2008 Barolo: better than I first thought?

When we hear about recent vintages of Barolo, vintage 2008 barely gets a mention. It might be because it has produced wines that are now only showing what they are capable of becoming.

Some vintages like 2004 and 2006 do not need time to show their greatness. It was obvious from an early age out of barrel. In bottle these wines have held this quality and for me they are two of the greatest vintages in the last twenty years. Great wines from these vintages will live as long as you want to keep them.

Other vintages like 2008 are a little harder to read. In 2010 I visited Barolo and Barbaresco and tried many 2008 Barolo out of barrel. These wines were still in their infancy and most were not giving any indication to what they might become in the future. Most wines were were closed, with buck loads of tannin and no real indication on how good the fruit was. However, a visit two years later in 2012 has shown me that there will be many good wines produced from this vintage.

This is a vintage that reminds me a lot of 2005. Vintage 2005 is the forgotten vintage as it has been sandwiched between 2004 and 2006. It was also a hard vintage to judge young as the tannins were so big and raw, it made trying and drinking the wines hard work. However, for me the best wines from 2005 will be extremely long lived, and it is maybe a more typical Barolo vintage that say 2004 or 2006. Many in Barolo now are also arguing that the best wines of 2005 will outlive both 2004 and 2006. They argue that this is how Barolo used to be like. These wines need cellaring and good Nebbiolo loves to be cellared for 10 or twenty years.

Looking back from my recent trip in April, the 2008 vintage has on face value many similar characteristics of the 2005 vintage. Many of the wines from 2008 do have big and raw tannins, with a lot of the fruit being masked by these tannins. With age, I think these will come into balance and there will be many outstanding wines from 2008.

It is a vintage where you must know you producer and unlike 2004 and 2006 where universally everyone produced fantastic wines that looked good young, guidance and tasting is the key to wines from the 2008 vintage.

So for me personally, the wines that are now in bottle are better than what I initially thought they would be like. The best examples are very traditional, made in a style that reminds of what Barolo used to taste like when drunk young.

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Quick thoughts about 2006 and 2007 Brunello di Montalcino…

The hills of Montalcino

Over the last few weeks I have drunk a lot of Brunello. Mainly from the 2006 and 2007 vintages. Whilst both vintages are markedly different, both have strong merits as a wine collector.

Last night I had two bottles of Brunello from the same producer. One bottle was 2006 and the other was 2007. Whilst the 2006 was stunning and it’s high quality obvious: it was the 2007 which drew me back to it. It was lighter in colour, but so fragrant and perfumed with softer tannins and more open savoury cherry fruits.

Both vintages have been rated as five stars and whilst I am not sure about the 2007 vintage being awarded this, the 2006 vintage definitely deserves it. To give you a better understanding to these vintage ratings, see the official explanation from the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino below:

Commemorative vintage rating tiles on the wall of the Town Hall in Montalcino

Every year the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino classifies the new wine production in order to Communicate the information regarding the Montalcino harvest and its wines Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Moscadello di Montalcino and Sant’Antimo.

The evaluation takes place in the months of January of every year, by having wine samples of the latest harvest undergo chemical/physical and organoleptic analyses.

The Tasting Committee that carries out the tests is made up of 20 technicians operating in Montalcino, with extensive experience in the production of this area.

The evaluation is expressed in stars, corresponding to the following classification:- insufficent vintage alt (one star)
– fair vintage altalt (two stars)
– good vintage altaltalt (three stars)
– exellent vintage altaltaltalt (four stars)
– outstanding vintage altaltaltaltalt (five stars)The declaration of the stars assigned to the vintage takes place in February each year, as part of the event “BENVENUTO BRUNELLO”.

Commemorative tiles

Starting with the 1992 vintage, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino commissions a commemorative tile to place on the wall of the Town Hall in Montalcino. The tiles are created by people from the world of art, sport and show business, Italians and foreigners alike.  The tiles are ceramic, measure 30×30 cm and include the reference year and the number of stars assigned.

The plaques are hung in February each year during the event “BENVENUTO BRUNELLO”. Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

There has been many articles written about the value (or lack of) vintage ratings made by the Consorzio. However, what is obvious is that Montalcino has been able to string together some fantastic vintages with 2006 and 2007 of very good quality. Both these vintages have been rated five stars by the Consorzio and they could not be more different in style and structure.

