What’s in the glass tonight May 27th – Barbaresco

Produttori di Barbaresco 2007

From the Cellar: Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano 2007 – $$$

14.5% alc. Dark carmine colour.

Gorgeously fragrant – violets, plums and prunes; savoury notes too; and boxwood and brown card.

Stunning fruit weight, texture and body in the glass. Silky tannins, then drying. Strong and spicy. Vanilla and a little oak. A hot finish.

A stunning wine and worth the wait.

Outstanding 96 points.


MS Tasting – 2004 Brunello di Montalcino

MS Brunello 1

The last Magnum tasting of the year, with a great line-up of 2004 Brunello’s.

Introduced once again by the extremely knowledgeable DB, I reproduce some of his excellent tasting notes here:

The Consorzio de Vino Brunello di Montalcino awarded itself 5 stars for the 2004 vintage. After a virtual write-off in 2002, and an extremely hot, low yielding 2003, everyone was in the mood for some good news. Today, with 13 years of hindsight, several highly respected writers (O’Keefe, Galloni, Belfrage et al) have lowered their assessment to 4 stars. Others, eg Bruce Sanderson from Wine Spectator and James Suckling, hold to their original vintage assessment of 97 points.

Everyone agrees that the weather couldn’t have been better. Ample sunshine right across the region and just enough heat with refreshing rains at just the right times did the trick. September and October featured warm days, cool nights, dry weather, and no pressure on harvest.

So, why do some now believe 2004 was less than great? It comes down to the same old issue – variability, but with a twist. Variability – strong sub-regional differences across Montalcino; the impact of human decisions…use of wood, house style, the different preferences of different markets; tradition versus modernity; and the twist of the scandal which was to hit Montalcino four years later.

But before we discuss all that, let’s go back a couple of years. Such was the reputation of 2004 in Tuscany that our Cellarmaster wisely acquired two sets. One was a set of Brunello which we are about to taste. The other was a set of various reds from the Chianti Classico region which we tasted in April 2015. Our findings at that tasting are relevant to the coming event.

At the 2015 tasting I emphasised that Chianti Classico has always been about blending on an at least 80% Sangiovese base. While there has been a move back to native Tuscan varieties as blending partners, several wineries have preferred to use Merlot, Cab Sav or Syrah. This use of French varieties often comes at the cost of the wine’s identity, and regional typicity. What can emerge, however is a new wine of fine quality eg Solaia and d’Alceo, although these wines bear no resemblance to Chianti Classico. But then they are not called that, and no one has any problems with it.

This is in complete contrast to the Brunello di Montalcino model which requires 100% Sangiovese, and there have been problems. If you want to blend, you can use the DOC San ‘Antimo, or the IGT Toscana. Problem….San ‘Antimo does not command the reputation nor price of Brunello. And the IGT market is overcrowded offering everything from Vino Rosso to the most expensive Super-Tuscans from anywhere in Tuscany including multi-site blends. Many of these wines have anonymous labels and providences, and variable quality, and prices. Some are stunning; several are ”boring” (O’Keefe, and me). Also, there has been a recent market shift away particularly from the monolithic examples as buyers are taking more interest in a wine’s purity of expression.

Brunello has remained the epitome of quality and the price definer in Montalcino. That is one reason why some producers have wanted to blend to beef up their slightly austere Sangiovese to make it more appealing at an earlier age, but they have also wanted access to Brunello’s label, pricing and marketability for what clearly would not be Brunello.

If Montalcino is such a blessed area, and the Brunello clones of Sangiovese are its ultimate expression, as we are told, then why such variability, and why would anyone want to blend in French varieties?

Several reasons. Firstly terroir. Montalcino is a very varied territory. High and rugged in the north and east, and lower, more open and rounded in the south and west. There is more rain in the hills and more Mediterranean influences in the South. Sea breezes in the west, not in the east. North and eastern wines are more Chianti Classico Riserva look-a-likes. Southern and western wines are riper, more rounded, and softer. Soils vary as do micro climates. In a colder year, when wines may be austere, a splash of Merlot would be tempting. In a year like 2004, it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Secondly, availability of land. In 1990, about 3.1 million bottles of Brunello were produced. In 1999 there were 3.5 million. In 2004 5.6 million, and in 2008 6.9 million. Plantings have expanded into all sorts of areas hitherto considered unsuitable and the Consorzio has been pressured to license those for Brunello production. Galloni asserts that really, only 25-33% of available land is suitable for first class Sangiovese. So, a lot of young Brunellos rushed to the market in 2004, coming from the new territories, with relatively low vine age and little acquired wisdom of the new sites’ viticultural requirements. Again, you could compensate for some of this if allowed.

Thirdly, human choices. Some companies are very focused on the American market, and the USA does take about 60% of each year’s total Brunello production. The American palate favours the south/west group of producers being riper, softer, richer. And new oak barrique flavours seem to attract further. Traditional makers prefer larger format, older oak, Slavonian by choice. The resulting two wine styles can be hugely different. In younger vineyards, overconfidence in the fruit’s strength can lead to overworking in wood and if there is any perception of unripeness, this can produce serious imbalance. Blending in up to 15% of licensed Brunello from other vintages is legal. In 2004, this facility anecdotally enabled several companies to quit some hard-to-sell, overripe, 2003 stocks which could be why some wines have been criticised for bakey notes.

