John Szabo’s Benvenuto Brunello 2020 Report: The Seductive 2015s

By John Szabo MS

2015 will go down as one of the most memorable vintages since the founding of the Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino producers in the 1960s. Producers were unreserved with their enthusiasm, describing it variously as “straordinaria” (“extraordinary”, Andrea Cortonesi of La Manella), “perfect during the summer” (Gianni Maccari, Ridolfi), and “generous in quantity and quality” (Nicolò Magnelli, Le Chiusi). Andrea Costanti of Conti Costanti, felt it was “near-perfect”, and his 2015 Brunello is indeed exactly that.

The Hills South of Montalcino

What makes 2015 such an appealing vintage is the fact that most wines are shockingly delicious now. Thanks to a summer with above average temperatures and little rain, and a coolish September that slowed ripening and preserved critical acidity. Grapes were abundantly ripe and healthy, leading to wines with supple, sweet tannins and voluptuous texture. Yet of course, the best (and there are many in this category), have the genuine stuffing needed to ensure positive development over the next couple of decades.

Consistency is another hallmark of the year. Unlike the more patchy 2014s and 2013s before, the median quality in 2015 is very high, and few wines are objectively poor. Nonetheless, the vintage still provides an opportunity to discover the top terroirs and the most sensitive winemakers, those who resisted the urge to overdo wines, hang grapes too long, extract too heavily, and age for too long in (new) oak, a minor but still extant issue in the appellation.

Cypress Trees, Montalcino

If there’s any reproach, it’s that alcohol levels are in some cases, very high. “Some Brunellos reached nearly 16% alcohol”, says Filippo Chia at Castello di Romitorio, and many hover around 15%. That sumptuous drinkability comes with heady power, and some wines are clearly alcoholic. But on the brighter side, unlike certain other warm vintages like 2012, there is less raisined fruit flavour across the board. “Shrivelled or sunburnt berries were minimal”, according to Fabrizio Bindocci of Il Poggione. The growing experience with hot summers in Tuscany has clearly informed better viticultural practices to protect grapes and preserve some measure of freshness. Heavy winter rains had also replenished aquifers, while a couple of late summer showers kept soil moisture levels up and water-stress down. This allowed grapes to cruise through until harvest without dehydration nor ripening interruptions from overly-stressed vines.

In the end, to keep the Buyer’s Guide to a reasonable number of wines, I’ve included only those that scored 93 points and above. And there are still nearly three dozen on the list, a remarkably high hit rate out of the 100+ or so tasted at Benvenuto and subsequent opportunities. Considering the relatively abundant harvest, this means that there will be plenty of top notch 2015 Brunello to go around, and you should be able to get your hands on some – every wine on this list is worth buying. The quality differences between them is slim; a point or two is a matter of some subjectivity. And while prices have certainly crept up, with many bottlings now into three digits, there are still lots of top-rated wines at relatively bargain prices in the premium wine sphere.

But just as a cautionary note, you’ll want to save some resources for the 2016 vintage. It’s said to be even better, in a more classic idiom (2016 in nearby Chianti Classico is the best vintage I’ve tasted). We’ll see come Benvenuto Brunello edition 2021. Fingers cross that it goes ahead as planned in May!

The Office at Biondi Santi

John Szabo’s 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Buyer’s Guide

98 CONTI COSTANTI Colle Al Matrichese 2015 Brunello Di Montalcino
2015 was a near-perfect vintage in the words of Andrea Costanti, and this is indeed a near-perfect wine of towering stature and thrilling flavours. It displays an ideal mix of ripeness and freshness on the palate, an absolute essence of sangiovese in all of its multifaceted complexity, while tannins are rich and silky, and length monumental. It’s a wine for the ages, and like many 2015s, should have a very long drinking window – it’s thoroughly delicious now, though should cellar comfortably for another couple of decades. Surely one of the greatest Brunellos yet made, nothing short of magnificent. Tasted February 2020.

