mercoledì 21 gennaio 2015

Corte dei Venti, Quattroventi 2010 Brunello di Montalcino: Test by Jancis Robinson

2010 Brunello di Montalcino: a perfect 60-60-60
(Written by Walter Speller)
The beginning of the new year in Italy transforms the sleepy, wintry hills of Tuscany into a hotbed of activity. Traditionally this is the time of the anteprima, when the new vintages are presented – not as cask samples as in the en primeur French model, but these wines are, crucially, already bottled and ready to go on the market. Many wines in Italy, certainly the most prestigious ones, are obliged by law to undergo lengthy ageing, and
may be sold only after a certain number of years, as determined by these ageing requirements. Early vintage assessments are as tempting for commentators on Italy as they are everywhere else, but they can be misleading. This was eloquently demonstrated by this year’s release of the 2010s, a vintage that at the beginning didn’t look special in any way.
This eagerness to pass judgement has resulted in the phenomenon of the ante-anteprima, or a preview of the anteprima, a kind of exclusive first taste for the (very) happy few, especially in the case of the wonderful 2010s. It was instigated by the Consorzio, Montalcino’s official generic wine organisation, a couple of years ago to draw attention to the 2007 vintage, which the Consorzio believed to be outstanding. But these ante-anteprimas (ante-anteprime, if you prefer the Italian plural) have begun to meet resistance from some producers who are unwilling to send samples, fearing their wines will not achieve high scores. The fact that the 2010 vintage had already been already classified as ‘once in a lifetime’ in early December last year during yet another preview, the initiative of a single wine critic [James Suckling] who subsequently showered the region with 100-point scores, gave several more producers the confidence to completely ignore the Consorzio’s call for their samples. I go into all this only to explain the glaring absence of some names from my tasting notes below.
Yet, after having tasted some 140 Brunello di Montalcino 2010s last week (at exactly the same time as the rest of the team were wading through Burgundy Week in London, causing a terrible bottleneck for the tasting-note uploading team), I can confirm that that confidence was not misplaced. In Montalcino 2010 is truly an excellent vintage, because the great are fantastic, the good are great and the mediocre good.
At first the 2010 vintage didn’t look that promising at all and there was little indication that Montalcino had a great vintage on hand. A cool and very wet spring caused an irregular flowering that was delayed by up to two weeks. A hot July helped the vines catch up. August turned out cool, even if less rainy than in other parts of Italy, but delayed the growing season once more. September proved to be a game-changer with warm, dry days and cool nights speeding up phenolic ripeness, while retaining Sangiovese’s all-important freshness. The 2010 season also meant a return to a classic late vintage, compared with ever-earlier and hotter vintages such as 2011, 2009 and 2007. But even in this relatively small wine region the harvest took as much as two weeks to complete, with the warmer parts being harvested at the end of September and the highest, coolest parts in mid October.
With climatic conditions as well as the growing cycle not immediately reflecting a great year, and with several producers as early as July 2010 even doubting whether the vintage was any good at all, Montalcino has, nevertheless, delivered a miracle. One has to go back as far as 2004 to find a comparable vintage that is this outstanding. I initially thought that 2010 showed more similarities with 2006, even if the former is far, far more regular than the latter, but Giampiero Pazzagaglia, technical consultant to the Consorzio of Brunello and, since the enforced departure of Stefano Campatelli, its director in anything but name, pointed out the striking similarities between 2004 and 2010 to me. These he summarised as: ‘60-60-60’.
According to Pazzagaglia, 2010 was, like 2004, textbook perfect: it behaved exactly as has long been taught in Italy’s viticultural colleges. Until climate change, that is. He explained that throughout the cycle there was a near-perfect pace of 60 days between each of the phases, beginning with budbreak in the first week of April, flowering in the first week of June, veraison in the first week of August and the harvest at the beginning of October. He admits that in the last few years this cycle has become much more irregular, because in general climate and therefore growing cycle have become unpredictable. For example, in 2014 a very cold July caused an enormous delay, which at first seemed unrecoverable. Pazzaglia mentioned 2006 and 2008 as excellent vintages, but much less accademica: irregular in growing pattern as well as in the resulting wines and much more difficult to handle than 2010.
I admit that I didn’t immediately understand the comparison with 2004 during my first day tasting the 2010s. Certainly, they were wonderful, fresh, perfumed wines, but they seemed to lack a little of 2004’s concentration and, crucially, capacity to age. Worryingly, they seemed ready for consumption. As last year, I tasted with my colleague Kerin O’Keefe, who could not hide her disappointment, saying she had expected so much more of the 2010s. Our first impression changed radically on day two when the majority of the wines, and certainly the best ones, showed what makes Brunello so inimitable: elegance, with powerful tannins but no heavy or super-extraction.
