Benvenuto Brunello 2019 Report

John Szabo’s Buyer’s Guide: Top 2014 Brunello Picks

Photos and text by John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Welcome to my annual Benvenuto Brunello report, fruit of the tastings that take place every February in Montalcino. Benvenuto is the last stop along the week-long Anteprime Toscane series of tastings, the wine trade’s yearly opportunity to check in on the latest releases from all corners of the storied and wine-soaked region of Tuscany.

Benvenuto Brunello this year featured the 2014 vintage, the youngest wine permitted to bear the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG designation in 2019. I share some thoughts on the vintage below, before diving in to my top picks – just over two dozen recommended Brunelli out of over 150 tasted, plus two particularly delicious Rossi di Montalcino.

Note that, for the most part, these particular wines aren’t available in our market yet – any pricing shown is approximate, based on previous releases – so you can make up your future shopping lists, or plan your next trip to Tuscany. For more immediate gratification, the WineAlign team has pulled together our very own collection of the best Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino available in Ontario right now in this week’s buyer’s guide. Remember you can always use the WineAlign Find Wine function to see the top Tuscan wines currently in stores near you.

Buyer’s Guide: Best Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino Currently Available in Ontario

Vintage 2014: Topsy-Turvy

2014 has been a hard vintage to get a handle on. It was cool and wet, with a very unusual lack of Tuscan sunshine, and quality is patchy. Yet at the same time there are many lovely wines, especially for those who count leanness and freshness as favourable attributes.

There were many unexpected failures and fewer successes in Montalcino – even good terroirs seemed to fail while others not normally in my top echelon produced very good wines. Although some familiar names crop up again in my top picks, it’s a topsy-turvy vintage to be sure, and one that requires a re-evaluation of the producer landscape.

Balance is the key word in 2014. Many producers missed the ideal point, over extracting, or more rarely under-extracting, and ambition, or perhaps the commercial pressure to deliver on the promise that high Brunello prices encourage, was the enemy. Put simply, 2014 provided for light-bodied, early maturing wines. Any efforts to attempt to produce bigger, richer wines in the style of, say, 2012, were mostly failures, with too much hard, astringent tannin and/or oak flavour.

The most successful producers, on the other hand, rolled with what nature offered and made light, easy-drinking, pleasant wines for the short mid-term. Indeed, many notable producers did not produce Brunello in 2014, like Costanti, Salvioni and Biondi Santi to name a few, preferring instead to declassify the entire harvest into Rosso di Montalcino. Costanti comments that “three years in wood”, the normal ageing period for his Brunello, “would have been too much for the wine”. The Rosso di Montalcino “Vermiglio” that he did produce, however, is excellent, an example of working with what you have.

All in all, the vintage suits some house styles – more refined and elegant – much more than others.

Cypress trees, Montalcino

Cypress trees, Montalcino

John Szabo’s Buyers Preview Guide: 2014 Brunello di Montalcino

94 2014 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino
Fears of Poggio di Sotto’s likely decline after Piero Palmucci sold the celebrated estate, established in 1989, to Claudio Tipa, owner of ColleMassari and Grattamacco in 2011, but Tipa and his team appear to be upholding the same quality standards and production techniques that have made the estate’s reputation. This is one of the top Brunelli of the vintage yet again, a wine of considerable depth, far above the mean. A lifted mix of tart-juicy red fruit, dried herbs, faded flowers and more leads off, very pretty and engaging overall. The palate delivers a suave, silky-firm texture with deceptive concentration and depth, succulence and salinity, and above all excellent length, the tough-to-achieve combination of finesse and power that Poggio di Sotto does so well. It’s still not a vintage to age, but will offer plenty of pleasure over the short-mid-term. Tasted February 2019.

94 2014 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino
A cool, high-toned, attractively herbal expression from Canalicchio di Sopra in 2014, lifted, penetrating, lean and light. Love the elegance and finesse on offer, and the fine-grained tannins allied to crunchy, vibrant acids. In perfect sync with the vintage I’d say, neither exaggerated nor under-made in any sense. The quality of terroir is on full display.  Tasted February 2019.

94 2014 Baricci Brunello di Montalcino
Baricci’s 2014 is right up with the very best wines of the vintage, another success for this long-established, traditional producer (Nello Barrici was one of the founding members of the Brunello Consorzio in 1967), with vineyards on the famed Montosoli hill on the north side of Montalcino. It shows a sustained red to fading garnet rim colour, but with more depth than the mean for the vintage, while the nose offers considerable fruit, even ripe alongside more tart red fruit, and old wood influence is contained in the fruit envelope. The palate offers a salty-savoury mouthful of ripe and fleshy fruit with a wild amalgam of spice, cinnamon heart, cranberry chutney, citrus-blood orange, and other exotics. I love the succulence and saltiness, and the cleanliness of the fruit in this tough vintage, and especially the genuine concentration and length. Drink or hold mid-term. Tasted February 2019.

