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The Shocking Quality of 2002 Brunello


Posted: Feb 28, 2007 11:53am ET

I just finished what has to be one of the worst tastings I have done for the magazine in a long time—2002 Brunello di Montalcino. It was a shocker. Most of the wines were diluted and uninteresting. Even big names did poorly. A few exceptions existed but in general the close to 100 wines I tasted over two days were really weak.

I had my hunches that 2002 would not be very exciting when I rated the vintage 84–89 for the magazine. And this was based on a number of winery visits and barrel tastings at top names a couple of years ago. But the wines obviously have aged very poorly in cellars. Many taste tired already, with funky, cheesy and/or unclean characters, not to mention little structure, freshness or youthful color. The vintage is clearly 75-79 points. I have to make my final decision about an exact score over the next few weeks.

What happened? Nothing too unusual, really. It was a cold and rainy growing season and it rained during the harvest. That equals diluted and unstructured wines. I thought that most of the producers would make severe selections of grapes and wines, to come up with something good in the bottle, but that doesn’t appear to have happened. Moreover, very few “adjusted” their wines with a younger vintage, which is legal up to about 15 percent. “I didn’t want to waste my 2004 or 2005 in my 2002,” said one producer.

Apparently, most producers will sell their 2002 Brunellos for less than their 2001s (2001 was a great vintage). But I don’t think most can sell at any price. And Brunellos are now averaging $60 to $100 a bottle at retail in the U.S. market.

I think the most honest Brunello producers were those who decided not to bottle their 2002s. Why should any consumer have to buy the stuff when most are so poor? What a disappointment.

