23/04/2021

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Drink to That: The Best Vintages of Brunello di Montalcino

Two great years and hundreds of outstanding wines: James Suckling compares the “flamboyant” 2015 with the “impressive” 2016 Brunello di Montalcino.

If you ever wanted a Brunello di Montalcino for your cellar age for decades, then buy the 2016 vintage when the wines come on to the market in January 2021. The 2016 vintage Brunello marks the second great year in a row for the Italian region following the sensational 2015, which is currently on sale. “These are wines for your cellar,” says Lamberto Frescobaldi, head of the Florentine wine family that owns Castelgiocondo, a solid Brunello di Montalcino estate. “The tannins and structure really special.”

Indeed, I tasted 212 Brunello di Montalcino 2016s in my tasting room in 2020 and the young Sangioveses certainly do have a lot of tannins. In fact, I’ve never seen so much tannin in a young Brunello and I’ve been tasting young vintages from Montalcino since the early 1980s.

“The 2016 is different from 2015,” says Massimo Ferragamo of Castiglion del Bosco, which made its greatest Brunello ever in 2016. “It’s a strong vintage. It’s been a great combination of circumstances and after 2010 we’ve been working better and better every year. I had them side by side [2015 and 2016], but I think 2016 is better.”

In my tasting of 2016s, I kept writing at the end of the tasting note, “Try after 2024,” or, “Better after 2025.” These drink recommendations are certainly longer than the 2015s. The 2015s are much easier to drink young, but they have the structure and concentration to age for decades, just like the 2016s. The slightly hotter growing season during the summer of 2015 gave the wines that added level of ripe fruit in addition to the ripe tannins.

The 2015 grape-growing season was clearly hotter, with less variation between the heat of the day and the coolness of the night. So the wines tend to be very fruity, sometimes even exotic. In 2016, there was greater diurnal temperature variation, which explains why the acidities are a little higher in the wines and the characters slightly less opulent. But don’t get me wrong, there’s a subtleness to the top 2015s that make them irresistible.

“These are clearly two great vintages,” admitted Carlo Ferrini, the well-respected consulting oenologist who has his own small estate in Montalcino, called Giodo. I rated both his 2015 and 2016 wines at 100 points. “They’re terrific young Brunellos.”

I like to say that 2016 would be the greatest vintage ever for Brunello if it weren’t for the stupendous 2015. When I also rated almost 100 2015 Brunellos, the riservas showed the opulence, plush fruit and ripe tannins of the classic bottlings.

If you missed buying some 2015 Brunellos, you’re going to want to look at some 2015 riservas. They’re usually a smaller production – fewer bottles – and selected from particular vineyards, parcels or barrels. That’s how producers justify the higher prices and longer maturation before release. I only wish they were obviously better quality than the normal bottlings, though I still enjoy this category of Brunello.

The 2016 wines will also be a great buy, but plan on ageing them much longer than the 2015s before opening. And their more intense tannins suggest they may ultimately live longer than the 2015s, but who’s counting? I’m currently drinking the legendary 1997s and they’re still fresh and beautiful.

So which vintage do I ultimately prefer? For now, I honestly have a slight preference for 2015. Perhaps it’s the flamboyance of the wines and their multi-layered and complex nature compared to the more reserved and tannic 2016s. This is also why I rated 12 2015 Brunello di Montalcino 2015s at 100 points, as well as four 2015 riservas. I only rated three 2016s at 100 points.

But the reputation of a great vintage is not made on its perfect wines. I learned a long time ago as a wine critic that great years are those when everything is outstanding, from the lesser-known properties to the most prestigious ones. The 2016 and 2015 vintages certainly achieved this, making this pair of years the greatest ever for Brunello di Montalcino.

Eight “Perfect” 2015 and 2016 Brunello Wines

Casanova Di Neri Brunello Di Montalcino Cerretalto 2015

 Brunello di Montalcino

This is a momentous wine with incredible power and structure that has so much minerality and crushed-stone character to the black cherries and blueberries. Full-bodied and tannic, yet the tannins are layered and polished with a glorious, creamy and juicy texture that coats your mouth. It goes on for minutes. Incredible wine. Try after 2025.

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna Di Pianrosso Santa Caterina D’oro Riserva 2015

 Brunello di Montalcino

The opulence of fruit and complexity of earth, meat, mushroom and cedar is breathtaking. It’s full-bodied, deep and powerful, with so much intensity and depth. Chewy and layered, it goes on for minutes. Give it even more time. Try after 2023.

Giodo Brunello Di Montalcino 2016

Seamless is a great way to describe this red wine with intense aromas of plums, cherries, walnut and sandalwood. Some lightly toasted oak, roses and lavender as well. Really aromatic. The palate is full and extremely polished, with super-fine tannins that go on for minutes and spread across your palate. A great wine, following the perfect, 100-point 2015. Better to start drinking this after 2023.

Livio Sassetti Brunello Di Montalcino 2016

 Brunello di Montalcino

Blackberries, black walnuts and black cherries, as well as loads of chewy tannins. Some smoked wood, wood tannins and even black truffles. It’s full-bodied and powerful with loads going on. It just keeps growing on the palate. So much wet earth and black olive at the finish with porcini mushrooms, too. Needs time to soften. Crazy finish. Try after 2025.

Siro Pacenti Brunello Di Montalcino Ps Riserva 2015

 Brunello di Montalcino

The purity of fruit here is so stunning, with blackberry, black cherry, black truffle and floral aromas, as well as orange peel. It’s full-bodied and very compact, with ultra-fine tannins that are copious and balanced. It goes on for such a long time. The purity and precision are something else, not to mention the length and depth. So delicious now and a joy to taste. Drink or hold.

Tassi Brunello Di Montalcino Franci Riserva 2015

An amazingly solid and powerful red with so much depth and intensity. Dark berries, cherries, walnuts and coffee on the nose and palate with some grilled meat. It’s full-bodied with a very powerful palate of chewy, polished tannins and great length and intensity. Goes on for minutes. Better after 2025.

Valdicava Brunello Di Montalcino Madonna Del Piano Riserva 2015

 Brunello di Montalcino

Spectacular aromas of crushed fruit, plums, sous bois, porcini and black truffles. Decadent year, but fresh. Full-bodied, dense and linear on the palate, yet so much in balance and refinement, with incredible depth and consistency. The savoury and juicy finish, with vivid acidity and fruit are eye-opening. Greatest ever. Best after 2025, but I can’t wait to try it again.

Valdicava Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna Montosoli 2016

Wow! The aromas of black cherries, plums, walnuts, lavender and cedar are really beautiful. Full-bodied with firm, chewy tannins and a beautiful polish to the power and intensity. Gorgeous, sweet and ripe fruit at the end, with peach and citrus character to the plums. Sophisticated and glorious. Drink after 2025.

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