The view from the town of Montalcino down to the many sub regions below

If I had to pick the vintage to put in my cellar for long term ageing, it would be 2006. With so many different sub regions and producers, buyers still have to be wary about what 2006 Brunello they should buy. However in saying this, the chances of success will be a lot higher than 2007.

Vintage 2007 for Brunello di Montalcino has produced widely varied wines. This was evident on our Bimbemus dinner which focused on the 2007 vintage. However those who have got it right have made delicious, balanced reds that will be fantastic to drink whilst those 2006’s mature in the cellar. This is not to say the 2007 vintage wines will not age, they will age really well over the next decade. The 2006 vintage wines on the other hand will go past ten years and the best examples will still be kicking on at twenty years of age.

A great wine from a not so great year: Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba Riserva vigneto Pozzo dell’Annunziata 2003

Roberto Voerzio has been excited about the quality of his 2003s for some time, saying “I consider 2003, along with 1997 and 2000, to be my best vintages since 1996.” While few producers would list 2003 as a top-quality vintage, it is hard to disagree with Voerzio when it comes to his wines. I have tasted these 2003s twice over the last six months and they are simply magnificent Barolos of the highest level. They capture the ripe, exotic quality of the vintage, but without the hard tannins that are typical of so many wines. Several of these Barolos are likely to be among the vintage’s top wines when they are released.

That said, 2003 proved to be a challenging vintage here. In 2003 Voerzio’s yields were his lowest ever, 500 grams per plant, which is about a third less than his normal, already miniscule, yields. At harvest time sugar levels were very high, and as a result some of the wines did not complete their fermentations. Voerzio chose to sell his Dolcetto, Langhe Merlot and Barolo La Serra in bulk rather than tinker with them in the cellar, a significant financial sacrifice especially given that he did not release single bottle of wine in the 2002 vintage. More recently the ultra-perfectionist Voerzio has told me he is not sure whether he will release his Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata. However, the 2003s that he will bottle are nothing short of breathtaking. I also tasted several 2004s, including Rocche, Cerequio, Sarmassa and the Langhe Merlot, but they are maturing very slowly and the individual vineyard characteristics are not quite as evident today as the wines are still clearly marked by oak. Antonio Galloni

I love Barbera, especially when it is grown in the Langhe and when on form, it is breathtakingly spectacular. Another thing I love about Barbera is that in hot years, because it is a natually high acid variety, it cops extremely well. In years like 2003, which was extremely hot all over Europe, Barbera was one of the few varities that managed to do well.

Last night we opened a bottle of the Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba Riserva vigneto Pozzo dell’Annunziata 2003 out of magnum and the wine looked amazing. This wine took about an hour to open up and when it did, it was absolutely amazing. It was fragrant, fresh, complex and balanced. Pretty hard to ask for much more for top line Barbera.

Piemonte wine night:… and the wine of the night is?

Last night my wine group headed to Scopri for dinner with all wines from the Piemonte region. There were some great wines in the line up including the 1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto which looked amazing. However the best wine hands down was the 1990 Gaja Barbaresco. Amazing wine, with years and years still ahead of it.

Again the food was fantastic and overal, a very enjoyable night. Thanks also to Chris Hammer for bringing along the Gaja.

Passopisciaro – a beautiful reflection of Etna’s power and beauty.

In 2000 Andrea Franchetti decided to restore an old farm and cellars on the higher slopes of mount Etna. The winery which later was to initiate the renaissance of viticulture on the mountain and an international discovery of the wines of Etna sits at about a thousand meters of altitude above the small wine town of Passopisciaro in the district of Castiglione di Sicilia, on the north slope of the volcano. The wine “Passopisciaro” was a rendering of the grape that is unique and ever-present on Mount Etna, Nerello Mascalese, a botanical ancestor of Pinot Noir.

Passopisciaro and it’s single vineyard cru’s.

This was the first modern bottling of Nerello wine. Up until recently, wines from Etna were sold in bulk. In 2005 Franchetti starts making a striking red, named after the vintner, made with Petit Verdot and Cesanese d’Affile, loaded with sweet spices, cassis and plum that are woven together with profound elegance. The following year Guardiola came along, 100% Chardonnay planted at a 1000 mt a.s.l., a fresh, mineral and aromatic white wine. 

