Brunello di Montalcino


Not that there’s anything wrong with cabernet, merlot and pinot noir, that is when they’re thoughtfully-made and well-balanced, but these admired grapes and the renowned wines made from them cannot be our be-all and end-all when it comes to beverages. Today, for the second Weekend Wines Notes in a row, I look at wines fashioned from other grapes, 12 this outing, including both 100 percent varietal wines and some interesting blends. We cover examples from various points in California, a pair from Southern Oregon, a wine from Portugal, one from Austria, an august Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany and several from Chile. As usual with this series, I forgo the details of technical matters, history and geography for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my wine-stained notebooks, in order to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices range from $15 to $75. Enjoy! (Moderately, of course.)

These wines were samples for review.
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apaltagua_grial_carmenere_2012_clup
Apaltagua Grial Carmenere 2012, Apalta Valley, Colchagua, Chile. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby shading to a purple rim; smoke, graphite, mint, eucalyptus and cedar; ripe and spicy red cherries and currants with a touch of plums and blueberries; a sizable wine, very dense and chewy, packed with dusty, velvety tannins and flinty minerality, feels a bit rock-ribbed and clasped by iron, clearly intended as a privileged and long-aging expression of the grape; try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 or ’32. Very Good+ for now with Excellent Potential. About $75.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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DCR14C_180x579pxh
Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2014, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 270 cases. Medium ruby hue with a pale magenta rim; raspberries and plums, hints of tar and lavender, raspberry leaf and black tea; intriguing notes of red cherry and cherry pit; an aura slightly macerated and baked, with dried fruit and spices; wood smoke and loam; swingeing acidity and spare, slightly dusty tannins. One of my favorite wines to try every year. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Bruce Patch Wines Carraras Ranch Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. 100 cases. A field blend With carignane, petite sirah and alicante bouschet, from vines planted in 1906. Dark ruby-purple; very ripe and spicy blackberry, black currant and blueberry, with a hint of boysenberry; notes of tapenade, fruit cake, tobacco and roasted fennel; lip-smacking acidity, tannins and loamy minerality keep it both lively and grounded; opens to touches of lavender, vanilla and cinnamon; finishes with notes of wild berries. A zinfandel that flaunts its purpose and struts its stuff but remains essentially balanced. Now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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Marques_de_Casa_Concha_Carmenere
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2014, Peumo, Chile. 14% alc. Inky violet-purple; warm, ripe, spicy and fleshy; plums, currants and mulberries, woodsmoke, cedar and dried rosemary; hints of black olive and bell pepper; sleek, slippery moderately dusty tannins; something not just robust here but wild, in its deep berry flavors, its dark, vivid acidity, its precipitous graphite character. Now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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concha
Concha y Toro Serie Riberas del Cachapoal Gran Riserva Carmenere 2014, Peumo, Chile. 13.5% alc. Very dark ruby color; a warm, fairly generous melange of black currants and cherries permeated by black tea, tar and loam, cloves, allspice and lavender; framed by dusty, velvety tannins, an inky wine, opening to a finish flecked with cedar, black olive and bell pepper. Very tasty. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $17.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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esporao
Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 14.5% Aragonez and alicante bouschet 40% each, syrah 20%. Inky-purple with a magenta rim; fresh and bright, notes of smoke, mint and graphite, spiced and macerated black and blue fruit; cedar, cloves, dried thyme and rosemary; robust, vibrant and juicy but stalwart with dusty, granitic tannins; pulls up green hints of olives and peppers and layers of leather and loam. Now through 2028 to ’30. Quite a performance. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Adil Wines & liquors, New Bedford, Mass.
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gaja
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta 2011, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany. 15% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium-hued but intense ruby color; deeply dredged from the spice cabinet; macerated red and black cherries and currants, with all the sangiovese undertow of oolong tea, orange rind, lavender and rose petals, these qualities being hints within the elements of resinous cedar, iodine and a profound factor of dusty, granular tannin and oak; lithe, supple, muscular texture, ultimately well-balance despite the alcohol level and the wood-framed bastions. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’33. Excellent. About $75.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois
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heinrich
Heinrich Zweigelt 2014, Burgenland, Austria. 12% alc. Certified biodynamic. Medium ruby-purple shading to transparent magenta; immediate Spring-like appeal of lavender and violets, opening to spicy blackberry, currant and plum scents and flavors; a little smoky and meaty; lithe supple texture animated by bright acidity and mild tannins; dry finish brings in graphite and a hint of mulberries. Needs rabbit. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
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2014-POV-Front-Label
Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County. 14.5% alc. With 6% petite sirah, 5% barbera, 4% syrah, all from vines 50 to 103 years old. Opaque black purple with a glowing violet rim; black cherries and blueberry jam, mint, iodine, graphite and cloves; notes of lavender and bitter chocolate; very dry, enlivened by pinpoint acidity and founded on lavish, dusty tannins; a finish packed with granitic minerality, yet for all that, a classically-framed, delicious and highly drinkable zinfandel. Now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
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AMADO-SUR-MALBEC
Trivento Amado Sur 2014, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Malbec 79%, bonarda 11%, syrah 10%. Dark ruby-purple; first, lavender and tar, then notes of blackberries and blueberries, earthy briers and brambles, raspberry leaf and graphite with a hint of iodine; a dry, fairly tannic but lively and supple wine with lots of grit and bottom to it, entirely appropriate with hearty red meat preparations and pastas, or, say, a sausage pizza or bacon-cheeseburger. Very Good. About $15.
Imported by Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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troon mt
Troon Vineyard M*T Reserve 2014, Southern Oregon. 14.4% alc. 60.1% tannat, 39.9% malbec. 240 cases. Opaque purple center shading to transparent fuchsia; a beautifully conceived, well-knit, vibrant and vivid blend that marries mulberries and blackberries with dusty plums and brandied black cherries; plush tannins bolster firm but moderate tannins; clean acidity and graphite minerality cut through smoke and loam, mint and iodine and an overall aura of pure blueberry. Irresistible but with a slightly serious edge. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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troon tannat
Troon Vineyard Estate Tannat 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 14.4% alc. 169 cases. Dark dark ruby hue; red and black currants, cherries and plums, loaded with smoke and graphite, tobacco and blueberries, brambles and pomegranate; very intense and concentrated core of lavender, iodine, mint and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-like tannins coat the palate, allowing for a supple velvety texture midst the granitic rigor; and for all that, a thoroughly balanced and drinkable wine appropriate for the biggest and most robust red meat preparations. Drink through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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The tale has often been told about how the wine we known as Brunello di Montalcino was created by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi (pictured at right) on his Tuscan estate Il Greppo and first bottled in 1888. The family was the only producer of Brunello di Montalcino until after World War II and had, in fact, released the wine only in 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945, a fact that testifies to incredibly rigorous standards and deep pockets. As the wine’s prestige grew after the war, the number of producers markedly increased, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s.

