A wine exporter left an angry comment at the end of my previous blog about the mediocre quality of 2002 Brunello. Some of what he said was so inflammatory that it had to be edited by my office in New York.
Here is the cleaned-up version of that comment:
"We represent seven producers of Brunello di Montalcino, of which five bottled a 2002. I have tried about 20 others. This sampling, [which was] granted nowhere near as rigorous (perhaps overly so: how many wine lovers can enjoy tasting 100 wines in two days?) as James', left me with a completely different take. I liked most of them. Were they as good as 2001? No, but valid and good in their own right. While nature denied a warm, full-blown version in 2002, it made possible a rarely-encountered cool and elegant Brunello. Think of comparing Scorsese's "Goodfellas" with his "The Age of Innocence." It is difficult to make fine wine in a difficult vintage, only dedicated producers can manage. Our producers produced less than 50% of their average and reduced prices by 30%. I really don't get this constant antagonism against off-vintages. Is it about volume? Is it a form of snobbery? A "that stuff's not good enough for me!" attitude? Wine journalism may not be about circumspection and inclusiveness, but wine enjoyment certainly is."
Anyway, I am sorry that he is so angry, and I understand his frustration. It will not be easy to sell 2002 Brunello in the United States. Americans love Brunello, and most are accustomed to very good to super quality of this great, pure Sangiovese wine. They don’t mind spending a lot of money on Brunello – and the wine is expensive – if the quality is there in the bottle. And, unfortunately, this is not the case of for a significant number of 2002 Brunellos.
I took a look at my scores from last week. The highest score I gave was 88 points and the lowest 74. Most of the wines fell into the 82 to 78 point range. It’s pretty mediocre, considering the string of very good to outstanding years available recently, including 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, and 1995. And many are still available on US retail shelves and in restaurants.
I have no vendetta against off-vintages. My cellar has numerous bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Geman Rieslings, Barolos and Brunellos, among others, from “off-vintages.” And as I remember, they were bought at very attractive prices. So, I am happy. And the wines are good quality. For example, I still have some bottles of Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne 1984. It’s much lighter than the 1985. And the high acidity is still there. But I paid $12 a bottle for it. And it still good quality. I drank a bottle last summer with some friends.
The problem with 2002 Brunellos is that even with a 30 percent price cut, they will come in at a price that's the same or only slightly less than old vintages, due to the weakness of the US dollar. So what’s the sense of buying 2002? Unfortunately, money does matter these days. And I would rather spend mine on a higher quality Brunello, or something else altogether.
I appreciate all the effort that a producer may have made to produce a good wine in a difficult year. But sometimes it just isn’t enough. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s nature. It’s life. It’s destiny. Whatever you want to call it. Some 2002 Brunellos are good quality. A handful are even very good quality. But does that mean we have to buy them? Or that I have to recommend them to my readers?
My job as a wine critic is to have a "that stuff's not good enough for me!" attitude. But every consumer is entitled to the same attitude. Choice is as an important part of wine enjoyment as anything else.
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — March 6, 2007 11:30am ET
Colin Haggerty — La Jolla, California — March 6, 2007 12:40pm ET
Jlpef@uol Com Br — Sao Paulo BR — March 6, 2007 12:50pm ET
Edoardo Fioravanti — Florence\ Italy — March 6, 2007 1:15pm ET
Bert Pinheiro — Baltimore Maryland — March 6, 2007 2:18pm ET
Richard S Levenson — San Diego, CA — March 6, 2007 3:26pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — March 6, 2007 4:20pm ET
James Suckling — — March 6, 2007 6:08pm ET
Trevor Witt — Waterloo, Ontario, Canada — March 6, 2007 9:24pm ET
Dr Miguel Gimeno — Austria — March 7, 2007 7:50am ET
Chad Turben — Bentonville, AR — March 7, 2007 9:23am ET
Katherine Brown — North Carolina — March 7, 2007 12:38pm ET
James Suckling — — March 7, 2007 9:10pm ET
Robert Boyle — California — March 8, 2007 1:32am ET
Chad Turben — Bentonville, AR — March 8, 2007 9:55am ET
Al Larson — San Carlos,CA — March 8, 2007 11:46am ET
Tom Sagrak — April 24, 2007 4:08pm ET
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