97 CANALICCHIO DI SOPRA 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
(Barrel sample.) The Riserva comes from the Vigna Vecchia Mercatale, a 2ha parcel on brown clays planted in 1987. It’s understated, as far as many Riservas go, indeed more composed and pulled back than the majority, floral, lifted, with ripe, vibrant fruit. The acids are very fine, making this very linear, upright, forthright, tightly wound, defying the easy-going, ripe open nature of the vintage. This needs at least another 4-6 years for prime drinking. The minerality and tight-grained texture is remarkable, and this should age magnificently. Drink 2025-2045. Tasted February 2020.

97 IL MARRONETO Selezione Madonna delle Grazie 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Il Marroneto’s top selection, the 2015 Madonna delle Grazie is concentrated indeed, open and fragrant, with all high-toned red fruit and flowers, and beguiling pot pourri notes, complex and complete. The palate is pure succulence and salinity, with exceptional length and depth. This is simply gorgeous wine, drinking now, but of course better after 2022. Tasted February 2020.

96 BARRICI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Still wound up on the nose, but dark and spicy, not overripe but deep, with no wood noted (all botti of 20hl and 40hl), concentrated, balanced deeply structured and tannic, with a noble bitterness pulling in the freshness. Fruit is composed, ripe but seamlessly integrated and fresh, with genuine density and flesh, concentration and length. A blockbuster, but elegantly composed. Not near prime – best after 2025. Grand vin. 15% alc., almost unnoticed. Drink 2025-2040. Tasted February 2020.

96 IL MARRONETO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Pale, luminescent garnet red. Open, high-toned, lightly volatile nose, in the post-modern natural world, with vegetal, tomato leaf character joining faded, tart red fruit, and dried flowers-pot pourri, complex all in all. The palate is lovely, silky-smooth, with intense sapidity and salinity, and terrific energy and vibrancy, totally honest and natural. The cooler micro-climate of the north side of Montalcino is clearly marked here in the full fruit development at just 13.9% alcohol, low for the vintage. Terrific length. Sophisticated, elegant, a wine-lovers Brunello. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

96 LE CHIUSE 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Open, faded flowers and fruit lead off, providing herbal, spicy, complexity and plenty of intrigue and engagement. I must say, I love the style, the disarmed traditionalism of it all, the clean faded character, the underlying depth and power hidden by sheer and transparent flavours. The palate is a joy: succulent and vibrant, savoury and saline, mid-weight, firm, lean, even slightly austere in this generally warm and generous vintage, with abundant, more skeletal tannins, though silky, and surprising acids. Tempting now, but this will be far more exceptional no doubt in 3-5 years, or hold deeply into the ’30s. Top notch stuff. One of the wines of the vintage. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

96 SALVIONI – LA CERBAIOLA 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Polished, fragrant, savoury-fruity, complete nose, another cracker from Salvioni, with that impressive mix of elements on both nose and palate. Indeed the salinity and sapidity are extraordinary here, the heat of the vintage perfectly weathered, fruit, neatly poised in the ripe, not overripe spectrum, and the length, well, exceptional. This is fine wine, to drink 2022-2040. Tasted February 2020.

95 MASTROJANNI Vigna Loreto 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Dense, rich, very ripe, concentrated yet without excess concentration, with ripe acids and generous alcohol to be sure, but also a dense and finely knit palate, and excellent structure. Terrific length and depth, flesh and fat. Magnificent wine. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted February 2020.

95 CASTELLO ROMITORIO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino ‘Filo di Seta’
From a single 2ha site close to the Montosoli hill on galestro-marls and limestone, and gravel, planted to old clonal material from Il Poggione and Biondi Santi, lighter coloured. Gorgeous nose, very floral, also showing resinous herbs; struck match notes need time to dissipate. Acids are higher and fruit fresher than the Brunello ‘normale’ from Romitorio, while the tannin matrix is ultra-fine and polished like all wines here, though rich and abundant in this case giving terrific backbone and structure. Effortless, seamless, finely woven, with an underlying sweetness and density. Best after 2023, until the mid-late ’30s. Tasted February 2020.

