Since my visit to Tuscany in April, I have had opportunities to taste quite a few Brunellos di Montalcino thanks to visiting producers. The first was Col d'Orcia, whose export manager Paola Tealdi presented six vintages of its single-vineyard Poggio al Vento Riserva.
First made in 1982, the Poggio al Vento vineyard lies at 1,000 feet elevation on a high percentage of limestone soils, including albarese (a very hard stone, compared to the easily fractured galestro). As a result, it enjoys a special mesoclimate.
Fermentation, using both indigenous and selected yeasts, occurs in short, squat vats for maximum skin contact over a 25-day period. The cap is punched down in the morning and pumped over in the evening, with the occasional délestage.
Aging takes place in 25- and 50-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks for four years, followed by an additional two years in bottle. The 2004 will be the next release. All the wines were from magnum, except the 1997.
The Poggio al Vento Riserva 2001 revealed beautiful aromas of flowers and cherry, though still firm in structure. Flavors of tar, licorice and tobacco graced the palate and lingered on the finish. More brooding, dense and powerful was the 1999, a dark mix of tar and blackberry backed by muscular tannins, yet balanced and complex.
By contrast, the 1998 Poggio al Vento was elegant and very approachable, offering sweet berry fruit, cedar, spice and tobacco notes. The 1997 delivered gorgeous aromas of leather, tea and spice, followed by sweet cherry matched to a vibrant profile. It ended in a long cascade of fruit and spice.
Sweet cherry, blackberry and plum were the fruit components on the 1995, supported by accents of tobacco and truffle. My favorite of the flight was the 1990. It featured a complex bouquet of underbrush, truffle, sweet decaying fruit with mellow tannins and a harmonious profile overall.
Lunch with Riccardo Illy of the Illy coffee company provided the setting for an introduction to his Montalcino estate, Mastrojanni. Riccardo's brother, Francesco, already owned property in the region (Fattoria Le Ripe) and when the owner of the adjoining estate died, encouraged Riccardo to purchase it. This was in 2008.
Mastrojanni consists of 222 acres; 62 acres are planted to vines, 36 in the Brunello appellation. It lies in the southeastern part of the region, near the Orcia River. The soils are alluvial and low in vigor, mostly limestone with some clay.
In addition to the Brunello di Montalcino, in the best vintages (2001, 2004, 2006) there is a single-vineyard Brunello, Schiena d'Asino, and next year will be the first release of Loreto, another single-vineyard from the estate.
Andrea Marchetti is the longtime agronomist at Mastrojanni and enoligist Maurizio Castelli makes the wines.
The Mastrojanni Rosso di Montalcino 2009, a brilliant ruby color, offered pure cherry and raspberry flavors, all ripe and juicy, with a lingering finish. The Brunello do Montalcino 2005, from a lighter year, exhibited pure floral, cherry and strawberry aromas on a linear, taut and elegant frame.
By contrast, the Brunello 2004 proffered a deep rich nose of ripe cherry and blackberry, accented by iron and sanguine notes. Powerful, it was full of sweet, ripe fruit, intense and complex, with a long, mineral aftertaste. The 2006 showed a slight reduction, then with air revealed black cherry, blackberry, iron and raw meat notes. A brooding, muscular red, it finished with mineral and spice elements, very complex and long.
The Schiena d'Asino, from grapes planted in 1975, is fermented in wood vats and aged three years in 15-hectoliter casks (compared with larger casks, up to 54 hectoliters for the normale).
The 2006 Schiena d'Asino boasted an ethereal nose of rose, cherry and raspberry, a wine of finesse, yet powerful and long with a spicy, peppery and minerally aftertaste. The 2004 Schiena delivered ripe cherry, raspberry and licorice aromas and flavors, very sweet, round and mouthfilling, its cherry jam, licorice and tobacco notes lingering. "This spice is a characteristic of '06," said Illy. "The '04 is more fruity, with the flavor of cooked fruit, like jam."
Francesco Ripaccioli, whose family owns the Canalicchio di Sopra estate, stopped by Wine Spectator's office with almost a dozen bottles spanning 2006 to 1995, including the recently bottled 2006 riserva.
The 148-acre property includes 37 acres of vines and 5 of olive trees. The vines, which average 25 years, come from two areas: Canalicchio di Sopra and Le Gode di Montosoli. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel, using both indigenous and selected yeasts. The Brunello spends a year in 750-liter and 2,000 liter-barrels before maturing in 3,000-liter casks for an additional two years. The riserva ages an additional seven to eight months in wood.
The Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello 2006 showed fragrant floral and cherry aromas, picking up tobacco, tar and licorice flavors married to an elegant frame. The 2006 Brunello Riserva was less open, with more licorice in the aroma and firmer and drier than the normale. Its sweet fruit was wrapped in a muscular grip of tannins, ending with a mineral finish.
Floral, licorice, leather and spice flavors marked the 2005 normale, a medium-weight, elegant red that seemed to be developing quickly. The nose of the 2004 normale showed the beginnings of mature elements of licorice, tar, spice and balsamic. Though firm and tannic, it's fruitier than the '06 and '05, with a solid structure underneath. The 2003 was corked.
As excellent as the complex licorice, spice and woodsy bouquet of the 2001 normale was, all sweet cherry, plum, leather, tar, tobacco and mineral flavors, the 2001 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello Riserva outshone it. Though less forthcoming aromatically, it exhibited more wild, balsamic notes, all backed by a firm, powerful and intense profile that just kept expanding on the lengthy finish.
The 2000 normale was a brick color, displaying dried cherry, plum and licorice flavors. Lighter in style and spicy, it was balanced in favor of the tannins, with fine length. "In 2000, the summer was very hot, so we only picked grapes from the east side of the vines," explained Ripaccioli.
Still fresh, the bouquet of the 1999 normale reminded me of macerated cherry and strawberry. The palate was racy and complex, boasting licorice and spice notes. Ripaccioli noted that hail destroyed 50 percent of the crop that year, concentrating the remaining grapes. Thus, a 1999 Riserva was made. It featured layers of sweet fruit, licorice and tar matched to a rich, round frame, all firmly structured and very long.
The 1995 Riserva was fading to brick in color. Though not very aromatic, in the mouth it was full of sweet fruit and a savory quality. It was just slightly dry and tannic in the end.
Gary Long — Palm Beach , Fl — September 2, 2011 1:16pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — September 6, 2011 9:45am ET
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