Summer Saga IV - Best Brunellos Ever

Ok, I’ve been building this offering for a while, brick by awesome brick, and now it’s time to show my cards: Brilliant Brunello di Montalcino from several stellar vintages (yes, even 2014, don’t believe everything you read). There are sparse quantities of each wine, so don’t delay if you want some. We begin:

Renieri 2013. A cousin of the Chianti Classico rock star Castello di Bossi, Renieri lies on the warm southern slopes of Montalcino, hugging the appellation’s bottom edge. Like Bossi, concentration is their muse, and the Bacci family practices a severe green harvest (like, Thanos severe) and a month-long maceration towards that end, followed by consecutive stays in both modern Barriques and traditional Botti. Renieri is deep and serious but not angry, the black cherry and plum core radiates warm fuzzies throughout the wine, punctuated by spicy ground tobacco and tar. The tannins are prominent but balanced, you can drink this now without regret but Peak Awesome is probably 3 years away. 98 points James Suckling, 3 wooden 6-packs available, $85.99 +tax

Lisini 2013. Vinous’ Antonio Galloni calls Lisini “one of Montalcino’s historic, reference-point estates”, and it’s easy to see why. The Lisinis have owned Montalcino vineyards since the 1500s, and planted their modern-day vines in the 1930s, back when the outside world probably thought “Brunello” was some kind of ice cream. Indeed, Lisini makes wine as if the last 60 years never happened, fermenting in cement and aging only in large, neutral Slovenian Botti. The reduced oak influence lets the mineral and herbaceous notes shine, and this Lisini nose is bursting with floral orange peel, mint and iron, alongside the expected red cherries. A shad ornery on the finish, needs a 4-year nap to dull its claws, but undoubtedly a future classic -the benchmark holds. 96 points Wine Spectator, 3 6-packs available, $99.99 +tax

Il Poggione 2013. The world never seems more right than when one of your favourite bands drops yet another great album. Since the late 19th century when Lavinio Franceschi bought one of the first estates in the area (they are one of the Original Three), the Franceschi family has been pushing the envelope of quality and innovation in Montalcino, eventually becoming one of the most influential wineries in Tuscany. Their electric 2013 Brunello certainly doesn’t coast on its reputation, either. Boasting ripe berries and crushed rocks stirred with licorice bark, Poggione drinks robustly now, and will for a further 10 years. There are pronounced tannins – Poggione always has these – so throw a steak on the grill and be merry. 96 points Robert Parker, 96 points Jeb Dunnuck, 3 6-packs available, $87.88 +tax

Sesti “Phenomena” Riserva 2012. Rich, lush Southern Brunello at its finest, made in sub-atomic quantities. Although the Argiano winery (more on them further down) is named after the medieval Castello di Argiano, the actual Castello is next door on the largely wooded estate owned by Giuseppe Sesti, a historian of astronomy and Opera festival director who came to winemaking by studying the effects of the moon cycles on vineyards (this sounds like the set up for a Sci-Fi movie where Giuseppe – played by Nicholas Cage -  finds an alien capsule under a vine, but I swear it’s legit). Today, Sesti makes wines so organically, you’d think they were a family of bears – the requirements of most organic certifiers are actually too lax for him. I visited the estate last year and that’s where I found this alien capsule called Phenomena, a Riserva DOCG with the weight and persistence of a Saint-Emillon. Giuseppe designs the labels every year (because of course he does) to reflect an astronomical event that occurred during the year of harvest – in 2012 it was a solar eclipse – and it drinks amazeballs. All manner of baking spices surround dried fruits and nuts, with crushed red fruits and star anise on the long, warm finish. Tastes like Barry White sounds. 94 points Decanter, 6 bottles available, $165.98

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona 2013. Take it from me, once you learn how to pronounce this winery’s name, it’ll be all you want to do all day. Once a 17th century palace, the estate played owner-plinko until it fell into the hands of the Bianchini family, who in the 80s modernized and sanitized the production, and they’ve found themselves on various Top 100 lists off and on ever since. This 2013 finds red fruits multiplying like Mogwai throwing each other into water, even more than other vintages the fruit drives this bus, contained by soft, refined tannins and a sense of existential comfort. I’d like the acid to come down a decibel or two – 2021 is likely the optimal launch date – but otherwise there are nothing but yummies all the way down. 96 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $106.98 +tax

Valdicava 2012. Farming in the northern Montosoli cru, Vincenzo Abbruzzese continues to produce time capsules that will serve to educate our future Robot Overlords about how awesome we were. The nose is fantastically aromatized with herbs, spices and sweet oak, but it drinks like an electric fence and will for the next 8 years. If you’re willing to put the time in, this 2012 will more than reward you on the other side – I still have some 2005* and it is simply divine – but as popular and cult-like as it is, Valdicava won’t drink at its price point for another 8 years. I was only allocated 6 bottles, hence the caveat. 96 points James Suckling, 6 bottles available, $193.98 +tax

