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Sneak Preview on 2003 Brunello di Montalcino

Posted: Sep 7, 2007 12:12pm ET

About a week ago, I had a free night so I decided to call a few producers I know well in Montalcino and hook up for dinner. They said that I should come a little early and they would bring some samples of their yet-to-be-released 2003. The wines will be on the market early next year.

I must admit that I didn’t have many expectations for 2003 Brunello. As most of you know, it was incredibly hot during the growing season in 2003, and many of the vineyards in Tuscany were scorched. Many wines are out of balance in 2003, with loads of jammy fruit and too much alcohol. I expected the same from Brunellos, particularly those coming from vineyards on the south side of Montalcino.

Anyway, I spoke too soon. The four 2003 Brunellos I tasted last week were beautiful and very delicious already. They are a fruitier, richer and more flamboyant style than what you might be used to. Their acidities are a little lighter and their tannins a little softer. They remind me of the early-drinking 2000s. but they have a little more fruit on the finish.

Here are my notes for the four wines and all of them were outstanding quality.

2003 EREDI FULIGNI Brunello di Montalcino: This is rich and round with loads of plum, almost jammy character, but comes through rich and long. Layered and very soft yet racy and pretty. Needs a couple of years of bottle age still.

2003 CAPARZO Brunello di Montalcino La Casa: Wonderful aromas of fresh porcini and very rich and opulent fruit. Plum skin. Full and round, with loads of fruit and soft tannins. Round and opulent. Already hard to resist.

2003 CONTI COSTANTI Brunello di Montalcino: Superbright fruit with loads of blackberry and plum. Minerally and floral. Very Sangiovese. Full yet reserved and racy. Very long and balanced. Refined for the vintage. Needs a couple of years.

2003 ALTESINO Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli: Wonderful purity of blackberry and plum skin with just a hint of lilacs on the nose. Full and silky, with chewy tannins and a long finish. This shows loads of smokey, gamy and length. Needs time in the bottle. My favorite of the group.

Roberto Guerrini of Eredi Fuligni explained that it may have been super-hot during the summer in 2003, but “you have to remember that at night it gets cool here. So it worked. The grapes did not suffer as badly as you might think.”

In addition, all the wines I tasted above came from vineyards north of Montalcino, which remain much cooler than the south. This is something to remember.

In any case, I think that Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini, owner of Altesino and Caparzo, had the best comment after the tasting: “They make you want to drink them. They are really good!"

Blake Rasmussen
September 7, 2007 2:29pm ET
We visited the Montalcino area in August and were lucky enough to also try (out of the barrel) the 2003 Fuligni -- and I completely agree with your comments. However, we also visited Altesino and found it to be too touristy. Interestingly, I could not find Altesino in the 2007 Gambero Rosso (wasn't even listed in Le Altre Cantine section). My question is do you think American judges like yourself have a different idea as to what makes a great wine than do the Italian judges -- for example, the 2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino only received 2 black glasses in Gambero Rosso yet you gave it 98 points??Blake
Rodger Callo
September 7, 2007 3:31pm ET
Great, I thought that my wallet would have another year's reprieve from BdM's. Oh well, it's only money. I still think that I will buy less 2003, and wait for the sure to be great '04s.
James Suckling
 —  September 7, 2007 5:33pm ET
Blake. I wouldn't want to get into it. But things are less transparent here in Italy than you may think, especially with wine guides such as Gambero.
Paul Spreen
September 8, 2007 3:00pm ET
James, did I miss the 1997 BdM retrospective? I'm drinking but holding most of these gems awaiting guidance. Much appreciated.
James Suckling
 —  September 9, 2007 4:15am ET
Paul. I have tasted about 60 for a future report. What do you have in your cellar? May be I can help.
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  September 9, 2007 9:42am ET
James, earlier this year I have tasted the Sesta di Sopra from barrel, just 2 weeks before botteling. And I can only confirm your observations. Its more accessable and upfront than the 2001 and has much more body, fruit and structure than the 2002 (which is quite good for the vintage IMO). I think this is one to drink young (as the 2000 vintage of other wineries).
It hard to compare to 2000 for this particular winery, because I have not had any (wasn't 2001 the first?) But my general impression is that 2003 has some bright fruit. Which could become jammy (the wrong way) for the hotter areas near the Orcia valley.

Its perhaps too early to draw conclusions, but I think we are being blessed with a nice string of vintages over the past 10 years. 1997 was the perfect vintage at a time where most Brunello producers where getting there act (vineyard+cellar) together. Then 1998 came with some nice (some excellent), subtle wines that should be drunk young. Then 1999 came, a vintage to stow away deep down in the cellar. 2000 in the mean while is excellent to drink now. Not a great vintage, but just smooth, nice wines. Great to keep your hands off the '97 and '99.
2001 a blockbuster, monumental wines that are very hard to resist now. But could use some good cellaring time. Then came 2002, the worst since long.... Lets forget this one quickly.Now 2003 might be the perfect bridge to 2004. I exepect that most Brunelli will be early drinkers. Perfect to keep your hands of the 1999 and 2001.

So what about the 1997 retrospective? I have only a few bottles. As I only started to discover the Montalcino area since 2001.Can you give some clues on the Lisini and the Poggio di Sotto regular BdM?
Kevin Callahan
Montreal, QC —  September 9, 2007 11:18am ET
James, your tasting on the '97 Brunellos. Did it include JUST BdM's or others as well? Specifically, I've been holding a '97 Solaia that I've been waiting for just the right time to open. Is it, in your opinion, ready? Or still in need of additional time for maximum display of what this has to offer?
Paul Spreen
September 9, 2007 12:17pm ET
James, I look forward to the future report. I've stocked up but most interested in Cerretalto, Pian delle Vigne, Silvio Nardi, and Banfi line-up. Also holding alot of 97 Piedmonts (Barolo and Super Tuscans).
James Suckling
 —  September 9, 2007 2:23pm ET
Kevin. I drank the Solaia 1997 last night with Luciano and Barbara Sandrone and Enrico and Enrica Scavino. I brought it from my cellar. It was excellent but I think it needs another three to four years of bottle age to open. If you can't wait, decant it a couple of hours before serving.
Rodger Callo
September 10, 2007 10:18am ET
I will buy some 2003's, unlike '02 which was a pass for me. With todays Dollar v Euro exchange rate were it is and your recent frequent hyping of Brunello (not that I blame you, it is after all your job) my big purchases are going to only be in great vintages, which 2004 is certain to be. I expect Casanova di Neri, Siro Pacenti, Altesino Montosoli and several others to be selling at over $100 now, at that price I only want their best years.
Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  September 10, 2007 11:08am ET
How about the '97 Castello Banfi BdM? You originally said best after 2003. How's it doing?
Michael Callan Sr
Middlefield, CT —  September 11, 2007 4:15pm ET
My wife are going to Italy in October for two weeks. We will have done Florence already. We plan to come back to Tuscany for four and will be staying in Casole d'Elsa outside Sienna as our home base. I will have a car. In 4 days, Can I get a good feel of the area and the different appellations? or should I stick to a single area? I have been trying to get my arms around the Tuscan region and confess, I am much better in Napa and Sonoma. Jim, I ask you and everyone else for some help, if you had 4 days in the region what must we see, do, or visit wine wise. Thanks
April Langus
Chappaqua, NY —  January 20, 2008 5:37pm ET
We will be in Tuscany for 5 nights in May, as part ofa 14 day trip to Italy. Our 3rd time there, second time to wine country, 1st time really understanding BdM. Any suggestions as to who to visit & how to arange.... cl

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