Brunello di Montalcino Vintage Report: 2016
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print issue of Quench Magazine.
The annual Brunello tasting held in February in Montalcino was, in 2020, the last public wine tasting in Tuscany before COVID took everyone in the country into severe lockdown. Those of us tasting the highly acclaimed 2015 Brunelli and very good 2018 Rossi had no idea what was ahead of us, but we knew we had fine wine in our glasses.
However, the energy was rather flat. The 2015 Brunelli ticked all the boxes. It’s a five-star vintage that is powerful, composed, ready to drink (even so soon after release) and yet capable of ageing.
But we were all rather robotic at the tasting. Admiring, agreeing, writing, scoring, yet maintaining some distance from (before distancing became such a ‘thing’), and not captive to, the wine.
This year, things were different on many fronts. All the wine reviewers had to be seated, and sadly there could be no producers present to talk to over their wines.
But despite our sedentary situation, the atmosphere felt electric, jubilant. Brunello di Montalcino from 2016 are potent, mesmerising, hypnotic wines, barely contained by the glasses into which they are poured.
They are exceptionally balanced, impossibly dense and deft. The tension created by this interplay of tannins, fruit and acidity is thrilling. Sebastian Nasello, winemaker at Podere Le Ripi, explained that the major difference between the two stellar vintages of 2015 and 2016 is that during August of 2016, daytime and night-time temperatures fluctuated dramatically. Days were hot and dry, and nights were cool. This diurnal range meant that during the night the sugar development in the vines slowed and acidity was preserved creating fresher, more aromatically lively wines with greater definition and clarity.
The Rossi from 2019 heightened the excitement and enthusiasm further. The Rosso di Montalcino 2019 are super wines, a delectable, sophisticated wine choice for the customer in a restaurant, or to drink at home.
Elisa Sesti of Sesti – Castello di Argiano sees the Rosso di Montalcino as the messenger, the herald proclaiming whether a vintage will be great. If the Rosso is stunning, then we can look forward to a great Brunello a little later down the line. And by the quality of the Rosso 2019, it is clear that we have much to look forward to in 2024 when the 2019 Brunello are released.
Interesting to note is the growing number of single vineyard bottlings appearing from estates in Montalcino. These crus are valuable to the denomination. I find them to be intimate wines, their subtleties and complexities allow the consumer a greater focus on the intricacies of the Montalcino terroir. And as wine lovers, this possibility to understand a region or wine in greater detail is wonderful.
BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO
Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Le Due Porte’, 2016 ($175)
From a 1.24-hectare vineyard, rich in albarese, 540 metres above sea level and very close to the centre of Montalcino, this is a Brunello full of flesh and crunch with oak that enhances but does not distract. Though the fruit character feels so joyously fresh and uplifting, the current beneath the surface
is strong. Tightly coiled tannins impress their potential in the mouth matched with high acidity. This wine has intent to age. An authoritative Brunello.
San Polino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Helichrysum’, 2016 ($110)
Helichrysum is a biodynamically farmed single vineyard in the hamlet of San Polino in the south of Montalcino at an altitude of 450 metres above sea level. Swirling the wine in the glass one is immediately compelled as by fire, as the rim of the wine is the colour of flames. On the palate, a muscular shapely tannic frame is filled with densely rich black fruit, cedar spice and new leather, all of which sounds very dark, but there is an ethereal quality to the wine that enthrals. Drink now and enjoy – or drink in ten years or more and enjoy. There is already such pleasure to be had. Perhaps best to get a case just to keep an eye on it.
La Màgia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Ciliegio’, 2016 ($160)
That bit in Ghostbusters with the phantom in the library is an amazing scene. My parents told me afterwards that ghosts do not exist, but decades on, I find they do in really top Sangiovese. The ghost is reading a book in
a dusty corridor of shelves and tomes, and that perfectly suits this wine. That fabulous slightly dusty note that Sangiovese can have is here on the nose. The ghost leaves the bottle at the nose, for on the palate, the wine is full of life. It has great concentration with fruit arriving from 40-year-old vines with a naturally low vigour. There is a sensation of coolness, weightlessness about the wine, maybe driven by a certain mineral quality.
Le Ripi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Amore e Magia’, 2016 ($175)
I am reminded, when smelling and tasting this wine of a meeting between Master of Wine, Nick Belfrage and pioneer, legend and (previous) winemaker at Salicutti, Francesco Leanza. Leanza comments to Nick that journalists have misunderstood the soul of Montalcino, which is “elegance, perfume, lightness of touch – not power and depth”. Here the perfume of fresh fruit is heightened by the most subtle notes of volatile acidity. On the palate, the wine feels featherlight in touch; the tannins are silky and carefully worked within the elegant body of the wine. On the evidence of this wine, Le Ripi very much
understands the soul of Montalcino.
Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Campo Marzio’, 2016 ($100)
Of Corte Pavone’s “Seven Dynamic Cru”, Campo Marzio is my favourite. At his estate to the southwest of Montalcino, Hayo Loacker used infrared sensors to identify seven distinctly different single vineyard sites seven cru. Campo Marzio has the oldest vines and enjoys a more stable, balanced microclimate than the other six. The wine is at once sturdy and sensuous. In colour, there are even some deep purple tones to the ruby reds. The texture is firm and polished and the flavour intense with pristine cherry fruit and sage. I think Gevrey-Chambertin lovers might love exploring this wine.
Lisini Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Ugolaia’, 2015 ($160)
Such a charming nose, but still a little closed with much still to tell. A refined and understated blockbuster if ever there was one. An intensely knit wine with finely, tightly thread tannins and acidity, fresh and ripe red and black berries, butter mint and orris root. A friend of mine who tastes wine draws a line graph to show the entry to the finish of a wine. For this wine, his image looked like waves. Ongoing rewards for those who invest in this wine for drinking come 2025.
Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($85)
Power and presence and vigour. Tannins are so flexed – do not be surprised if images of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger cavorting on Venice Beach spring to mind on sipping this Brunello. But unlike Schwarzenegger’s body, it doesn’t seem built or bulky. Careful cellar management is evident, for after five years, the fruit is so fresh and fragrant with the most subtle of oak notes from three years ageing in botte grande. The palate is lithe leading to a long and rigorous finish. A very classical expression.
Casa Raia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($105)
So evocative on the nose – or perhaps that should be provocative in aroma. I wanted to laugh out loud in a very silent and studious tasting room. Intriguing, tantalizing aromas thyme and violet, black cherry and plum heightened by a touch of volatile acidity. Strong, flavoursome palate. Tannins are supple and engaging making you go back for another glass.
Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($125)
If Disney witches made Brunello this would be that wine. The clarity and beauty of the fruit aromas and flavours are so perfectly ripe they do not seem real. Fruits of the enchanted forest are pronounced on the nose and plump and mouth filling on the palate. The palate is vibrant and juicy with broad, resounding tannins. After a sip, I did feel rather magic.
Salvioni La Cerbaiola Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($300)
Luminous and transparent yet with
a depth of aroma and flavour, and intrigue of texture which one might not ever get to the bottom of. A full bodied, life enhancing wine. With every swirl a different land, a new and flavours of nori, the edible seaweed used to wrap sushi rice – salty seawater and slightly toasty. But before I spin too far away from the source, I am drawn back by that haunting flora and fruity backdrop of violets, fennel seed and blood orange peel, perfuming this rather umami scene. The longest finish – with further development of flavour. A wonder.
Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($93)
It is tricky when you get to the letter ‘C’ in an alphabetically organised tasting of over 150 wines and find you are unwilling to spit the wine out. This wine smells warm. It is a great generalisation but that warmth on the nose helps me (sometimes) to single out a Sangiovese from Montalcino. The warmth on the nose, I realise, is there in the glass also – warm reds and rusts and golds. On the palate, velvety in texture, flavours fold in structured pleats, defined by tannins that lend a sense of dynamism, of movement, of three dimensions. A wine with great nuance. A work of Giotto that you can drink.
Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($75)
Deliciously fruity and full bodied – plums and black cherries marry with sweet wood vanilla, nutmeg spices and incense smoke. Fleshy berry fruit is punctured with high acidity. A dazzling dance, a merry communion between wine, sweet wood spices and incense smoke.
Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($130)
A classic producer, in a classic vintage…I was expecting restraint and elegance, and I enjoyed a robust and vibrant wine, a characterful classic. Crunchy, inky summer fruits with balancing high acidity. Imagine a handful of fresh cranberries appeased by ripe-to-bursting raspberries. These fruits are met with chalky tannins and oak that lends support without getting too involved in the conversation. Hearty and friendly and fine. What a beautiful combination.
Il Paradiso di Manfredi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($210)
“Thrillingly alive” is how I’ve heard this wine often described. In 2016, that description sure is relevant. The nose has a sensation of heat to it – of sun warmed skin, baked plum and sweet and savoury spice. And the palate has a wonderful fluidity. It does not feel compact – there is some space in between the notes, like some master musician at work handling the pauses. But there is intensity of flavour, and tannins are neat and engaging. You simply get the impression that this is a wine made under the instruction of the vineyard, of the fruit, with a very obedient and ego-free winemaker managing its élevage.
