“Difficile”. Translation: difficult.
“Difficile” was the word I most often heard when speaking to producers about the 2014 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino.
I sampled nearly 70 wines in the beautiful Tuscan hilltop town of Montalcino in February; I could taste the challenging cool and rainy conditions of 2014 in every one. It was clear which producers’ viticultural and vinification practices responded appropriately to the conditions of the vintage. It was also clear which producers attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to create wine styles simply not possible given the weather.
Filippo Manni, a winemaker at Frescobaldi’s Tenute di Castelgiocondo with vineyards to the west/south-west of Montalcino, talked me through the weather during that vintage.
According to Manni, it was warm and wet in winter and mild and dry in spring, which allowed for normal vegetative growth and regular flowering. Early summer included dry periods with warmer temperatures, but August was “rainy and cold, creating very difficult conditions for ripening and greatly increasing the risk of diseases.” The mostly sunny and dry conditions in September and October offered “excellent conditions for ripening.” However, grapes were only able to ripen because of the work done in the vineyards during the growing season, such as leaf stripping, green harvest and treatments for disease.
Violante Gardini of Donatella Cinelli Colombini (DCC), whose vineyards lie north of Montalcino, sighed that the 2014 vintage was “not easy.” She explained that in an ideal vintage producers can harvest the grapes when they want. However, in 2014, the rain, especially heavy rain in the fall, forced producers to decide whether to pick early or risk more rain. She said that picking at the desired ripeness was a challenge.
Mirroring Manni and many other producers’ sentiments, Gardini emphasized how important work in the vineyard during the summer of 2014 was for producing decent wine. This work enabled several producers to produce elegant, charming and fresh wines, easy to drink and, while young, good accompaniments to food.
Gardini is content that DCC made a wine that year that can be drunk now and in the next five to eight years. According to her, the 2014 wines are not the best for aging over a long time. DCC did not produce a Selezione Prime Donne Brunello or a Riserva in 2014 and waited as long as possible to decide whether to produce Annata ( the name for their regular — basic — Brunello from that vintage).
Gardini is happy with the decision as she believes the wine is very good for early drinking. For Gardini, the silver lining of the 2014 vintage was the winery’s decision to farm organically as it helped them achieve better results despite the challenges. In 2015, the winery began the process of acquiring organic certification. 2018 should be its first harvest certified as organic.
Gardini’s 2014 wines are not the best for aging over a long time.
Laura Brunelli of Gianni Brunelli said that despite producing approximately half the Brunello in 2014 than in a normal year, their 2014 Brunello is good quality and “expressive of the vintage.” She describes the wine as “fresh, clean and salty.” Like many Barolo and Barbaresco producers who faced a cool and rainy 2014, Brunelli suggested that sometimes “fresh”, i.e., cool and rainy, vintages can surprise you. The acidity can actually result in greater longevity than what may be expected when the grapes are harvested or the wine is released.
Manni also explains the impact of different soils on the results of the vintage. The quality of the grapes grown on well-draining soils was significantly better than on soils with a higher clay content that tend to retain water. He did make a 2014 Brunello and even a Riserva, but only using grapes grown in vineyards with well-draining soils. He described these wines as “more discrete” and “graceful” with “beautiful acidity and drinkability”. He said that they will “age for a decade or even more, but today they are food-friendly with character.”
The best of the wines I tasted are floral, elegant and balanced. They have notes of crisp red fruit, a lovely freshness, minerality and savouriness, and are a lovely expression of the Sangiovese grape. While you wait for more structured vintages to reach a good maturity, these wines are charming to drink now and will make excellent wines to enjoy at home and while dining out over the next five to eight years (or maybe even longer).
Some estates did not produce a 2014. Many did not make a Riserva. Many declassified their grapes and made more Rosso. The few that produced Annata made significantly less. And several, who did not make the vintage appropriate viticultural and enological decisions, made unbalanced, disjointed and unpleasant wines.
2014 is not a vintage to be dismissed, but you need to carefully select wines from this year. Producers generally dictate the quality of their wines. Some very good quality 2014 Brunellos should not be overlooked. Enjoy them now and stash a few bottles in your cellar to see how well they will age and for how long, if you are so inclined.
The following are some of the better examples of Brunello from the 2014 vintage.
Carpazo Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($60)
Elegant and fresh with bright red fruit, minerality, fresh herbs and spice with a firm, lean backbone from the acidity.
Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($72)
Approachable with soft tannins. Almost lush with cherry, plum, earth and spice. Well-balanced and a bright finish.
Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($95)
Lovely quality fruit with cherry, raspberry and spice. A firm core, bright acidity, elegant, graceful and balanced with refined tannins and excellent length.
Le Potazzine Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($115)
Bright, elegant and fresh with loads of cherry and strawberry fruit flavours. Perfumed, slightly earthy with mineral notes. Linear and firm, yet accessible, drinkable and vibrant. Excellent integration and a lingering finish.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($75)
Nice balance and depth with ripe berry fruit, spice and licorice, a rich texture, supple tannins, lifted acidity and more ripe fruit on the finish.
Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($57)
Graceful and restrained showing quality cherry and tart red berry fruit. A nice intensity and a tight core. Bright acidity, good length and harmonious. It is quite enjoyable now but does possess the understated structure to allow it to age well for at least 5 to 8 years.
Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($96)
A good underlying structure and a tight core with Morello cherry, spice, tobacco, dried herbs, and coffee. The oak is prominent but still well-integrated for the style. The tannins are slightly drying, but the fresh acidity ensures that this wine is drinkable.
Baricci Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($100)
An abundance of fresh, bright cherry and raspberry, mint and fresh herbs, perfumed aromatics. It is very well-integrated and balanced. Supple tannins, juicy acidity, firm and linear, and elegant and vibrant. It drinks beautifully in its youth and may be one of the wines of the vintage with a longer aging potential.
Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($90)
Another one of the highlights of the vintage. It is alluring and accessible in its youth and may still evolve and continue to develop for a decade or more. Vibrant and elegant with juicy red fruit, fresh herbs and spice. A tight core, bright acidity, with good complexity revealing more as it opens up in the glass.
Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino 2014 ($76)
Pretty and aromatic with bitter cherry, wet earth, citrus and dried herbs and spice. Lean and delicate with fresh acidity and well-integrated tannins.