Benvenuto Brunello 2023 & Buyer’s Guide

Stock Up On As Many 2019 Brunellos As You Can Afford

By John Szabo, MS

The latest edition of the annual Benvenuto Brunello event featured the extraordinary 2019 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, one that will go down among the best of the last decade and sit alongside the now legendary 2016s.

Benvenuto Brunello at Aria Restaurant

Anticipation was high and the mood buoyant in Toronto for the Benvenuto tasting this past November, the Toronto edition, at Aria Ristorante in heart of the city, which gathered 130 of the province’s top sommeliers and professionals (with a reported 200+ disappointed people on the waiting list). This is the first time, Covid-excluded, in almost 15 years that I haven’t attended the event in Montalcino (also in November, but formerly in February as part of the Anteprime Toscane series of new release tastings), but happily, for just the second time, Benvenuto came to Toronto.

2019 was rated the full 5 stars by the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino after the consecutive 4 stars of 2018 and 2017. And although the obvious vested interests of the Consorzio make such declarations questionable (anything less than four stars is exceedingly rare; 3-star 2014 and 2-star 2002 being the only two in the last 20 years), in this case, 2019 deserves the full five-of-a-kind.

Michael Godel

When WineAlign colleague Michael Godel welcomed the crowd and took us through an opening presentation to set the stage for the tasting, he relayed on-the-ground reports from several Brunello producers from a recent visit. “It’s being touted as a famous vintage, comparable to 2016 in that quantity and quality were high,” said Godel.

2019: “Regolare”

2019 can be summed up by the description “regolare” – regular, that is, the increasingly rare and sought after quality of a growing seasons without extremes. “There were mitigating, cooling breezes throughout the season and no heat spikes above 40º, and a cleansing rain in September that refreshed the vines,” Godel continued.

“Calda, but not caldissima,” was the comment relayed from celebrated oenologist Carlo Ferrini of Giodo Estate in Montalcino, warm but not hot, a “Goldilocks vintage – just right”. Godel then half-jokingly reported that Andrea Cortonesi of La Manella spent three weeks at the beach in August, such was the feeling of calm and serenity towards the vintage as it was winding up. Those that had invested in expensive equipment like optical sorting machines watched bemusedly as virtually every berry passed through the series of lasers and censors designed to eject imperfect ones.

John Szabo, MS

2023 Vintage: A Reason to Love 2019 Even More

All this good news was put into greater context by early reports of the 2023 vintage, which by all accounts, was an unmitigated disaster, at least in terms of quantity. As much as 90% of crop lost was reported compared to the denomination’s recent average yields.

The causes were many, though especially damaging was an early spring frost that killed young buds, followed by an excessively wet and rainy May and June coupled with warm temperatures that created the perfect conditions for an uncontrollable outbreak of downy mildew (Peronospora) that affected much of central and southern Italy, and Europe for that matter. Godel tells us, for example, that 20 sprays were applied at La Magia in just 30 days – unheard of numbers. Growers might typically spray no more than 8-10 times in an entire season, and often even less.

A heatwave later in the summer shrivelled up much of the remaining crop. The jury is of course still out on quality, which an early attack of downy mildew doesn’t really affect (the affected berries wither up and fall out of the bunch, especially if a sorting table is used), but the one certain thing is that there won’t be much Brunello to be put in bottle.

2019: “Bread & Depth”

But back to the 2019s at hand. While the 2018s were characterized by freshness, fruit and moderate structure, more “verticality,” according to Godel, the 2019s are wines of breadth and depth. The finest combine perfectly ripe fruit with ample structure, a rare combination of freshness and concentration attributed to those heat mitigating sea breezes. Tannins are abundant but comfortably ripe, notably absent the astringency caused heat and drought stress, which was far more apparent in vintages like 2017.

If there were any downsides to 2019, it’s that some producers were over-enthusiastic about the vintage and extracted with reckless abandon, yielding hard wines that will take many years to soften, if ever, before the fruit fades. But considering the lighter nature of the 2018s and the danger of hard tannins from 2017, 2019 would have understandably been seen as a year to push the limits. The best 2019s in any case should sails gracefully in to the 2040s, even if I’d be tempted to enjoy most at around 8-15 years of age.