Fourthly, there is no clear definition about what “good” Brunello actually is. This is not unique to Montalcino but it underlines much of the ongoing differences between the traditional and modern makers. Ironically, in the Consorzio’s first attempt in defining the style in 1996, allowance was made for blending up to 15% of other black grape varieties, but that didn’t survive the final cut. In the most recent review, in late 2008, the Consorzio voted virtually unanimously to maintain strictly the 100% Sangiovese rule. So, the rules are crystal clear, but what defines “good”? Quality assessment has often been clouded by personal perceptions of what Brunello should be. There has been any amount of scope for debate with misunderstanding, bias, and commercial pressure playing their part. All give ample room for perceptions of “variability” year in, year out. One man’s prize stallion is another’s donkey.

With all the debate, suspicion, innuendo and gradual appearance of more and more darker, richer, Brunellos showing unusual (non- traditional) characteristics, plus the well- known existence throughout the region of 800ha of non Sangiovese red wine varieties (for use in IGT, VDT, etc), plus some “information received”, in 2008 the Italian authorities impounded several million litres of 2003 Brunello on suspicion of illegal blending. Nearly 100 companies were investigated including four of the biggest, most prominent. The issue was thoroughly stirred by several eminent writers and experts who publically opined along the lines of “I have long suspected this” and “I’ve been saying this for years.” In the end, there was no clear outcome. Substantial stocks were re-classified to IGT just to get the stuff out of embargo and on to the market (without prejudice to the makers’ cases that the wines were entirely legal.) The Consorzio, and authorities, received much needed lessons in record keeping, audits, and the ability to test for the presence of alien juice in the wines. All in all, the region was left shocked and paralyzed by the experience as the reputation of Brunello, rightly or wrongly, had been very severely damaged.

While the matter of the 2003s did eventually fade away, there remained a serious issue for the 2004s. Between 2003 and 2008 when the scandal broke, there had been the 2004,5,6, and 7 vintages, and the 2004s were all in their bottles. The argument went that if people had “clearly” cheated in 2003, and this had been long suspected for previous years as well, why wouldn’t they have continued cheating in 2004? A big cloud of suspicion descended on the 2004s and the investigation was expanded to include them. But by that time, the authorities had a much better idea of what the truth was. Several companies were investigated regarding their 2004s but to my knowledge, no wine was embargoed.

Even so, it took a long time for the conspiracy theorists to lie down and biases appeared in some reviews of the 2004s. A classic example is World of Fine Wine’s review of the 2004s in Issue 27, 2010. I give you only two quotes that amply serve to illustrate:

“…the influence of Bordeaux was apparent to all three tasters”

“There was ample evidence of grape varieties other than Sangiovese”

To give them credit, they tried to be positive throughout the tasting and a wine- by- wine check of the seven wines we shall be tasting showed them all to be in the top echelon.

Decanter in August 2009 focused on inconsistence and the arrival of new young-vine wines. There was only one hint at the scandal but the speaker was described as being cynical, and there it rested.

Wine Spectator has remained solidly of the view that 2004 is one of Montalcino’s greatest vintages and that everyone should be more patient. James Suckling agrees.

Another American, Ed McCarthy of Wine Review opined that while 2004 is a ‘top notch year’, it is too early to call it an ‘all-time great’. He discusses variability as a probable cause of the scandal.

Vinous Media expressed the view that 2004 falls into the camp of 4 to 4.5 stars; they marginally preferred 2001. They thought that the warmth of 2004 did not help vineyards in the lower southern region.

Interestingly, Antonio Galloni (who is Vinous) has said himself the South did better than the North in 2004. He picks on a theme of “the continuing emergence of the differences between Montalcino’s various terrains and microclimates.” He welcomed increased numbers of “new style” Brunellos, being more aromatic and expressive of Sangiovese but felt some others needed filling out. He concludes “a solid, classic vintage but I’m not convinced it’s a home run.”

Again, the individual wines we shall taste were all reported highly. I am sure we will be pleased with the seven in the flight:

Poggio Antico Brunello A farm turned vineyard/winery in the late 70s located about 6km south of Montalcino at about 450m facing southwest. Exposed to sea breezes. Calcareous soils, clay and rock. 33ha in mature vines at 3300vines/ha, and another 17ha planted 1997-2001 at 6000 vines/ha. Hand harvested. Yields 5T/ha, two passes over sorting tables. 16 days ferment in stainless steel. 36 months in large Slavonian oak 370-550lts in size. 12 months in bottle.

Lisini Brunello Lisini is about 8km due south of Montalcino at 300-350m, just to the northeast of Sant’Angelo down a dirt road through dense scrub. The soils are soft, sandy, volcanic with some stones and the site is exposed to sea breezes. 20ha under vine. Lisini is one of the district’s historical producers and remains one of the more traditional. The family have been farming here since the 16th century. Mainly massale selection with some vines up to 75 years old. There is one small block remaining of pre-phyloxera from the mid 19th century. Wines are aged in large 1100-4000lt Slavonian botti for up to 3 years.

Costanti Brunello 2km southeast of Montalcino, only walking distance from Fuligni ( see below). A very old family property which first exhibited its Brunello in 1870. Vineyards face southeast on quite a steep slope at 310-400m. 12ha under vine. Soils are blue-grey chalky marl. Costanti uses new BBS clones 5-25 years old. Wood ageing is mixed with 18 months in new and used 350-500lt French tonneaux, and 18 months in 3000lt Slavonian botti.

Fuligni Brunello 2km east of Montalcino on quite open rounded hills facing east-southeast at elevations 0f 380-450m. 11ha under vine. An old Tuscan family but making wine since only 1923. Tending towards a traditional style: aromatic, elegant, and subtle rather than fruit forward. Aged in 500lt French tonneaux for 4-5 months in an old convent on the property, then for 30 months in large Slavonian botti deep underneath the family’s 18th century palazzo in the centre of town.