95 CANALICCHIO DI SOPRA 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
A blend between the Canalicchio and Montosoli vineyards. Notably ripe, rich, dark, exotic, with forward ripe sangiovese character with a sheen of sweet spice, chocolate, fresh coffee bean and hazelnut butter (but not from excessive wood). The palate is thick, intense, dripping with flesh and extract, abundant tannins, delivering superb length. It’s one of the more powerful wines from this estate I’ve tasted in the last decade, also with some alcoholic warmth (15% declared), and very good to excellent length. Try after 2023, or better yet, hold until the end of the ’20s or beyond.  Drink 2023-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 LE RAGNAIE Vigna Vecchia 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Darker perfume than the mean for this old vine cuvée, c. 70 years-old, from the highest elevation vineyards around the property (near 620m), with a dark force and density, also roasted vegetal notes that make it a particularly earthy-solar vintage. The palate is genuinely structured, salty, concentrated with tremendous depth and length. A massively successful wine from the vintage, hyper concentrated but not jammy nor exaggerated. Such a salty wine. Oldest vines were planted in 1968, though about half have been replaced over the years. Outstanding length, finishing on the right sort of noble bitterness. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 LE RAGNAIE Casanovina Montosoli 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
The first vintage at Ragnaie made from the Montosoli hill, purchased in 2014, right next to Baricci’s cellars, under Pietroso. Casanovina is the name of the house within the vineyard, not owned by Ricardo. Fermented in oak. There’s a similar reductive line here that follows the house, but then also a degree of freshness, florality, and terrifically sapid acids, succulence, pinned up by a pinch of volatility, finishing on a beguiling sapid taste. Tight grained tannins, great length. Give another 3-4 years in bottle for the fully savoury experience. Drink 2023-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 CANALICCHIO DI SOPRA La Casaccia 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
This single vineyard rich in clay gives a generous, ample palate, with a sweetness of fruit. It’s a deeply-coloured, dense, ripe, very rich version of Canalicchio’s Brunello, spicy, bitter chocolate-tinged, with spicy dark cherry fruit, extreme depth and minerality, and that grainy, stony, non-fruit dimension that drives length through the back end. The tannic structure is excellent, fine but massive, like a weir impeding flow for now. Try after 2025, or hold into the late ’30s. Drink 2025-2040. Tasted February 2020.

95 FULIGNI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Forward, ripe, sweet-smelling nose, clean and polished, with no signs of obvious wood influence, just a light touch of smoke and roasted character. The palate is supple, mid-weight, really well balanced. It firms up in just the right places, encircled by impressive acids in the context of this warm vintage, adding a sapid, succulent aspect. There’s good terroir and farming behind this wine to be sure. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 MASTROJANNI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Open, ripe, maturing, clearly made from perfectly-ripened grapes, spicy, appealingly herbal, faded flavours, shifting into pot pourri and more in a complex guise. The palate is fleshy, generous, ripe but not over the top, with excellent depth and length. This is particularly refined and salty-mineral, an elegant success for the vintage to be sure, and a wine that should age well into the ’30s. Genuine minerality here; serious, professional. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 ROBERTO CIPRESSO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
High-toned, volatile, tomato leaf notes lead off on the nose, but the palate really picks up interest, delivering a savoury, highly mineral expression, succulent and sapid, with high salinity and excellent length. Tannins are perky and still-dusty-tight, but there’s also significant, if hidden, extract on the palate. Length is excellent. Great structure, great finish. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 SAN POLINO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
A deeply fruity, intense, dark, ripe but still fresh expression of Brunello here, savoury, fruity, balanced, also salty and succulent, with fine-grained tannins, balanced acids and excellent length. A sapid and representative wine at a very high level. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

95 CASTELLO ROMITORIO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
30 year old vineyards, 6 parcels. 450m elevation in the north-mid-west of the appellation, harvested usually a couple of weeks later than the lower lying regions.  Engaging nose, spicy, with lovely herbals, cool and fresh from this high elevation site in western Montalcino, and delicate wood influence, mostly old barrel spice (30% tonneaux, 70% botti). The palate is generous, soft but powerful, with silky, very polished, ripe tannins. Lovely fruit is in the red spectrum predominantly. This will please widely with the gentle, suave texture and the immediate pleasure. Drink 2021-2030. Tasted February 2020.

