Italy produces thousands of different wines from each of its twenty regions, but there are really just four that standout as being the most famous in the country. Barolo / Barbaresco, Amarone, Chianti, and Brunello di Montalcino are the names of these benchmark wines. Barolo and Barbaresco are made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont, which is in the northwest corner of Italy, at the foot of the Alps. Amarone della Valpolicella, a process driven wine made from partially dried grapes (Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara) is produced around the province of Verona in the North East, and is adored for its concentration and richness. The last two, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino come from the central Italian wine region of Tuscany. They are produced from two different clones of the Sangiovese grape (Sangiovese Piccolo in Chianti and Sangiovese Grosso in Montalcino) with the clone names relating directly to the size of the berries and clusters – the Brunello clone being considered a higher quality expression of Sangiovese, and is the wine I am focusing on for this blog entry. Brunello di Montalcino wines can be quite aggressive during their infancy, which is why the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (the governing body of Brunello wines) set the minimum aging requirement before sale for a standard Brunello to be five years, with at least two of those being in oak. For Riserva offerings, the minimum jumps to six. That is a long wait to turn a profit for Brunello producers, and is also a significant factor for the wines high prices. Mother Nature can make or break a vintage, not unlike anywhere else wine grapes are grown, but with such a significant maturation time set for the wine, any irregularity in ripeness or yields could be catastrophic.
During the first week of tour though Italy, we booked a hotel for a three day stop in the small hilltop town of Montalcino. When I envisioned Tuscany, I thought of sun drenched hillsides dotted with olive trees, vineyards, and old ruins. Most specifically I was anticipating warm weather. What I got instead felt more like late September in the Midwest. Warmish but not hot days, and cool but not cold nights. The producers I visited all told me the same thing. This is not going to be a good year for Brunello di Montalcino. High winds and storms over the last few weeks had deeply affected ripeness from one side of a vineyard to the next. Some parcels were just barely turning light purple, while others were complete devoid of grapes all together. The previous evening’s high winds had swept through and ripped whole clusters off the vines, leaving them with only a few clusters left to concentrate on ripening before harvest. This is in stark contrast to the 2015 vintage in Brunello, which is considered by many to be one of the best vintages in recent memory. It would appear that for all the Brunello collectors out there, buy long on the 2015’s and throw them in the cellar. 2016 won’t be one for the record books, but you’re going to need something to drink while you’re waiting for the 2015’s to be ready! Unfortunately, we won’t know until at least 2021 what the final verdict will be… For now we wait.