Stacy Johnson
Canada —  February 28, 2007 2:11pm ET
Thank god! Having just recently loaded up on 2001, when I first read this headline, I thought "great, another vintage of the century"!! What a relief, now I have a REAL excuse to stop buying!!!
David Nelson
CA —  February 28, 2007 2:58pm ET
James - thanks for the heads-up. 01 Brunellos are a hard act to follow. Thanks to you, I stocked up on plenty of the 01 vintage.
Brian T Laird
S.F. —  February 28, 2007 3:30pm ET
James,Does this mean it might be worth it to shell out the extra $$ for the best 2001's that are still available online and at auction??Thanks!
Glenn S Lucash
February 28, 2007 3:36pm ET
What is your feeling on the rest of Italy? Is it just Brunello that is a washout? I just glanced at the wine list online for the restaurant I have a reservation at Saturday night in Manhattan. They are looking for $ 420.00 for the 2002 Sassicaia! I think I'll pay the corkage and bring a great 1997 Brunello.
Joseph Tredici
Ramsey / NJ —  February 28, 2007 3:39pm ET
James,How much (on average) does it cost to make one bottle of Brunello that retails for $60 USD? I occasional hear that smart producers do not bottle wine in a bad vintage; maybe they sell the grapes instead. I would think not bottling wine scores massive points with the consumer, respect and loyalty, but financially can they go down that road? What are their other options? Do they make so much profit at $60 a bottle during a great vintage they could afford to sit out a year? I'm very curious from their perspective. Thanks.
Nick Smith
February 28, 2007 3:40pm ET
I fully agree that producers shouldn't bottle horrible vintages. Even more so, I think retailers should take some responsibility not to carry these wines. I expect the retailer to look out for me. Unfortunately this doesn't always happen. I'm not sure how distribution works exactly, but a lot of time and trouble could be saved with a little extra effort by the store owners.
Alessandro Ragni
italy —  February 28, 2007 4:05pm ET
true. but serious producers made also excellent rosso di montalcino.there are some great quality-price offers there, and they don't retail for 60-100$, maybe it would be good to go for the affordable wines for once.wines we can drink and enjoy...now!!!
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  February 28, 2007 4:49pm ET
Best bet wuld be to declassify and sell as lower grade wines. Will the Brunello region want to compete on price with low grade chiantis to get their wines to sell? In my opinion, many of the 98 California cabs were no better than "75-79" either, and many of those producer's egos were far to large to dump their wines or lower the prices. Early 2003 cab's appear no better. I see wineries still trying to dump 98 cabs to their wine clubs! We'll see if the Brunello producers have more market sauvy.
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  February 28, 2007 5:07pm ET
You see, this confirms my beliefs about wine scores. You hear so many producers, importers, and shopkeepers say "you should taste for yourself and forget scores". And that makes a certain amount of sense. But when the wines sell for $60-$100/bottle and they are as poor as you say, that's an expensive experiment. Lets say you try three of them and none of them satisfy. You're in for anywhere between $180 and $300 just to find out. Scores and reviews help me decide what I should bother tasting. Is the wine shop, producer, or importer going to tell you that the wines are weak? No, they will give you some story about how these are full of terrior and that they are not for the American palate but if you're patient you'll learn to appreciate this unique character. With the '05s that will be coming soon for many regions with their inflated prices, I'm content to let the editors walk the mine field first. Later I'll walk in their footsteps and cherry pick the wines that interest me. Dan J.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  February 28, 2007 7:25pm ET
QUOTE JAMES SUCKLING: "I am not very happy with the idea of screw caps on Brunellos or any other top red from Italy for the moment".hi James, just a small post to recall what you said few months ago . On WS I have just read that chambertin is going to be screwcap( one producer) and that this "negociant" have tested screw cap since 40 years (?!) and the result after the years is better than regular cork. So my point is: would you like , in the future to see a sperss langhe Gaja screwcaped?regardsludovic
Carlo A Buffone
Ottawa, Canada —  March 1, 2007 9:33am ET
Hey James, I rep Poggio Nardone in Canada. They agree and have decided not to release any 2002 Brunello into the market. Luckily their 2001 Normale and Riserva is top notch. We should collectively praise any winemaker who loses an entire vintage of their top wine due to severe weather or circumstance. Imagine any of us taking a year off. It could never happen. Cheers, Carlo
James Suckling
 —  March 1, 2007 10:06am ET
No Ludovic. I wouldn't but if it happens, it happens. I will still drink Gaja.
Michael Culley
March 1, 2007 11:46am ET
James, I was wondering if you attended Benvenuto Brunello? I am surprised so many producers bottled 2002 as brunello as I thought hardly anyone would. We all expected it to be a poor vintage. Did you taste the Caprilli by chance?
Tony Wood
Brighton U.K. —  March 1, 2007 2:01pm ET
just arrived back from tasting Brunello Riservas 2001 in Montalcino. Wine Spectator got it all perfect- with one exception!Talenti-you need a safety net to drink this!!-HUGE.Must be 96+
Andrew Schaufflervircsik
Clarkdale, AZ —  March 1, 2007 5:24pm ET
I spent two days tasting the bdm at Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino. I have to disagree that 2002 was a dead year and that we should just skip them all. Talenti had a lovely wine, with light fruits and subtle tannins. Val di Suga, harbal nose and fruity flavor. Solaria, same. Sesti, very pretty, floral and fruit. My favorite was Castello Romitorio. Had a bottle at home later, with a bit of time this wine is drinking lovely right now, with a well balanced mix of fruit, classic herbal style, and soft tannins. Sorry, James, but they're not ALL bad.Andy
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  March 1, 2007 5:43pm ET
Was expecting this, as some producers already decided to declassify their grapes.

I know of at least one producer that was able to make some great wine in Montalcino. I mean Poggio di Sotto. IMO their Rosso '02 is very good. Much better than the 84pts you gave it. And mr Palmucci decided not to make a BdM for that vintage.Though I have also tasted some really bad '02 RdM (Capanna and Col d'Orcia come to mind). Completely in line with your dissapointment.