In 2008, Franchetti started making single-vineyard bottlings from areas on different altitudes, where there had been some classic old feudal properties renown for their wines. The name of these “Contradas” are: Chiappemacine, Porcaria, Sciaranuova, Rampante, growing respectively at 550 mt, 650, 850 and 1000 mt. Andrea Franchetti had realized immediately that once the grapes reached the cellar, they produced different wines depending on the district from which they came from. The Contradas each come from vineyards of different ages and are each on a lava flow with different minerals, grain size and altitudes: this led him to vinify each district separately, representing the different taste of mount Etna’s ancient crus.

The vineyard terraces of Rampante, Mount Etna, Sicily

Etna is one of Italy’s most fascinating emerging wine regions and Andrea Franchetti is arguably the area’s most fanatical, driven producer. High altitude vineyards, volcanic soils, ancient indigenous grape varieties in Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio and a rediscovery of the uniqueness of these vineyards are among the reasons for the spectacular growth in interest the Etna has seen in recent years. Antonio Galloni

During July, the 2009 single vineyard cru’s from Passoposiciaro will be shipped to Australia via Mondo Imports. These wines should be available in the Australian market at the end of August.

In Brunello We Trust: a in depth look at the 2007 vintage

Last Monday night, my fellow Italian wine lovers of Bibemus (In Italy We Trust) headed to Carlton Wine Room to look at a number of Brunello di Montalcino from the 2004 vintage. It was a great night with some fantastic wines. I think what it highlighted to me, is just how varied the region of Montalcino in style (even greater reason for subregions?) and vintage with 2007 throwing up some real oddballs.

We started the night with a bracket of four Franciacorta NV. The Bellavista Gran Cuvee and Ca del Bosco were the stars and showed just why they are considered the best. The Monte Rossa was also very good and was only a smidgen behind these wines. The real disappointment was the Montenisa, which looked flat and tired. This might have been due to a freshness/storage issue.

Wine rock star Dan Sims sniffing his way through a bracket of 2007 Brunello di Montalcino

We then got into main course with three brackets of 2007 Brunello di Montalcino. The wines we looked at from 2007 were:

Casanova di Neri

Mastrojanni

Poggio Antico

Costanti

Fuligni

Il Palazzone

Querce Bettina

Frescobaldi Castelgiacondo

Argiano

The estate of Il Palazzone in Montalcino

When looking at all the wines as a group, there was no uniformity in style or varietal characteristics. The best wines of the group showed fantastic freshness and perfume, balanced with a savoury and textured palate. The worst wines of the group were full of oak, showed no Sangiovese characteristics and for all we knew, could have been Barossa Shiraz.

The region of Montalcino is so varied with altitude, aspect and soil types varying greatly from vineyard to vineyard and producer to producer. Like Barolo and Barbaresco, it would be fantastic if the idea of subregions or cru’s could be implemented in Montalcino. It would give people a better understanding in the differences of terrior in Montalcino.

If you want to go into great depth of Brunello di Montalcino, Kerin O’Keefe has written a fabulous book called Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines (University of California Press) detailing the region, it’s wineries and the need for sub regions in Montalcino. I highly recommend it.

Kerin O’Keefe’s Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines.

Brunello has burgeoned in my wine-drinking lifetime from a few more than half a dozen producers, mostly clustered around the medieval hill town of Montalcino, to well over two hundred, scattered all over the very diverse territories of the Brunello zone. Keeping track of that highly differentiated production – much more making sense of it – is a monumental task. O’Keefe has managed to do it by dint of persistence and equally monumental effort. As she puts it, “Rather than merely sit in my office and taste thousands of wines every year, I’ve visited all the Brunello estates profiled in the following chapters, some several times, and many more that are not in the book. I’ve spent years researching Brunello di Montalcino. . . . I’ve walked producers’ vineyards, visited their cellars, and talked for hours with the winemakers and their families. . . . I take [lengthy trips] to Montalcino every year.” Tom Maresca on ‘Brunello di Montalcino by Kerin O’Keefe

In regards to the wines, the two best wines for me were the 2007 Fuligni and Querce Bettina. They showed the exact characterictics which I like in Brunello di Montalcino.

The worst two wines were the Argiano (didn’t taste like Brunello to me) and Frescobaldi Castelgiacondo (too big in every sense). These wines to me highlighted the 2007 vintage and the producer.

Carlton Wine Room cellar

The dinner was hosted at Carlton Wine Room (in the cellar) and it was fantastic. Our host Jay did an amazing job and the food was outstanding. We finished the night with a small bracket of 2001 Brunello di Montalcino and it was a fitting way to finish a great night.