OWING TO LONG DELAYS, PARCEL REJECTION AND UNCERTAINTY AT EU CUSTOMS, WE HAVE RELUCTANTLY SUSPENDED SHIPPING TO EU NATIONS. NB: DELIVERIES TO NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE CHANNEL ISLANDS CONTINUE.

Decanter July

The revamped new look of Decanter was revealed in their new July edition, released on Thursday 27th May.

Truth be told, we're still drawing breath and working out what we make of the new format. As the graphic below rather shows, it's the annual Italy special.

And it features, for us, three particularly special and top-rated Italian wines...

  • The panel review this month is of Brunello di Montalcino - that most revered of Tuscan reds - from the much-esteemed 2015 vintage. Although there were many Outstanding wines (95 points and above) - as you might expect from such a fine vintage - very few of them ever made it to the UK. The very few that did are largely sold out... to the extent that only two of ten Outstanding wines are still available here. We discuss that dearth and vanishment in more detail below.  The main news: we offer a 96-pointer at the pretty incredible - some might say daft - price (for top-rated Brunello) of just £32.50; that's not a price you will find elsewhere!
  • Another two 96-point crackers emerge in an expert review/article: Soave: 20 Best Buys. We offer two of the toppers ... at the very attractive prices of £18.75 and £18.95.

Read on below for more details.

The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine (where we've been able to show them) appear on each product page.

The Brunello

Few Italian wines - or anywhere else - seem to get wine buyers quite so hot-under-the-collar (normally, in a good way) as Brunello di Montalcino. It has achieved a prestige and status well above rationality. Only its northern neighbour, Barolo, seems to excite such fevered pasions and cause headlong demand rushes in quite the same way. These are wines of mystique, rarity ... and, crucially, huge worldwide demand relative to their supply.

Which is not - for a second - to doubt their quality. Both are wines of the very highest class: they exhibit some brilliant translation of terroir, show the utmost winemaking skill in most cases and are the ne plus ultra of their respective grape varieties.

It's just that that huge global demand - especially in the USA for Brunello - has driven prices to high, high levels. Typically, you're clearing at least £40 for a bottle of Brunello, and three-figure prices are far from uncommon. As a committed Chianti fan (a view I often voice), I'm personally of a view that the upper echelons of that Tuscan region typically offer superior value if seeking the very best that Sangiovese has to offer, especially if you're not altogether convinced about the combination of Sangiovese with (normally) significant amounts of oak.

But that is a personal view. Let me not talk down Brunello.  I remain a huge fan ... and alas lack the budget required to be an even bigger one. A glass of 2007 Brunello (from Barbi) - consumed in Montalcino in 2017 - ranks among the very best wines I've ever tasted. For a power, depth and fullness of Sangiovese that is unmatched elsewhere, Brunello is your bottle of choice. For cellar-ability and intrigue-in-ageing value, it's hard to beat. And the appellation (a DOCG here) rules on production, ageing and release are some of the very tightest anywhere in the world of wine: there is very little bad Brunello out there.

Brunello fans and buyers will not need the new few bullets, but here's a very short potted guide to Brunello for non-cognoscenti.

  • We obviously think of the Old World when we talk Brunello. But Brunello is not so very old. Sure, the prototype vintages were back in 1865, but the whole thing really got going in the late 1960s. As Jancis's OCW puts it, Brunello is the "youngest of Italy's prestigious red wines".
  • It's made from 100% Sangiovese. Only they don't often call it Sangiovese in Montalcino, partly becase most of what is used is a 'superior' clone: Sangiovese Grosso (also sometimes known directly as Brunello).
  • Montalcino itself sits impressively atop a lofty hill, some 60-100 km south of the main outposts of Chianti Classico. The vineyards - amassing some 2000 hectares (20 square kilometres)  - generally benefit from a warmer position by day (by dint of latitude and aspect) and cooler nights (altitude and coastal breezes) than most of Chianti. The Montalcino region is also notably drier (and, having spent time there, I'd say it really looks it).

