In the end, it wasn’t easy but I made it: over the last two days, I managed to taste (as much a one can at these tastings) 143 bottlings of 2006 Brunello di Montalcino at the massive debut event Bevenuto Brunello 2011 (Welcome Brunello 2011).
The very fact that I mention how tough it was to taste that many wines should give you an indication of my “enthusiasm” for the 2006 vintage in Montalcino (even though the difficulty might be due to my age and the fact that none of us are as young as we used to be).
The harvest was awarded “five stars” by the Brunello producers association but in the end, this vintage left a bitter taste in my mouth. It marks yet another confirmation of the fact that these evaluations carry no weight nor do they give us a serious indication of quality. Yes, it’s true: the 2010 harvest in Montalcino was also given five stars. Unfortunately, it’s not an episode of the Gong Show [trans. note: Scherzi a parte in the original].
Both literally and figuratively, I found a marked amount of green, bitter, dry tannins in a number of wines — a sensation, I regret to report, shared by many of my Italian and foreign colleagues.
If I had to summarize my impressions as summarily as possible, I would have to describe the vintage — the first true vintage of the post-Brunellogate era — as a “work in progress.” And when I say “work,” I’d be talking about some truly heavy lifting.
The 2006 bottlings seem to be working toward a rediscovery of balance and toward a working method that a friend of Vino al Vino, the astute Nelle Nuvole [In the Clouds], captured with epigrammatic prowess: “an effort to return to its roots, Sangiovese grown in the vineyards of Montalcino and more traditional vinification and aging methods better suited to the local Sangiovese variety.”
In the light of the above observations, I’d like to ask you to indulge me, dear reader, by reserving judgment. But even I find it hard to do so when faced with so many — too many — unsatisfying wines, with defects owed to errors committed during harvest.
Some were harvested too early, with green, bitter tannins. Others were picked entirely too late, showing overly ripe and cooked notes and lacking finesse and aromatic focus. The latter wines are already tired and flabby with little ability to evolve in the bottle.
Those who hoped that 2006 would be the year of Brunello di Montalcino’s rebirth will be disappointed by this week’s tasting notes. Six months from now, bottle-aging may attenuate certain defects in the wine but it cannot erase the structural limits of the vintage: there were too many unconvincing wines, too many “thanks but no thanks,” wines with only fictional drinkability and balance.
Miraculously, the “magic” show-stopping, darkly colored and concentrated pre-Brunello scandal wines have disappeared. (And we have the Siena prosecutor to thank for this chromatically revised interpretation of the appellation.) Aside from a few pathetic holdouts, we have returned to the classic colors of Sangiovese. But it’s not enough: we should expect a lot more from such a highly-touted vintage.
We should expect wines that thrill and win us over. Not Ifs, Ands, and Butts. Not lame, banal wines. And not wines lacking complexity. In other words, not the wines — I hate to say it again — that we tasted rigorously blind over the last two days.
It’s going to take a lot of patience and time for Brunello producers to rediscover their sure footing, confidence, and passion for their Sangiovese and the ability of this difficult and extraordinary grape to deliver stupendous wines when planted here in its homeland.
Perhaps producers should grow it only in the best growing sites for Sangiovese in Montalcino, where roughly 2,000 hectares planted to vine would be better utilized for other grape varieties — vineyards perhaps better suited for potatoes. The tasting of the 2006 vintage was the umpteenth example of this.
I will never tire of asking you to continue to believe in this magical land and this great wine and the willful women and men of Montalcino who — God willing — continue to make wine here.