Some of the bottles

Single Vineyard Brunello

One last notable trend is the apparent increase in the number of single vineyard Brunellos. While neighboring Tuscan giants Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano have recently introduced new UGAs, Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive, or added geographic units – akin to sub-zones within the region, and other famous denominations like Barolo, Barbaresco and Soave have legislated their crus (called “MGAs”), Montalcino has so far not made any moves towards officially distinguishing the different sub-zones of the region. It’s clear to all observers, and most producers, that Brunello would benefit from “zonation” to highlight the varying styles produced within the appellation, based on concrete factors such as elevation, exposure, and soils.

But in place of larger shared UGAs, Brunello producers are moving towards distinguishing various parcels within their own vineyard holdings. Single vineyard Brunellos are invariably in the top price tier of a producer’ range. One could argue that bottling the finest parcel separately strips out the soul of an estate’s ‘regular’ bottling, though in most cases I did not observe this in 2019. When an estate presented several wines, the regular bottlings were almost uniformly impressive even if most single vineyards were a step above.

Benvenuto Brunello at Aria Restaurant

Brunello Numbers at a Glance:

  • Highest point in the town of Montalcino: 564m (though parts of the DOCG are higher)
  • 75kms from the sea
  • 3500ha of vineyards
  • 208 bottling wineries

John Szabo’s Buyer’s Guide: 16 Top 2019 Brunello di Montalcino (94-97 points)

69 wines from 34 producers were presented at Benvenuto Brunello Toronto, mostly 2019s, but with a smattering of 2018 Riservas and a couple of older vintages. For reviews of all wines, click on John’s Benvenuto Brunello 2023. Below are my top 16, in alphabetical order, all rated between 94 and 97 points. Full reviews and scores, and importer contact information can be found on WineAlign – search the name of the wine, and be sure to check off the box “show wines with zero inventory”.

ARGIANO Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Argiano’s 2019 Brunello is a lovely, powerful, ripe and balanced example offering gorgeous perfume fully in the varietal spectrum, ripe but fresh, and thick, velvety tannins. Concentration is excellent, and the wine blends power and elegance to admirable effect. Excellent length; top notch, best from 2027-2040. Tasted November 2023.

BANFI Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Lovely perfume off the top from Banfi’s classic 2019 Poggio alle Mura, made from a combination of selected Sangiovese clones from the estate research started in 1982, is particularly floral, with a fine mix of savoury herbs and spicy fruit, complex and engaging. The palate is tightly wound and concentrated but without heaviness – I love the finely grained tannins and the terrific length. A top vintage for the wine, best from 2028 – 2040+. Tasted November 2023.

CANALICCHIO DI SOPRA Brunello di Montalcino Casaccia 2019
Stunning right off the top, Canalicchio’s 2019 Casaccia is a wine of terrific perfume, pure and poised, with perfectly ripe fruit in the red spectrum, and well-integrated, high quality oak influence. Tannins are so sleek and refined, and complexity is superb – there’s such salinity here anchored to finesse – the sapidity draws you back again and again. Brilliant wine. Best 2027-2040. Tasted November 2023.

CERBAIA Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Intense, savoury-herbal off the top in a classic Tuscan style, firm and dusty, but with a wash of savoury-sapid red fruit, herbs and spice on the palate. I love the energy and succulence on offer, so well balanced, with terrific length and depth. A classic of the great 2019 vintage. Tasted November 2023.

COLLEMATTONI Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Uncommonly earthy and leathery, there’s an appealing rusticity here on a wine with obvious depth and genuine concentration, sappy red and black cherry fruit, and superb length on the palate. There’s so much going on here, surely a wine for the ages and a marvel from this excellent vintage. For fans of authentic, genuine Brunello. Tasted November 2023.

CORTE PAVONE LOACKER Campo Marzio Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Loacker’s 2019 Campo Marzio from a parcel of over 60 year-old vines, delivers fine aromatic volume and complexity, nicely balanced and tightly wound but not angular, really even-keeled – I love the sapidity and succulence on the palate – it’s a sangiovese of excellent integrity and energy, and fine, lingering finish. A top-quality 2019, best 2026-2038. Tasted November 2023.

CORTONESI Brunello di Montalcino Poggiarelli 2019
A beautifully spicy and complex Poggiarelli single vineyard from Cortonesi,  delivering ample sangiovese spice and red fruit, complex and complete. The palate is superbly savoury and succulent, with terrific energy and balance, not to mention length. Marvelous wine, best 2027-2040+. Tasted November 2023.

