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The Heads Up on Brunello

Posted: Feb 6, 2009 3:46pm ET

You are going to like 2004 Brunello di Montalcino. Do you remember the great 1997 and 2001, as well as the super 1999 Brunellos? Well, 2004 is along those lines of quality, but it's a different style. The vintage produced more perfumed, more refined Brunellos than other recent top vintages. And they are going to be wonderful to drink with two or three more years of bottle age.

I am not sure if 2004 is quite at the same pinnacle of 1997 or 2001, but it produced many excellent wines. I tasted about 125 Brunellos in blind tastings in my office in Tuscany, and I rated close to three-fourths of the wines 90 points or more. That is about the same as 1997 and 2001 in outstanding wines. The only difference is that I haven’t found any 99- or 100-point wines. But they may well come.

I was impressed that the wines from numerous small, family-owned wineries also came out very high, even at the top of my tastings . There are many more new names making top notch Brunello now. So you might be surprised with some of the names that I gave very high points. Of course, my favorite producers, such as Casanova di Neri, Valdicava and Fuligni did not disappoint, as usual.

The key to making outstanding Brunello in 2004 was keeping grape yields down. Apparently, many producers had to cut back their grapes two or three times during the summer to make sure that only the best bunches were left to ripen on the vine. Mother Nature did the same work in other top vintages as 1997 and 2001, when a spring frost reduced the grape crop.

Good winemaking was also necessary. But that is well known now in the region.

Anyway, this is your heads up. I should have a complete report very soon, so I can’t give it all away yet. But if you love Brunello, you are going to dig 2004.

Gary Long
Palm Beach , Fl —  February 6, 2009 6:41pm ET
Looking forward to reading your insights on the new guys. But like you, and many I guess I am a big fan of Valdicava.Can't wait to get some. Did you also taste 03 Riservas? Any thoughts...
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  February 6, 2009 8:36pm ET
Should fit in nicely with my 1997's and 2001's. I have several 2001 magnums put away for my older son born in 2001. It sounds like I may be able to do the same thing for my son born in 2004. What are the prospects for long-term aging (particularly in mangnum sizes)? Recommended or not? Of course, I don't mind drinking them either. I am a huge fan of Brunello. Thanks. - Jim
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  February 7, 2009 12:09pm ET
Thats some good news, after a miserable '02 and a troubled '03 vintage. And the fact that many smaller producers where able to make top-notch Brunelli makes it even more interesting. Seems like a great vintage to explore the Montalcino terroir in even more detail!
Theodore Mukamal
NY, NY —  February 7, 2009 7:39pm ET
Hi James, I am having a fun time going through your blog archives, but there is currently no articles at all archived for feb 2008. can you please help? thanks and keep up the great blogging!
Michael Bonanno
February 8, 2009 3:51am ET
Harvey gave the 05 columbia crest reserve cab 95 pts. . . Have you tried it?, and how about giving us a little 04 brunello version of surprise . . .
James Suckling
 —  February 8, 2009 11:03am ET
Theodore. I will have our web master look into it. It appears the same with all the blogs. Don't know why? Michael. I don't think there are going to be any surprises like that, at least price wise!
Richard Opseth
St. Paul, MN —  February 8, 2009 9:36pm ET
Hi James - I've 2 Brunelli whiling away in my cellar, both 1997's; Antinori Pian delle Vigne and Banfi Poggio all'Oro Riserva. Would you say either are ready to consume at this point?Thanks and keep up the great posts!
Bart Van Eck
Amsterdam —  February 9, 2009 6:48am ET
Hi James,When will the full report be online?Do you think Brunello-gate & the crisis will lead to lower prices or is 2004 just too good?
Bert Pinheiro
Baltimore Maryland —  February 9, 2009 4:29pm ET
Thanks James ! I am looking forward to your report.Richard I too have the Banfi reserva 1997.I talked to James Mariani recently and he told me he would let me know how it was coming along when he opens one of his bottles soon.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  February 9, 2009 9:39pm ET
Richard - I recently drank (not tasted) the '97 Antinori Pian delle Vigne (within the last three months). I'm happy to report it is drinking beautifully right now. I do recommend decanting, which if I'd had any sense I would've done prior to bringing it to the restaurant -- it did take some time to open up. As for the Banfi, I had the '97 Poggio Alle Mura recently (properly decanted at home), and if the Poggio all'Oro is drinking as well as that, then you won't be disappointed. The regular '97 Banfi is also drinking well right now. I'm no Suckling, but I hope that helps. - Jim
Richard Opseth
St. Paul, MN —  February 9, 2009 11:17pm ET
Bert, James - thanks for both your posts. It appears as if both Brunelli are a tad young if decanting is still needed. If Mr. Mariani has any updates, I'd be interested to hear more!
Tony Wood
Brighton U.K. —  February 10, 2009 9:25am ET
Hi James, I am looking forward to the Brunello tastings on the 23 FEB., hopefully your findings will be published prior .....to save a poor soul wandering aimlessly , but, could I have a polite dig ? The Wine Ratings and Vintage Charts need a major review and upgrade, especially in the Italian section. Now I have committed theafront of complaint no doubt you will have your only U.K. blogger "black balled" so to speak!
Thomas Hughes
Texas —  February 10, 2009 4:43pm ET
Not to bring up a sore subject, but I have a question about the 2003 Brunello conspiracy. If Brunello mandates 2 years in oak barrels then 2 years of bottle aging, at what point would the non-sangiovese grapes been added? I guess its tough for me to fathom a conspiracy that developed in 2008 based on actions in 2003 (and if DOGC wasn't followed in 2003, why wouldn't 2004 and beyond not have the same issues). Then again, I am not a wine maker, so I don't know how easy or difficult it is to blend grapes (or make wine for that matter). Just had a what if thought . . . T
Ken Darling
new brunswick, canada —  February 10, 2009 7:45pm ET
Hi James,I had the great pleasure of visiting Uccelliera vineyard in May 2008 and brought home some of the UCCELLIERA Brunello di Montalcino 2003 which you gace a 92 rating. Have you had a chance to rate Uccelliera's 2004 Brunello? Look forward to your thoughts.Cheers,Ken
Theodore Mukamal
NY, NY —  February 11, 2009 12:29am ET
Thanks, James, your blog rocks!
Ann Suchta
Wimington, Delaware —  February 12, 2009 8:34pm ET
I agree - your blogs are consistently enjoyable. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the 2004 Uccelliera as well!!
Niklas Lundgren
sweden —  February 13, 2009 7:56am ET
Hello !!James have you had recent experience with the barolo or barbaresco 2000??How are they doing???Best wishes
James Suckling
 —  February 13, 2009 9:12am ET
Ann. The 2004 Uccelliera is total rock n'roll. Awesome wine. Niklas: I think the 2000 Barolos and Barbarescos are developing beautifully. I am still in love with them!

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