Il Poggione Another one of Brunello’s pioneers of 100-120 years ago. This is a big estate (530ha total with 140ha in grapes). Located on the southern edge of Sant’Angelo in Colle with large blocks spreading down a long south facing slope right down to the Orcia river. They have made extensive use of new clones since the 1990s but also take cuttings off their oldest block Paganelli (see below). We have two wines from this estate:

Il Poggione Brunello A blend from the four main vineyards on the slope. Typically spends 3 years in 300-500lt French oak.

Il Poggione Riserva Vigna Paganelli A single vineyard wine from the oldest section (1964) of the property. 200m. More alluvial soils. This block relies on its own cuttings for replants. Usually spends 4 years in 300-500lt French oak before bottle ageing.

Argiano Brunello One of the most well-known and visited of Montalcino’s estates. A story-book palazzo built in 1581-1596 on a 120ha plateau in the southwest corner of the region. 50ha of Brunello certified vineyards at 300m. Substantial plantings of French varieties for its two super-tuscans for which it has a high reputation. Owned for some time by members of the Cinzano (drinks) family but sold in 2013 to Brazilian interests. Its first Brunello was 1888. Usually fermented in stainless steel, then a year in French barrique and tonneaux, then a year in large Slavonian botti, then stored in concrete tanks prior to bottling.

MS Brunello 2

And so to the wines:

2004 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino – Browning dark ruby colour. Sweet, floral and aromatic. Scents of pink roses, lanolin, richness, vegemite. I thought quite thinly fruited on the palate, almost skeletal. It improved 100% with supper, which helped ’fill in the corners’, but this wasn’t a balanced example to start. My least favoured wine. I scored this Bronze.

2004 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour. Tainted? Dry, thin fruit on the nose. However, the wine revealed good fruit flavours, richness and smoothness on drinking. Primary fruit, strong tannins, a sour-ish spine. Long hot finish. Gold

2004 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino – Darkest ruby colour, faded edges. Great fruit aromas, with intensity and complexity. Dark plums, prunes, herbs, a savoury character. Lovely balanced fruit and acid. Fine grained tannins. Moderate density with a fresh and long finish. A gorgeous wine, and my third wine of the evening. Gold.

2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour, tending brown. Funky and developed, which tendered to smother the fruit aromas, so seemed ‘dumb’. Gorgeous fruit flavours, with a real burst of intensity and acid in the mouth. Pepper, herbal, sour cherries, fine tannins. Silver.

2004 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino – Brilliant dark ruby colour. V attractive. Bright and elegant nose with engaging fruit aromas and finesse. Rich dark fruit flavours, again I noted finesse, great acid and breadth of fruit concentration, and a hot finish. My second wine of the night. Gold.

2004 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour, tending brown. Started slightly repressed on the nose, but opened up on standing to reveal a very lovely bouquet – poised, with concentration, fleshy and succulent, fruit driven and still quite primary. Elegant texture in the mouth, fruit-rich flavours, brilliant beautiful and classy. Such a young wine still. My wine of the night (WOTN). Gold.

2004 Il Poggione Riserva Vigna Paganelli – Dark ruby colour. Funky and somewhat oxidative, thinning fruit and that vegemite character again, and licorice.  Intense acid texture to drink, bracing and sharp. Herbal with a varnich note. The wine balanced out with food, and I scored this Silver.

To my taste, a mixed bag this. Three great wines, one ok wine, and three that made up the numbers. Easy to see why the commentators who DB referred to wrote what they did about this vintage, and illuminated the wider issues with Brunello and variability.

That is the beauty of wine and terroir and the handmade nature of the finer examples I guess!

MS Brunello 3

Nice to take a few examples home to look at again at the kitchen table, and collect my thoughts.

Thanks to DB and Magnum for another fine and informative tasting. Thanks also for the delicious supper by TJ – a treat in itself!

MS Tasting and AGM – Barolo 2009

This promised to be a great tasting. I love Barolo. It is sooo expensive though, so I don’t get to drink anywhere near enough of it.

First up was the Society’s AGM, however. To accompany the business section a small selection of “conversation wines” from the Society’s collection was provided to lubricate the meeting, ahem.

Magnum AGM

I tried the Australian 2002 Grosset Riesling Polish Hill which was lovely, linear and minerally; a 2001 Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Combe aux Moines  (a gift from the Estate of a supporter of the Society); a 2001 F. Esmonin Ruchottes Chambertin (from the same estate) which was tender, floral, and fine, with gorgeous fruit and structure, and a sweet finish;  and a 2010 Terres Dorees Beaujolais Village, Moulin a Vent which was delicious, floral, light and aromatic and fruitful. A fantastic way to get the palate working.

The business was over and done in 23 minutes, longer that the previous year (due to a few questions from yours truly), then it was on to the Barolo’s…

Magnum Piedmont 2

As usual, a society member led the tasting, and produced the following notes to accompany the flight and provide pre-reading background to the wines. Here is what AH wrote for us:

 “It is usually possible to recognise Barolo or Barbaresco when they are served blind, particularly if they follow Red Burgundy. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” is often the call. Michael Garner, co-author of Barolo – Tar and Roses says it is the only wine that smells like you have walked into an old church. The structure is distinctly Italian, with unrepentant tannin and acid, and that characteristic tarry goudron element often shows in older examples. These stereotypical descriptions fail to account for the fascinating variation in style that is seen among these wines, which are every bit as diverse as Red Burgundy.

