The Anteprime of Tuscany

Every year, around mid-February, the wine producers of Tuscany put aside their political squabbling and competitive argy-bargy for a short time and treat the world’s wine press to a series of surprisingly well planned and co-ordinated tastings of the various creations of the heartland of Italian fine wine. Starting with plain Chianti, the bandwagon rolls on to Chianti Classico (here called as the ‘Chianti Classico Collection’), then San Gimignano, then Montepulciano, finishing at Montalcino with the presentation of the latest Brunello year, under the title ‘Benvenuto Brunello’ (Welcome Brunello). Given the variety of wines such a division entails, in 2018 this meant Brunello 2013, Brunello Riserva 2012 and Rosso di Montalcino 2016. It will be quickly appreciated that this is quite different from the French ‘En Primeur’ method of showing the latest vintage. Here we’re talking the latest release as dictated by the DOC laws for each particular wine.

Brunello producers in 2018 number 258, of which 208 are bottlers, and 135 demonstrated at Benvenuto Brunello. Average annual production (of Brunello) is around 9 million bottles, and of Rosso about half that figure. Some 70% of total production is exported for a total value of 160 million Euros. The tasting takes place in historic nooks and crannies of the small but elegantissimo hilltop town. The world’s press is given first access, followed by trade and investors. British journalists and buyers are few and far between, indicating that Brunello, while respected, has not yet ‘caught on’ in Britain. The good news, emerging from this, is that Brunello retains a certain ‘exclusive’ image, while the price, measured against that of top Bordeaux and Burgundy, remains accessible.

So how did the 2013 Brunellos measure up? Well, the official verdict was 4 stars out of 5, which might be a bit exaggerated; it usually is. Most producers and some journalists found it a year of balance, with good structure in terms of acidity and tannin, an ability to age moderately well, not too big and beefy like the 2012s nor so lush and seductive as the 2011s; but ‘elegant’, to use the ‘in’ word. Given the prevailing negativity of trade and press surrounding the 2014 vintage, due for release from January 2019, growers are inclined to be sanguine about the prospect of good sales on the part of the 13 Brunellos.

As for 2016 Rosso, no one is sitting on the fence. An excellent, if not great vintage, with quite a number of wines good enough to qualify as Brunellos. This is one to acquire before it all disappears into the American and Far East markets.

And the 2012 Brunello Riservas? Chunky and solid, rewarding patience, good for laying down. 2013 is better for drinking now.

Nicolas Belfrage MW