photos courtesy of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montacino

  • The upshot being that Brunello (the wine, not the grape) tends to be riper, fuller and more robust than most Chianti with greater phenolic/tannin ripeness (the warmer days) but stlll impressive acidity (the cooler nights).
  • The zone splits into two: the northern half features the famous galestro soils of Chianti while the south has more clay. The southern soils foster greater warmth and fuller, riper flavours when compared with the lighter, more aromatic crops of the north. Many producers own plots in both zones to allow a blending of the two styles, allowing a 'hedge' against extreme conditions and harvests.
  • Oak remains a major discussion point (and even a source of onging controversy). Traditional Brunello used large, old oak: that is, big, aged/used Slavonian oak botti, often 1,000 to 10,000 litrees in volume, which allowed for a subtle micro-oxidation of the wine with very little oak effect or flavour imparted to the wine. The US market's tastes and 'Parkerisation' of Brunello have seen the widespread use of new and smaller oak (Bordeaux/Burgundy barriques/pieces of 225/228 litres). Both heavy and light styles are popular. I'd say only that Big Oak needs Big Fruit to make it work well with Sangiovese.
  • Ageing and release is a big thing with Brunello: standard Brunello must spend at least 2 years in wood and wait a total of 5 years from vintage to be released (the 2016 vintage having been recently released in early 2021). For Riserva, it's 6 years to release. All of this is controlled by Montalcino's excellent Consorzio...

... which takes us (obliquely, bear with me) to the all-important question of

Vintage

Personally, I'm of a view that no grape variety varies as much as Sangiovese from one vintage to another; it's a very late-ripening variety, and it doesn't take a lot to dislodge it from a schedule to decent ripeness. But get that right and - personal view again - few other grapes can match it. It does mean - rather as with Bordeaux and its Cab Sauv - that, even beyond the tight supply/demand position, the better vintages are all the more sought-after still. Put simply, the demand for good years of Brunello goes bananas. Word gets out, get around and then some sort of fever takes a hold. As a merchant, it is quite a thing to watch. We are in the grip of that fever for the 2016 vintage at the moment. There is no doubt that 2016 is a very fine - perhaps even incredible - year of Brunello, but the clamour for it is Off The Chart.

Our friends at the Consorzio rate each vintage shortly after the harvest on a 5-star basis (the Consejo Regulador of Rioja do the same, you may recall). Some regard this as a premature measure of quality as it allows for no evaluation of the development of the vintage in oak or glass. Be that as it may, the last two released vintages of Brunello- - 2016 and 2015 - have both been 5-star affairs (of the previous 20 vintages, 7 were 5-starrers. Here's the Consorzio's table of the various vintages and their ratings (you may need to scroll down to locate).

2015 is the vintage in in question in the Decanter panel. It wasn't just the Consorzio that thought so, although it's worth a look at their press release at the time of the rating which leaves nothing to the interpretation or any compliments unturned.

  • James Suckling compares 2015 and 2016 here. He is hugely impressed by both, and states: "I'd like to say that 2016 would be the greatest vintage ever for Brunello if it weren’t for the stupendous 2015".
  • Forbes magazine were pretty excited about this vintage, see here.
  • Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated the 2015 Brunello vintage as a 97/100 year - that's very high indeed, and a score surpassed only by the 98 of 2010 in the 20 years before 2015.
  • Walter Speller, writing on www.Jancis.Robinson.com in Feb 2020, wrote of the 2015 Brunellos, "‘Seductive’ is a word that sums up many of the 2015 Brunellos, while the occasional overachievers are so good they deserve the label ‘memorable’".

And so to the

Decanter panel test

There were some limited reservations of 2015 in general (which we'll mention below), but this was a vintage that Decanter very much liked. To whit:

  • 113 different 2015s were tasted.
  • 10 wines were rated as Outstanding (1 x 97 points, 3 x 96 points, 6 x 95 points). 
  • Another 88 were rated as Highly Recommended (90 points and above). That's a huge proportion; I'm not sure we've ever seen that before.