The original regimen of barrel-aging for Brunello di Montalcino was a long 42 months, a procedure that resulted — no surprise — in wines of great hauteur and austerity that demanded many years, if not decades, to mellow. That requirement was lowered to three years barrel aging in 1990 and two years in 1998, though Brunello di Montalcino must still age four years before release in a combination of barrel and bottle-aging; it’s the producer’s prerogative as to what that process will be. The wine, first by custom and then by law, must be made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes, a regimen with which many winemakers disagree, seeing the necessity to blend portions of other grapes to soften the wine’s somewhat rigid character.

While modernization has come to all parts of Tuscany, Biondi-Santi serenely follows the path it forged generations ago. Ferruccio’s grandson Franco oversees the estate and the august reputation of its wines today, while his son Jacopo, who founded his own estate in Maremma in 1996, has broken away from the family after disagreements with his father. (The image above, from decanter.com, reveals Biondi-Santi father and son in an apparently rare mood of shared good humor.)

In this post, we look at one of Jacopo Biondi-Santi’s best-known wines, Sassoalloro, in its rendition of 2008, and the Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005; both were made completely from sangiovese grapes. Are the wines different? Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Of course they’re different, but each is engaging and fully engaged in its vastly diverse task.

Imported by Vision Wines & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. These wines were samples for review.
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The Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005 aged 36 months in large Slovenian oak barrels; the vines for this wine are a minimum of 25 years old. From beginning to end, the wine is a monument to the sangiovese grape. The extraordinary bouquet is an intense and lofty amalgam of dried red and black currants and red cherries, violets and graphite, oolong tea, sandalwood, leather and moss and mushrooms, all seemingly ground by some ethereal mortar and pestal of the gods; you could live in it. While this bouquet is fantastically warm, spicy, inviting and seductive, in the mouth matters quickly turn serious; I did not use the word “monument” casually. The Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005 is dense with iron-clad and finely-milled tannins and dry in an almost ecclesiastical way, in the sense of ancient, dusty wood polished by centuries of use and permeated by the slightly bitter austerity of old incense. The earthy aspects hinted at in the bouquet — the tea, graphite, leather, mushrooms and moss, along with some dusty dried porcini — penetrate the wine’s structure to its deepest foundations, while the clean, bright architecture of acidity gives it amazing vibrancy, despite its formidable depth and dimension; the finish is long, somber and dignified. Old-fashioned? You bet. Do I mind? Not a bit. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2025 to ’30 with roasted game birds or pappardelle with rabbit sauce. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was about 5,876 cases. Exceptional. About $149.
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The appellation for the Jacopo Biondi-Santi Sassoallora 2008 is Scansano, in southwestern Tuscany not far from the seacoast. The wine aged 14 months in untoasted French barriques, that is, small 60-gallon oak barrels. The color is deep ruby with a faint magenta rim; the bouquet is indeed sangiovese — violets and sour cherry, red currants with a touch of blueberry, black tea and brambles, a hint of pomander — but with a fruity and fruitful intensity of ripeness and immediate appeal, a pointed thrust of lead pencil, licorice and bay leaf, all marked by clarity and freshness. The wine is smooth and supple in the mouth, a stream of lithe, concentrated, spicy black and blue fruit flavors wrapped in velvet and tied off with graphite-like minerality and resonant acidity; firm, slightly chewy tannins plow through the long, spice-and-dust packed finish. New-fangled? You bet. Do I mind? Not a bit. 14 percent alcohol. Begs, I mean freakin’ begs, for a medium-rare rib-eye steak, smokin’ from the grill or one of those Florentine steaks for two, sliced and crunchy with rock salt. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.
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