What are the key determinants of style and quality in Barolo?

  1. Soil. The soils of the Barolo region can be divided into two main types that are separated geographically by a diagonal line running through the town of Barolo and up towards CastiglioneFalletto. The communes of Barolo and La Morra to the northwest of the line are located on soils formed in the Tortonian era; consisting of calcareous clay and blue-gray marls. Wines from this part of the Barolo region tend to be more elegant and approachable earlier than their Serravallian counterparts.

Southeast of the line, the communes of Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba are on silty marls dating back to the Serravallian era and are comprised of clay, sandstone and, in particular, calcium carbonate, which renders wines that are more structured, tannic and take longer to reach their optimal drinking window.

Parts of Castiglione Falletto have a third soil type; the Arenarie di Diano d’Alba. This has a higher sand content than the soils across the valley in Serralunga d’Alba and may explain differences in structure between Serralunga and Castiglione wines, and differences between vineyards within the Castiglione Falletto commune.

  1. Aspect. The direction a vineyard faces is fundamental to the quality of the cru. The tongues of the Barolo hills are rippled with hills and valleys, producing enormous variability in microclimate, and a vine planted on a south or southwest-facing slope will see more sun than vines on the northern side of the hill. Elevation is also important, the best parts of the vineyard being on the mid to top part of the hill; the so-called bricco. Traditionally, the best sites for vines were identified as the a reason the hill where the snow melted first in spring. In recent years, global warming and the rise in prices of Barolo have made it possible and desirable to replant with Nebbiolo areas that were previously considered suitable only for Barbera, Dolcetto and hazelnuts.
  2. Winemaking style. Up until the late 1960s, Barolo was made by blending wines made from different vineyards to achieve a balance of elegance and structure, and aging them in ancient large format oak botti, probably inherited from ones grandfather. In the 1970s, a new generation of winemakers began to question their forefathers’ practices. These ‘Barolo Boys’ visited Burgundy and came back with ideas of making individual crus and aging them in barriques. In 1983, in a fit of pique, Elio Altare took to his father’s botti and fruit trees with the chainsaw that was heard around the world; this act being a symbolic turning point in Barolo winemaking history.

While the move from the traditional winemaking practices to the modernist approach undoubtedly brought long-overdue improvements in cellar hygiene and consistency of quality, many felt that the flavours imparted by high speed fermentations in roto fermenters and aging in oak barriques obscured the essential form of Barolo and Barbaresco; with leather, tar and roses giving way to espresso, chocolate and vanilla.

These days the distinction between traditionalists and modernists is less clear-cut. Producers like Bartolo Mascarello stick to a hard line traditionalist approach; a fax machine being the most high tech device in that cantina, whereas others like Domenico Clerico take great pride in their vast halls of French barriques, but many combine elements from both approaches, or use roto fermenters only for turning the cap once or twice a day, or have a low percentage of new oak.

Of the producers we will be tasting, Brezza and Marcarini and perhaps Vietti could be regarded as traditionalists, Baudana under the ownership of G.D. Vajra would be leaning towards traditionalism, Sandrone somewhere in the middle and Mauro Veglio more in the modernist camp.

Vintage 2009

A wet spring led to delayed flowering and the summer was dry and hot, causing a rapid maturation cycle and an early harvest for most producers. Complexity in Nebbiolo relies on a long maturation time, which 2009 did not provide. Galloni describes the 2009 Barolos as light to medium-bodied wines, with radiant fruit but only modest concentration. He says that “overall, this is a fairly average vintage with many good wines, a few superstars and a bevy of Barolos that will drink well right out of the gate. But the visceral thrill of the truly great vintages, sadly, is not there.”

Kerin O’Keefe describes 2009 as a buyer-beware vintage, with exceptional wines being few and far between. Scathing heat caused uneven ripening and if the grapes were picked in a single harvest the presence of overripe fruit led to cooked flavours.

Here are the wines we will be tasting:

2009 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito (Serralunga)

2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa (Barolo)

2009 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne (Barolo)

2009 Mauro Veglio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata (La Morra)

2009 Marcarini Barolo Brunate (La Morra)

2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Ceretta (Serralunga)

And then on to the tasting itself, with all the wines customarily served blind in 60ml pours:

Magnum Piedmont 1

2009 Mauro Veglio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata – Deep dark carmine. I was very impressed with this wine.  Dense savoury nose of cinnamon, aniseed and vanilla, dark fruits, fig, plum, a chemical character, and tarry. So expressive. The wine was sweet and ripe to taste on entry, with intense gorgeous primary ripe fruit flavours, harmonious oaking, tar, and a gentle drying finish.  I scored this Gold. A great start.

2009 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – Brick carmine. A classic Barolo.  Sweet and lifted nose. Thinner fruit than the Muro, almost sour. There where notes of lanolin, strong bush honey, and quite angular. Again the wine drank as sweet, ripe, intense, and powerful. It was long. It was hot. Tasting superbly with honey and tar. Quite evolved.  I scored this Gold.

2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa – Brick carmine. There were a few suspended solids in this wine. Didn’t affect the taste. Quite dumb aromatically at first, with cardboard box and funky characyers. Spicy hot and sharp to taste. Sweet entry. Lean. A hot finish. (they were all hot, to be honest). This one was lighter, perhaps faulty. A simple wine, compact and complete to some.  I scored this Silver.