The reservations? Brunello is a wine legendary for its ageworthiness. Twenty years in the cellar is a pretty standard timeframe. Some of the very best Brunellos drink very well at over fifty years of age.  The judges here assessed the downside of a warm harvest as reduced/shorter drinking windows, mostly being the next 10-12 years (ie from 2021). As one expressed it, "The wines are already approachable. You could easily open a bottle tonight and drink it. The wines have got potential, but I don’t think you’re going to get a lot out of them in the long term. In the next few years, though, these are outstanding wines; aromatic, flamboyant – they tick all the boxes."

Another expressed the upside well: "Stylistically, there was everything: there were elegant wines, there were show-off wines. I would say it’s a really good, modern vintage; it’s a warm, ripe vintage. If you’re looking for a vintage to drink over the next few years, then Brunello 2015 is a top contender".

So there it is. The question is: what do you want from your Brunello?

An anniversary /christening present for 20 years' time? Maybe not a 2015, then.

For some die-hard fans, this riper 2015 style may not be how you see your Brunello. 2016 could be the vintage for you.

A glorious Brunello to drink in the next 12 years? Ah, now you're talking. 

The other key point with these reviewed 2015s is how many of them you can actually and now find/buy. Most of the ten toppers have never reached the UK in this or any other vintage. That's often the caso with Brunello - many labels never leave Italy and many find themselves destined for more lucrative, higher-margin markets (esp Japan, USA).

That doesn't stop us pursuing them for you. And we very much did. For quite some days. The story was almost everywhere the same: it wasn't just that the wine wasn't in the UK ... it was also sold out in Montalcino.

Of the ten Outstandings, you can only buy two of them now. Which takes us to:

Our 96-point panel-topper

We are delighted to offer one of those two. We're particularly delighted that in the world of Brunello, this about as affordable as it comes. What is more, owing to some careful procurement, we are able to offer it a price well below the market average (that is, compared with its few other UK stockists).

It's from Campogiovanni, they being the sister estate of San Felice in Chianti. Their vineyards are all situated to the south of the Brunello zone, and thus tend to give rise to the fuller end of the Brunello flavour spectrum. However, it largely avoids new oak, being aged mainly in larger, older oak vessels. The Decanter panel weren't in much doubt about it:

It's noticeable that, of the ten Outstandings, the Campogiovanni has almost the most distant outer drinking window stated by the panel (2032). Personally - and I do like a spot of cellaring - I'd be happy with that timeframe as not being sold short on the potential of a Brunello.

This isn't the first time this wine has shone at/in a Decanter panel, especially from a wamer vintage: the 2012 vintage landed Outstanding/95 points in the November 2017 edition - see here for that review. It's also featured many times in the Wine Spectator Top 20 (wines overall, not just Brunellos) in the last few years.

Our own tasting note: see here for our video tasting, but the key points are:

  • it didn't immediately wow us straight from the bottle ... but half an hour in contact with the air changed the nose and palate hugely;
  • on the nose, it's quite a muted Brunello (and more muted than most upper Chianti);
  • it's quite a faded brick-red colour, touching into the classic garnet area. And quite a lot less opaque than you might imagine (in much that same way one sees with Barolo). Visually, it looks an older wine than it is;
  • it's a mix of red and black fruits on both the nose and palate; that extra blackness speaks of the warmer season;
  • there's some great liquorice/aniseed/star anise/five-spice tones on both the nose and in the mouth - delicious!
  • despite the 15% alcohol, there's no undue warmth/burn here - the alcohol sits well against the depth of flavours and is not at all obtrusive;
  • tannins, whilst evident, are surprisingly (for this early in the wine's life) plush, velvet(t)y and soft - quite superb!
  • acidity is fairly high and just what you'd expect from a top Sangiovese but toning down nicely with age;
  • it's a really filling, full and dense mouthful of Brunello. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of this being 'lighter' from the look of the wine. Taste it, and you'll see it's not!
  • Overall, it's wonderfully soft and mellow. It's what you'd hope for in a decent Brunello.
  • the age development is already in train. There is a definite sense of this having a little more time on the clock than the (approaching) 6 years from vintage;
  • but that shouldn't be overstated. There is plenty of time and cellaring to come with this one if you choose;
  • but could you happily drink it now? Absolutely. (Decanter suggest waiting until 2022: I'd happily start on it today).

As to price: we're £32.50 on this.

Sorry to go on, but that is daftly good. The other outlets listed in Decanter for this average some £12+ a bottle higher.

We hold some 90+ bottles in immediate stock but can access some hundreds more, those to be here with us by the end of the first week in June.

___

Also well-reviewed were the 2015 Brunellos of Fossacolle and Castelgiocondo (both 92 points). However, the Fossacole 2015 ran out in the UK some months ago and we have just a handful of bottles remaining of the Castelgiocondo 2015. We offer both in their excellent 2016 vintages (handy for those hunting the 2016 vintage in general), both of which have received 17-point reviews from the Jancis Robinson team. See links here or icons below for details (those Jancis team reviews appear on the product pages) and/or to buy those.

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The Soaves

An excellent article: 20 Best Buys - Soave by Richard Baudains does exactly what it says.

He reminds us, "DOC Soave can’t be beaten for pure pleasure, and its apparent simplicity can be deceptive: a bottle forgotten at the back of the cellar for a few years can reveal intriguing complexity of aroma and a perfectly intact palate".

I'd not been a huge fan of Soave; it was a wine I regarded as being a wee bit wishy-washy and lacking much interest or intensity until I discvered the excellent wines of Pieropan (the La Rocca being one of my Desert Island Whites and one of the best whites for ageing on the planet!). Now I recognise that the good ones can be quite outstanding.

Mr Baudains highlights the differences between the 'standard' DOC wines (normaly unoaked) and the DOCG Superiore wines (normally oaked) and draws out his favourites. Many are quite pricey (£20+).

Not so the two we offer.

The first is Gini's La Frosca 2016. It's unusual: La Frosca is a noted plot (cru, if you will) in the Classico Soave DOC, famed for its volcanic soils. It's also a 2016, and the (approaching) 5 yers of age here makes this a very interesting glass indeed, as the review makes clear:

Supplies are tight on this: we've 180 bottles to work with, and then it's all gone, here and in Veneto!

The second is a 2018, also from the Classico DOC, which we've only just been able to track down today. Yes, that is a stumpy wee bottle it comes in. This is Suavia's Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2018. It is just arriving into the UK: I myself am keen, when it does, to experience the "sensations of rapier-like intensity" of which the Decanter review talks. Again, there is not a whole lot incoming - some 240 bottles for the entire UK - so we advise swift movement!

** Please note that it is only just landing in the UK in the first week of June **, so we would hope (fairly safely) to have it here by 17th June. Orders with this wine included will obviously be delayed until it arrives!

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Elsewhere in the magazine:

  • Barolo from the epic 2013 vintage gets a restrospective look in. We offer the Costa di Bussia Riserva, which, at £31.95, is a defly good price for any Barolo, let alone an aged Riserva!!
  • There's a Sicily feature. How could Planeta not feature? Their supercharged, flagship Nero d'Avola, the Santa Cecilia 2017 lands 93 points. We're a comfortable UK-best rice on that! Although it does taste of cherries, I often contend that this is the Italian red for red wine fans who think they don't like Italian wines.
  • In that same Sicily feature, that superb Passito de Pantellaria sticky/dessert wine, Donnafugata's Ben Rye - now the 2018 - comes in for 93 points. Available in both 375 ml and 750 ml bottles.
  • And at the top-scoring end - on 97 points - of that Sicily review is one of COS's top-end Cerasuolos di Vittoria. Note that this is incoming to the UK - it is almost nowhere to be found - and given the vagaries of its arrival with the current customs UK debacle, we're just taking a waiting list for it at the moment.
  • And there's a reprise of the Greek DWWA20 winners - see below for the three wines in question - the Ovilos (in particular) is not to be missed.
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