Casanuova delle Cerbaie Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($80)
There is so much potential energy here. The wine seems neonatal, not even in its infancy, but the structure is in place for a great development of this wine. Tannins, like scaffolding, support dense, furled sweet fruit and the acidity seems to draw the fruit back into the mouth like the elastic on a catapult. A wine with great vintage expression.
Capanna Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($85)
The exotic aromas of star anise and black tea leaf might direct the nose a little further afield than Tuscany but there is a great sense of place on the palate. Very much Mediterranean and local asserted by firm tannins, brisk enlivening acidity and more classic, familiar Sangiovese red cherry fruit flavours. Though on the long finish that exotic character reappears – a charming quirk given that the wine is from the cooler northern side of Montalcino in the zone of Montosoli.
Caprili Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($80)
A young winemaker at an old, established winery situated in the southern part of Montalcino. When it was established in 1965, Caprili was one of less than 20 wineries in Montalcino. The wines express their warmer site with aromas of baked fruit – grilled plums dusted with golden sugar. The sweet notes are charming. They encourage easy drinking or perhaps it is simply that the wine exhibits such equilibrium on the palate, nothing is out of line. I might have dissolved into the wine were it not for the assertion of the tannins on the finish, which are particularly and enjoyably feisty. One must return to the glass to keep things sweet.
Máté Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($80)
My son is into space and the planets. We have a LOT of stuff on Saturn. Looking into the glass of Máté Brunello, in the amber rim circling the ruby core, I saw Saturn
– the planet named after the Roman god of agriculture. Rightly, I thought that things should take a cosmic turn when tasting this wine
(whose organic vineyards were designed by Gaja’s agronomist). There is always a note of expanse to Máté’s Brunello, a great spectrum of aromas and flavours. There is something painterly, layered and detailed about the texture and composition of this Sangiovese. The palate is orderly and controlled. Fruit entwines carefully with oak, compact sweet tannins and refreshing acidity. Finish is long and complex.
Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ‘Vigna Loreto’, 2016 ($150)
A charismatic, well bred, playful and powerful wine from a single vineyard Brunello cru Vigna Loreto. It should absolutely be laid down and enjoyed at least in 2026, but damn it is fun to spar with now. Such a mouthful of wine, succulent and lip smacking, heady and rich, and revelling in its southern exposure on the southwest of Montalcino, sheltered by Monte Amiata.
Baricci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($115)
The Baricci family famously have all their vineyards on the hill of Montosoli, a hill to the north of the town of Montalcino. The soil is predominantly marl, light in clay. An historic Brunello cru…some might say Grand Cru. I would agree. This Brunello shows the typicity of Montosoli – elegant, austere with high levels of refined tannins and bracing acidity that seems to draw out the mineral notes in the wine.
Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($80)
From one of the earliest producers of Brunello di Montalcino, this is a beautifully harmonious wine. There are peachy tones to the rim of the ruby wine. Attractive fruity scents combine with notes of almond and rose. The wine washes cleanly across the palate with plenty of
pertinent acidity. Rich in flavour but not heavy in body. A very drinkable and appetising Brunello.
Argiano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($75)
With HB pencil shavings (always a nostalgic note) and blackberry fruit, this wine shows the ripeness and power of the southerly situated sites. Tannins are ripe and soft lending a silky, creamy texture to the wine yet still there is that pleasurable Sangiovese chew.
Albatreti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($95)
Just as there is perfume of subtle florals, essential oil of lavender, jasmine tea, delicate sweet spices and nervous acidity, there is intense black cherry and black olive brine flavours and imposing tannins. Gaetano Salvi-oni has managed to bottle Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in one bottle. Potent, nervous and dramatic, this might enjoy some time to mellow… though it depends upon what you look for in a performance.
La Fornace Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($75)
A great BOOM of a Brunello, a timpani rumble that resonates across the palate and rings in your ears. Glowing and warmly scented, hearty and fruity with campfire embers and dried porcini, toast and roasted coffee bean. There is high toned red fruit too, cheerfully elbowing oak notes into submission.
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2016 ($65)
Pronounced aromas of fresh morello cherries and five spice translate to equally fresh fruit flavours on the palate. Salivating and juicy, the fruit character is pneumatic. There are zero signs of age to this wine, not a tertiary note in sight, not a wrinkle to the tannins. Brimming with youthful energy. Drink with old friends for balance.