Franco’s top picks for Brunello 2006

There will be time for a more in-depth analysis of the nearly 150 wines tasted during last week’s Benvenuto Brunello event, the appellation’s annual debut. For the moment, as promised, I would like to reveal the wines from the 2006 vintage that I liked the most — all of which were tasted rigorously blind.

The wine that I liked the most was Gianni Brunelli’s (the wine is made today by his widow Laura, with the help of Laura Bernini and Paolo Vagaggini).

Brunelli’s Brunello di Montalcino was followed by the quartet formed by Fuligni, La Fornace, La Palazzetta, and Lazzeretti.

Next came wines by another four producers: Santa Giulia, Casanuova delle Cerbaie, Fornacella, and Pietroso.

These were followed by a platoon formed by Siro Pacenti (who has, once again, handily earned its title as the best modern-style producer), Gorelli Le Potazzine, Poggio Salvi, Collelceto, Collemattoni, Il Colle, Il Marroneto, La Campana, La Poderina, Lambardi, Mastrojanni, Caprili, and Pinino.

Good but not as well-rounded as the wines previously mentioned: Quercecchio, Sassetti Livio, Col d’Orcia, and Molino di Sant’Antimo, followed by Tenuta Oliveto, Baricci, Bellaria, Il Paradiso di Frassina, and Poggio dell’Aquila.

And lastly, amply positive notes for the 2006 Brunello di Montalcino by San Filippo, Sesti, Villa I Cipressi, Solaria, Greppone Mazzi, Terre Nere Campigli, Tornesi, Verbena, Capanna, La Velona, Podere Canapaccia, Poggio Rubino, Giulio Salvioni, San Polo, Col di Lamo, La Magia, Pian delle Querci, and San Lorenzo.

I am reserving judgment for the 2006 Brunello by Lisini and Ciacci Piccolomini, whose wines I will retaste in Rovigo on Friday evening (for the Italian Sommelier Association Brunello tasting). And I was very surprised by the fact that Il Poggione’s Brunello did not win me over.

—Franco Ziliani

Brunello 2006 “a work in progress”: Franco Ziliani’s first impressions of Benvenuto Brunello 2011

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.

—Franco Ziliani

Montalcino producers postpone vote on proposed appellation change

On his Italian-language blog Vino al Vino, VinoWire editor Franco Ziliani has just reported that today the Brunello producers association has postponed voting on proposed appellation regulation changes that would have allowed producers to use grapes other than Sangiovese in their Rosso di Montalcino.

The decision to postpone the vote, announced in the association’s general assembly today, came in the wake of numerous “open letters” protesting and advising against the proposed change. The letters were signed by the owners of iconic, high-profile wineries and were addressed to the body’s 15-member technical advisory committee (chaired by president Ezio Rivella).

According to VinoWire’s sources in Montalcino, the decision to postpone the vote was based on a will to find a “solution” that reflected the unanimous will of the association’s members. But some observers speculate that proponents feared they would lose the vote scheduled for today.

Brunello producers protest proposed appellation changes

Three Montalcino wineries, including two of its most famous producers, have sent open letters to the Brunello producers association protesting proposed changes that would allow bottlers to add grapes other than Sangiovese to their Rosso di Montalcino (currently, appellation regulations require that both Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes).

The authors of the first letter to be sent — Francesco Illy and Andrea Machetti of the Mastrojanni winery — point out that Montalcino bottlers already have an appellation that allows them to blend international grape varieties with Sangiovese: Sant’Antimo DOC.

They ask: “Why has this type of wine failed to take off? In our humble opinion, because it is not a winner.”

The proposed change, they write, “would dilute the authenticity of our wines,” causing them to be lost in the “immense” crowd of similar wines made throughout the world. The result, they say, would “damage the territory and secondarily the producers.”

For the entire text of the letter (in Italian), click here.

Wineries Lisini and Campi di Fonterenza also have sent open letters to the producers association protesting the proposed change.

Open registration for Nebbiolo debut

The Albeisa Bottlers Union is offering open registration for wine buyers for its annual Nebbiolo debut event, Nebbiolo Prima, May 8-13, 2011.

According to the organizers, 350 bottlings of Nebbiolo (Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero) will be debuted at the event.

Click here for event details and registration.

Barolo producers to visit New York for unique event

For an event that many Italian wine insiders are comparing to La Paulée de New York, Wine Advocate editor and Italian wine writer Antonio Galloni has summoned some of the greatest names in Barolo for what he has dubbed “La Festa del Barolo.”

On March 26, 2011, fifteen Barolo producers — a who’s who of modern and traditional Langa winemaking, including many who have never visited the U.S. — will gather for a presentation and tasting of the 2007 Barolo vintage.

The event includes a “preview” tasting and gala dinner and some of the producers will also be presenting their 06 releases and older vintages as well.

For more information on the winemakers and the wines, click here.