2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy

2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy

2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy

If you put your ear up to the glass like a shell you can almost hear it say, 2010 style: “I am the greatest!” Maybe. Give it another few Olympics. But there is power in the 2010 vintage.

Rosso di Montalcino 2013: Don’t call me baby!



I’ve never liked the term “baby Brunello” when describing Rosso di Montalcino. It has its own DOC, and the better ones are considered separate wines from the more expensive Brunello. A few of them have every right to say as they do in Dirty Dancing, Nobody puts baby in the corner!

Recently I went to Tuscany. When I got to Montalcino, I stocked up on as much Rosso di Montalcino 2013 as I could carry to the car. The Brunello Consorzio consider it a 4-star vintage for the Brunello di Montalcino. That’s not yet on the market. But what about the Rosso – and can the Rosso di Montalcino give us an idea of what it will taste like? Four bottles, in particular, stood out.

Read full article here > 


Seeing Rosso: the economic and social impact of changing Rosso di Montalcino

Why? I keep asking myself, Why?

I am seeing the news coming in from the Brunello Consorzio and it is exasperating! Why this constant push by the Consorzio to change the Rosso di Montalcino blend when most producers have clearly said no. Why is the decision that was scuppered in February back on the agenda in the first weeks of September, during vintage?

When the Brunello Consorzio reconvene again, during stressful vintage time (Sept 7), they will be there to talk about changing the laws for Rosso di Montalcino to include international varieties.

Why change a clear and unique product, from one tiny town in Tuscany, to make it more generic?

What is tabled by the Consorzio are two or three different versions of Rosso di Montalcino which will all have different names: Rosso di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese and Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore. In other words, there is a move towards segmentation in this one little wine, which in layman’s terms, is a baby Brunello.

Read More »

Funhouse of Mirrors in Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a funhouse of mirrors where Sangiovese enters different rooms and finds certain flavours are emphasized and others shrunk until there is a confusion about where you are and what you are supposed to be tasting. Someone cries, “Get me out of here!” and you rush back out, full of adrenaline, back into the big wine circus.

Then you find Castello della Paneretta: Chianti Classico clearly mirrored by Sangiovese brilliance.

The only surprise is it never shouts about the fact it shares the same small valley as Paolo di Marchi’s Isole e Olena, a place well-known for Sangiovese radiance. This is the same area in Chianti Classico where Paolo di Marchi went on his adventure with international varieties and hurriedly came home to Sangiovese.

No, this wine is reassuringly unsurprising. Both Castello di Paneretta and Isole e Olena share the same iron kiss, prosciutto taste and cinnamon tannins. The 90% Sangiovese Castello di Paneretta is a humble wine – too humble, in fact; you may even miss it on the shelf – yet has a light-weight confidence which makes it a benchmark, value Chianti Classico at under £15.

Sangiovese lovers in the Chianti Funhouse: this mirror is the real one.

Related post.

Image: Beth Hoeckel

The Super-Tuscan Snafu: Considering James Suckling’s list of Top 12 Tuscan wines from over 10 years ago.

When learning Italian, I have been told many times the most beautiful accent to learn is from Siena in Tuscany because Tuscans are the poets of Italy.


The language of wine in Tuscany is also very rich, with a long tradition of culture and history with interesting local idiosyncrasies, yet the recent past, dominated by James Suckling, Wine Spectator and their lists of Super-Tuscans, has left many in Tuscany not singing but mumbling.


Before I go any further, let’s get this out of the way. James Suckling was not the person to coin the word “Super-Tuscan”. It was used in a book co-authored by Nicholas Belfrage and Jancis Robinson called “Life beyond Lambrusco” (1985). It’s a common misconception in the wine trade, perhaps driven by James Suckling’s enthusiasm of Super-Tuscans during his time at Wine Spectator.


On his website, Suckling recently published his 12 Most Collectible Tuscan Wines from over ten years ago (Question: How many of these wines are NOT made from “international” varieties? Answer at the end of this post ):

Read More »

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino to be sold? Rumours from Montalcino

Rumours from the hills of Montalcino today is Colle Massari is acquiring Piero Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto. An elderly gentleman with no offspring interested in taking over the vineyard, it could soon be in the hands of Claudio Tipa, winemakers from Maremma, part of the family who are also patrons of Alinghi team in the America’s Cup.

