Christmas treats – Brunello and Chianti

The swedish christmas dinner on Christmas Eve is a staunchly traditional meal with meatballs, sill (pickled herring), gravad lax and a lot of other must haves. And the traditional beverage is christmas beer (winter ales and lagers) and snaps.

And to be honest – that is not my cup of tea. So when Christmas Day arrived with lamb and a creamy potato gratin – I was more than happy to uncork two fantastic wines from central Italy – a magnum of Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 1998 (my own) and a La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino 2001 (courtesy of my sister-in-laws husband).

And what a relief it was to find them both in mint condition. Both wines similar and at the same time different.

The 1998 was the second vintage of Castello di Brolio after the Ricasoli-family restored this classic estate to it’s former glory. The wine was an effort to once again put Chianti Classico in focus after that the so called “super tuscans” had dominated the scene under most part of the 1980s and 1990s. But with the new legislation in place (1996) it was possible to do a Chianti Classico of the best local and interanational grapes (a minimum of 80 percent sangiovese and up to 20 percent of other red varieties like Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

The Castello di Brolio 1998 is made with 100 percent sangiovese (the 97 and 98 were both monovarietals – but that was replaced with 10 years of experimentation and the 2007 was a blend of 80 percent sangiovese and 10 percent each of cabernet sauvignon and merlot).

The colour is still deep bordeaux-red with an orange maturity rim. The nose wonderfully opulent with dried fruits, cherries, spices and a hint of leather, almonds and chocolate. Sligthly oxidized complexity. In the mouth it feels round and mellow with a lovely fruit intensity and elements of cherries, dried fruits and herbs. The finish long and well balanced. Probably at it’s peak with a some tannins giving it a delicious lift. 

The Fattoria La Fiorita-estate is a new acquaintance – at least for me. It’s run by a well known oenologist, Roberto Cipresso, in Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The 2001 was of course a wonderful vintage that delivered classic wines. And the La Fiorita Riserva 2001 is no exception.

The colour lighter than the Castello di Brolio – more brick/orange red. The nose is quite similar but juicier and a bit more perfumed with cherries, dried fruits, leather and nuts (almonds). The taste is also quite mellow (although it is two years younger than the Brolio-wine) and fruit-driven with cherries, leather, herbs and chocolate. The finish long, lingering and wonderful with a sligthly oxidized tone that gives that extra compelxity.

Both wines were superb with the lamb!

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Poggio San Polo – Brunello at it’s best!

Brunello di Montalcino can be sublime. For many people it is sangioveses best expression – more powerful and with more of character than the wines from neighbouring Chianti to the north.

But Brunello can also be a bit of a disapointment. All too often the wines are too oxidized, too tannic and too dry for their own good and lacking the fruit intensity to match the tannins. The wines of the past also needed ages of cellaring – but it was also those same wines that built up the reputation of Brunello as a vin de gard that could match some of the worlds greatest wines.

The interest in Brunello has been massive the last decade or so. But you need only to turn the clock back to 1980, the year of DOCG nomination, and there were few vino aficionados outside Italy had heard of or tasted any of the wines. In fact – Brunello used to be one of the poorest wine regions i Tuscany!

The DOCG certainly ended that. American winelovers were quick to take the district to their hearts and that interest had a sky-rocketing effect on the prices. But all is not good. In 2008 a scandal hit Brunello. The scandal is known variously as Brunelloppoli in Italy and is usually referred to as Brunellogate in english speaking countries. It involved high profile winerys and producers who were accused of sweetening the sangiovese juice with international varietys. All in the aim to make Brunello wines more accessible for modern winelovers.

Happily it all ended with a vote among the producers on if they should change the DOCG-rules to allow for international varietys as cabernet, merlot and syrah. But a clear majority voted for the rules to stay unchanged – and only 4 percent wanted a modernization.

Personally I couldn’t be happier with that result. The producers in Brunello already got the means and oppurtunity to make blend of sangiovese and international varietys and label the wines as IGT Tuscany/Toscana. They do not need to do those wines under the Brunello denomination. They can, and should, continue to do outstanding sangiovese wines that are a true expression of their origin and terroir!

Poggio San Polo was to my knowledge never implicated in Brunellogate. The winery has produced outstandig sangiovese for some time and has gone from strength to strength since the 1997 vintage (a vintage that for me epitomizes and is the true beginning of modern Italian winemaking).  As late as 2007 it was bought by Veneto-veterans Allegrini (who also invested in Poggio al Tesoro in Bolgheri).

I bought a couple of bottles of Poggio San Polo 2001 a few years back and this past weekend i opened the last one – and it was gorgeous.

The grapes are sourced from San Polo and Menteluc in Montalcino. The malolactic fermentation takes place in french barriques and the wine get a total of 24 months on oak. After that it is aged another 6 months in bottle.

The colour – dark ruby. Still a bit closed on the nose with hints of cocoa powder, dried fruits, game and dark cherries. The taste is still powerful, medium bodied, velvety and concentrated. Loads of dark cherries, cocoa-chocolate, game an herbs (rosemary and thyme). Good acidity and still quite firm tannins that are enveloped by soft and delicious fruit. Drink now or age for another 3-5 years. 4,5/5 points!