There are many more qualified to offer their thoughts on the subject, but for some reason as I was jogging I couldn’t get these ideas out of my head. I started to go down the line of all the Brunellos I had had since I tried the first one I’d ever had, the 1964 Costanti. That wine, a memory that seared my impression of Brunello, was as good as I could have hoped for. It was 16 years old when I tried it and an unexpected treat. I was working at an Italian restaurant and the owner was sitting with his wife having dinner. It was a Saturday night and the evening was winding down. The sommelier, an older (35-ish) lady in short shorts and full sommelier regalia took a liking to me and called me over to the cellar, where she was decanting a wine. “Take a sip of this,” she offered. The color was medium-light ruby with a slight tinge of tan on the edges. The aromas were flowery, salty, cherry, a wild herbal note like oregano/rosemary, but less obvious than those. And then I took a sip. In the flavors I tasted the warm afterglow of love, a sunset on the Pacific, a deeply wooded vale, a bowl of bitter-sweet cherries and a rush of mellow alcohol slightly rubbed with the oxidative caress of soft wood.
And who do we turn to, who can make sense of the styles of wine coming out of this enigmatic zone?
Style, what a loaded word. What are the "styles"?
For the sake of writing a post and not a book (there are some out there worth seeking out) I have narrowed it down to three styles.
Modern- can I use a better word? Contemporary? Post-Atomic? 21st Century Modern? You get the point. This style is driven by other factors than history. Science, medical advances, changing tastes, active participation in the wine “making” process. Enologist-driven wines could we say? Important influences could be high scoring reviews, clean, laser-focused fruit, noticeable oak in the flavor, a deeper color, possible higher alcohol and generally a higher concentration of flavors.
Tweens - the most difficult style and probably not a style, but a “range”. These wines range from a little of tradition and a lot of modern to a lot of tradition and a little modern. Hedge wines. Maybe these wines started out modern and the owner saw these wines weren’t to his (or her) tastes. So slowly the use of barrique was backed out. Maybe an owner was imbedded in an old winery (and a slightly tired wine style) and started to improve their estate with some “cleaning up”. I’ve seen both of these and while these two wines in no way resemble each other; neither do they echo their traditional or modern counterparts. I reckon there are many in this “tween” state, this Purgatory for Brunello.
1) Is Biondi-Santi the standard bearer of Brunello? And moreover, who gets to drink this wine? Has it been reserved for Russian oligarchs and Chinese billionaires? Where does this wine stand these days other than as the one everyone seems to note as the proto-archetype for Brunello “from the beginning”?
2) Are there modern styles of Brunello that traditionalists can love? Can Carlo Ferrini be forgiven if he makes a modern wine that appears to be flavorful and enjoyable even to the most dogmatic diehard?
4) The garagiste movement is alive and well in Bordeaux and beyond. Does Brunello have a similar movement and if so, do those wines go modern (like much of Bordeaux garagiste wines do) or is it more similar to the Loire or Burgundy (i.e. rustic, minimal interventionists)?
6) The 900 pound gorilla of Montalcino – love ‘em or hate ‘em?
7) The obtruders – wealthy merchants from Milan, successful winemakers from Piedmont, Wall Street moguls. And what about the pharmaceutical, agro-industrial and insurance corporations that have bought into the dream of Montalcino? And if we can forgive Ferrini can we ever exculpate Rivella?
9) The iconoclasts – the fools on the hill – how many are there now? More than 30 years ago or an endangered species, muddling about their primal ponds waiting for their curtain to fall?
10) When you mix chocolate with vanilla you get neither nether chocolate nor vanilla. What to do about the “tweens”?
After 1000+ words and 50+ years is it really a battle or is it a tussle? Or maybe a tango? Maybe it is a book that has yet to be written. All this from a brief plunge that began many years ago. I know that Brunello inveigles me. Like Charles Foster Kane and his beloved sled, Rosebud, I am still looking for more Costanti moments. After all, what’s a warrior without his impossible dreams?
p.s. Also read Jeremy Parzen's very timely and interesting parallel post out today as well, Brunello, for better or worse