2009 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne – Deep brick carmine. Another classic Barolo.  Quiet on the nose, but a step up in quality. Lightly fruited, not much in the way of expression at first. Tarry, showing some leather an tomato sauce. It was a big changer through the night. Powerful in the mouth. Dense and sharp. Tarry, powerful. Grunt.  Balance. Then a dry finish. Harmonious when all considered. No flaw, gorgeous. My second favourite wine of the night.  I scored this Gold.

2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Ceretta – Deep brick carmine. Yet another classic Barolo.  Quiet nose, with elegant fruit, then revealing savoury qualities and density. Some described ‘roasting-tray scrapings’. I saw roses in a broody, reserved wine. To taste, the wine wasvery  powerful, with depth and tannic thrust, full-on, grunty and hot.  Menthol character.  A fruity finish, long, and quite sweet. A bruiser of a wine. I scored this Gold.

2009 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – Deep brick carmine. Floral, with rose and quinine, sweet vanilla, ripe fruit, lanolin, quite confected. There was a fantastic savoury and spicy hit at the back of the nose. So expressive. The wine tasted sweet and ripe. There was great tannin structure, density and opulence. Mouthsmackingly good . I scored this Gold and it was my Wine Of The Night (WOTN)


What’s in the glass tonight April 27th – Chianti


From the Cellar: Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore 2011 – $$$

Dark plum red colour, tending tawny. 13% alc.

A bouquet that is rich and opulent and savoury. Scents of dates, cardboard and spice, and fusty dark fruits.

In the mouth the wine tastes rich, ripe and full. Concentrated fruit, quite chewy. A delicious spicy finish, with a tannic rasp at the back of my throat, and drying. Very long.

Highly Recommended 91 Points


What’s in the glass tonight February 22nd – Nebbiolo

GD Vajra Nebbiolo Langhe 2013

Off Topic: GD Vajra Nebbiolo Langhe 2013 – $$$

Dark carmine. 13.5% alc. From a Barolo producer, tho this isn’t one of those stellar wines. Bought from a new Wgtn supplier (for me) – Truffle Imports.

Savoury and spicy, aromatic, chunky and big. Meaty and expressive, with scents of dark plums and cherries.

The wine was smooth and sweet on the palate, with ripe, rich and vivacious fruit flavours. A fresh finish. Really delightful and delicious.

Highly Recommended  – 90 points

What’s in the glass tonight February 11th – Nero d’Avola


Santagostino Nero d’Avola Syrah Firriata 2012

L and I went to dinner Saturday night at the fantastic Cicio Cacio Osteria in Newtown. I love the food there, and the atmosphere. They like their salt – you are warned!

I had this fantastic wine there. On special. A 50/50 Nero d’Avola/Syrah blend from Sicilia.

Opulent and perfumed and engaging. Totally delicious.

Highly Recommended  – 92  points

MS Tasting – 2007 Brunello di Montalcino


2007 Brunello di Montalcino

This was another style of Italian wine I have not had a chance before to try and appreciate. Again, an opportunity to taste, listen and learn, under the guidance of Italian wine fan and Society member DB.

Brunello di Montalcino, from Wikipedia, is a red Italian wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino located about 80 km south of Florence in the Tuscany wine region. Brunello, a diminutive of bruno, which means brown, is the name that was given locally to what was believed to be an individual grape variety grown in Montalcino. In 1879 the Province of Siena’s Amphelographic Commission determined, after a few years of controlled experiments, that Sangiovese and Brunello were the same grape variety, and that the former should be its designated name.

The wines we are trying tonight:

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – $60.00 (historical cost)

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino – $100.00

2007 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino – $100.00

2007 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino – $100.00

2007 Voliero Brunello di Montalcino – $68.00

2007 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino -$80.00

There were some excellent notes compiled by DB to accompany the Society tasting:

“Brunello has been called “Classico on steroids”. In hot years like 2003, Classico can outperform Brunello at a much lower cost. But, putting the price difference aside, it is very easy to contrast Montalcino’s physical aspects with those of Classico, and when you come to taste the wine, the impact of those differences becomes clear.

The Montalcino region is lower in altitude, closer to the coast, more rounded in terrain, less wooded, more exposed to sea breezes, and is warmer. The vineyards seem larger today despite Montalcino having a history of small holdings. The plots have less variety in their aspects and their soils than Classico and mostly they achieve a higher degree of ripeness. Brunello can be richer, warmer and more powerful than Classico, (but this can be overdone) while Classico is usually fresher with higher acid.

Very simplistically, there are two basic terroirs in Montalcino. To the north, around the town, the vineyards are higher, steeper, and cooler. The soils are stony with lime and sand. The wines are very similar to Classico Riserva being more aromatic and elegant than other Brunello. In the South along the hills which slope down to the Orcia river, an area known simply as the Colle, the vineyards are bigger, more broad sloped, southward facing, with more clay in the richer soils, and produce more powerful, riper, heavier wines which can be harvested as much as two weeks before those in the north. In a good year, Montalcino will take advantage from all its terroirs. In a cool year, the Colle will do better, and in a warmer year, fruit from the north provides freshness and a foil to what can easily be over ripeness in the Colle. This latter point – potential over ripeness in the lower, warmer sited Sangiovese has proven on occasion to be Brunello’s bane.

 Brunello has three levels of classification:

Rosso: Aged for one year with 6 months in wood

Brunello (normale): Aged for four years, minimum of two years in wood and 4 months in bottle

Riserva: Aged for five years, minimum of two years in wood and 4 months in bottle.