The tiny 8ha of vineyard (12 ha in total) produce some of the most mystical and benchmark expressions of Brunello in Montalcino. To say this a favourite wine of mine is an understatement. Not only is the flavour burned in my memory as perfect expression of Sangiovese in Montalcino, and I use it as a complete reference point, but it was also Read More »

Leap into Luxury: Super-Tuscan 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole

Some Super-Tuscans scream luxury but the 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole is a quiet wine that opens before you as you taste it, to give the feeling of falling forward into space: like a confident step from a plane into silent velvety dark below, the fruit billows outwards on the palate like a slow-glide on a silk parachute. Afterwards the tongue is literally left frozen in shock from Read More »

New Italian Wine range at Marks & Spencer

“What is it? Why does he have to shout? Why!” The Queen turned to say to noone in particular at the G20 Conference in 2009. The collective groan could be heard all the way from Italy after President Berlusconi shouted across The Throne Room in Buckingham Palace to introduce himself to the new US President Obbammmmaaa.

Which brings me to the Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting. One word came to me while walking away: Read More »

2006 Brunello di Montalcino Report from Benvenuto Brunello on TimAtkin.com


My report from Tuscany on the beautiful, but dramatic, 2006 Brunello di Montalcino vintage can be found on Tim Atkin’s website: here.

Letters from Montalcino: appeals on proposed changes to Rosso di Montalcino

The Brunello di Montalcio producers are meeting to vote and decide whether to change the law: to allow Rosso di Montalcino to become a blended wine, like other wines in Tuscany, (and in other parts of the world) or to remain as 100% Sangiovese. What do producers see as the problem with changing Rosso di Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese to 85% Sangiovese? A few days ago one of the bigger producers wrote an open letter to the consortium from one of the larger producers, Mastrojanni owned by Francesco and Andrea Illy (yes, the same Illy as the coffee):  Read More »

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa).

All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese.

Currently the law stands: Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese and aged for 4 years (Riserva for 5 years) with at least 2 years in oak. While waiting for the Brunello to age, the Rosso di Montalcino is released, made from similar grapes but only required to age for 6 months (up to 1 year in total) in oak. It also must be 100% Sangiovese.

Why would Montalcino want to change the law so they lose some of their uniqueness and become comparable to their neighbours’ wines in Tuscany? The simple answer is Sangiovese is a difficult grape. Sangiovese does not ripen consistently every year every where in Montalcino as a crop and the dry flavours are not enjoyed without a little understanding of the wine and food (which makes it less easy to sell to some non-Italian consumers). Some of the 250 wineries voting on the proposal when reconvening in January 2011 say, that for a Rosso, meant for early, easy-drinking, it does not make commercial sense to have it 100% Sangiovese every year.

In fact, before the mid-19th century the wines from the region were a blend, although of a dubious quality. Before then, the wine from the region was known as Vermiglio, and it could be a blend of varieties, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Tenerone, Gorgoteco, Terrbiano or Malvasia. Unlike Montalcino’s ancient neighbours, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico, the history of quality wine from Montalcino is very recent.

When 100% Montalcino Sangiovese has a good year it is ethereal, unique and the closest thing to art than any Grand Cru Burgundy. However, as much as that is good for the collector and wine lover, many larger wineries don’t agree it makes commercial sense to have so many inconsistent vintages.

There is a pressure for Rosso di Montalcino to become more commercially savvy and international. The “Modernists” believe blending with French varieties like they do in Chianti Classico may speed up the commercialisation of the Rosso di Montalcino wine.

Since 2008s Brunellogate (Brunellopoli), where the wines were found to have grapes other than Sangiovese and lost some face in the US market, the region has not been winning the race. But if the Ferrari is dented, would it be worth changing the colour for the whole car?

Will this mixed Rosso make the wine go faster?

Or, in the long-term, will the decision on Rosso di Montalcino skid the wines reputation into the region’s winner, Brunello di Montalcino, with the only result being one big pileup?

The issue was raised by 15 Consiglieri on 15 December and is now subject to debate in January to be voted by 250 producers. It will now be interesting to see what develops in the new year for one of the world’s great wine regions.

Link: Franco Zilliani “And then the Rosso di Montalcino disciplinary change” (In Italian)

Image: Bridget Bardot

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vs European Union

Some headache! The morning after the party to celebrate 30 years of DOCG status in the ancient Tuscan town of Montepulciano, winemakers were making their way to Brussels to confront the European Union’s decision to change Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG to simple “Montepulciano”.

What’s the problem? Montepulciano has 6 syllables already, that is enough for a name isn’t it? And isn’t Montepulciano just a cheap red wine found in most supermarkets for around £5? What’s the problem with shortening it?

The problem is this: say Montepulciano and most people think Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the cheap and cheerful red Montepulciano grape from the next state, Abruzzo. Not the Sangiovese wine from Tuscany, Vino Nobile. Change the name from Vino Nobile to just “Montepulciano” and suddenly the wine is something else for most people asking for it.

Already there is enough confusion between these two very distinct styles because they share the word in the name: Montepulciano.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG was one of the first regions in Italy to receive DOCG status in1980, next to Brunello and Barolo. The name of DOCG can be traced back to at least 1685 where, in the popular wine travel literature, Bacco di Toscana (Bacchus in Tuscany), it was said, “Montepulciano, of every wine, is king”. Even further back – bronze wine goblets from the 4th Century BC Etruscan era were excavated around the Tuscan town.

How can the blanching of cultural history be a benefit to winemakers, Italy or Europe? Snapping off the Vino Nobile part of the name, the European Union aims to iron out duplications in wine regions. The EU is particularly agitated by the sometimes fantastical names of Italian wine producers which can make it confusing for the customer. This is their beige dream, I will take the colourful one: a wine that says something of the place, not even so much as that, a wine that says something. Is this not also the purpose of the European Union after all, to protect cultural heritage?
Related link: What is vino da meditazione? (Featuring Vin Santo from Montepulciano)

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song

Lunch with the Marchesi de Frescobaldi at new Harrods Wine Department

Being a family with a well-recorded ancient past must not always be pleasant, but at least, like old photos or tear-stained letters, the evidence does not require many words. True, such things as archives, documentaries, and the love and rejection which is called fashion can cause trouble over the years. And it definitely has for the Frescobaldi family at one time or another in its 700 year history. But avoiding disaster in the long-term requires a checklist as short as that for any winemaker: soil, weather, location.

Looking at my notes from lunch with the Marchesi Leonardo Frescobaldi and his family, I notice most of the day’s talk concerned the “expression of the soil”. The Marchesi posed a very simple question before tasting the four wines: “What was the message received from the soil?”.

The line-up: 2007 Mormoreto, 2007 Haut Brion, 2007 Cos d’Estournel and 2007 Opus One.

All Cabernet-based. The Marchesi de Frescobaldi inherited Bordeaux grapes from their grandfather Vittorio in the mid-19th century. Historical facts slip into conversation as easily as tossing a few coins to a busking musician. “So what about Sangiovese?” I asked, for as you may know, Frescobaldi is one of the important Tuscan families and Sangiovese is the traditional grape. He politely replied, “Sangiovese needs soil, altitude, exposure and when not there, it is difficult to produce.”

The love for Bordeaux was evident. Chateau Haut Brion was talked about fondly as if an old school friend. The Marchesi talked admirably about Chateau Haut Brion’s restaurant in London in 1666 “to present their wine to the British palate” and explained how it was the inspiration behind opening their own restaurants, in Harrods new Fine Wine department.

About the wine. Although the point of the tasting was not to have a “Judgement of Paris” competition amongst the 4 wines (although Stephen Spurrier led the tasting lunch), this was a brave tasting to put one of my favourite Bordeaux – Haut Brion – next to a Bordeaux blend from Tuscany (but then again, Cabernet proves it can excel in Tuscany).

There is no mistaking the warmth of the Tuscan soil in the 2007 Mormoreto and it showed very well against the elegant 2007 Haut Brion, and most definitely against the 2007 Cos d’Estournel (not showing very well, disjointed and unbalanced). I did not enjoy the 2007 Opus One as I found it too obviously chocolate, however it would be churlish not to say it was not a good wine (Frescobaldi on Mondavi: “we don’t have a relationship, but we still have an affection”). Overall, there is no real comparison, as each showed an incredibly distinct voice.

Strangely enough, the only wine that had an identity problem seemed to be from Bordeaux itself: 2007 Cos d’Estournel.


NB: Mormoreto and Haut Brion worked best with food.

2007 Mormoreto: At first approach – balanced, very cool, dry palate – developed distinctive Tuscan opulence with Tuscan “chalky” tannins but not OTT, very fine and elegant. In the glass, it developed a warmth yet had a fresh energy, depth and structure. Would like to see in another 5 to 15 years. (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot).

2007 Haut Brion: leather, polished, knitted tannins with outstanding elegant finish. Very deep colour. Red fruits, wild roses and leather on palate slightly restrained but harmonious. Also needs 5- 15 years. (44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc).

2007 Opus One: spicy yet seamless with sweet tannins and smooth cocoa taste. The Cabernet showed a green capsicum taste overcome by ripeness of Petit Verdot, finished with warm tar. (79% Cabernet, 8% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec).

2007 Cos d’Estournel: robust, not in balance. Cabernet Sauvignon does not taste ripe as usual Cos style. It has a rawness, a wine that you have to make excuses for at this stage. Sell if you have bought En Primeur. (85% Cabernet, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc).

Many thanks to the Marchesi de Frescobaldi and Harrods Wine Department for the opportunity to taste the 25th anniversary 2007 Mormoreto.

Link: Franco Zilliani “Marchesi Frescobaldi abbonati ai Top 100? Quale il segreto di cotanta puntuale presenza? (But be careful of literal translation – and subsequent loss of irony – in the last paragraph as it is in local, jocular Tuscan dialect)

Related link: Benefizio

Image: Paris Fashion Week, Chanel


Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song

What is “vino da meditazione”?