Have you recently tasted the Poggio di Sotto RdM '02? We where again quite impressed by it when we had a bottle with some friends last week.
James Suckling
 —  March 2, 2007 12:37am ET
Guys. I tasted the 2002s in blind tastings in my office. I am not very keen on big press events like Benvenuto. They are not good venues for tasting seriously. And by the way, I did find a number of very good 2002, but most were disappointing as I wrote. Thanks for your comments.
Ti Ti
March 2, 2007 7:49am ET
Even though I agree with Mr. Suckling that big press events are not always good for serious tasting (especially if you want to rate single wines or producers) my blind tasting of the 110 Brunello 2002 at Benvenuto Brunello was serious enough to give a good impression of the vintage in general. And I have to disagree that the vintage overall was a disaster. It's definitely not great and general not for laying down but I found quite a lot of fine wines with the balance and drinkability that all too seldom is lacking in the "big, concentrated years". The main problem in 2002 is that too many wines lack the "Brunello character". They may be quite okay wines but don't give you the depth, tannins and personality you expect from a Brunello. There are exceptions though. The weather in 2002 was difficult but very different from area to area. One producer told me about the differences he experienced between two vineyards just 2 miles apart. One delivered fruit in very good condition, the other no acceptable fruit at all. I would rate the vintage in the 82-84 range. But okay - if your reference point of a great Brunello is black, sweet, alcoholic, coffee smelling wines like the ones from Casanova di Neri then you are not likely to find many bargains in 2002. I understand all the comments about price/quality and feel sorry for you having to pay these prices in the States. Some Brunello-2001 examples from the Scandinavian markets: Argiano $42, Cerbaiola Salvioni $80, Fanti $63, Ruffino Tenuta Greppone Mazzi $50, Il Poggione $45.
Michael Culley
March 2, 2007 10:30am ET
James, my question should have been in regards to what the producers said to justify making brunello in 2002. Since the event in Montalcino was just before your report I thought perhaps you had a chance to get some response from them directly. I don't like large tastings(just like I don't go to large concerts anymore)of the same type of wines but did go to the anteprima in Montepulciano. They have the big press events, as you know , and the past two years I have gone to the public tasting for a minimal fee. This year there was one other person there when my wife and I arrived. When she left we were all alone for the rest of our tasting(30 wines). I'm glad to hear from others who did go to Benvenuto and as a former wholesaler I'm sure plenty of restaurant owners will be hearing the sales pitch on the 2002's as a "restaurant vintage".
James Suckling
 —  March 2, 2007 7:17pm ET
Michael. Right on. When I hear "restaurant vintage" I cringe! And Ti Ti. I have many reference points for Brunello. I have been tasting in the region for 24 years now. So I have seen a lot. Glad you liked 2002. We obviously have different palates, and for the money, I think it's better spent on other vintages or other wines. But that's up to you mi fratello. I did find a few good to very good 2002s but they were the exception. And many of the serious producers such as Fuligni and Neri did not make 2002s...so that says something. Vero?
Davin Smith
Canada —  March 2, 2007 10:22pm ET
Hi James,Love reading the posts, this is a little out to left field, other than it pertains to Italian 2001 Vintage wine. I bought a 2001 Pio Caesar Barolo(WS94) Costco in Hawaii(I hear the giggling already). Anyways over my dead pallette that the wine in that bottle is a Barolo, It tastes exactly like a slightly Tanic California Cab Sav. I inspected bottle, checked corked read up and down looking for signs of fraud. The cost at costco in december was sitting at $40 US a little under market for that wine I thought. Is it possible that I bought a fake "barolo" from a costco. Thoughts?
Ti Ti
March 3, 2007 5:00am ET
James, I agree completely that our money are better spent on other vintages. That's the way it is these days in the wine world. If a vintage is not very good to excellent you can always find better wines and bargains just round the next corner - unless you have a very special interest in a specific area. I guess my reaction was a surprise to your "one of the worst tastings" comment. For sure it is not a very interesting Brunello vintage but compared with some of the panel and journalist tasting I have attended all over the world the last 8 years this was not that bad at all. I am sure we have different palates, but if this was one of the worst tastings for you in 26 years you sure had some nice tastings over the years :-) It definitely says a lot when serious producers like the ones you mention skip a vintage. But then again, equally serious guys like Soldera, Fanti and Talenti did make a 2002.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  March 3, 2007 7:01am ET
