In early January 2014, I was invited to an exclusive tasting of almost 200 soon-to-be-released 2009 Brunello di Montalcino wines and 2008 Brunello Riservas by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino at their headquarters in the center of the celebrated hilltop town.
My tasting of the 2009 vintage revealed that it was another challenging year in Montalcino, and the main problem was the weather. Scorching summer temperatures and a lack of rain dominated crucial phases of the growing season. As a result, most wines are prematurely evolved, and while this makes the best wines enjoyable now, many ’09s deliver sensations of cooked fruit, evident alcohol, low acidity and fleeting tannins. Others have more acidity, but dried-up fruit and aggressive, astringent tannins. And there are many styles in between, ranging from soft and sexy to lean and mean. The one trait that distinguishes almost all the 2009s is a lack of ageworthy structure—unusual for wines that are famous for racy acidity and bracing tannins that need years to tame.
The best ’09s are all about finesse and balance and will be superb over the next few years. Their precocious accessibility makes them ideal on restaurant lists. However, those ’09s that are forcefully tannic but already lack fruit richness aren’t going to get any better. Vineyard location was crucial during 2009, and fuels the raging debate over officially subdividing Montalcino.
“Our older vineyards in the north, where it’s cooler, performed better in 2009, while our younger vineyards in the warmer southern areas suffered more,” says Guido Orzalesi, estate manager at Altesino. “Our 2009 is extremely elegant and ready to be enjoyed.”
A number of the ’09s are light garnet in color and some show brick edges, further proof they’re evolving quickly. This is a far cry from the many inky Brunellos commonly seen before the 2008 grape-blending scandal rocked the denomination, and one can only wonder if some producers struggled to come to terms with working exclusively with Sangiovese (the only grape officially allowed in Brunello), especially during 2009’s challenging condition.
Overall, the 2008 Riservas are underwhelming, due in great part to the variable quality of the vintage. Many are either underripe or overripe, depending on whether producers picked before or after heavy rains marred the harvest period.
Taking all of these factors into account, here are my picks of the top ’09 Brunello and ’08 Riserva picks. Be sure to check out all 150+ ratings and reviews in the May 2014 issue of Wine Enthusiast, or visit the Buying Guide on April 8.
Top Ten 2009 Brunellos
94 Il Marroneto Selezione Madonna delle Grazie. Montcalm Imports. Cellar Selection.
92 Marchesi Antinori Pian delle Vigne. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
92 Altesino. Winebow
92 Belpoggio. Wine Worldwide, Vino Direct
92 Casato. de Grazia Imports
92 San Polino Helicrysum. T. Edward Wines
92 Centolani Poggiotondo. Soilair Selection
92 Le Macioche. Vintner Select
91 Citille di Sopra. Superior Wines
91 Caprili. Multiple U.S importers. Editors’ Choice.
Top Five 2008 Riservas
92 Fattoi. Tricana Imports
92 Caprili. Multiple U.S importers
91 Uccelliera. de Grazia imports
91 La Poderina. Vias Imports
91 Castello Banfi. Banfi Vintners