95 SALICUTTI SORGENTE 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
A strongly clay-based vineyard with more available water. This Brunello shows tightly wound aromatics, but also tightly wound, energetic palate. Tannins are very fine-grained, with high tension that needs time to unwind. This should be great in 3-5 years, on the more finessed side. This for me is an exemplary tense and nervous, elegant wine. Drink 2024-2040. Tasted February 2020.

 94 TALENTI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Pian di Conte
Talenti’s 2015 Riserva is a forward, ripe, dark wine, with massively concentrated fruit, and marked wood/tonneaux influence with its sweet spice and toasted coffee. Fruit is also very ripe, almost jammy; overall it’s discombobulated for now, not to be broached again until the mid-’20s. The palate is sleek, plush, generously proportioned, densely concentrated, a big, joyful mouthful in a modern-leaning, widely appealing style. Genuine depth, power and concentration on offer, and a bottle of immense future pleasure no doubt. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted February 2020.

94 AGOSTINA PIERI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Pale garnet; pretty, lifted aromatics, floral, dusty rose, fresh and desiccated red fruit, resinous herbs and more in a complex expression. The palate is silky, subtle, succulent, a sapid and saline experience driving additional sips. Sophisticated, fine wine, elegant, best after 2022 or hold into the early ’30s. Tasted February 2020.

94 COL D’ORCIA 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
From the southwest-facing hill (“Col”) above the Orcia River valley that runs below this historic property, this is a spectacular 2015 Brunello. The colour is a  pale-medium garnet red. Open, clean, ripe, with authentic faded flowers and red fruited-sangiovese nose, and marginal wood influence. The palate is broad and generous with lots of fat and flesh, voluminous. Alcohol warms up the long finish, a feature of the vintage, but the wine wears it well thanks to such a large frame. Supple tannins and moderate acids make this enjoyable now, but I’d suggest holding another couple of years in cellar – Col d’Orcia has an excellent track record for ageing. Drink 2022-2040. Tasted February 2020.

94 COLLEMATTONI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Pushing ripeness to the edge, Collemattoni’s 2015 is a broad, concentrated, well-structured and extracted wine, lifted by a smart touch of volatile acids. Tannins are firm enough to add detail to the palate, framing ripe red fruit, soft and warm, lingering impressively. Wood is much less of a factor than in previous vintages – I like the direction here, the best Brunello in recent memory from the estate. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

94 RENIERI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
A ripe, forward, wood-inflected, slightly sweet, coconut-lactone-scented example with thick, high fruit extract on the palate, bold and chewy, ambitious and concentrated to be sure. Alcohol feels warming, and the generous palate fills all of the nooks and crannies, but stays lively thanks to savoury minerals. Represents the thicker, riper, more bold side of Montalcino well, and should also age very nicely – be sure to cellar for 2-4 years before cracking. Nice nuance and complexity. Best after 2023-2035. Tasted February 2020.

94 LIVIO SASSETTI-PERTIMALI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
From northern Montalcino on the Montosoli hill and its starkly limestone-based soils, this is firm and edgy, ripe and fragrant Brunello from the Sassetti family, high-toned, with bold cherry fruit and a dusting of cacao powder. Like many vintages from Sassetti, there’s a peppery-reductive edge born of that stony soil, some say mineral, yet extraction in this generous vintage was well-measured, making for a fine-boned wine, fresh in the Montosoli idiom, yet without hard edges. It’s still at least 2-3 years from ideal drinking, and should also age magnificently, like the best of 2015. It will no doubt emerge as a thrilling wine in time. Best 2023-2040. Tasted February and December 2020.