This doesn't surprise me at all. I was visiting Montalcino in late August 2002, and their were complaints and worries at pretty much every producer we visited and toured. If I remember right, the Antinori rep' had the harshest words. I was wondering then how many would simply skip the vintage altogether--as I plan on doing. - Jim
James Suckling
 —  March 3, 2007 9:05am ET
Ti Ti: That's what makes wine interesting. Everyone has his or her opinion. But I write for consumers and not wine producers. I can't recommend that my readers buy 2002 Brunello. It's as simple as that. I don't think I am wrong, especially when there are so many other excellent to very good vintages out there such as 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1995, and 1993. But I appreciate your comments!
Edoardo Fioravanti
Florence\ Italy —  March 3, 2007 9:57am ET
I haven't decided yet in my mind if on really poor vintages the producers should make the wine or not.Sometimes I think that they should NOT, as they can't provide the needed quality of their wines, but i also think that if one vintage is ruined by the rain, still they should produce the wine, and that wine will be, in the next 50 years, a portrait on the 2002 summer. The wine is made by nature + man, so if it's rain, lat it rain and see how the wine come. If in some vintage the quality was 20 points worst then 2001, so make the price 50% off !! That's how should be, and not with all the greedy producers, that make the wine and think: "who cares, anyway the "americans(a lot of the wine is exported to USA)" don't understand anything about wine!
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  March 3, 2007 2:04pm ET
Eduardo,
I agree with your observation about nature+man. And yes, there should be more 'room' for price differentiation. I am happy to pay 50-70eur for a top class BdM from 2001. I am also happy to pay 25eur for an excellent Rosso di Montalcino from 2002 (see my comment earlier in this blog). I expect it will be impossible to find a good Brunello from 2002 around this price range......
Milisav M Tadich
Las Vegas, NV —  March 4, 2007 7:24pm ET
Thank you James,I have had some luck with very few 2002 wines from Toscana and Piemonte, mainly entry level wines using grapes originaly planned for "the big brother".Mike
Marc De Grazia-selections
firenze —  March 5, 2007 11:23am ET
We represent seven producers of Brunello di Montalcino, of which five bottled a 2002. I have tried about 20 others. This sampling, granted no where 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.
Douglas Johnson
Appleton, WI —  March 5, 2007 4:23pm ET
To the defenders of the 2002 Brunellos, I think you may have missed James' point about writing for the consumer, many of whom like myself do not have the wherewithal to sample and sort through the myriad selection of wines available. I fully concur with Dan Jaworek's comments above that James and the rest of the WS staff help the average guy sort through the "minefield" to find good, affordable wines. With so much great wine available from around the world at under $20 a bottle, why would anyone spend $30 and up for a so-so bottle, Brunello or otherwise.Note: Normally, I would not buy Brunello because of the cost, but I did, fortunately, pick up 6 bottles of the 2001, including the #1 rated Casanova di Neri, just because it was such a great vintage, and I found some great pricing (under $50). These will be saved for special occasions.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  March 5, 2007 4:52pm ET
The antagonism against off vintages is simply a value-for-dollar matter. With reduced prices the Brunellos may be worth buying, but why buy 2002 at full price if you can get any number of other better vintages for the same money (or better wine from a different region for less). That's especially true if ''enjoyment'' is the goal. That's not snobbery in my book -- it's common sense... - Jim
James Suckling
 —  March 6, 2007 2:08am ET
I assume that Marco wrote this. You should have signed it and not just left the general account name of Marc De Grazia-selections. Anyway, I am simply doing my job, and, unfortunately, about 40 percent of the 2002 Brunellos I tasted were 79 points or less. Perhaps most of the wines you represent were 80-88, where the rest of the wines fell. Honestly, Marco, am I really supposed to recommend to the readers of Wine Spectator to buy inferior Brunello; bottles that are going to cost $40 to $80? Sorry man...
