Brunello di Montalcino DOCG rules that the wine must age for four years before release, 24 months in oak barrel, and the rest in bottle. Traditionally, Brunello was aged in large Slovenian oak barrels or “botte”, which gave little oak flavor to the wine and produced a complex but more austere wine. Classic Brunello has a core of bitter cherry, dark chocolate, and an earthy minerality, bright acidity, with firm and polished tannins. The modern approach is to use the smaller French barrique, giving the wine a fruitier style, with a distinctive vanilla oak flavor, which makes it approachable earlier. It seems that many producers are embracing the modern forward style, casting a cherry liqueur richness over the wine, at the loss of some of the sour and spice aromatics, with oak flavors overwhelming some of the nuances.
Many wine critics have called the 2009 Brunello a “restaurant vintage”, meaning it is a so-so vintage, with overly evolved wines ready to drink in the near term and not suitable for aging. This can be good for those who can’t wait for the maturation process.
A few of the highlights for 2009 are:
2009 Sasso di Sole Brunello di Montalcino is elegant, with subdued fruit aromas, a vegetal nose, a whiff of tobacco leaf, bitter mid-palate, medium tight-grained tannins, and a stony minerality, with a sense of place in every sip.
2009 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino is classic Sangiovese, although on the ripe side (cherry liqueur), sour red cherry, prune, tobacco leaf, arugula, earth, and vanilla, with medium plus acidity, tannins, and alcohol.
2009 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino is fresh, full, and round, with a silky mouthfeel warmer black fruit flavors with a tinge of dried herbs, it is ready to drink.
2009 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino is floral and feminine, with aromas of strawberry, tea leaf and underbrush, and a dried cherry/herbal tea finish.
2009 Col D’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino is balanced and rich, with aromas and flavors of black cherry, red fruits, cinnamon and ginger spice, and a hint of citrus.
2009 Solaria Brunello di Montalcino is well made, riper fruit (black cherry, plum), leather and cedar aromas, softer tannins, balanced in its acidity and body, finishing with a velvety texture.
2009 Terre Nere Brunello di Montalcino is elegant, with cherry and currant fruit, a full but not too rich body, and spice on the finish.
Overall, I found the 2006 and 2007 Riservas to be outstanding, with La Fiorita being my favorite producer of those I tasted, especially the 2006 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, which is a knockout. If you’re looking for a classic, structured, ageworthy Brunello, the riservas from these years will fit the bill. The 2006 Riservas are big but elegant wines, with firm tannins, mineral tones, earthy, mushroomy flavors, a classic Brunello. The 2007 Riservas have riper Sangiovese fruit, with overtones of nuts, minerals, and a whiff of tobacco, and not overly oaky. The fine acid/tannin balances gives the wine depth, character, and structure.
These wines will arrive in US wine shops in a few months, and while not the exceptional wines of the past decade, they provide instant gratification, as they are drinkable now. They definitely should be drunk with food, since their higher acidity and tannin demand the company of a meal. The wine producer’s style and finesse is key, and if you like the immediate style of the 2009 vintage, these wines might be a good match.