Despite recent controversy surrounding Brunello di Montalcino, the appellation remains the most highly regarded in all of Tuscany, and some would argue, all of Italy.
Though some producers have recently been accused of illegal grape blending, Brunellos are made of a single clone of the Sangiovese grape, called Sangiovese Grosso, grown in the areas surrounding the hilltop town of Montalcino.
Two styles of Brunello wine have developed . . . a traditional, long aging style modeled after Biondi Santi (the producer that first created Brunello di Montalcino), and a more modern, earlier drinking style that favors an international palate. Still, even the modern style of Brunello is a wine that usually rewards the patient drinker with a cool cellar.
There were high expecations for these wines, and overall, they delivered. While the wines showed off different styles and flavors, there was always the characteristic acidity and earthy notes.
The top wine of the night won by a landslide, but every wine garnered some points. Five vintages were represented.
First Place: Castellani Brunello di Montalcino Brunaio 2001. Exhibited dark plum, bubble gum, licorice, cloves, cold stone, and leather aromas. Tasters noted earthy scents, with Josephine finding "upturned damp earth", and Ali describing "deep forest green". Jo was reminded of "wood in an old church". Juicy on the palate, with flavors of blackberries, spices, cranberry juice, blueberries, cola, pink peppercorn, broccoli rabe, espresso, and vanilla. Thicker in texture than the others, with a long, anise tinged finish. Andy was the sole taster that didn't award this as his favorite. Received 34 total points. Josephine's bottle. About $50.
Second Place: Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 1997. Expressive nose of prunes, banana, pepper, macadamia nuts, camembert cheese, lilies, bright cherries, and dates. Jo commented that it was "so complicated, I can't even untangle it yet". Tasters also noted scents of cola, roses, wet earth, and peppermint. Citrus, earth, dust, mushroom, and lime flavors. Refined tannins. Finishes with granny smith apple notes. Hartwell found that it "has so much more flavor than weight on the tongue", and Ali thought that it "tastes expensive". Jo described it as "a woman in a couture gown". Received 20 points. David's bottle. About $100.
Third Place (tie): Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2000. Showed off mint, bacon, dark chocolate, raisin, licorice, pepperoni, freesia, dried fruit, campfire, jasmine, and cola aromatics. Tart on the attack, with an almost shrill acidity, that tasters described as a grapefruit flavor. Bitter coffee, chocolate, ink, and Robitussin notes. Dusty, earthy finish. Kristin thought that it was "mysterious". Received 11 points. Ali's bottle. About $50.
Third Place (tie): Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 1999. Cloudy appearance, with a fecal nose, that reminded Jo of "shit that's been buried in the earth". Hartwell described "litter box", while Andy found "clover honey". Scents of cardboard, new diaper, talc, minerals, and wild grass. Jo noted "wet tree bark" and "orris root", while Ali described it as "olive green, with brown". Sharp attack, then ripe mid-palate. Jo felt that it was "like a pebble in your mouth". Shorter on the finish, but had interesting tannins. Received 11 points. Hartwell's bottle. About $70.
Focacci Brunello di Montalcino Comunali 1997. More amber halo to this one, with fecal aromatics to go with the scents of Dijon mustard, tomato, burnt wood, stale bread, burnt sugar, meat, and acetone. Jo noted "baby poo" and "unwashed skin", along with "hot dog". Others found coriander, curry powder, sun dried tomato, and stinky cheese. Hartwell said, "When I first smelled it, I thought it was a mistake". Kristin felt that "it smells wretched", and was reminded of "a sponge that I would consider throwing out". More lush in texture than some of the others, but with a shorter finish. Andy was reminded of "Belgian waffle". Received 3 points. Kristin's bottle. About $70.
Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino 2003. Vanilla ice cream, wild dusty berry, mold, patchouli, fig, and wet cardboard on the nose. Smooth in texture, with a silky, friendly profile. Exhibited brighter fruit flavors and black cherries on the palate. Jo thought that it was "eager to please". Received 3 points. Andy's bottle. About $40.