The year 2014 was one of the coolest, wettest ones in recent memory on mainland Italy, and the Montalcino region in Tuscany was no exception. But thanks to the expertise of the most dedicated producers, there are some lovely Brunellos from this just-released vintage of single-varietal Sangiovese wines.
With few exceptions, the 2014s are vibrant, loaded with finesse and ready to be enjoyed now and for the next several years. They’ll offer sheer drinking pleasure while the wait continues for 2013 bottlings to fully develop.
Many Montalcino producers compared the 2014 growing conditions to the washout experienced in 2002. An unseasonably warm, wet winter segued into an extremely wet, cool spring. After a brief respite in early June, heavy rains and unusually cool temperatures returned, along with hailstorms that hit scattered areas throughout the denomination.
The weather pattern continued throughout July. The rain abated in August, but below-average temperatures continued into September, when heavy rains returned. The last week of the month brought sunshine and above-average temperatures that continued through the first half of October. Most producers harvested during that three-week period.
Good results from the 2014 vintage depended almost entirely on producers. Growers had to intervene often to protect plant health as well as manage the leaves and canopy. Meticulous grape selection was pivotal to success. Producers also had to be scrupulous during vinification, as gentle extractions proved best for the vintage’s more delicate structure.
“To keep up our quality standards in years like these, we carefully select the grapes and make only our classic Brunello, but not our Brunello Pianrosso or our Brunello Riserva Santa Caterina d’Oro,” says Paolo Bianchini, co-owner of Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. “Our production was down 25–30% in 2014, but as a result of all the hard work, starting in the vineyards right up to bottling, we’re more than satisfied with the results.”
“We harvested late, around October 10th, but from the beginning, I decided to make less Brunello and concentrate more on Rosso di Montalcino that were delicate, elegant and had excellent acidity,” says Andrea Costanti, owner of Conti Costanti. “After the second year in [barrels], I opted to not make any Brunello at all and made Vermiglio Rosso di Montalcino instead.
“In such difficult years, I want to make great wine that can stand up to Costanti’s history. And in my opinion, in 2014, that couldn’t be Brunello. So I decided to make a good Rosso as opposed to a mediocre Brunello. Obviously, my decision concerns my terroir and my wine, but 2014 is best expressed in younger wines.”
After an extensive tasting of 2014 Brunello, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer elegance, vibrancy and balance of the top bottlings. While they don’t have the structure and aging potential typical of Brunello, their fragrances are enticing. They boast aromas and flavors of fresh red berry, violet, rose and wild herb. They also exhibit racy acidity and taut, polished tannins. Most have already hit their ideal drinking window, but the best will also last until 2029.
A word of caution: 2014 is definitely a “buyer beware” vintage. While overall quality is higher than expected, there are also a number of lean, diluted wines. Only the most skilled producers can make outstanding wines in such difficult years. Be sure to see the full reviews in the upcoming May 2019 and June 2019 issues of Wine Enthusiast to guide you through the vintage.