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Best Ever

Tuscany's 1997 vintage is one for the record books

James Suckling
Posted: October 16, 2000

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Best Ever

Tuscany's 1997 vintage is one for the record books

By James Suckling

Many estates in Tuscany have begun to release their wines from the 1998 vintage, but everyone's still talking about 1997. As vintages go, 1997 has no equal. Itproduced some of the greatest bottles ever made in this famous wine region in central Italy.

From majestic Chianti Classico riservas to sophisticated super Tuscan reds, the 1997s have superb concentration of exotic fruit, ripe tannins and fresh acidity. They are wines that give great pleasure now but that will also continue to improve for many years in the cellar. Indeed, they are wines that merit cellaring--just like the best reds from Bordeaux, Burgundy and California.

Nearly all the top wines of the 1997 vintage are now available on the market, with the exception of the Brunellos, a few riservas, such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and a limited number of IGTs (wines with Italy's Indicazione Geografica Tipica appellation). Amid all this bounty, it's hard to find one that doesn't live up to expectations. The top wines of the vintage, such as Antinori Solaia (98 points), Argiano Solengo (97) and Castello dei Rampolla Vigna d'Alceo (97), are already classics. I consider them to be in the same league with 1995 Margaux and 1990 Latour, not to mention recent vintages of New World sensations such as Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Harlan and Grange Hermitage.

This year I tasted nearly 1,000 Tuscan wines, from the most humble Chiantis to the most regal Brunellos--as well as hundreds of barrel samples. All the bottled wines were blind-tasted at my office in Tuscany. The experience only reinforced my conviction that 1997 is truly exceptional. Perhaps the handful of wines made in the coastal region of Bolgheri, which includes such great names as Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Guado al Tasso and Le Macchiole, may equal or better their 1997 achievements with their 1998s. However, generally speaking, compared with 1997, 1998 is significantly less remarkable everywhere in Tuscany.

Still, I did find numerous outstanding wines from 1998. One 1998 I tasted this year even achieved classic quality (95 to 100 on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale): the marvelous, tiny-production Merlot from Fattoria Petrolo, Galatrona (95). However, the majority of the reds and whites made in 1998 either have a slight dilution or a lack of fruit concentration.

For now, instead of buying '98s, I advise looking at older vintages recently released on the market. Take the 1995 Brunellos. There are dozens of outstanding ones, including such classics as Altesino's Montosoli (96), Salicutti's tiny production Brunello (95) and Casanova di Neri's single-vineyard Brunello Tenuta Nuova (94). Don't forget the current release of the two best dry whites of the region: the super Sauvignon Blanc Poggio alle Gazze 1999 (91) from Ornellaia and the pure Chardonnay Il Sistri 1998 (91) from Felsina. And if you can find it, and afford it, the Avignonesi Vin Santo 1990 is one of the greatest dessert wines ever made in Italy. It is pure nectar, with mind-blowing concentration and sweetness--like drinking liquid toffee. It's so thick and rich it's hard to finish the glass. I gave it a perfect 100 points.

However, the real story in Tuscany this year remains 1997. Buy the best that you can find. Buy the best that you can afford. It's as simple as that.

James Suckling is Wine Spectator's European bureau chief and expert on the wines of Italy. He has 17 years of experience tasting wines from the great estates of the country.

For the complete article, please see the Oct. 31, 2000, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 40.

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James Suckling's Best-Value Wines From Tuscany
Wine Score Price
RENZO MASI Toscana Erta e China 1998 88 $12
ERIK BANTI Toscana Carato 1998 87 $10
FATTORIA DI BASCIANO Chianti Rufina 1998 87 $12
SELVAPIANA Chianti Rufina 1998 87 $13
DONATELLA CINELLI COLOMBINI Chianti Superiore Fattoria Il Colle 1998 86 $12
NOZZOLE Chardonnay Toscana Le Bruniche 1999 86 $9
TERUZZI & PUTHOD Toscana Peperino 1999 86 $13
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James Suckling's Smart Buys From Tuscany
Wine Score Price
FATTORIA LE PUPILLE Morellino di Scansano Riserva 1997 91 $19
FATTORIA LE BOCCE Chianti Classico Riserva 1997 90 $18
FATTORIA DEL CERRO Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 1997 90 $20
FATTORIA DI FELSINA Chianti Classico Berardenga 1998 90 $20
BORGO SALCETINO Chianti Classico Salcineto 1998 89 $15
FATTORIA LE PUPILLE Morellino di Scansano 1999 89 $14
SELVAPIANA Chianti Rufina Riserva 1997 89 $19
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