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bello brunello Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

The Benvenuto Brunello 2009 Tasting Event


Brunello di Montalcino.  For many, it conjures up the image of a red wine with power, elegance, and longevity. Hailing from the southern portion of Tuscany, Brunello is produced from a superior clone of the Sangiovese grape variety that presents with an uncommonly tannic richness and acidic verve requiring a number of years of bottle age before the wine's release.  Coinciding with this month's debut of the 2004 vintage, the Benvenuto Brunello tasting event afforded members of the U.S. wine trade and press an opportunity to experience the fruit of this renowned region in its finest manifestation.  I arrived on scene with high expectations for what had already been discussed in the wine media as an excellent vintage.

Unlike Chianti, Tuscany's other claim to vinous fame, Brunello comes without the distraction of other grape varieties: it's produced entirely with a clone of Sangiovese that's widely considered to be its best.  It was in the very context of this legally defined requirement that a dark cloud of public relations gathered over the region in 2008, when US and Italian authorities revealed mounting evidence that a few producers had been using other varieties in making their Brunello.

But with a new year comes new hope.  In spite of last  year's awkward turn of events, the mood was jocular and lighthearted at the Benvenuto Brunello event, the west coast portion of which took place in San Francisco's Terra Gallery, an event venue not far from the city's South Park neighborhood.  The bright, open, and airy atmosphere afforded by the gallery's high ceilings and tall windows were a perfect counterpoint for experiencing the density and weight for which Brunello is well-known.  In addition to providing ample room for nearly 50 producers from the region, the space accommodated a generous and beautifully presented spread of rather substantial nibbles that paired nicely with the wines that were poured.

Overall, the wines themselves presented beautifully, although in most cases still quite a bit assertive in their structure and edge, something to be expected from a style that's meant to flesh out and fully integrate only after some years of bottle age.  But overwhelmingly, my sense was that the 2004 Brunello (as well as the 2003 Riserva) held a great amount of promise for even further depth and complexity than they're demonstrating today.  And while each producer's version had its own unique nuances, collectively I found the typical fruit flavors of mulberry and blackcurrent along with counterbalancing hints of tree nuts, roses, black tea, mocha, dark chocolate, woodsmoke, and tobacco.  Like a muscular but mature gentleman in a close-fitting and custom-tailored tux, the overall impression was one of seductive allure and masculine elegance that left a powerful impression, in many cases, with even just a taste.

One interesting variation to these wines came in the form of vineyard site.  Stylistically, the Montalcino zone of Tuscany can be divided into two.  On the Galestro soils to the north, the vineyards tend to be higher in altitude than those in the south, while around Sant'Angelo in Colle the soil has a greater clay content and warmer average temperatures.  These differences make for wines that are fuller and more assertive in the south, but more elegant and aromatic in the north.  In an effort to attain a balance of these qualities, many of the region's producers blend wines produced from vineyards in both of these areas.  A handful of these blends were poured at Benvento Brunello and their representatives provided some interesting insights into the role of each vineyard location in the finished product.  It served as a reminder of the significant role of terroir awareness in the crafting of quality-driven wines.

This dedication to quality I tasted as well in much of the Rosso di Montalcino being poured at the event.  A much lighter and earlier-released wine made from grapes found to be unable to meet the quality standards demanded for Brunello, Rosso serves the pragmatic purpose of allowing producers more immediate cash flow that would otherwise be tied up in their stock of Brunello due to its legally imposed lengthy aging period.  Aside from these considerations, though, I observed an added benefit for the production of this variation.  In tasting the Rosso wines, I was immediately struck by how widely the styles ranged among the producers.  This strongly suggests that Rosso affords producers a degree of creativity to express individuality and perhaps even whimsy that would otherwise be severely limited in the more serious Brunello.  Not surprisingly, the variability in style provides something for everyone — in a brighter, lighter, and more fruit-driven way, allowing producers to showcase an often more fun and easily accessible side to their winemaking.  Rosso is easily the lively and charismatic bombshell of a date hanging on the arm of strong-and-silent, tuxedo-clad Brunello, making her presence known in a beaded dress matching her bright red lipstick.



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