We will not be able to contrast Normale with Riserva and form our own opinion, as all six wines are Normale. It will be interesting to consider, however, that if we see a spectacular wine (I’m sure we will see more than one!) just how it might have been “improved” if it had been given Riserva treatment. Another dimension for us to think about is the contrast between the northern and the Colle wines. We have two from the area around the town, and four from the south. Will we see a difference?

Regarding the vintage, this from Antonio Galloni:

Vintage 2007 is more than a worthy follow-up to 2006. It is hard to remember two consecutive vintages of this level in Montalcino. For most growers, 2007 was a warmer overall year than 2006. Temperatures remained above average pretty much the whole year, but never spiked dramatically as they did in 2003. Cooler temperatures and greater diurnal swings towards the end of the growing season helped the wines maintain acidity and develop their aromatics. Overall, the 2007s are soft, silky wines that are radiant, open, and highly expressive today. My impression is that most of the wines will not shut down in bottle and that 2007 will be a great vintage to drink pretty much throughout its life. I tasted very few wines that were outright overripe or alcoholic. Many of the best 2007s come from the centre of town where the higher altitude of the vineyards was critical factor in achieving balance. Overall, I rate 2007 just a notch below the more structured and age worthy 2006, but in exchange the 2007s will drink better earlier.



2km east of Montalcino on quite open rounded hills facing east-southeast at elevations of 380-450 metres. 11ha under vine. An old Tuscan family but making wine since only 1923. Tending towards a traditional style: aromatic, elegant and subtle rather than fruit forward. Aged in 500lt French tonneaux for 4-5 months in an old convent on the vineyards, then for 30 months in large Slavonian botti deep underneath the family’s 18th century palazzo in the centre of the town.


2km southest of Montalcino only a few hundred meters south of Fuligni above. A very old family property which first exhibited its Brunello in 1870. Vineyards face southeast on quite a steep slope at 310-400 meters. 12 ha under vine. Soils are blue-grey chalky marl. Costanti uses new BBS clones 5-25 years old. Wood ageing is mixed with 18 months in new and used 350-500lt French tonneaux, and 18 months in 3000lt Slavonian botti.


Lisini is about 8km due south of Montalcino at 300-350 meters, just to the northeast of Sant’Angelo, down a dirt road through dense scrub. The soils are soft, sandy, volcanic with some stones and are exposed to sea breezes. 20ha undervine. Lisini is one of the region’s historical producers and remains one of the more traditional. The family has been farming here since the 16th century. Mainly massale selection with some vines up to 75 years old. There is one small block remaining of pre-phyloxera from the mid 19th century. Wines are aged in large 1100-4000lt Slavonian botti for up to 3 years.

Il Poggione

Another one of the Brunello pioneers of 100-120 years ago. This is quite a big estate with large blocks spreading down a long south facing slope above the Orcia river valley. Once, it was even larger but in 1958, half was split off to form Col D”Orcia. The vineyards are spread between 150 and 450 meters. They have made extensive use of new clones since the 1990s but the only major change in the cellar is to move from large Slavonian wood to large French. Typically, this wine spends 3 years in these 300-500lt formats. Belfrage calls Il Poggione archetypal because, as he says, it is the Brunello you go to when you want to demonstrate a benchmark. There are better wines, in his view, but none more authentic.


We have two wines from this producer: their own normale Brunello and a regional blend called Voliero. Uccelliera, founded in 1986, is on the southern limits of the town of Castelnuova dell’Abate atop a series of gently undulating slopes which continue right down to the banks of the Orcia. The vineyards face south-southwest and are at 150-350 meters. 7ha are under vine and vine age varies between 8 and 35 years old.

Brunello di Montalcino – The wide altitude range does give some small variations in ripeness levels, and therefore winestyle which enhances blending options. This wine is aged for 36 months in Slavonian and French botti. It is known for its heady aromas, succulent fruit and density. A typical Colle example.

Voliero –  In 2006, Uccelliera started a new project along with some other producers, friends of theirs in the area, with the aim of taking advantage of the different aspects of each terroir. The contributing vineyards have various features but are between 250 and 450 meters high, and vine ages are between 10 and 20 years old. The resulting blend is traditional in style with the wine ageing for 30 months in large Slavonian and French casks. The wines are made at another winery but bottled at Uccelliera.”


And to the wines, all Normale:

2007 Voliero Brunello di Montalcino 14.5% alc. Tawny dusty carmine colour. An excellent start – perfumed hot and spicy, with vanilla and wood smoke. Bold. Scents of cut dates and blackberry. Minty. Bright fruit attack in the mouth, sweet and rich, good acid, fresh and powerful, with a long hot finish. Off young vines too. I scored this Gold.

2007 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Perfumed and floral. Higher in volatiles than the first, with scents of vanilla, pencil shavings and graphite. Hot. Bright fresh fruit and acid on attack. Fine tannins. Power and linearity. Minty. Hot finish. Very traditional in style I was told. I scored this Silver.

2007 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Lighter and dumber that the first two, from the cooler north was my pick, dusty and dry. Linear, less acid and intensity, earthy, more tannin and drying. Sweet up front, a taste of dried figs. I scored this Silver.

2007 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino Deep tawny dusty carmine colour. Funky and sweaty, but this blew off. Dominant warm fruit characters. In the mouth I loved the richness of the fruit, the complexity, the crunchy mouthfeel, the drying tannins and hot spicy finish. It was delicious with thw supper, and showed savoury, meaty, shroomy. Some lanolin also. I scored it Gold and my WOTN (wine of the night).

