Brunello di Montalcino 2012
The warming climate is increasingly a factor in this revered corner of Tuscany, says Richard Baudains, but careful selection in top terroirs is still producing great wines
123 wines tasted Another hot Tuscany vintage, but there’s good consistency among some high-scoring wines
IN the second half of the 19th century, Ferruccio Biondi santi selected a biotype of sangiovese and used it to make an innovative barrel-aged, monovarietal wine. to all intents and purposes he invented Brunello. others took it forward (notably the producers’ consorzio in the 1960s), but without the Biondi santi family there would probably be no Brunello di Montalcino.
Brunello is sangiovese in its most intense, full-bodied manifestation, but in terms of specific textures and aromas there is variation on the basic theme. Individual winemaking styles play a part. estates that age in barrique or tonneaux (a minority, to be honest) make more immediate wines with a big initial fruit impact and smoother tannins. Long maceration and ageing in large slavonian oak barrels create drier, initially more reticent wines. More significant is the influence of soils and climate: to generalise, the further south you go, the fuller, softer and rounder the wines become. on the ridge to the east of Montalcino and in the area to the north, the wines have a more linear, savoury character and generally evolve more slowly.
Identifying specific crus is fertile ground for much discussion. From experience, most would agree that there are certain terroirs which give wines a very particular character, but pinning them down by name is difficult. Montosoli is one that is widely recognised, sesta could be another, and the smaller sub-zone of canalicchio another still. Alcohol levels are also an issue of some debate. A string of scorching, dry summers combined with low yields and strict fruit selection have seen sugar contents soar. Many producers are starting to rethink their vineyard management to obtain more balanced alcohol, but once again it is terroir that makes the difference. higher, cooler slopes have a great advantage in the ever more frequently torrid summers.
all in the timing
this was the case with 2012. the summer was long, hot and dry with temperatures that remained unusually high at night, increasing the risk of drought stress on south-facing slopes. Although september rain brought some relief, producers who picked early to keep acidity often made wines with under-ripe tannins. Fresher areas made wines that have the power and concentration of the vintage, but also good acidity and fresher fruit.
Brunello built its original reputation around the aura of old vintages and its legendary longevity, but the drinking window of modern wines starts much closer to the date of release than its reputation suggests. six to eight years is a good rule of thumb for an average vintage, say 10 for a great vintage from a top producer. the 2011s are drinking now, while the excellent 2010s would benefit from another couple of years.