Across the board, Tuscany’s 2006 vintage is being celebrated as one of the best, if not the best, of the new millennium with two major consortia representing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino awarding it a maximum five stars each. Members of the press and trade were given their first sneak peak of new vintages from Tuscany’s major wine regions during a weeklong preview tasting that ended on February 25th.
“The 2006 harvest awarded us with fruit of enormous quality,” said Stefano Campatelli, director of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino: “We can expect truly extraordinary wines from this vintage.”
Less consistent, however, was praise for newly released vintages. In Montalcino, for example, where regulations require that new vintages be released five years after the harvest, 2002 Brunellos generally proved weak, lean and lacking in aromatic intensity.
Here is a rundown of Tuscany’s major wine regions with a description of what consumers can expect from the newest vintages.
Brunello di Montalcino
The highest rating (five stars) was awarded to the 2006 vintage—the third time this has occurred in over a decade (1997 and 2004 also received five stars). “Alternating rain and sun in April to June allowed for balanced fruit ripening,” explained Campatelli. “The month of August wasn’t as hot as normal but high temperatures returned during the first half of September guaranteeing definitive and complete maturation. These excellent conditions favor concentration, higher alcohol, good acidity, complex aromas and longer aging potential.” Consumers can get their first taste of the 2006 vintage when it is released in 2011.
This year, Brunello lovers must contend with the weak 2002 vintage. Production was halved in 2002 (only 3 million bottles were produced) with many producers opting to skip over the vintage all together to concentrate on the more affordable Rosso di Montalcino instead. Some critics wondered if 2002 Brunello should be declassified altogether; it was feared that consumers would be turned off by 2002s with standard Brunello price tags that can range from $40 to $80 a bottle.
The good news is that the excellent 2001 Riserva Brunellos are also just hitting the market and although the vintage received only four stars (many are calling this a mistake) the quality of these wines is both high and consistent.
This storied Tuscan wine region is back in fighting form thanks to the recent merger of its two consortia, the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and the Consorzio del Marchio Storico, now represented by the “Black Rooster” seal. Benefiting from newfound unity, sales of Chianti Classico are on the rise once again, especially in foreign markets that already absorbs 70% of production.
“We are finally seeing the results of a 30-year march towards quality,” said Marco Pallanti, elected president of the new Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico in July 2006. “I can say with confidence that Tuscany has been the most active Italian region from a winemaking point of view and Chianti Classico has earned the lion’s share of the merit.”
Chianti Classicos from 2005, 2004 and 2003 as well as Chianti Classico Riservas from 2004, 2003 and 2001 were poured at the tasting event. “Our very young 2006 wines have just stared to age in various types of wood,” said Enologist Daniele Rosellini: “From an analytical and aromatic point of view, we have every reason to expect the highest quality from this vintage, especially from an aging point of view.” Consumers should look out for the excellent 2004 vintage and 2001 Riservas.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
President of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Massimo Romeo enthusiastically assigned five stars to the 2006 vintage of Vino Nobile saying that the excellent results would help consolidate the region’s presence in domestic and foreign markets. “This has been one of the most balanced vintages we have seen in terms of temperatures, rainfall and ripening,” said enologist Lorenzo Landi. Consumers can expect to see these wines in the U.S. in three years.
Often under the shadow of nearby Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile has worked hard to shape its identity as an area of excellent Sangiovese-based wines available at competitive prices. In fact, 2005 was a record year for exports, especially to the U.S.—which now consumes one in every 10 bottles made. Some 35 producers were present at the tasting to present their 2004 Vino Nobiles and 2003 Vino Nobile Riservas. Consumers should definitely keep an eye out for the excellent 2004 Vino Nobile.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
This white wine, made with native Vernaccia grapes, was the first Italian region to receive DOC recognition and is Tuscany’s only white DOCG today. Some 200 producers are present in the area for a total of 2,000 acres of vineyard.
“We are a small area and we represent a territory-driven wine that must be defended and protected,” said Nadia Betti of La Lastra. To emphasize Vernaccia’s characteristics, the Consorzio della Denominazione San Gimignano organized a tasting against foreign whites such as Dominique Rouvinez’s Fendant de Sierre (made with Chasselas in Valais, Switzerland), Gaia Wine’s Thalassitis (with Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece) and Pazo de Señorans’ Rías Baixas (from Albariño in Spain).
The newly released 2006 vintage of Vernaccia di San Gimignano is beautifully aromatic, crisp and clean and offers great value to consumers.