On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Val di Suga Through the Years – a Vertical Tasting of Style

27 Mar 2020

(February 2019) … When is a “terroir” tasting not a terroir tasting? When you only show one terroir without showing a comparative terroir or different terroir … that was my concern after sitting through a Val di Suga “terroir tasting” that was touted as a “vertical tasting” (as it said on the invitation) conducted by Andrea Lonardi, COO, at the winery in Montalcino … Correctly labeled as a Vertical Tasting on the hand-out – but the focus of the seminar kept veering back to “terroir” – when it was really about the change in winemaking style the winery has undergone with its single vineyard output for Vigna Spuntali (and its other single vineyard Brunello – not tasted during this vertical – because that WOULD have made it a terroir tasting).Val di Suga Soils

Five wines were tasted. The very first vintage of Vigna Spuntali (1988) and also 1995 – part of what was referred to as “Artisanal and Barrique” style winemaking; next were the 2001 and 2010 vintage, referred to by Andrea as the “Parker Era” (big, bold, heavily extracted style); finally ending with the recently released 2015, which seems to bring the winemaking style full circle to a more artisanal approach, moving away from rich extraction and, what is lovingly referred to as the “American palate”; here we also see the influence of bigger oak barrels (casks or botti) introducing the wine to less oak integration - larger barrels equals less contact with wood – focusing more on fruit. Here Andrea gives a nod to Biondi Santi for pioneering the large barrels and Slavonian oak.

Also of interest were the thoughts on the growing of Sangiovese during these times of climate change upheaval – where hot vintages are becoming more prevalent and commonplace. Sangiovese is low tannins and high acidity by its very nature; it does not like hot vintages and is affected by three major influences: water (rain or irrigation), oxygen (sandy vs. clay soils) and light (aka: heat) – all three of these can spike Sangiovese’s tannin levels … although studies show that late rains during, or at harvest time, can help lower the naturally high acidity. There was also a discussion about barrel size and shapes and even types of wood (French vs American vs Slavonian) the results of the study, and a paper, will be presented at next year’s Anteprima (or so they say) … this would be of even more interest to those with an affinity for Italian wines made with Sangiovese from all over Italy, not just the Brunello region. I for one would love to be in the audience for that – just saying – as this truly was the most interesting part of the seminar portion … and then we get down to the wines.

Tasting notes  - Vigna Spuntali, Brunello di Montalcino …

1988 … the first vintage Vigna Spuntali was created; the wine presented itself as seemingly thick on the palate with notes of balsamic, floral, dried cherry and freeze-dried strawberry – punchy acidity with tobacco notes on the finish. Still drinkable, if not for the surprising viscosity it would be a beauty.

1995 … Described as a “beautiful vintage with very long ripening” – this wine was aged in 100% new oak, but along with the usual note of older Brunello had some white wine characteristics like candied-citrus peel, along with herbal and fig notes; there was also some dried cherry and balsamic on the finish.

2001 … This wine comes from what is considered as the “Parker Era” of winemaking and is “just a regular vintage” – rich, concentrated fruit with jammy notes; nothing much to write about here, the acidity was nice, but the tannins seemed overwhelming with each additional sip; I never made it past the first few minutes in the glass, but I suspect within an hour the oak/tannins would overwhelm the wine.

2010 … Another from that “Parker Era” and also a hot vintage; the wine tasted older than its 10 years, had plenty of stewed rich fruit: strawberry, cherry, and thick kirsch-like notes – acidity was good and drinks okay, but not much life left in this bottle – drink now.

2015 … Here the older traditions are meeting some new style and trends in Italian winemaking, focusing on larger barrels and getting away from French oak. This was a hot vintage wine but shows more character and longevity than either the 2001 or 2010 does, even when taking into account its age.  Sour cherry, cranberry, cigar box with a long finish and big acid punch – the tannins are soft and round, quite the elegant wine here that has a long life ahead of it.

Parker may have influenced the decade of 2001 – 2010 but it definitely was not for the better or age-worthiness of those wines, and while the ’88 and ’95 were not “fresh” by any stretch they are certainly more drinkable and had more of a “life” ahead of them. The return to a more delicate and finesse-filled style with less oak and more understanding of the fruit being used can only benefit Val di Suga’s winemaking, age-ability and the region as a whole.

To see the other single vineyard offerings from Val di Suga check out my report of Brunello Seleziones (linked here)


Report From : Brunello di Montalcino - Selezione

19 Mar 2020

(February 2020) … These are the “special” wines, the single vineyard selections from the 2015 vintage, which sees to be a very nice vintage at that – maybe not as nice as the much lauded (and now highly anticipated) 2016 vintage, but a beautiful stop gap until we reach those wines.

The Results:  2015 is a welcome return to better wines after two fairly dismal vintages (2013 & 2014). For the most part, this was a pleasure to sip and sample; some delicious wines from some unexpected sources showed what a delight this vintage truly was.Selezione Pouring

Time to put some grades to these wines, not by scores, but based on their potential from a good-better-best standpoint … from cellar dwellers to those meant for earlier consumption, many of these will benefit from time be it over the next 10 years or beyond. This year I even have a few in the “Best” category, which was definitely lacking last year.

Also, as in the past, I have broken down the Rosso and Brunello into separate reports.


My ranking using the Good / Better / Best format – evaluations are below:


Good …

Aisna 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Camponovo”
Banfi 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio alle Mura”
Castiglion del Bosco 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Campo del Drago”
Corte Pavone 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Campo Marzio”
Cortonesi 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “La Mannella””
Cortonesi 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Poggiarelli”
La Fiorita 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “NO”
Mocali 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Selezione “Vigna delle Raunate”
Tenute Silvio Nardi 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Vigneto Manachiara”
Poggio AnticoVal di Suga 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Vigne del Lago”
Val di Suga 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Vigna Spuntali”
Verbena 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Le Pope”

Better …

Argiano 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Vigna del Suolo”
Bellaria 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Selezione “Assunto”
Canalicchio di Sopra 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “La Casaccia”
Casanova di Neri 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Tenuta Nuova”
Celestino Pecci 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio al Carro”
Col D’Orcia 2013 Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio al Vento”
Fanti 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Vallocchio”
Il Marroneto 2015 Brunello di Montalcino Selezione “Madonna delle Grazie”Altesino
La Togata 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Jacopus”
Le Ragnaie 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Fornace”
Mastrojanni 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Vigna Loreto”
Poggio Antico 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Altero”
Solaria – Patrizia Cencioni 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “30 Anni”

Best …

Altesino 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Montosoli”
Val di Suga 2015 Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio al Granchio”


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