Took place on Wednesday, the 25th of June 2008, at Le Colombier in Chelsea, London. Aiko and Linden Wilkie of The Fine Wine Experience, our gracious hosts, put together an admirable tasting. Nineteen glasses each put on one huge table in front of seventeen participants, a most impressive sight. The tasting on the whole turned out to be, even though Victor and I were among the initiators (and contributors of sample bottles, all of which seemed impeccably well stored), a positive surprise: tasting blind, there was greater individuality to the wines than expected, and with the exception of several (always too many) that had a cork-taint, the wines all showed very nicely, and they are all prettily mature. The dinner that followed was of more variable quality, with the lamb rack tastiest of all, but I thought the location very well chosen (great separate upstairs room). Thanks Aiko and Linden!
In hindsight, comparing earlier notes and ratings, I might divide the 1990 Brunelli we had in three categories today:
1. A majority of wines (adding a number not included at this tasting) were "best" back when they showed "youthful promise" (as vintner Daniel Gantenbein once told me, more often than not the best a wine has to offer ever), in the case of 1990 a combination of a youthfully dusty-tannic clout and primary fruit that in all but the very best wines included a jammy-superripe quality that I always thought detracted slightly from that optimal freshness, raciness, finesse and cut I look for in wine. These are all 1990s that proved what my friend Albino says about Sangiovese even from a top vintage: no use waiting for the acid backbone to ideally dissolve, let alone the wines to achieve the kind of harmony associated with other grape varieties, because the fruit tends to wear off rather more quickly than the tannin, and the acidity remains more or less the same. It is/was a matter of catching these wines at the subjectively "right" time. In contrast to some traditionally-styled Brunello (old-style Biondi-Santi etc.), the semi-modern 1990s were all best between the age of roughly 8 to 15 years old. Whether the more polished modern Brunelli marketed today will age "better" remains to be seen (note when I say "better", I never mean longer - that is a matter of preference and potential for immortality of the owner).
2. A handful wines showed about as well as could be expected, such as the Barbi Riserva, Caparzo's La Casa, Altesino's Montosoli. Again, one may have rated them a point or two higher during that stage of "youthful promise" - I never did, but I'm a skeptic.
3. Ironically, the biggest relative disappointment came from those wines that came out on top: neither of the two Solderas stood out by the usual margin (nor, for that matter, did Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona's Pianrosso show as well as it usually does). Such is life!
Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino Vigna del Lago 1990
From Victor’s collection. Ruby-black, soft orange hue. Dry blood orange and black cherry with lovely dried truffle. Inoffensively dry tannin, orangey acidity. Quite long and tannic, not too dusty, nor especially deep. Complex enough, although hardly finesseful. Integrated oak. Pretty wine, sweeter and lusher with airing, smokier. Rating: 88(+?)
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From my collection. Bit deeper colour than the Val di Suga’s. Sweeter, meatier, a bit murkier or Rhône-like, a bit shorter on the finish, ends a bit abruptly. Sweet pipe tobacco, some oak. Used to be thicker and fruitier, albeit more tannic, but is still pretty enough. Rating: 87-
Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From my collection. Perhaps a fraction prunier colour than the Banfi’s, if not the same. Soft sweet cork rind, chestnut and marzipan oak. Soft charcoal/asphalt. Fruitier, a bit warmer with alcohol “sweetness”. More viscous. Less dry on the finish. “Fragrant purity”, “brightness”, “not too extracted” were some of the comments I overheard. This held up very well with airing. Rating: 88(+?)
Pertimali di Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From my collection. Less gloss, more orange to the garnet-ruby-black. Smells a bit weird, soft bitter note. Quite a well-concentrated, dense and tannic effort. Black cherry coulis, orangey asphalt. Medium-plus body. Medium length. Faintly soapy-rubbery quality. Is this a bit lighter than most, or merely deceptive? Improved with airing, though. “Terroir”, “firmer tannin” and “still young” were some of the comments I overheard. Rating: 87+?
