Forget 2009 Bordeaux – this is what you should be buying

Forget 2009 Bordeaux. (For now, anyway).  Sure, there are tons of reports about how exceptional a year it was for Bordeaux, but prices are sky-high, and the wines are more than a year away from being delivered anyway.  In the current environment, if you want to taste what an exceptional vintage from a world-class wine region is like, for my money you should be looking to Italy, for 2004 Brunello di Montalcino.  2004 was a fantastic year in Tuscany for the brunello wines, which are made from a sangiovese clone called Sangiovese Grosso.  The wines tend to be structured and tannic like Bordeaux, with slightly higher acidity and fruits that normally run a little more to the red fruits end of the spectrum than the many opaque purple Bordeaux wines being made these days (although there has been a lot of controversy in recent years that brunellos have nonetheless gotten unnaturally dark, and rumours that other grape varieties mixed in in contravention of the appellation’s rules led to a scandal last year).

I had the opportunity to taste a few dozen 2004 brunellos and brunello riservas in February at a Vino 2009 trade tasting here in New York.  Trade tastings are an interesting scene – amidst many retailers, sommeliers and other wine industry types socializing and boozing with their contacts, etc., I’m usually the quiet, studious one keeping notes and trying to taste as many wines as I can to increase the coverage of this blog.  So I was doing my regular routine, dictating detailed notes into my iPhone as I got my first taste of the 2004 brunellos, which I had heard were outstanding.  Even knowing this, I was pretty surprised by the high quality of the 2004 brunellos across the board; there really was something special about the 2004s compared to many 2005s that I tasted at the same time.

Then I started tasting some of the 2004 brunello riservas.  At one point, I hit a string of really heavy hitters that knocked me out of my dispassionate routine and lifted this tasting to the level of – in a word – polyorgasmic.  (I normally try to keep it clean on this blog, but sometimes you just hit upon the perfect descriptor. )  The riservas from Fuligni and Uccelliera in particular shook my world – they were complex and delicious, with both power and nuance (as were many of the other 2004s, riserva and normale).  They got some of the highest scores I have ever given any wines, from anywhere.

The riservas are expensive – generally running $100+; though, at the high level they are performing at, they are competitive with Bordeaux wines that would run several hundred to $1000+ dollars.  Those of us on a more modest budget, however, are not left out of the 2004 brunello fun.  Fortunately, the 2004 normale wines (which are labeled simply “Brunello di Montalcino”) aren’t really more expensive than they are in less heralded years.  In fact, because of the recession, I’ve seen a lot of deals for 2004s for considerably less than the $40-$50 or so that quality brunello normally goes for.   I noticed some really good deals recently on the 2004s from a producer that I first discovered at the February tasting, Tenuta di Sesta – I liked their normale perhaps even more than the riserva at this point (the riserva showed greater concentration but was too tannic to judge properly at this early juncture), and it’s available for as low as $30.99.  Other good wines from producers like Col d’Orcia and Il Poggione have regularly shown up for about $40 or even less.

Another piece of good news is, the quality of the 2004s was pretty uniformly high, so you can pull the trigger on almost anything you see a good price on.  But please, take advantage of the notes I took – they are printed in full below, so check out which ones to look out for and which ones to pass on.  Enjoy the wines, and let me know what you think of them –  just don’t buy the last bottles before I get a chance!  -Alan

  • 2004 E. Fuligni (Cottimelli) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino (2/4/2010)
    Here, the light style of this house (compared to other brunellos I’ve tasted) reaches glorious heights. Beautiful sweet fruit, a little high-toned, little bit of alcohol on the nose – but hits you right away as a captivating wine. Concentrated on palate, with a bit of spice that makes this wine feel bigger than it is. Fruit a bit plummy. Slight bit of barnyard funk adds more complexity as well. Modern in style, framed by oak, and the high-toned acidity verges on estery at times, adding to the interest without being a flaw. The more I tasted, the more I was convinced of this wine’s greatness – the balance of the lightish yet hugely flavorful style, with the expansiveness, and the spice and earth elements just makes this wonderful stuff. Tannic now, but this has got everything. Edges out Uccelliera riserva as my top wine among 40+ brunellos tasted today. 96-100. (98 pts.)
  • 2004 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino (2/4/2010)
    Fantastic. Smooth, modern in style. The nose gives a slight raisiny note together with the smell of sweet tannins. Palate is beautifully tasty without feeling extracted; acidity is ample and juicy. A real show-stopper. Runner-up WOTD among 40+ brunellos tasted. 95-98. (96 pts.)
  • 2004 Il Poggione (Proprietá Franceschi) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino (2/4/2010)
    Darker fruits on the nose than the normale; color is ruby, not purple; dark, concentrated fruit flavors. Needs Continue reading

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Hi everyone… please forgive the changed look to the site; some necessary changes are being done behind the scenes, resulting in some missing photos, etc. but please enjoy the content that is there and keep watching this space for some new posts, including “What you should be looking to buy instead of 2009 Bordeaux”…