Several producers still set their sights on power and concentration, with several wines showing the beginning of singed or stewed fruit, but the fantastic acidity of this vintage prevents the wines from becoming flabby.
This is a vintage in which Sangiovese is allowed to shine. It is a variety that needs a long, even ripening period to produce wines of real breed, tension and ageing capacity. Often in hot vintages, when the vines are not carefully monitored, the result can be very ripe fruit. Yet behind super-ripeness, still considered by some producers as the sign of a great year, Sangiovese’s transparency completely disappears and, worse, makes all the wines taste alike. In 2010 the ripeness levels of the grapes for most of the wines I tasted are spot on. This vintage has resulted in roughly two styles: a fragrant, elegant, Burgundian style; and solid, concentrated wines that are firmly tannic yet seldom rough or alcoholic. Both possess plenty of vibrant, tangy acidity; and, as a positive aside, heavy oak handling seems to be becoming more and more a thing of the past. There is plenty for lovers of both powerful and elegant Brunellos. The only problem is that because the vintage has been hyped in certain quarters since last December, and is followed by 2011, which looks a little less even, stocks are not going to last long.
The 2010 growing season has produced many a great wine, and my final impression is that, even if not all wines are great, there are certainly very few duds in this vintage. Or, in other words, it was really difficult for anyone to make bad wines in this vintage. Still the excellence of one terroir over another is evident, and this regularly determines the wine’s capacity to age gracefully. Truly great wine is produced only from truly great terroir. Although I admire the skilful work done by almost everyone in 2010 in Montalcino, one cannot expect each and every one of the 200 or so estates to be of the same breed. It is a fact that Montalcino is unwilling to come to terms with. Imagine if each and every château in the Médoc claimed first-growth status. This would be wholly unthinkable - but this is exactly what is believed in Montalcino. The belief is perhaps necessary to support the large investments still being made in the region, with, even in recession-plagued Italy, new outfits still popping up here.
Having said that, the other side of the coin is that climate change has the potential to reshuffle the cards, at least partially, which I think it did in 2010, where lower-lying vineyards that are generally considered too hot may have had an advantage, something that could be even more the case in the much cooler 2014 vintage.
This leads me to my final point, the order of the tasting notes below. Last year I tried to group estates according to their communes, but I met criticism from colleagues as well as from producers, who pointed out that many of them make Brunello from several vineyards spread throughout the appellation, and hence just noting the commune in which the winery is situated would not give any reliable indication of individual styles. Of course I do not argue against that, but the situation is very much the same in Barolo, where estates regularly make intercommunal blends as well as single-vineyard wines.
I felt this criticism was used as an argument against my suggestion that Alessandro Masnaghetti produce a map of Montalcino. This year I tried to explain to anyone in Montalcino willing to listen that this map is not intended to create a system of crus. But without having a proper map indicating the exact location of wineries, roads, the vineyards and their individual altitude and exposition, Montalcino is unable to explain why its wines are great. Great wine is determined by origin, and origin has a location. It is as simple as that. But I am delighted to say that several producers owning vineyards on one of Montalcino’s most famous hills, Montosoli, have found the courage to open the door to geographic clarity and have commissioned a map from Masnaghetti which is just about to be released. Let’s hope many in Montalcino are willing to follow this extremely courageous, but really logical, effort soon.

The wines
The wines had been assigned a random number by the Consorzio and were therefore tasted under blind conditions. Since the order of wines was random, for clarity’s sake I have listed the wines in alphabetical order by producer (sur)name.
The 2010s are followed by a category that is being referred to by the Consorzio as ‘Selezione’. Although this is not an official term, as it is in Chianti Classico, it is a kind of ‘in-house’ indication for wines that are either from single vineyards or are special cuvées, but not Riservas. I would like to point out that in several cases I used + and ++ in the scores to indicate that these wines will probably score higher after a period in the bottle. In 2010, drinking dates are extremely important as many wines are ready now, but will improve.

Corte dei Venti, Quattroventi 2010 Brunello di Montalcino:
Just mid ruby with broad watery orange rim. Sweet nose with notes of tobacco and undergrowth and already looking a little mature. Sweet dried fruit palate with refreshing acidity and creamy notes from the oak. Seems to be ageing rapidly. (WS)Drink 2015-2018

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