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

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

  1. Pingback: Bombe glacé and 2006 Brunello on my mind… « Do Bianchi

  2. The very fact that Franco rightfully complains that some of the approved Montalcino zone is not of the highest quality in regards to its soils tells one that he is not approaching this assignment with total objectivity. That and the fact that he is complaining about the total number of wines to taste over the course of two days.

    Yes, that is a lot of wines to taste in a short time, especially with several hundred other journalists. But to dismiss the 2006 vintage they way he does is not a proper analysis. I tasted the wines earlier in the week and found many lovely wines- 2006 is an excellent vintage. Now whether it is a four-star of five-star vintage, I’ll leave that to others.

    Franco, yes there are always wines that are not entirely satisfactory and even a few that are poorly made. Let’s face it, there are some dull estates in this area. But that’s the same everywhere – you’ve got some pretty ordinary producers of Meursault as well as Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. But you don’t take the whole area down because of a few bad wines.

    Try the bottlings of Il Poggione, Col d’Orcia, Sesta di Sopra, Uccellieria, Poggio Antico, Talenti, Ciacci Piccolomini and several dozen others and then try to tell me that 2006 is not that special a vintage. These are classiclally made Brunellos.

    Franco, I greatly respect your palate and knowledge, but to write that “it is going to take a lot of time and patience to rediscover their sure footing” regarding Sangiovese is a gross overstatement. It seems to me you are very emotional about this, which is fine. But please review the wines with the proper critical judgment.

  3. I think that many of us jump to the defense of wineries that we have put our faith into for many years. I don’t think we want to believe that these wines might suffer, especially due to the prices we pay. However, I think some very good points have been made here.

    I tasted through 20+ 2006 Brunello at The Italian Wine Masters event in NYC and in the end, only committed 7 of my tasting notes to paper. The reason was that so many of them came across as austere without the richness or vibrancy to ever shake the rough, dry tannins that they possessed.

    What’s being said here makes a lot of sense to me. Doesn’t the idea that producers, who have become dependant on the addition of other varietals in their wine, would find it difficult to suddenly switch back to pure Sangiovese? Sound like a pretty valid point to me.

  4. I don’t think that Franco was making that point. Who said that some producers switched back, in other words, used other grapes and now have returned to Sangiovese only?

    If there are rough dry tannins, as you write, wouldn’t that be from Cabernet Sauvignon and not from Sangiovese? Thus perhaps some of these producers still use other varieties. At the end of the day, not much was proved by the Brunello scandal, despite all the headlines.

    I never argue with someone’s preferences – I respect Franco’s palate as I said and if he’s disappointed, so be it. If I love many of the wines and he doesn’t, that’s not the point – we can agree to disagree. It’s that Franco seems to be reviewing other things besides the wines.

  5. I understand what you’re saying and you have much more experience than me with tasting large amounts of young Brunello, but one thing you mentioned that I’d like to make sure I’m reading right…

    Are you saying that many producers are still ignoring regulations, even after the entire “Scandal”? And if you’re not saying that, than doesn’t it make sense that these wines might be off kilter, for a winemaker who hasn’t had to rely solely on Sangiovese to achieve their end result?

    I’ve experienced a good amount of young Sangiovese, and found them to be enjoyable now or with potential, but many of these 2006’s finished like a cup of day old tea. It seems to me, that if a producer had the know-how and the material to make these wines more enjoyable, than they would… especially with so many producers trying to make their wines more drinkable in their youth.

  6. I respect your point of view Tom, but how many Brunello 2006 have you tasted to be absolutely sure of your opinion?
    My tasting was of 150 wines, and my point of view about 2006 Brunello is the same point of view of many other wine writers, Italian and from various countries. You can be, if you want, defensor of Montalcino producers, I prefer to be an indipendent and totally free wine writer.
    Bye!

  7. The declaration of a five star vintage, by any region, needs to be taken with a grain of salt – no interest like self interest. Tasting 150 wines might give one a good overview of a vintage, but in the case of ever-expanding Montalcino the result will ALWAYS be one of dissappointment. Like Tom said, “there are some dull estates”. In fact the overwhelming majority are dull estates. But what about the good ones – those growers that have never wavered in their devotion to Sangiovese, don’t they deserve better?

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