The first time I heard a reference to the 2012 vintage was while tasting the 2010 Brunellos at Benvenuto over two years ago. The problem was that the 2010’s were so promising upon release, that as often as we were told that the 2012 Rossos showed the tremendous potential of the vintage ahead, we simply couldn’t get past the excitement of the ‘10s. After all, this was the vintage that drew a line in the sand, and brought consumers back to Brunello after years of lackluster vintages.
Then came 2011, where the ripeness of fruit could literally be felt as it saturated the senses, and, in my case, actually made my teeth ache. We were told that this wasn’t such a bad thing and that the wines would be great for near-term consumption. Unfortunately, with the exception of only a small number of producers, 2011 remains a vintage in which I found very little to get excited about.
However, we can put that all aside, because now that the 2012 vintage is hitting our shores, Brunello lovers have something to be excited about. Before I say anything else, let’s address the number one question on everyone’s mind: are these as good as the 2010’s? Unfortunately, that’s a difficult question to answer, because there is some variability that’s starting to become much more apparent throughout the region. The fact is that the terroir of Montalcino has become very important, and many consumers (and winemakers) aren’t really ready to talk about it.
You can see a trend in Montalcino, and that’s the release of single vineyard or parcel selected bottles that come either from the more northern vineyards or from the higher elevations of southern vineyards. The reason for this is the promise that these locations show in warmer vintages, and let’s be honest, 2012 was a warm vintage. Many people are avoiding that fact, as the term “warm vintage” has become synonymous with overripe. However, that is a broad generalization for a region that spans 24,000 hectares (that’s 59,000 acres), with altitudes ranging between 120 – 650 meters above sea level.
Just to put things in perspective, when many producers were asked about 2012, a large percentage compared the vintage to 2011 from the perspective of warmth and the length of the growth cycle. However, there was one very big difference. Where 2011 saw drastic spikes of heat throughout the season, 2012 remained consistently warm, which allowed the vines to adapt. 2012 was also very dry from winter through August, with just enough precipitation in the early fall to aid in maturation, yet the extended drought still resulted in a 14% smaller harvest than 2011.
So now that the numbers are out of the way, let’s talk about the wines. The 2012’s, in general, are mid-weight wines with gorgeous aromatics and intensely concentrated fruit on the palate that is offset by fresh acidity. In most cases the tannins are unexpectedly refined, especially considering the vintage conditions, and left me with a classic expression on the finish. At their best, they are enjoyable now on their freshness, (which isn’t something you’d expect from a ripe vintage, but that 2012 has in spades) yet also structured enough to go strong in the cellar for ten to fifteen years–and possibly beyond.
The pitfalls of the vintage lay in the lower elevations and areas that experience a more Mediterranean climate. Here we need to pick and choose. Though there are a number of standouts, such as the ever-reliable Il Poggione and Uccelliera, other producers turned out a set of wines that are highly enjoyable and easily gulpable, which ultimately is not what the average Brunello buyer is looking for.
When all is said and done, 2012 is the vintage we’ve been waiting for. These wines will not take twenty years to come around, yet are serious contenders for mid-term cellaring. They will be enjoyable early because of their aromatics and youthful appeal, but will also go the long haul in the cellar. In the end, it’s a highly enjoyable vintage and a perfect comeback following the 2011’s.
On To The Tasting Notes:
Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Upon first pour, the ