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Northern Europe is traditionally an extremely important sales market for the red wines from Montalcino. German-speaking countries alone account for about a third of all exports from the Brunello region. The annual presentations of the current vintages of Brunello, Brunello Riserva and Rosso die Montalcino are therefore also already a tradition.

This time, 47 of the total 210 members of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino presented their new wines at the noble Bayrischer Hof in Munich. Unfortunately, one can hardly speak of the leading 47 producers of the area. It is noticeable that from year to year more and more top producers stay away from the presentation events. Many wineries probably no longer consider it necessary to support the marketing campaigns of their umbrella association for lack of sales difficulties.

However, this could soon take its revenge. At the latest when the number of mediocre to poor wines exceeds that of the really good ones - and we came very close to that this year - the absence of many of the standard-bearers in terms of quality will undoubtedly affect the reputation of the entire region. With prices continuing to rise at a brisk pace, the cellars may empty far less quickly in the near future than has been the case so far.

Unfortunately, even the excellent organisation of the event could not hide the fact that not everything that shone on the presentation tables was gold. Some of the wines on offer were so miserable that one really has to ask oneself what value the coveted DOCG seal still has. It was also regrettable that the mediocre wines did not only come from largely unknown producers. Even names that were once highly traded were sometimes disappointing. A self-cleansing process would therefore be necessary in this region, which is certainly capable of producing grandiose red wines, as the results of estates like Capanna, Fuligni and Siro Pacenti impressively prove. Sending the problem children to the tasting front, while a large part of the flagship wineries stay at home, is certainly not the right way to go.

The history of Brunello

Originally, Brunello was nothing more than the common name for the Sangiovese grape variety. It was not until the 1950s that this grape variety was vinified as a single varietal by a few winegrowers who had resisted the call of the big cities and the burgeoning industry there. The terroir, which is mountainous by Italian standards, was a challenge for the almost 25 producers who, within a few years, created a full-bodied, ageable type of wine with a high tannin content that was clearly distinguishable from Chianti by its soft, full-bodied fruit and powerful body - the Brunello.

It was not until 1967 that the "Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino" was founded, a voluntary winegrowers' association with the aim of protecting and promoting the wine and the growing region. Today, the Consorzio has 210 members who together cultivate the 1,400 hectares of Sangiovese entered in the register. In total, there are 24,000 hectares of wine in the Montalcino area.

Brunello di Montalcino was the first Italian wine to receive the DOCG designation in 1980. In the following years, the cellar technology was renewed and considerable investments were made in the vineyards. In the 1990s, the vine density was continuously increased - from 2,200 to 4,500 to 5,500 vines per hectare. The aim was to improve the selection possibilities and the character of the vines. At the same time, the area under cultivation increased rapidly. While 100,000 bottles were produced in 1967, today there are more than 5.5 million. The export share is 65%.

The vintages presented

1998: Really a 4-star vintage?

In Montalcino they say that the quality of Brunello is best in vintages with a dry but balanced climate. 1998 was a very hot, almost droughty year. July and August were practically rainless, there was not 10 mm of rain and the thermometer climbed up to 45 degrees.

The vineyards suffered from drought stress and it was not until mid-September that the long-awaited rain set in, which gave the plants some respite. However, since the harvest took place between 15 September and 5 October, the Consorzio's statement that very concentrated, healthy grapes were harvested should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the winegrowers are unanimous in declaring 1998 a top vintage.

The '98 Brunello is in top form with rich, ripe fruit, lots of power and excellent tannin. Wherever the oak was handled with care, exemplary wines were produced.

1997: The "unique year

Climatically, the wine year began with late frosts in April, which caused damage to many vineyards, but also ensured a natural reduction in yields. From April to June there was sufficient rainfall, blossoming and fruit budding were like in a picture book. Even in midsummer there was rain again and again and the grapes were able to ripen without stress in the glorious autumn.

Presentation at the Bayrischer Hof

At the presentations last year, there were many very good Brunellos next to a lot of very rustic ones. One had the impression that less attention was paid to quality than to quantity. When a vintage has such a good reputation, it is difficult to resist the temptation to make as much money as possible with it.

This year, the Riserva wines came onto the market, of which around 60 producers produced about 600,000 bottles, for which they demanded, as expected, a huge amount of money. The quality of the wines rarely exceeds that of the "normal" 97s. As is so often the case, the extra long barrel ageing does not always have a positive effect. Some examples completely lack the full-bodied, juicy fruit that makes a good Brunello. Instead, the wood often makes itself felt with dry tannins. The best examples, however, impress with their depth and unusually firm structure. Many of them are unlikely to be ready for consumption before 2005.

2001: Good forecasts, but not very convincing Rosso

The interest was great

The year began with an early flowering after a mild and rainy winter. Again there was the dreaded frost in April. The summer was dry and sunny with sufficient moisture. The harvest began unusually early, but was repeatedly accompanied by rain. Nevertheless, one speaks of an excellent vintage again.

Among the Rosso di Montalcino presented, there are all too many sloppily prepared, unclean drops. The seductive Sangiovese fruit, for which the Brunello's little brother is justifiably popular, only shows up in isolated cases. Wonderful examples come from Casanova di Neri and Castello di Camigliano.

Facts and figures

Brunello di Montalcino
Grape variety: Sangiovese grosso
Maximum yield/hectare: 80 quintals of grapes
Must yield: 68% (54hl/ha)
Compulsory barrel ageing: 2 years in oak barrels
Compulsory bottle ageing: 4 months (Riserva: 6 months)
Minimum alcohol: 12,5% vol.
Minimum total acidity: 5g/l
Dry extract: min. 24g/l
Bottling exclusively in the growing zone 5 years (Riserva 6 years) after harvest, only in Bordeaux bottles.
First day of sale: 1st January five years after the harvest (the year of harvest included).

Rosso di Montalcino
Grape variety: Sangiovese
Maximum yield/hectare: 90 quintals of grapes
Must yield: max. 70%
Alcohol: min. 12% vol.
Minimum total acidity: 5g/l
Dry extract: min. 22g/l
Bottling exclusively in the production zone
First day of sale: 1st September of the year following the harvest.

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