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Fruity bright and intense, with vanilla. Somewhat 1-dimensional after the Uccelliera, but showed drying characters, more wood, and high alcohol. Dates and dried fruit in the mouth. Blackberries, dried plums. Grippy and tight. Some thought austere. I saw depth and focus. I scored it Gold. A large number in attendance saw it as their WOTN.

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Light-ish, lean-ish and dumb-ish. Clean fruit, some cherries. Lighter and leaner to taste, drying, with attractive complexity and layers of flavour. Fine. Sweeter with food. Length went on and on. I scored it Gold. Lots of attendees saw it as their WOTN.

As a novice on all things Italian/vinous, my overall impressions were that the wines showed remarkable homogeneity of style. They were perfumed, with bright acid (after 9 years age), possessed a clean clear structure and had a deep underlying fruit intensity.

These wines retail for over $120 nowadays. It was a pleasure and instruction to enjoy them tonight. Thanks to the host and the cellarmaster.


What’s in the glass tonight October 22nd – Natural Wines


Budburst Natural Wine Tasting

Later this month is New Zealand’s first Natural Wine and Food festival, Budburst. Regional Wines and Spirits invited Dan Gillet, from Wine Diamonds. in-store to taste through a wide range of natural wines. I rocked along to try them.

What exactly is a Natural Wine? There isn’t a hard and fast definition, but rather it infers a few things about the viticulture and winemaking process. The fruit should ideally be organic or biodynamically grown, and the winemaking would follow a “minimal interventionist” path.

The wines I tasted were:

Double Bubble Pet-Nat South Australia 2016

Domaine Lucci Chardonnay Italy

Millton Vineyards & Winery Libiamo Gewurztraminer Gisborne 2015

Millton Libiamo Field Blend Gisborne 2015

Commune of Buttons Fleur Gris South Australia 2016

Sato Pinot Gris L’Atypique Central Otago

Domaine Lucci Vino Rosso Italy

Sato Pinot Noir Central Otago

I would like to say that I loved them, but I didn’t. The aromas coming out of the glass were very challenging to me, to say the least.

They smelled a bit too reminiscent of the developer solution I handled in the darkroom back at Design School, or the way my hands smelled afterwards if I hadn’t used the tongs provided to move photographic paper from one tank to another.

Another descriptor could be ‘funky’. Or sour. Like a sour beer. This sour-ness on the nose really got in the way of me seeing any fruit sweetness in the glass. And when one of the pinots was picked early anyway, there was scarcely any fruit weight in the wine at all.

The one I liked the most was the first, a South Australia sparkling wine made by the ancestral method called pétillant-naturel, popularly pét-nat, or first ferment. This was an interesting fizz. It had the sweetness on attack that I thought the others lacked.

I did like the first Millton Libiamo wine, as the Gewurtz showed some fruit, but I am predisposed to like Millton anyway, as earlier posts indicate.


I think these wines will have to win me over, and over time. I don’t like sour beer either.

On the plus side, it was a great learning experience, and was the first time I had tried self-styled “natural wines”. Dan Gillet was wonderfully knowledgeable and passionate about the wines he represents. He did tell me about a NZ Riesling pét-nat that will be released later this year via his website, so I will try to get hold of a bottle to show L.


MS Tasting –Barbaresco

Magnum Barbaresco 2007 2

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco

An unknown for me, Barbaresco. So I was very keen to attend this month’s Society tasting.

It provided the very rare opportunity to taste an cellared horizontal of wines from one fine producer – a co-operative – from across each of the Barbaresco crus, with the exception of Pajè. Our Cellarmaster was kind enough to round out the flight with Rabajà from his own cellar.

As usual, the notes provided were excellent, this time by AH:

The current cooperative was founded in 1958 by the Reverend Don Fiorino Marengo as a countermeasure to the urban drift that was gradually depleting his congregation. It was effectively a revival of a previous cooperative, the Cantine Sociali, started by Domizio Cavazza, a Barbaresco resident and head of the Royal Enological School of Alba. The original cooperative went into decline during World War I and closed in 1923 after failing to survive the harsh economic conditions under the fascists.

The Produttori del Barbaresco currently comprises 51 growers, led since 1991 by Managing Director Aldo Vacca, son of the founding Managing Director Celestino Vacca, who retired in 1984. Gianni Testa has been the winemaker at Produttori since the late 1980s and under the current management the cantina sociale has earned a reputation as one of the world’s best best cooperatives, certainly as far as value for money is concerned. Production is around 550,000 bottles per year. In years when the riserve are made they are divided among Barbaresco (50%), single vineyard Barbarescos (30%) and Nebbiolo Langhe (20%).

At harvest the farmers bring their grapes to the piazza where they are analysed for parameters such as sugar, phenolics and tannins, which determines the amount each producer is paid. This ensures that quality does not take a back seat to quantity. The grapes are sent down a chute to the cellar, which makes use of the steep hill on which the town sits to permit gravity feeding between the three levels for fermentation and racking before the wine is taken to another facility next to the nearby Ovello vineyard for aging in 22 – 55 hectolitre botti.

The Barbaresco “normale” spends two years in botte. In good years the cooperative may decide to produce individual riserve from each of the nine Barbaresco crus, which spend three years in botte. The decision on whether to bottle riserve is made, not so much on the quality of the riserve in good years, but on the quality of the normale in poorer years. In other words, if higher quality fruit is needed to maintain the standard of the normale, the riserve will not be made.