I love reading wine tasting notes in Italian. I always want to sing it back. For example, What is a vino da meditazione? It’s an intriguing term often seen in Italian wine notes.

It looks like the word “meditation”, but it’s not quite.

Coined by famous Italian gastronome, Luigi Veronellimeditazione is often used to describe sweet passito wines or red wines aged for a long time such as Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. From my readings in Italian, a vino da meditazione can mean

1. Calm, sweet wine (without bubbles);

2. Important red wines;

3. Wines with a long vinification process from vine to bottle such as Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (at least 5 years in oak), Barolo Riserva (5 years) or Vin Santo (8 years in oak);

4. A way to drink these wines with an attitude of understanding its complexity:”Stop and slow down – this wine should be approached calmly, reflectively to understand its complexity and composition”.


Holy Wine

A classic vino da meditazione is Vin Santo (holy wine), a Tuscan sweet wine, which became popular during the Renaissance when Florentine Wine Merchants heavily marketed it to customers in Rome. These strong sweet wines were also popular for Church services as the high sugar levels and acidity mean they can be kept open for up to a year without a cork.

Like entering a dark Italian church filled with incense coiling up to a ceiling of shimmering gold in mosaic, the awe-inspiring Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC from Azienda Agricola Crociani is a classic vino da meditazione. From a winery that dates back to the 14th century in the heart of Montepulciano in Tuscany, the Crociani Vin Santo is aged for 9 years in oak before it is released. Amber in colour, it has extreme depth and amazing layers of raisin, hazelnut and a light caramel toffee. The excellent backbone of acidity across the palate holding the byzantine complexity together means it can be aged for up to 200 years.

vino da meditazion commands quiet, respect and contemplation. Even in the most busiest of restaurants, or lives, this wine urges a pause to enjoy complexity and history in the glass.

No wonder it’s a concept not easily translatable into English.

Image: Bacchante on a Panther by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1855)

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food.

Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind2006 Coevo wine through his food.

Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level…

Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their feet on earth and mind in the clouds. The Cecchi family stopped him there. We needed a pit stop. We tasted the wine again.


The Dream of the Child


“I need memories and dreams,” continued Bottura, as he told the story behind his first dish,Ricordo di un Panino alla Mortadella (roughly translated as remembering Mortadella sandwiches), “the past and the future.”

Ricordo di un Panino alla Mortadella (spuma di Mortadella, gnocco croccante, crema d’aglio e pistacchi)

Like most children, Bottura had the memory of going to school with a packed sandwich in his school bag. His translation of this everyday childhood event had turned this most humble meat into sci-fi 21st century food art: the mortadella had been distilled into water, almost to perfume. What was left was the smooth texture, or memory, of Mortadella in the ethereal form of a mousse. Just as all art aspires to music, perhaps all flavour aspires to perfume? When I was young, this would be as close as I imagined food would be like in the 21st Century… in The Future.


The Sky and the Earth


This dish was both past and future. A food response to the 2006 Coevo wine, which is a blend from two regions: traditional Castellina in Chianti and modern Maremma on the coast.

Chianti, in 1716 the world’s first designated wine region, is at the heart of Tuscany and is predominantly Sangiovese, which literally means, the blood of Jove. Although the Cecci family also source Cabernet Sauvingon here, which has developed its own distinctive voice when grown in Tuscany. Contrast Maremma. Developed only in the past 25 years or so, it is where all the “new” French varieties thrive. Closer to the ocean, they have a tint of blue that is not found in Chianti. The 2006 Coevo is a blend of the two regions with the best characteristics of both.

Five great dishes ended with a final flourish of the idea of past and present: an “Icecream Popsicle” of Foie Gras with a centre oozing with 35-year-old Balsamic covered in Piemonte hazelnuts and Sicilian almonds. Each element an interpretation of the wine: North and South, childhood treats in the form of the most “adult” and “snobby foods” (Bottura’s words), Foie Gras.

Croccantino di foie gras (Fegato grasso con mandole di Noto e nocciole di Piemonte caramellate e il cuore liquido di Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena)

So what can I tell you about this wine? Other than buonissimo; or, other than it won the Tre Bicchieri on this its first vintage. The 2006 Coevo avoids the “excess styles” of each region: it has the mouth-watering tannins of Chianti but is not searingly dry. It has opulent fruit but it’s cool with blue tints of Maremma. The 2006 Coevo is a re-interpretation of modern Italian wine, dominated by the big name Super-Tuscans, but with many references to the great history of traditional Chianti: a memory of Italy and a dream of the future.

And like all dreams, there’s something about it blue


Filippo Vartolotta’s Cecchi Wine Tasting at Vinopolis: 2006 Coevo: Thank you to Enotria UK and 2010 Identita London Chef Conference


Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song