Tasting Brunello di Montalcino in San Francisco, CA

San Francisco view from the Bay BridgeThe cloudless sky was a beautiful blue, accented by a crisp ocean breeze that freshened and cooled the air; an inviting backdrop for a few Italian guests visiting San Francisco yesterday. The winemakers from Montalcino, Italy, located about 25 miles south of Siena, brought their smiles, history, and fantastic wines to the Old Federal Reserve Banking Hall in San Francisco on January 23, 2006 for the Benvenuto Brunello event. The event allowed food and wine trade professionals (don’t ask how I made it in) to sample the release of their latest vintage Brunello, a wine comprised of 100% Sangiovese. The tasting also included the red table wine, Rosso, a lively more fruit driven take on Sangiovese meant to be consumed young. Some offered tastes of reserve Brunello’s from previous vintages as well as desert wines called Moscadello, and table wines under the Sant’Antimo denomination. Sant’Antimo Wines can be comprised from a variety of grapes, and be red or white. Being my first experience with wines from Montalcino, I decided to focus on the Rosso’s and Brunello’s, seemingly the stars of the show. Nearly 50 producers where pouring an average of 3 wines each, so I had to limit myself, my palate could only handle so much.

The Rosso is an amazing value, food friendly, and retails for around $30 USD or so. They spend about 1 year in Oak barrels and gain a wonderful complexity from their time aging. All of the Rosso’s I tasted where very consistent, a fruity nose of cherry’s and spice, a well rounded mouthfeel with no watered down taste as you might find on second label wines from other areas, and a great finish that is complex, but not overwhelming. I wanted a nice sausage penne pasta next to me as I did the tasting, these wines made my mouth water.

The Brunello’s where excellent as well. About twice the cost and up, these are the flagship wines from the area. They are aged in the traditional way of 3 years in barrel, and 1 year in bottle, so this release was for the 2001 Vintage. All of these wines are still very young, with chewy mouth filling tannins that have lots of bite. The bouquet is very complex, earth, pepper, rock, and berry’s are tightly woven and explosive on the palate. Some wineries where experiencing with a more modern method of aging for the wines, 2 years in barrel and 2 in bottle, but I found I was drawn more to those traditionally aged.

The amazing part about all of these wines is the consistency between wineries. There is definitely a feeling of terrior with these bottles, a real sense of place that carries between them all. Part of this can be attributed to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino created in 1967, in order to regulate the way the wines are made. About 98% of the producers in the area are part of it, and the group along with a local US promotions company put on the event to promote the latest release.

I learned that in many cases those pouring the wine where the families that made it. This was really neat, but in some cases gave me a small roadblock in learning more about the winery, since I don’t speak Italian. Everyone was so friendly, unpretentious, and devoted to their craft. It was obvious that winemaking is their life. They are proud of the product and take pride in their rich family history.

All of the wines I tasted where good, but there were a few that really stood out. Instead of writing about every wine I had, I’ll take a tip from Robert Parker and write about the ones that stood out. Thanks to Emily Nordee at M Young Communications for the invite, and promoting the event. I was told by many of the exhibitors that they weren’t expecting to see so many people show up, and that they considered the event a huge success. Also, I wanted to thank Alder Yarrow of Vinography for helping me find the venue and for taking me under his wing, I really appreciated it. I’d also like to thank my managers and producers, (queue Oscar music) and my lovely wife Katie, and my Mother and Father…..

Below are the wines that stood out. I didn’t have enough time to write all extensive notes on each wine, but the flavor profiles are pretty close to those I described above. I put a star next to some of my favorites. It looks like 2001 was a great year in Montalcino for Brunello. For more information visit the Consorzio’s Website.

76 Wines tasted from 33 producers, 55 recommended from 28 producers. These wines will be released in the spring.

Banfi 2003 Rosso Castello Banfi 90 pts.
Banfi 2001 Brunello di Montalcino, Castello Banfi, 92 pts
Banfi 2001 Summus, Castello Banfi, 92 pts

Camigliano 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
Camigliano 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Capanna 2003 Rosso 90 pts
Capanna 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
Capanna 1999 Reserva Brunello Di Montalcino 94pts

Casanuova delle Cerbaie 2004 Rosso 89 pts
Casanuova delle Cerbaie 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Col D’Orcia 2002 Reserva Rosso 92 pts *
Col D’Orcia 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Col D’Orcia 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
Col D’Orcia 1998 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts

Costanti 2004 Rosso 90 pts
Costanti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 93 pts

Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2001 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts *

Fattoi 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 96 pts *

Fuligni 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 91 pts

IL Poggione 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 95 pts *
IL Poggione 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts
IL Poggione 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Innocenti 2003 Rosso 90 pts
Innocenti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts

La Colombina 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 96 pts *

La Fortuna 2004 Rosso 91 pts
La Fortuna 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 93 pts
La Fortuna 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

La Lecciaia 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts

La Mannella 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 89 pts

La Pescaia 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts

La Togata 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts
La Togata 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 89 pts

La Velona 2003 Rosso 92 pts

Le Chiuse 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 94 pts
Le Chiuse 2001 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Lisini 2004 Rosso 93 pts
Lisini 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Lisini 2000 Ugelia Brunello di Montalcino 96 pts

Marchesato degli Aleramici 2003 Rosso 90 pts
Marchesato degli Aleramici 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Palazzo 2003 Rosso 90 pts *
Palazzo 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Palazzo 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Poggio Antico 2004 Rosso 90 pts
Poggio Antico 2001 Brunello di Montalcino (modern ageing) 90 pts
Poggio Antico 2001 Brunello di Montalcino (traditional ageing) 92 pts
Poggio Antico 1999 Reserva Brunello di Montalcino 88 pts

Siro Pacenti 2003 Rosso 91 pts*
Siro Pacenti 2001 Brunello di Montalcino 93 pts

Solaria 2000 Brunello di Montalcino 92 pts

Tenuta Montluc 2004 Rosso St. Luc 92 pts
(Less than 850 cases produced, inaugural release)

Uccelliera 2004 Rosso 88 pts

Valdicava 1999 Brunello di Montalcino 90 pts
Valdicava 1999 Madonna del Piodo 95 pts *