93 LE RAGANIE 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
The estate blend from vineyards ranging from north side Montosoli to southern Castelnuovo dell’Abate, as well as Montalcino’s highest vineyards just outside of town, this sits 90 days on skins. Pale garnet red. Ripe, warm and smoky, with dried floral perfume dominating off the top, ripe, mostly red fruit, some reductive smoke. Amazingly juicy-vibrant palate, succulent, with very fine and firm tannins. It’s really all about the salinity and succulence on offer, beyond all else this drives desire for additional sips. Not a big, plush style by any means, but an elegant, gastronomic beauty. Terrific length, fine and haunting. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

93 DONATELLA CINELLI COLOMBINI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Ripe but fresh and cool, this has a fine streak of herbal character, resinous and fresh, which follows from nose to palate. Vibrant red fruit sits on lively acids, framed by grippy tannins that will need some time to soften, a couple of years at least. Length and depth are excellent. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

93 FATTOI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Dusty, earthy, open in the traditional style, not squeaky clean, but this gains and gains in the glass and is all the more intriguing for it. The palate is lively and energetic, savoury, lifted by old wood and lightly volatile-acetic notes, adding freshness. Tannins are fine-grained and dusty, supported by tight acids; alcohol seems more moderate and balanced than many 2015s. Long finish; not a bold, blockbuster wine, but rather based on old world elegance and sophistication. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

93 FRANCO PACENTI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Pale garnet. Lovely open, faded flower-inflected nose, Turkish Delight, pot pourri and more in the old school style with no evident wood influence save for the oxidative effect. The palate is gentle and supple up front before firming up on the back end with significant tannic drag. Though I think there’s enough fruit and extract to see this through to full integration over the next 3-4 year. Terrific length and depth overall. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted February 2020.

93 GIANNI BRUNELLI LE CHIUSE DI SOTTO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Moderately open, spicy, resinous-herbal, incense-inflected, perhaps even some earthy-brett influence; on the palate it’s particularly juicy, neither over nor underweight, with fine-grained, sandy-mineral tannins. Length is good, though one feels it’s shortened by the earthy character. Should nonetheless continue to improve over the next handful of years. Drink 2022-2035. Tasted February 2020.

93 LISINI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
Tightly wound, but clearly very ripe, Lisini’s 2015 is a firm, tight, structured wine, with more than a touch of wood vanillins and cacao powder to match red and even some black cherry fruit. While not showy now, give this another 3-4 years in the cellar and it should emerge as a very fine wine. Drink 2023-2030. Tasted February 2020.

93 PODERE LE RIPI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Amore & Magia
Here’s a clean, powerful, modern-styled Brunello that takes full advantage of the favourable climatic conditions of 2015, featuring ripe, even slightly overripe red and black fruit, dark, dried herbs, while the palate is dense and fleshy, thick with extract, clearly ambitious wine. In the end it holds it all together admirably, and drives through the back end with force and purpose. Give this another couple of years in the cellar to fully mesh, and drink 2022-2030. Tasted February 2020.

93 TALENTI 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
A blend of vineyards predominantly from around the estate in Sant’Angelo in Colle, the higher vineyards around 400-450m (60%), with the balance from parcels lower down in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, aged in a mix of botti and tonneaux. Youthful, marked by wood notes; this will need time to integrate, several more years I suspect. The fruit is ripe, switching between red and black, backed by more wood spice and some earthy character, while the palate is fleshy, plush with dusty tannic structure and high extract, genuine succulence, length and depth. Drink 2023-2035. Tasted February 2020.

93 ARGIANO 2015 Brunello di Montalcino
On the open, high-toned, oxidative side, with fruit fading in favour of dried herbs and tar, dusty road and old twigs – a traditional style you could say. The palate is silky, light-medium bodied in the context, dry and grainy, fine and dusty. I like the faded rose , old school succulence and sapidity – a good terroir, not overdone. Drink 2022-2030. Tasted February 2020.


Bonus: Top 2018 Rosso di Montalcino

Barrici, La Magia, Le Chiuse, Il Marroneto, Salvioni, Salicutti, San Polino.

John Szabo, MS