As with every vineyard in the Langhe, aspect and position on the hillside are important determinants; the south facing sites on the mid to upper producing the best wine. When asked to describe each of the nine Produttori crus in one word, Aldo says Pora is approachable; Rio Sordo, elegant; Asili, austere; Pajè, bright; Ovello, lively; Moccagatta, floral; Rabajà, complete; Montestefano, powerful; Montefico, austere. I usually find that the crus starting with “p” are softer, more elegant expressions, whereas those starting with “m” are more structured, especially Montestefano. Asili and Rabajà usually stand out in the line-up for their balance and complexity. Whereas Aldo would be no more likely to rank his children in order of preference than rank the Produttori crus, my personal order of preference would look something like Rabajà, Asili, Montefico, Ovello, Montestefano, Rio Sordo, Moccogatta, Pajè, Pora.

On the quality of 2007 vintage the opinions of critics vary. Jancis Robinson says simply…”Hail and arid conditions resulted in a low-yielding year, but of good quality fruit”….but she is referring to Piemonte as a whole and what is true for Barolo is not necessarily true for Barbaresco, thanks in part to the influence of the Tanaro river. The Galloni and Tanzer web site Vinous rates 2007 as the best vintage in Barbaresco since 1996, giving both these vintages 96 points. Here is their description of the 2007 vintage: “The 2007 Barbarescos possess dazzling aromatics, silky tannins and generous, at times explosive, fruit. Although 2007 was a warm year, temperatures were remarkably stable throughout most of the summer, which allowed for full ripening, even in less well-exposed vineyards. As a result, many entry-level Barbarescos are unusually delicious. One of the defining characteristics of the vintage is that the differences from vineyard to vineyard are more attenuated in 2007 than they were in more typical, cooler years such as 2001 and 2004. Because of the unusually warm weather in the spring, the entire growing season was moved up in the calendar, but the cycle from flowering to harvest turned out to be close to normal. These conditions resulted in wines that combine elements of warm and cool vintages to an extent I have never seen previously.

We would be tasting all but one of the nine riserve; Pajè missing the cut on this occasion

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Asili

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montefico

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Muncagotta

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Ovello

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà

Magnum Barbaresco 2007 1

And to the wines:

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora – Deep tawny red colour. Florals, roses, vanilla, oak, almonds, lifting. An excellent start. To taste I saw raspy acid, tannic dryness, bright red fruits – plums and cherries. Refreshing. It softened in the glass, and was transformed by food. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo – Deep tawny red colour. Vanilla pod notes, somewhat reticent to begin with. There was engaging suppleness in the glass, refreshing, with a good tannic backbone. Deep red fruits. Lively acid finish. Lovely length. Charming. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Asili – Deep tawny red. Vanilla notes on the nose, softer than the previous wines, with elegance, spice, almost dusty. Brambly red fruit to taste, bright entry, delicious complete marriage of acid and fruit. Ripeness and persistence. A drying finish. Ticked my box. I scored it Gold. One of my two Wine of the Night(s) WOTNs.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà – Deep tawny red. Dusty, with boxwood, tannins, & superb concentration. A step up in intensity. It showed lighter and sweeter in the mouth than the previous wines. Delicious again, ripe gorgeous fruit, svelte balance, complete. I scored it Gold.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Muncagotta – Deep tawnier red. Aromatic, and dusty. With oak, vanilla, roses and varnish. Sweet entry on palate, mouthcoatingly textural, with red fruit flavours. Some hint of dryness and austerity on a long finish. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Ovello – Deep tawnier red. Slightly dumber than previous. Some vanilla, baking spice, cloves, dry straw and oak. Grippy dense black fruit, austere, slight body, sinewy and drying. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montefico – Deep tawnier red. Spice, pepper, violets, volatile acids, deep perfume and roasted meat on the nose. Layered, intriguing, complex. In mouth I saw this as a complete expression – ripe red fruit, acids, texture, length and bosy. It was made in a bigger style, almost full throttle. Power and balance. I scored it Gold. My second WOTN.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano – Deep tawny red. Dusty, with phenols (whiteboard cleaner), most primary. Admirable flavour and grip. Great balance and structure, drying finish. I scored it Silver

The wines were all dusty on nose, with bouquets of roses and cloves and vanilla, and textural on palate. There was great concentration of fruit. The acid and tannin profiles point to years and years of life ahead for these wines

This had to be one of the most enjoyable tastings I have attended. It was a new variety (for me) and the similarities and subtle differences between the wines really made me work hard and think.

Here we had the same winemaker, same grape, same winemaking, and same vintage. All the same, yet differences emerged.  Fascinating, illuminating.




What’s in the glass tonight August 19th, in the snow – Chianti

Snow 2

L and I and the kids had a fabulous weekend up the mountain. Glorious weather, great snow conditions, a race to compete in, then a night-time torchlit ski procession to honour the memory of a ski-field pioneer. Couldn’t ask for anything more!

Santa Cristina Chianti 2011

From the Cellar: Santa Cristina Chianti Superiore 2011

I drank this up at the ski-club. Hard to trust my palate at altitude, but here goes…

Deep magenta red. 13% alc.

Floral, dusty and savoury red fruits. I saw dried berries, licorice and brown paper. Nice complexity and interest.

To drink, the wine was full bodied and round. There were generous flavours of plums and currants. Grainy tannins. A licorice finish with spice.

91 points

Snow 1

The next day we lit the slopes. I claimed the position of Lantern Rouge for the skiclub in the Haensli Cup, but the scenery made it all better!

snow 3

The view from The Knoll T-Bar top station at Whakapapa, looking over the Valley at the Pinnacles.