DONATELLA CINELLI COLOMBINI Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Reserved on the nose for now, Donatella’s 2019 Brunello is a firm and tightly wound wine, with excellent structure and depth, a serious ‘annata’ to be sure from a great vintage. All the elements line up nicely; this should drink well from 2027-2038 or so. Tasted November 2023.

II POGGIONE Brunello di Montalcino 2019
A surprisingly wood-inflected Brunello from Il Poggione, taking advantage of the excellent 2019 vintage to be sure, and pushed as far as is reasonable. There’s more rustic, savoury-herbal character on the palate, more classic Tuscan one could say. Length and depth are excellent. Best after 2027. Tasted November 2023.

LA FORTUNA Brunello di Montalcino Giobi 2019
An ambitious and stylish wine off the top, La Fortuna’s Giobi in a wood-inflected wine to be sure, but of the highest quality, with lactone spice and fullish, creamy texture. Tannins are abundant but coated in dense fruit extract – it’s a wine that will impress widely as it should, not in the traditional Montalcino spectrum, but top notch all the same in the Tuscan genre. Tasted November 2023.

LE GODE Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Montosoli 2019
Le Gode’s ‘normale’ 2019 Brunello is exceptional, but the Vigna Montosoli is yet another level up, so full, direct and complete, upright and firm, structured in the arch-classic way, with monumental complexity. Wow, this is years away from prime drinking, but should be counted among the vintage’s best example for the long term. Exemplary wine, best 2029-2049. Tasted November 2023.

SALICUTTI Brunello di Montalcino Piaggione 2019
A more dense, riper and darker fruit flavoured Brunello from Salicutti, whose ‘normale’ is among the best of the vintage. This is slightly more extracted, more structured, the wine to cellar long term while you enjoy the supremely elegant normale wine. It has the depth and balance to age gracefully into the 40s no doubt. Tasted November 2023.

SANPOLO Brunello di Montalcino Vignavecchia 2019
San Polo’s Vignavecchia Brunello is the estate’s smallest and most prized cru, a west-facing, 2-hectare vineyard planted on a steep hill in 1988, the winery’s oldest vineyard block, bottled separately  only in select vintages. The 2019 is certainly wood-inflected at this stage showing lactones, but there’s fine, ripe fruit underneath, and excellent density, indeed the palate is  awash in succulent dark fruit, with terrific old vine intensity and concentration. This is serious wine, best from 2027-2040+. Tasted November 2023.

TALENTI Brunello di Montalcino Piero 2019
A more ambitious wine from Riccardo Talenti relative to the Brunello ‘normale’, this has a touch of wood sheen, but with the same silky tannins, so well managed, from a terroir that wants to give generously. Sapidity is high, and length is exceptional. Polished, modern, complete, best 2026-2040+. Tasted November 2023.

UCCELLIERA Brunello di Montalcino 2019
Lovely, broad and aromatically fulfilling Brunello from Ucclliera, with dense, ripe red and darker fruit, abundant but sleek tannins, structured but not unyielding. Superb length and depth. Top notch kit. Best from 2027-2040+. Tasted November 2023.

VOLIERO Brunello di Montalcino 2019
A ripe and modern style, with silky, voluptuous tannins, velvety texture, and long finish. So well balanced, and a model of the great 2019 vintage. Length and depth are excellent. Tasted November 2023.

Recommended Older Vintages & Riserva

COL D’ORCIA Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2016
A terrific wine from a terrific vintage, Col d’Orcia’s classic Poggio al Vento is a marvel of sapidity and gentle salinity, so inviting, balanced and complete. I love the energy on offer, the firmness and poise, the excellent length. A top-notch wine, timeless, quite delicious now but comfortable in the cellar another 20 years easily. Tasted November 2023.

COL D’ORCIA Brunello di Montalcino 2018 Vigna Nastagio
Terrific aromatic volume here off the top, spicy, fruity, maturing and already inviting, Col d’Orcia’s Nastagio is a lovely wine, complex and complete, a triumph for the vintage, blending depth and concentration with superb length – a wine of balance and poise, far above the mean. Best 2026-2040 – it’s one of the few ’18s with a high degree of stuffing to age positively. Tasted November 2023.


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