Burgundy prices are continuing to rise whilst access to even mid-tier crus and established lieu dits here and similarly in Barolo conversely is diminishing. At the same time Brunello continues to see advances in quality, and greater sub-regional specificity and transparency to individual terroirs. Within this context the new 2017s are shortly to arrive onto the market, and what a wonderful surprise these wines are!
Unlike Bordeaux, the new 2017s are four or five years old, so fully formed with many approaching the initial stages of their drinking window on arrival. Certainly the “half-painted picture” analogy of attempts to evaluate the quality of unfinished Bordeaux barrel samples little more than six months from harvest need not apply here. Assessments, good or otherwise, are on much firmer footing…
And what of the wines? 2017 was a hot, dry vintage, yet many of Montalcino’s finest winemakers have coaxed wines of superb freshness and vibrancy from the challenging conditions, so much so that James Suckling can assert confidently that “there are a number of outstanding Brunellos from 2017 out there. They have freshness and balance and are not overdone. They are the result of careful work in the vineyards as well as precise winemaking in the cellar”.
The Wine Gurus are delighted with the quality of the wines and Eric Guido reports enthusiastically that “through a combination of terroir and expertise, [Brunello producers] have created some of the most beautiful exotic beasts I’ve ever seen in Montalcino”. How’s that to whet the palate?!
The Growing Season
The winter of 2017 was mild and dry with little rainfall. Spring burst into life early and the vines budded two weeks before schedule across Montalcino. As April arrived a cold front rushed through, sending frost to some areas. May swept in with a roller coaster of weather, including some precipitation. Parts in the north with heavy clay soil soaked up the moisture and built-up water reserves - that little bit of rain in May would help them in the summertime.
From there it was dazzling sunshine that filled the undulating hills of Tuscany, great for tourists but not so easy for the vines, and July and August in Montalcino were characterised by heat and drought. Many vineyards in the south began harvest much earlier than normal, and many had dramatically reduced yields. That being said, there are pockets in the south that enjoy more temperate conditions, and the cooling influence of the river Orcia in Castelnuovo dell’Abate was important as ever in shielding Mastrojanni’s vines from the hot conditions. Indeed there “are many highly successful wines in the south” according to Eric Guido, with Mastrojanni very much leading the charge.
Those in higher northern altitudes such as Romitorio in the rugged north-west and Valdicava near Montosoli (a true “Grand Cru” according to Eric Guido) were conserved by cooling night-time air, preserving freshness and acidity in the grapes. Guido agrees that “location was extremely important. Not as much as the insightfulness of the grower and winemaker, yet still paramount to the success and style of the wines”.
Something else to consider is the Fregoni index. In the 30 days leading up to the harvest, vignerons measure and compare temperatures in the day and the night, and the final 30 days leading up to harvest recorded the same values as 2016. Those brave vignerons who were able to hold off on picking were rewarded with a saving grace that arrived in September with this drop in temperature and some reviving rainfall. These grapes have impressive phenolic ripeness and superb acidity.
In 2015 and 2016 you could acquire the most rustic Brunello imaginable, bartered from a toothless country peddler for two chickens and bottled in a used fiasco (previously the vessel for the kind of Chianti you wouldn’t even stick in your ragu…), and the wine would still be AT LEAST very good. 2017 is all about selection – there are some epic wines, but you have to know where to find them.
Michaela Morris from Decanter declares that “producers had to make some difficult decisions for their Brunello Montalcino 2017 wines, but the results speak for themselves, as numerous wines demonstrate greater freshness than anticipated”. Indeed, those producers who picked at the right time for their vines and weren’t afraid to use every trick up their sleeves whilst in the cellar have made excellent Brunelli that deserve serious attention. Some winemakers such as Cortonesi experimented with shorter maceration times to much success, and others used lower temperatures during fermentation.
Romitorio picked two to three weeks later and have crafted 2017s that are better than most growers' 2016s! Eric Guido claims they are “transcending expectations”, with wines almost made by “magic”, whilst Decanter ranks them among the top 10 producers of the vintage. Bravo indeed to Filippo Chia and the team – their rise to the front rank of Montalcino has been nothing short of sensational!