94 2014 Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino
Il Marroneto has gained a bit of cult-like status in recent years, as the traditionalist, elegant and minimalist styling that Alessandro Mori has always favoured has regained popularity, an expression that these northern Montalcino vineyards seem destined to give. His 2014 an  absolute beauty of the genre, very pale garnet red, fully transparent, with a delicate, dusty, oxidative nose in the post-modern (traditional) style, inviting, complex, full of pot pourri and dusty faded flowers. I love the fine-grained, filigree palate, with crackling acids and light-dusty tannins, grippy but well-integrated. Long finish. Not a blockbuster, but toute en finesse; a wine of the times. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino
Talenti delivers a solid mix of red fruit and herbal spice in 2014, with neither dominating for now, indicating well-balanced vineyard management and a smart harvest time decision. The palate is properly juicy and succulent, with a little more depth than the average, also more fruit, with very good to excellent length. It’s still a lighter wine, but one which faithfully respects the vintage character. A grand success I’d say overall, drinking now-mid-twenties. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 Livio Sasseti-Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino
Sasseti’s vineyards on the north side of Montalcino faired well in 2014 (it seems the north in general was more successful than the southern part of the appellation), and this is one of the rare wines in need of a little bottle ageing to pull fully together. It’s still on the peppery and reductive side for now, with hints of the future graphite and truffle notes typical of sangiovese that are yet to fully develop, but also  good, clean fruit expression, fresh, succulent dark cherry. Tannin extraction was also well managed, grippy but not green, and length is very good. It’s a wine that respects the vintage. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino
Sustained red-garnet. Open pleasantly aromatic, mixing bright, fresh red fruit with fresh herbs, a touch of honey and orange peel, but clean and inviting. The palate is succulent, fleshy, juicy, saline and mineral, with genuine presence and excellent length and complexity. I would happily drink this; fine wine. Drink or hold until the late ’20s. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 Cupano Brunello di Montalcino
Cupano’s 2014 is one of the more extracted wines of the vintage, and should please fans of the more concentrated and burly style. It’s currently offering high-toned, slightly coconut-driven aromatics with low fruit intensity, though some jammy character emerges with aeration showing an unusual degree of maturity this year. The palate is saturated with fruit extract, dense and impressive, with well-managed tannins. This is one of the few ’14 Brunelli that could use some additional time for integration in bottle, 2-3 years at least, to allow the ensemble to meld. Great density and ripeness overall. Fine, sapid, complete. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 La Cerbaia Brunello di Montalcino
This is a very successful 2014, ripe and fruity, fleshy, tending towards truffle notes already, exotic spice, floral, faded, candied flowers. Tannins here are surprisingly ripe and supple, considering the high elevation vineyards on the north side of Montalcino, but this terroir weathered the weather impressively in the challenging growing season. Long finish. I’d give this another 2-3 years to settle out – structure is solid and freshness is in place. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino Vecchie Vigne
Polished, very ripe for the vintage, with high quality wood (24m in barrique), and the expense shows. The palate is full, round, structured and concentrated, with excellent length and depth. The classic international, very delicious style. Tasted February 2019.