Biondi Santi Annata 2012. The Granddaddy of them all, Biondi Santi is, simply put, the reason that we care about Montalcino as a Fine Wine terroir, and not San Gandolphini just down the road**. Anyone who has attended my Brunello class knows how Franco Biondi Santi and his forebearers – inspired by Bordeaux -  elevated both the quality and visibility of Brunello over a century and a half – if it weren’t for them, Montalcino would be just another hill with a town on top that happened to grow wine. Like the Valdicava above, Biondi Santi is an investment, think of it as an Italian First Growth (because it basically is), something that will gain fame and value over time, but I wouldn’t advise drinking it now if you’d like to keep all of your teeth. Built for hibernation, a young Biondi Santi doesn’t show much of anything on the nose – the true character will be the tertiary notes that only time can bring – and the structure obscures all else. On the other side of history, however, it’s a marvel of elegance and longevity, and one of the world’s truly essential wines. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 95 points James Suckling, 6 bottles available, $294.98 +tax

Caparzo 2014. Firstly, a few notes on the 2014 vintage, because wineries will tell you that everything was great-why-are-you-asking and wine writers act like everyone died. I asked everybody I met when I went to Tuscany last year: What happened, put simply, is rain. Not even a ton of rain, but it happened when you wouldn’t want it to, and it happened enough that humidity was a problem. Those who practiced proper canopy management and green harvest made elegant, ageable wines with a touch less pigment than other vintages. Those who did not… didn’t produce a 2014 Brunello. That’s it. Remember: Good People Make Good Wine. Vintage characteristics can vary, perhaps in and out of our preferences, but skilled winemakers don’t make disasters (or put their name on them, at least). Speaking of good people: Caparzo. More traditionally hued than their neighbour Altesino (they share an owner), Caparzo was perfectly suited to the lighter 2014 vintage – dried herbs and cherry with plums and a hint of balsamic. Medium bodied, elegant and delicious, evocative of a red Burgundy, just with different sniffs. 92 points Wine Spectator, 2 6-packs available, $73.98 +tax

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta 2014. The locals all screamed Carpetbagger when Barbaresco’s most famous son bought the historic Santa Restituta estate near Montalcino, but Angelo Gaja respected the land, its soils and its traditions so thoroughly that now they just scream because he doesn’t make enough wine. There’s even less for this vintage, alas. Usually a multi-tiered project, Angelo found the 2014 vintage challenging, so he folded all of the fruit from the Rennina and Sugarille vineyards (priced more like Biondi Santi) into this entry-level Brunello. Kaboom. Tightly wound like all his wines, but with gobs of red and dark fruits and licorice and fresh basil. Definitely a step up from other vintages, intensity-wise. Not yet rated, 3 6-packs available, $123.98 +tax

Castiglion del Bosco “Millecento” Riserva 2010. The flagship of the Ferragamo (yep, that Ferragamo) family’s venture in the densely wooded, sparsely planted northwest quadrant of the appellation, and the omg-window on this sublime 2010 just opened up. Sourced from the estate’s oldest vines, Millecento spends so much time (3 years) in French Oak, they had to give each bottle its own wooden box so that the wine didn’t feel scared out in the world. Full of dark berries and little sticks of dynamite, Millecento is still a robust affair, but time has turned the massive fruit a little brown around the edges,, with some welcome leather notes joining the party. 96 points James Suckling, 94+ points Robert Parker, 3 bottles (in individual wooden boxes) available, $262.98 +tax

Argiano Solengo 2016 Toscana I.G.T. Okay, I’m totally cheating here because this isn’t a Brunello, it’s a Supertuscan, but since Argiano is a Brunello house (as noted, right next to Sesti), and since Solengo is so awesome, I thought I’d sneak it in. I sold out of the 2015 vintage only a couple of weeks ago, and this 2016 is proving to be just as epic. Cabernet Sauvignon driven with Petit Verdot and Merlot in sidecar, blackberries, tobacco and spice abound, the body is a bit fatter than the 2015 but we’re still a couple years away from go-time, here. I do not expect to have this for very long. 99 points James Suckling, 3 6-packs available, $106.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

*as noted, I do have a bit of 2005 Valdicava ($173.98) left, as well as some 2006 Terralsole Riserva ($121.98) for those wishing to warp past those levels where you wait for your Brunello to age.

**There is no town called San Gandolphini, I made it up, but that’s what Montalcino would have sounded like to us if it weren’t for Biondi Santi. #nailedit