Out in the vineyard Mastrojanni followed the phenolic process very closely, and in the cellar they have new machines that select the quality of every single berry, removing those that are overripe or dry. They have also produced some of the vintage’s finest Sangiovese, and were thrilled to tell us that “Brunello 2017 after a long ageing will have great and unexpected results compared to the initial forecasts. It has body, colour and fruitiness”.
All of our growers have really knocked it out the park this vintage – both Cortonesi’s La Manella and the Castiglion del Bosco 2017s number among Michaela Morris’ top value wines of the vintage – whilst Monica Larner’s recent article on Argiano proclaims "the 2017 Brunello di Montalcino is a wine of considerable bandwidth".
Italian wines are rapidly becoming the best show in town on the fine wine scene, outstripping the average growth rate for the international auction market and touted as the “Star of 2020” according to Liv-Ex. Meanwhile Mastrojanni told us that Brunello not only “has admirable ageing potential”, but “moreover the total production of Brunello is so limited that makes it a niche of quality in the wine business”.
Wonderful Brunello rightly deserves its place in any cellar and wine rack, never more so than now as quality is higher than ever whilst prices remain very reasonable. Where else can you find wines with scores into the mid to high 90s, released five years later and reviewed close to their early drinking windows (unlike Bordeaux), yet still with the potential to age for decades? 2017 has some utterly sumptuous wine… don’t miss it!
This campaign Head Wine Guru Tom is sure you will be:
- Delighted by how good and already drinkable our selection of 2017 estate Brunellos are - plenty of freshness and buoyancy
- Amazed by the quality of the 2016 Riservas - arguably Montalcino's best offering to date.
- Impressed by the quality of the Rosso 2019 and 2020s - surely the best value "second wines" in the world
- Thrilled to try a selection of maturing vintages from favourite growers
The Best of Brunello 2017
Here are a few of his top picks from 2017:
Castello Romitorio, Filo di Seta 2017
"The remarkably fresh 2017 Brunello di Montalcino Filo di Seta opens slowly, blossoming in the glass to offer a captivating mix of dusty rose, spicy citrus, black cherry and smoky crushed stone. This is cool-toned yet powerful in feel, fleshing out across the palate with an elegant display of mineral-tinged tart berries under an air of sweet florals, as fine tannins settle in. It turns quite savory and slightly salty through the finale, tapering off with unprecedented length, along with a staining of primary concentration offset by residual acids that keep the mouth watering. Mixing the most delicate and vivid fruit with the body of a well-muscled dancer, this leaves me very impressed. The 2017 Filo di Seta is one of the top wines of this difficult vintage." 94+ pts, Eric Guido (Vinous)
Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2017
"The Argiano 2017 Brunello di Montalcino is a wine of considerable bandwidth with lots of dark fruit, rich plum and spice. It carries medium fruit weight and concentration that proves more than enough to surround and soften the spicy oak notes and toast that also play an important role in this hot-vintage Brunello. The results are plump and slightly round, but you also get the acidity and the tannic structure of an age-worthy Sangiovese." 93 pts, Monica Larner (Wine Advocate)
Mastrojanni, Vigna Loreto 2017
"It offers an intriguing mix of florals and cocoa with blood and iron. The tannins are polished without being too polite, wrapping around a core of dense blackberry. Despite its fruit concentration, this remains midweight and tangy, with a mineral, savoury drive. It's well worth seeking out in this vintage." 93 pts, Michaela Morris (Decanter)
Cortonesi, La Mannella 2017
"From vineyards in Montalcino’s north, La Mannella demonstrates admirable finesse. Scents of rosemary and mint blossom weave through cherry and pomegranate. The palate is polished yet firm and boasts an appealing mineral stoniness. Still youthfully vigorous, this should develop harmoniously over the next seven to eight years." 92 pts, Michaela Morris (Decanter)