93 2014 Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino
Fine, authentic red-garnet colour, and dusty, earthy, savoury, proper sangiovese aromatics, mature but still with plenty of life. The palate is fleshy and full, riper than many 2014s, with supple tannins, well managed, and excellent length. A success for the vintage to be sure. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Pian delle Querci Brunello di Montalcino
Red-garnet. Reticent nose, modestly fruit, herbal-inflected for now. But I like the energy and cut, the light and lively palate, juicy, succulent, well balanced and fresh. Tannins are fine-grained, not overdone, and the length is solid in an elegant and refined expression overall. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Tenuta Croce di Mezzo Brunello di Montalcino
A fine and balanced, fresh and lively, elegant, fine, easy-drinking style, with no exaggeration or pretension. One of the better balanced wines of the vintage. Honest and pure, carefully made without deviation. Fine length, too. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino
Decent fruit intensity leads on an open nose, earthy and slightly leathery in the vintage idiom, with light-mid-weight palate, juicy and succulent, well managed tannins, light and fine-grained, and very good length. I like the more elegant styling, and the intuition to roll with a vintage destined for lighter, easier-drinking wines. Good stuff. Drink now-2024. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino
There’s some fantasy and complexity here in a decidedly earthy, leathery, advanced and evolved style (fully in the garnet spectrum). I appreciate the supple, succulent, silky palate, well-managed in an unabashedly old school style, working with the vintage to maximize potential. This will offer plenty of pleasure over the short-near-mid-term. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Ucceliera Brunello di Montalcino
Sustained garnet; loads of wood off the top, but high quality, toasted barrel notes, espresso bean and graphite. The palate is fullish, densely packed, clearly quality wine in the modern style, and a rare one in this vintage that could use a few more years in bottle. This will please fans of riper, more generous examples of Brunello. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino
Notably wood-inflected, but of high quality and cleverly worked in to bring a toasty element and hide the inherent green of the vintage. Smells more like Bordeaux, and the palate is likewise structured like young cabernet, but I like the juiciness and succulence, the well-manage tannins, grippy but not excessively so, and the overall length and umami character. Solid. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Cortonesi Brunello di Montalcino
La Mannella’s 2014 Brunello seems about to slip into the raisined fruit spectrum but holds on on the right side in the end. It’s pleasantly round and soft, extracted without any exaggeration, wood-inflected but balanced. Very good length. In the end, this is showing really well I must say – I would drink. Some quality juice here. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino
Earthy, with smoked, toasted wood influence off the top, nutmeg and cinnamon – can’t quite place this in the new or old world style category. The palate is certainly more firm and tart than expected, tightly wound, quite succulent and juicy, dusty and grippy, with pretty solid length. An intriguing wine that invites further investigation; displaying salinity-minerality. Best after 2021. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino Pelagrilli
I find the Pelagrilli more in line with the 2014 vintage than Pacenti’s Vecchie Vigne bottling, which is to say light and fresh, complete with some fresh-tart herbal fruit, and no obvious wood influence. The palate is firm, tart, dusty-grippy with astringent tannins, more edgy and grippy. Represents the year well. I’m happy to taste this, though fans of Pacenti’s more typically ripe and polished style may find this a little lean. Tasted February 2019.

92 2014 La Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino
Reticent on the nose for now, dusty and fruit-shy but clean and zesty, with intriguing blood orange flavours on the palate. Tannins are light and dusty, and acids are citric and fresh, providing energy and verve. I like the style here, vibrant and elegant, with good to very good length. Well done. Tasted February 2019.

91 2014 Piombaia Brunello di Montalcino
This is pretty, fruity, high-toned and lightly earthy-leathery, one of the more open and pretty noses for the vintage. The palate is vibrant and juicy, with firm but not excessively green tannins, energetic acids with a fine snap of saltines and succulence. Fine length, too. Best after 2020, or hold short term.  Tasted February 2019.

91 2014 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino
Already quite earthy and leathery, with little fruit left to report, though the palate is pleasantly balanced and fresh, with light tannins, grippy but not green, and a fine dose of sweeter, more confected fruit on the mid-palate. Solid length, too. Drink now-2024. Tasted February 2019.

91 2014 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino
On the rubbery-reductive side for now, but shows a fine and concentrated, succulent and rich palate, with solid density and very good length. Ripe tannins. A touch of wood still marks the palate but give this another 2-3 years. Another successful, northern Montalcino example from 2014, best after 2021. Tasted February 2019.

91 2014 Solaria – Patrizia Cencioni Brunello di Montalcino
Nicely ripened, fresh and fragrant, showing no obvious wood nor excessive herbal character, though certainly earthy and savoury in the sangiovese style. Firm tannins, in balance with lively acids, and long finish. I like this style. A fine new discovery for me. Tasted February 2019.

Buyers Guide: 2014 Rosso di Montalcino

92 2014 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino
Intriguing nose, exotic, sweet-tart fruit, dried and underripe, a real mix of experiences, with resinous herbs thrown in. The palate is firm and grippy, with edgy, if light and delicate tannins, fine character, good to very good length. Almost unique in the Montalcino world. I’d happily drink this, certainly at the level, if not superior, to many Brunelli from 2014. Tasted February 2019.

91 2014 Conti Costanti Rosso Vermiglio
Consider this a true ‘super rosso’, made in in fact from Brunello declassified in the challenging 2014 vintage (no Brunello was produced from the estate), as Andrea Costanti didn’t believe wines would support the usual 3 years in wood that he applies to his Brunello (this spent two years in old botti). It has a pale-medium garnet red colour and notable volatility on the nose, with mushrooms and saffron (botrytis?), some acetic acid, honey and wax, curious but engaging nonetheless. The palate is silky smooth and elegant, with very delicate, fine-grained tannins. There’s some depth and fruit weight here. I can’t say it a classic, but certainly very enjoyable to drink now. Tasted February 2019

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS