The Making of 100-Point Wines: Two Compelling Brunellos From a Superlative Vintage

Le Chiuse vineyard Italy
Le Chiuse / Photo by VL9 Photography

An overall excellent vintage in Montalcino, 2016 should go down in Brunello folklore with other celebrated years like 2001 and 2004. In my opinion, it’s even better than 2010. While some 2016 wines were dominated by excessive alcohol, unexpected because conditions were ideal compared to hotter, drier years, there are many truly superb Brunellos.

Between December and January, I tasted 199 Brunellos from this vintage. While I knew the wines were young Brunellos and likely 2016s, I had no idea of their producers. Like all Wine Enthusiast tastings, these were conducted blind, after my assistant set up flights in numbered bags.

The first Brunello that left me utterly stunned had an intense aroma, replete with body, finesse and impeccable varietal pedigree. I wrote in my notes that it was “perfumed and radiant” and showed “elegance, structure and precision.”

After finishing that day’s tasting, I pulled the bag off this drop-dead gorgeous wine. It was Le Chiuse.

Vineyard and cellar at Le Chiuse
Le Chiuse has been certified organic since 2005 / Photo by VL9 Photography

Located on the northern slopes of Montalcino’s hill, this small gem of an estate has a storied lineage. Owned by the Biondi Santi family since the late 18th century, Le Chiuse’s oldest grapes were used to make the legendary Biondi Santi Riservas.

When Tancredi Biondi Santi passed away in 1970, his youngest daughter, Fiorella, inherited the farm, which she leased to her brother, Franco, until her death in 1986. Franco continued to make Riservas with Le Chiuse’s grapes until 1990, when the estate was taken over by his niece, Simonetta Valiani. She runs the estate today with her husband, Nicolò Magnelli, and their son, Lorenzo.

Le Chiuse’s vineyards are in the heart of the historical growing zone, situated north of the hilltop town in an area known for long-lived wines that boast complexity, intensity and elegance. Vineyards sit 984 feet above sea level, where altitude and north/northwest exposures ensure ideal grape ripening and fresh acidity. Soils are of marine origin and contain flaky schist known as galestro, clay and marl that yield rich yet graceful wines with fragrance and depth.

Le Chiuse 2016
O’Keefe deems this wine “a classic in the making” / Courtesy of Le Chiuse

The estate has been certified organic since 2005, one of the first in the denomination. Most of its Sangiovese vines are the BBS11 clone chosen at the Biondi Santi Greppo estate and in Le Chiuse’s vineyards in the 1970s. Lorenzo is in charge of winemaking. To produce classic, terroir-driven Brunello, he ferments in stainless steel and concrete with indigenous yeasts. Aging takes place in roughly 660-gallon casks made of 90% Slavonian oak and 10% Allier.

The firm’s 2016 is a classic in the making. It’s pristine and focused, with decades ahead of it.

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A day later, I had another “a-ha” moment. This time, the intensely fragrant wine had aromas of rose, violet and berry, plus intensity, focus and savory flavors.

In my notes, I wrote, “Delicious and supremely elegant, this dazzling wine is for Sangiovese purists and fans of extreme finesse.”

I later discovered that the wine was Il Marroneto Madonna delle Grazie. Like Le Chiuse, it also hails from vineyards situated north of Montalcino.

Owned by Alessandro Mori, this small estate turns out pristine, vibrant Brunellos. While youthfully austere upon release, they have marathon aging potential, as several vertical tastings at the winery back to the 1980 vintage have demonstrated.

Alessandro Mori
In 1994, Alessandro Mori gave up his law practice in Rome to dedicate himself to full-time winemaking / Photo by Sandro Michaelles

Mori’s father bought the farm just outside Montalcino’s northern gate in 1974 as a holiday home, but the family also started to make Brunello with the 1980 vintage. Alessandro fell in love with the estate. In 1994, he gave up his law practice in Rome to dedicate himself full-time to winemaking.

From the beginning, Alessandro wanted to make classic, long-lived Brunellos with elegance and energy. It sounds like the right strategy today, but at the time many local producers started to opt for all new barriques. They began to make darkly colored, muscular and oak-driven wines meant to be enjoyed sooner.

I’ve been positively reviewing Il Marroneto’s wines since the early 2000s, but until several years ago, many other critics ignored the estate or gave it less than ecstatic scores. They favored power and concentration over focused, vibrant Brunellos with youthful austerity and extreme elegance.

Alessandro never wavered. His dedication has paid off, as palates have veered toward complex, terroir-driven wines.

Il Marroneto Madonna delle Grazie 2016
The wine will age for decades, writes O’Keefe / Photo by Sandro Michaelles

Madonna delle Grazie is the original vineyard surrounding the farmhouse. Planted mainly in 1974, with subsequent parcels added in 1977, 1982 and 1983, the vineyard altitude is 1,312 feet above sea level and soils are a mix of light sand, minerals and marine fossils.

After choosing the best grapes, Alessandro ferments with wild yeasts in large Allier oak vats. He then ages the wines for 41 months in large oak casks, both Slavonian and French.

The 2016 Madonna delle Grazie is an absolute stunner, with precision, structure and elegance. It will age for decades.

In my eight years at Wine Enthusiast, I’ve awarded nine 100-point scores to Brunello di Montalcino, including Le Chiuse 2013 and Il Marroneto 2015 Madonna delle Grazie, which proves that the reputation of the producer is the best guarantee in Montalcino.

After I reviewed the bulk of the 2016 Brunellos, I received another batch of late bottlers. All I can say at this point is, it’s a trifecta of 100-point scores for the vintage in Montalcino. Stay tuned.

Published on March 10, 2021
Topics: Wine and Ratings