In southern Tuscany the tiny town of Montalcino sits upon an exposed ridge, its narrow stone streets act as accelerators, amplifying the frigid February winds, focusing their brutally cold, knife edge points into all who walk her streets. An occasional rain squall blows through just to add an unavoidable, horizontally moving accent to the cold humidity. Broken umbrellas litter the uncovered trash receptacles around the town, an ever-present reminder of the wind’s fury. This vivid picture of nature flexing her muscles is an excellent cue to this vintage’s beginning on a frozen Easter Sunday back in April 2001. Montalcino’s elite gathered in its Medici Fortress to debut this much anticipated 2001 vintage, yet the scoop was already out. Brunello di Montalcino’s extremely long gestation period of more than four years allows wine aficionados to get many chances to watch the evolution of each vintage’s wine. The 2001 was no secret, aging quietly for years waiting for its release. James Suckling of the Wine Spectator was the first to release his scores starting with 98 points for the 2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino, and 90-point scores are falling like crumbs from a loaf of stale, unsalted Tuscan bread. Most of the American journalists I have talked to see this as a great vintage. The Wine Enthusiast is releasing their scores now and the Wine Advocate to follow soon after, finally catching up to the vintage this year. In my article last month I wrote about this 2001 vintage being a synthesis 1997 and 1999. The lush, ripe, thick, low-acid 1997 vintage that put Brunello di Montalcino into America’s wine lexicon and the classically elegant, long, graceful and fresher 1999 vintage that was the purists’ favorite. 2001 has the weight, texture and structure that anyone who tastes it will recognize its importance immediately. The wines’ dark, opaque character shows how this vintage’s concentration levels are unusual for Montalcino, where the difficult to grow Sangiovese grape rarely lends itself to this level of density. The vintage has fully ripened fruit without a hint of the over-ripeness that plagued many wines from 1997. When one gets fruit from over-ripe vintages they tend to be mono-flavored behemoths, and this tends to make the wines less complex in the long run. 2001’s fruit is truly special; the long hang time let the grapes develop complex flavors not just high sugar levels. The supple warmth of this seasoned fruit gives an easy entry into the mouth, yet behind the fruit lays significant tannic structure. The key to sangiovese is always the acidity, and it is the acidity that gives the wine length, elegance, grace and that ever-elusive balance. In 2001 the linear characteristic of sangiovese’s acidity carries the powerful tannins into balance. Spice, fruit, structure, color, balance, complexity—everything one could want in a vintage! However, unlike the spectacularly balanced 1999 vintage where almost every producer’s Brunello was a textbook example. This vintage seems to have been harder to make for some. I can’t give a blanket stamp of approval for this vintage—the good and great producers have made outstanding wine, but there are still many wines out of balance. Fortunately the greatest number of these wines won’t be coming to America so you won’t have to worry. And, of course, we’ve tasted through 163 different wines and eliminated those we think won’t be of interest to you. The Wines: One ultimate word of caution: Don’t buy the numbers! I received an email from a client who isn’t familiar with Brunello. He’s a self-proclaimed Burgundy/Pinot Noir nut who doesn’t enjoy heavily oaked wines that hide the terroir or give a manipulated feel to the wines. He then asked to buy some well-known, oaky, manipulated wines from Montalcino because they got high scores. Know what it is you want to drink. Ask the questions. Fame and points are not the truest path to finding what you like. The Valdicava is …in a word, wonderful. I don’t always agree with James Suckling’s ratings. And truthfully, I don’t ever remember agreeing with his top pick as the wine of any vintage. But it would be hard to argue that this wine isn’t anything but superb. Casanova di Neri “Tenuta Nuova” has the feel of the new world, while not laden with obtrusive oak. It is extraordinarily well made, and with the 97-point rating it will be getting a lot of attention and will be in short supply. We at K&L decided several years ago that the only way to really sell Brunello was to import directly so we could offer you the best prices on less well-known wines. Sesta di Sopra is one of those. This year this tiny winery (333 case production of Brunello) garnered 95 points from James Suckling. Needless to say, we think he got this one correct. Since their debut vintage in 1999 they have made nothing but seriously good wine. By the time that you read this, the rest of our comments and some new surprise discoveries will be on the website for your perusal. This vintage will be selling out rapidly. The best way to keep up is for me to have your email address, and you’ll be amongst the first to know. Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy! —Greg St. Clair
What a crazy day! I made a last minute round at the fair. The general public is allowed into Alimentaria today, so it’s even more crowded and loud! A quick pass through El Corte Ingles for gifts and on to taste some new projects from our great friend in wine Eric Solomon of European Cellars. There are some terrific new whites on the horizon---great things from Galicia and Rueda. I tried a new Priorat that you folks are going to love, love, love! Right now it’s 1:30 AM and I have just gotten back from dinner. The wind is howling loudly outside and I need to pack my bags. It’s time to say good bye to Barcelona, one of my favorite cities in the world and to all of the lovely people who made this week at Alimentaria fun, educational, and a pleasure. ---Hasta la proxima vez! -Anne Pickett
Cross your fingers, folks! Oh heck, cross your toes, too! We may get the wine of Marques de Murrieta back in the store. They broke up with their last importer and have been out of the West Coast market for almost a year now. Boy do I miss their products. I tried all of their new releases, and they were awesome. As soon as we work out the issues, I will let everybody know! D.O. overload…Spain has somewhere around 65 Denominacion de Origen defined regions. Ucles, one of their newest, was making their debut at Alimentaria. It was the first time that I have tried wines from Ucles, which is an area in Southern Spain. More big fat reds…we’ll see how it goes. Cultural note of the day: while in the States 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, apparently in Spain, it’s 4 out of 5. Well, at least according to one rather flirtatious taxi driver. Saludos! -Anne Pickett
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