David Nerland
Scottsdale —  March 6, 2007 1:01pm ET
James, we would rather have true scores as you are posting then inflated scores. There are too many 100 pt wines out there. Good Job.
Marc De Grazia-selections
firenze —  March 8, 2007 2:08pm ET
Ciao James, I think you may have misunderstood the comments from the other room here at Marc de Grazia Selections. We, as your devoted readers do, expect your honesty. However, your stated role is to watch out for and advise your readers. Just as we cannot exist without consumers, including your readers, The Wine Spectator is nothing without wine producers. Both of us need to earn the approbation of all who participate in our industry. Occasionally, when provoked we feel obliged to stand up for the producers. Aside from your opinion of the quality of the wines, your article on 2002 Brunello was a hostile bashing, unnecessarily negative. You even impugned the honesty and dedication of the producers, all with a rather wry flippancy. Your huge reach and power require a modicum of diplomacy and awareness, particularly when you are issuing poor reviews. I admired greatly your turnaround on the quality of 2003 Nebbiolo. Such is extremely rare in wine journalism and a testament to your honesty. But, believe me, the damage done by your initial published opinion was not and cannot be undone. Hope to see you soon.Iano
Mike Tadich
Las Vegas, NV —  March 9, 2007 12:31pm ET
This certainly is an eye-opening experience for me. For many years I have had nothing but the highest regard for Marc De Grazia Selection on the label which to me equated to professionalism. After reading the last two posts from MDG I must start to question the same.Several comparisons struck me as very reaching:Wine Lover and Wine Professional. This site is visited primarily by the Wine Lovers and people in the business. Not all Wine Lovers, or all people in business are PROFESSIONALS. Snobbery and Off Vintages. MDG, are you really calling all consumers who will choose wine from good vintage over the one from off vintage SNOBS? I really have very hard time believing that an industry professional would do that! In my book SNOBBERY is very much as being a Fair Weather Friend. The moment someone makes a statement that does not meet your approval you throw everything at them (including a kitchen sink)! Funny how things work.Mike
Marc De Grazia-selections
firenze —  March 14, 2007 12:46pm ET
Hi all, especially Mike, whose respect for our company is slipping. My last entry on this discussion will likely send it over the edge. First, I couldn't grasp your point about wine professional vs. wine lover. I can only tell you that our company is much more influenced by our love of wine than notions of professionalism, marketing, or what have you. Furthermore, I said nothing that even inferred that consumers who select better vintages are snobs. I object to those who superciliously refuse to consider wines that are from other than a highly rated vintage. Might you not label these fairweatherfriends? I find this slavish pursuit of only the best years fantastical, having nothing to do with appreciating wine, like living in LA all one's life with only a vague notion that seasons exist. After all, though important, the nature of a vintage is only one of wine's many aspects. Finally, it sometimes seems to me that many of you who communicate on this blog are starting to sound a bit sycophantic. Else, how could you confuse me as the thrower of the kitchen sink? Go back and read the beginning of this trail. yours, Iano
Mike Tadich
Las Vegas, NV —  March 16, 2007 1:02pm ET
Iano,this will be my last comment on this subject (not fair to use blog for "private" exchange). I am sorry that you did not grasp some of my points, however it is a somewhat of a surprise that someone like you does not have a grasp of FREE MARKET ECONOMY or should i say SUPPLY and DEMAND!Customers purchase what they LIKE! Funny how things work,Mikeps. Who knows, we might continue this in person one day...
Anthony Waldbillig
March 19, 2007 5:05am ET
Having just read the Feb 7th and Feb 21 Insider on Brunello Riserva 2001, I am planning to aquire several of those for my cellar. If the next great vintage of Brunello is the 2004, we wont see any on the shelves for quite a while. Living in Italy, I am fortunate to be able to aquire some of these great Brunellos, but even here, some are hard to find. And with the Euro rate what it is, expensive. But a great Brunello is a wonderful wine to have aging in the cellar.

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