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Amici e vino devono essere vecchi. - Italian proverb

Some of our friends were just coming back from Italy so we chose a Brunello di Montalcino theme for our January meeting. We tasted blind 6 different wines of this appellation from the 1996, 1997 and 1999 vintages.

Characteristics of the appellation

Brunello di Montalcino is made only from Brunello, a local name for a clone of the Sangiovese grape, also known as Sangiovese Grosso. Sangiovese is the red varietal the most planted in Italy. It is an ancient varietal as the latin origin of its name ("blood of Jove") suggests, probably already known by the Etruscans. It is a slow and late ripering varietal that can be acidic and high in tannins in cool years.

Montalcino is a beautiful small town about twenty five miles from Siena, situated on a hill covered with olive trees and vineyards. The area enjoys a warm and dry climate and this combined with rocky and poor soils, results in a usually more concentrated and riper version of Sangiovese than in the rest of Toscany.

The blind tasting

Overall, we found these wines to be very similar with delicate noses, medium-bodied palate and firm acidity and tannins, especially for the younger ones. They should not be drunk with spicy food but with typical Italian fare like polenta or risotto. There was not a clear winner of the tasting and the clear loser was actually corked.

Our first wine, the 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Fattoi was ranked #3 in the tasting. It had a medium intensity color. The nose was discreet showing some floral tones and red fruits. On the palate, it had a fair intensity with a good balance but was somewhat light on the finish.

The 1999 Brunello di Montalcino Verbena was ranked #2. It exhibited a deep ruby color with fresh sour cherries aromas and herbal notes on the nose, followed by a velvety feeling on the palate and a long finish. Some people guessed that it was a younger wine with tannins and acidity still present but found it overall well-balanced.

The 1996 Brunello di Montalcino Vasco Sassetti had a bright color. It was not showing a lot on the nose but more fruits were coming along on the palate with floral and fruity aromas and hints of honey and mushroom. It left a soft and smooth finish. It was ranked #5 maybe because of its weak nose.

The 1999 Brunello di Montalcino La Rasina that we tasted that night was actually corked and got the lowest marks of the tasting. A couple of days later, we opened another bottle of the same wine and this time the wine was not flawed and more enjoyable. The color was deep ruby. The nose was discreet with some smoky notes. The palate was medium-bodied with a warm mouthfeel and additional aromas of vanilla, prunes and earthy flavors.

The 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Banfi got slighly better marks than the Verbena and was rated #1. It had a deep ruby color and exhibited a delicate fruity nose with spices and dried herbs. It was still young with a fleshy palate and fine supporting tannins and acidity on the finish.

The 1999 Brunello di Montalcino La Gerla was rated #4. In general, people found it slightly weaker than the Fattoi. The nose was discreet and the palate was firm and warm with some earthy aromas. The finish was slightly acidic and tannic.

See our other tasting reports.