention distinctly clear. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted March 2020

Vittorio de Stefano of @onsevenwinery with consulting oenologist Peter Gamble

On Seven Estate Winery The Devotion On Seven Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($65.00)

Imagine the minerals from these Niagara-on-the-Lake soils (manganese, iron and calcium) and the highest intensity fruit getting together in a tiny lot chardonnay case load. Then consider going against the grain with harder (elevated) turbidity in the ferments for more skin feel and purposed pulp for upfront loaded flavour intensity. That’s the direction and hyperbole of pursuit in The Devotion on Seven, an (only) 31 cases made chardonnay. Doubles (or perhaps triples) down on reduction, fulsome flesh and yet the warner vintage has as much to say as the inherent processes involved. Also a tannic chardonnay, in dramatic sensory extract as compared to the Pursuit on Seven ’18, though it can’t help but express more of everything as compared to the Pursuit of Seven. The acidity number of 8 g/L might seem extraordinary when considering the warmth and the ripeness of the vintage, however, and this matters most, ultimately it is the terroir that drives both the texture and the acidity of this special, barrel selection wine. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Peller Estates Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yet another cracker 2019 chardonnay with the coolest of vintages meeting varietal bones and a karst of energy to drive the lees machine. Spent 10 months sur lie to be exact in a fully malolactic confirmed textural tang that benefits from a certain restraint only such a season can affirm. That being particularly cool and elongated for a chardonnay just crunchy enough to support the promise and extend enjoyment for a good, long and fruitful spree. Expect a future filled with a soft and creamy centre, eventuating in some creamed Niagara corn. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($49.20)

“It’s not that we’re trying to change something every year,” explains assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka, which means that the R and D projects are in constant motion and take four to five years to come to fruition. The October 18-26 stretch is the latest harvest in quite some time (since 2009), fermented in various clay vessels and French oak, 76 per cent in neutral barrels and (24) in stainless steel. Great naturally developed acidity and just enough ripeness to gain favour with the fully-completely accessed, utilized and kept in the bottle lees. So lemon, so balanced and very fine. There is a combinative effect of mad scientist acumen for a wine that needs to be explained to a consumer mixed with absolute pleasure and amenability. One of the finest chardonnay peaks conquered nut just in Ontario but anywhere cool varietal mountains are meant to be climbed.  Last tasted July 2021

Tight one this 2019 chardonnay, seductively reductive and unwilling to relent this early in life. Knowable richness is optimized by being associated with green orchard fruit bite. Though so youthful and shrink wrapped at this time there are some ways to pair with potential and eek out enough charm. Boy do you feel the lees but the freshness really shines. Prosciutto comes to mind, as does mortadella, especially if it’s from Faenza. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted October 2020

Stratus Chardonnay ‘Unfiltered’ & Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2014 vintage was essentially the first year when barrel lees would be left in the bottle and my how conservative this ’15 really was as compared to an evolution that culminates (currently) with the full on lees filed chardonnay vintage. Quite the opulent vintage mixed with aromatics still morphing, developing lees, brash and blushing by 40 per cent new oak, complimented by generous acidity. Showing with controlled drama and though the yields were low (only 88 tonnes) there is something quite special about this emotionally charged, vivid, scarce and remarkable chardonnay.  Last tasted July 2021

Stratus Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Tasting with assistant winemaker Dean Stoyka as part of a vertical exercise in “to lees or not to lees.” Neither hue nor aromatics suggest much evolution though the low-ish acidity and tropical fruit tell an emerging secondary story. Creamy and centred, gregarious of flavour, nothing left unsaid, hidden or kept hidden away. Up front and talking vintage warmth, opulence and ripeness. Was housed in only 18 per cent new wood. For a good time, drink up.  Last tasted July 2021

As per the house promulgation, in chardonnay, “still an assemblage process,” insists Groux, “no matter what we do.” Some grapes grown for Sparkling were added back in, for acidity, complexity and ultimately balance. That and though notably barrel burdened (a good, hard burden to bare) leading to a bargain, “the best I ever had.” Major key of whose who of Niagara fruit, power acoustic chords and 12-string harmonics. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted June 2015

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous