Guide to Italian Wines

Top Brunello di Montalcino Estates


I’ve just recently finished my tastings of the bottlings of Brunello di Montalcino from the 2004 vintage. I tasted most of the wines back in February in Montalcino and completed my tasting last week with another dozen I tasted at my office at home.

Happily, 2004 was a great vintage for Brunello. The wines offer excellent fruit concentration as well as lovely aromatics and have beautifully defined acidity. This vintage most closely resembles those of 1999 and 2001, two other recent outstanding vintages; the 2004s have the acidity and aromatics of the 1999s, though they are slightly less concentrated than the 2001s, which should age longer. However 2004 has about everything you would look for in a superior vintage for Brunello di Montalcino.

Subscribers to my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines, can read tasting notes on 50 different bottlings of the 2004 Brunellos. Information on purchasing this issue or becoming a yearly subscriber can be found at the end of this article.

For now, I’d like to give brief profiles of some of my favorite estates in Montalcino.

Sesta di Sopra

This is an impressive newcomer to the Brunello scene; the first vintage of Brunello here was from 1999. The estate is owned by Ettore Spina and it is quite small with only slightly more than six acres planted to vines. There are only 4200 bottles of Brunello in a typical year; the wines are aged solely in the traditional large casks known as grandi botti. In fact, they have five years of wine aging in their tiny cellar and they have five casks of Brunello – each year’s total amount of wine is in one of those casks!

These are elegant, subdued wines with beautiful aromatics, silky tannins and marvelous finesse. In less than a decade, this estate has become one of the leading producers of Brunello di Montalcino.

  Caroline Pobitzer
Caroline Pobitzer, owner, Pian dell'Orino. Photos © 2009 by Tom Hyland

Pian dell'Orino

This small estate is located directly next to Biondi-Santi on a road just a mile out of the town of Montalcino. That would give it some attention, but it is the viticulture here that is the real story.

Co-owned by wife and husband, Caroline Pobitzer and Jan Hendrik Erbach (the winemaker), this is a biodynamic estate. On a brief visit there, Caroline explained the farming techniques as well as showing me the unusually shaped winery, which is built on a circular, gravity flow basis.

The Brunello here is silky and so soft on the palate, yet quite rich. This is certainly a testament to quality grapes and biodynamic farming. Based on the wine here as well as a few other estates in Tuscany, I have become a believer in biodynamic wines; the owners here produce some of the best of Europe.

Le Chiuse

This estate, located just outside the town of Montalcino, was once part of the Biondi-Santi holdings; that should tell you a little something about the quality of the vineyards. Currently managed by Simonetta Valiani and her husband Nicolò Magnelli, the estate is a traditional one, aging their wine solely in grandi botti. I was introduced to these wines two years ago by my Italian journalist friend Emanuele Pellucci and I am forever grateful to him for that. On that particular visit to the cellars, it was a cold, dreary February day; the weather was soon an afterthought after tasting their Brunello, including a 1999 Riserva which was outstanding. These wines are difficult to find, but it is worth your time – even if you have to visit Montalcino! (Incidentally, their 2004 is one of my top three wines of the vintage.)

Poggio Antico

One of my favorite wine people in all of Italy is Paola Gloder, co-owner of Poggio Antico. She always has a smile on her face and is always happy to tell her story as well as the story of Brunello in general. Her wines are beautifully made with impressive depth of fruit and are beautifully structured. She produces both a traditional Brunello as well as one called “Altero” that is slightly modern, as it is aged in mid-sized casks known as tonneau. You will never go wrong with a bottle of Poggio Antico Brunello and if you can find a bottle of Riserva (especially the 2001), go for it!

If you get a chance to visit this estate, make sure you dine at the Poggio Antico Ristorante, which is sublime!

  Uccelliera vineyard
Vineyard at Uccelliera estate near Castelnuovo dell' Abate. Photos © 2009 by Tom Hyland

Uccelliera

Here is a typical charming estate in the Montalcino countryside just below the town of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, where the beautiful Sant’Antimo abbey is located (you must visit this church if you are in the area – it is especially striking at sunset.)

Andrea Cortonesi is the owner/winemaker here and his wines are much like him – friendly and no nonsense in their aproach. These wines offer ripe red cherry fruit with beautifully integrated oak and age beautifully. Wines such as Uccelliera are what the best Brunellos are all about – richness and elegance as well as longevity without flashiness. Let’s hope that more estates that are established in this area in the coming years use Uccelliera as their business model – you won’t do any better. (Andrea also makes one of my favorite bottlings of Rosso di Montalcino- it’s got such delicious fruit and such an elegant finish.)

Il Poggione

This is one of the great Brunello estates and unlike most of its competitors, has been around for some time; the winery has been producing Brunello di Montalcino for more than 40 years! This is a classic estate that produces traditional Brunello; the wines have great structure for aging, yet are so elegant when released. I recently tried the 1966, which was nearing peak and also loved the 1988, which has at least another decade of life ahead of it. Their 2004 shows similar qualities. Congratulations to owner Leopoldo Franceschi and winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci for such a long, fruitful relationship; you’ve given wine lovers some real treasures!

The newly released Summer issue of my Guide to Italian Wines has reviews of 50 bottlings of Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, along with a vertical tasting of Il Poggione Brunello (there are also reviews of new wines from Sicily and Puglia). This issue – 30 pages in length – is available for $10. If you would like to become a regular subscriber, the newsletter is $30 for four quarterly issues. Please email me at thomas2022@comcast.net for information.

July, 2009

To contact Tom Hyland, visit his Website, "Learn Italian Wines," www.learnitalianwines.com or write him at thwinewriter@comcast.net

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