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From my collection. A bit fresher colour, a bit lighter than the Pertimali di Sassetti’s. Scorched mushroom and mace and five spice finesse notes to blood orange rind and dried black cherry jam, dried rose petal. Good intensity and balance. Quite good body and length. Tasty, if a bit dusty-dry. Flatter than the Riserva with airing. “A little odd”, “coarse” and “rustic” were some of the comments I overheard. Rating: 90-/89?
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990
From my collection. A bit more garnet-black and orange than the normale. Roasted lamb or beef. Tighter tannin, not necessarily drier, though. A touch of curry to more raisined black cherry. Nice body. Good medium-plus length, soft sweet asphalt on the finish and aftertaste. Like the viscosity here. Quite an alluring wine, improved with airing. Balanced and harmonious. Some people wondered if the Montosoli may be a touch overvinified in comparison. Rating: 89+/90
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli 1990
From my collection. More youthful, fuller ruby-black colour. A denser, more powerful and viscous, still youthfully tannic wine that cuts a broader swath across the palate. Fuller-bodied, good grip. Nice irony earth. Precise wine. Good complexity, if not too finesseful. Drier, more oak-induced tannin. Good lingering length. Stable with airing. Less sweet and round than the Riserva, in part no doubt because this is less evolved. Rating: 90(+?)
Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990
From Victor’s collection. Also fairly youthful, full colour, good gloss. More of a chewing gum cherry aroma on the nose. Some marzipan oak to firm black cherry. Some roasted meats and herbs. More depth and finesse. Good body. Firm, quite long and powerful on the finish. In terms of expression one of my favourites of the tasting, too good to spit. “So fruity”, “shows an extra aromatic quality” were some of the comments I overheard. One of the agreed-upon favourite of the evening, I believe. Rating: 91+/92?
Castello di Argiano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990
From my collection. Nicely full colour. Only tasted this at the very end of the tasting because of an obvious TCA taint. Too bad, as this can be almost Pomerol-like in character. Still quite full and dense, if dry. Rating: N/R
Franco Biondi-Santi Tenuta "Il Greppo" Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From Victor’s collection. A bit lighter ruby-orange-black, wider watery rim than most wines. A bit unyielding nose, tiles-like orange and grated baked clay dust. Minor TCA taint (not all participants agreed), although merely faintly bitter-dry. Slightly imprecise orangey softness, unfocused – in great part due to the cork taint, even so, this has always been a light effort for Biondi-Santi. Still a pity, I had been looking forward to retasting it. Improved a little with airing, though. Medium body. Medium-short on the finish (again, in part no doubt due to the cork taint). Rating: 85-/84? (or: N/R)
Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From Linden’s collection, if I remember correctly. Nice glossy but not to deep garnet-black, watery-orange rim. Great nose, oily-smooth texture, a complex and serious and interesting wine that stands out. Green as well as aged tobacco. Lightly cooked and raisined but precise fruit. Sweet, a bit leathery. Raw beef. Faint caper note. Faint medicinal minerality, faint iodine. Quite long. “Brightness”, “explosiveness”, “soft lovely resin” and “finely-grained” were some of the comments I overheard. “I’ve had better bottles”, the importer said. Rating: 93+/94
Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990
From the importer’s personal collection, if I remember correctly. Deeper ruby-black, more density to the colour. A bit overripe, a touch of volatile acidity, and (although no one seemed to agree I remained convinced) a tiny TCA taint. Starts out full and quite complex, but stops a bit short and bitter. Smoky-dense fruit, faint marzipan to the crystallized cherry. Most impressive depth for a cork-tainted wine, great terroir notes. So mildly corked, it barely mattered – this was still the wine of the tasting for most, but then, I got the impression the Riserva came from more pristine storage than the sample of Soldera’s normale we had that night: only a comparison of two equally well-stored and taint-free sample bottles would have answered the question which is better. What a bummer... Rating: 93++? (or: N/R)
Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino La Casa 1990
From my collection. Plummier, more opaque colour. A bit imprecise on the nose. Bakery and meat spice. Orangey mace. Soft oregano. Medium-attractive tobacco. More of a mushroom top note than most. Good density, quite palate-staining. Good body. More new oak-induced, softly powdery tannin. Quite hugely sweet and seemingly denser with airing, quite stable. “A bit evolved”, someone said. Rating: 91+?
Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 1990
From my collection. Usually my third favourite of the vintage (this is back from the Giuseppe Bianchini era), this was by far the least impressive bottle I have ever had. A bit more coffee-like ruby-black colour in context, tender orange rim. Citrusy herb liqueur nose, cocoa and coffee dust. Soft sweet asphalt. Minor banana note. Good body. Hard to tell how oak-influenced this is. A bit grainier and dustier tannin than most. Medium-plus length. Recurring mocha/coffee dust on the aftertaste. Not exactly bad, but a disappointing showing given what a beautiful wine this can be. Rating: 89+?
Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From my collection. Faint coffee touch to orange-black, orange. Also showed a slight coffee touch to its orange-black colour, orange-yellow at the rim. Strong volatile leather polish to sweet candied-dried lemon and toffee. Soft marzipan. Quite candied overall. Good density and vinosity. Round and smooth. Medium-plus length. Not bad, but clearly going downhill, I am afraid. Rating: 89-
Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino Schiena d'Asino 1990
From Victor’s collection. Medium-plus ruby-black with an orange-yellow hue and rim. Brown spice, soft lamb, preserved caper, some scorched oak to half-dried beef. Half sweet, half dry. A bit oakier than some, but not compressed. Medium-short on the finish. “Earthy-meaty”, “ripe” and “dusty” were some of the comments I overheard. Rating: 89-/88
Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From my collection. Slightly less fresh-looking ruby-black, faint orange hue only. Difficult to distinguish minor TCA taint and scorched oak rind oak combination. Medium-crystallized fruit. Soft chocolate. Faint asparagus touch. Short finish. Rating: 88- (or: N/R)
Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990
From Victor’s collection. Similar, fresher colour, faint orange rim. The TCA taint here was even worse, what an unfortunate coincidence... Short dried mushroom, faint bitter note. A bit fruitless, just some dried blonde orange. A concentrated wine that might have been rather impressive without the cork taint, perhaps not especially fine or finesseful, but still, I would have loved to taste this in pristine condition. Rating: 87- (or: N/R)
Azienda Agricola Cerbaiola di Salvioni Giulio Brunello di Montalcino 1990
From Linden’s collection. Full orange-tinged ruby-black, orange rim. Soft volatility, almost imperceptible sweet leather and pipe tobacco top notes. Slightly weird wet stones and grassier herbs. Faint anchovy. No more than a hint at florality. Sweet nuts. Marble-scented if not glassy minerality. Medium-plus body. Barely medium length. Interesting, but I had hoped for a little more here. Rating: 88-/87
Raveneau Chablis Vaillons 1995
Thanks to Linden. Lightly to medium pale yellow-gold. Flowers and herbs. Soft spring butter, as if lightly salted. Pebbly minerals. Good but not too flavourful acidity. Lightly tannic. No excess fat. Fair intensity and depth, but not a fruit-filled kind of wine. Some lemon/lime, of course. Rather lean for the vintage, even a bit worn-out, Victor said. While I have certainly had better Raveneau, this was not bad. Rating: 88-/87-
Château Climens Barsac 1997
Half bottles ordered from Le Colombier’s wine list. Full fresh yellow-golden colour. Quite buttery dandelion and papaya, a touch of dryness on the nose, medicinal glue to the botrytis, slightly bitter. Quite full-bodied, lightly viscous, well-concentrated (seems equally as concentrated as the Yquem in this vintage). Not quite as clean, balanced and potentially harmonious as the Yquem, but there is undeniable long-term potential to the Climens, it should turn out really well. Liked this even better than when I last tasted it three years ago. Rating: 91+/92(+?)
Greetings from Switzerland, David.
„J'ai gâché vingt ans de mes plus belles années au billard. Si c'était à refaire, je recommencerais.“ – Roger Conti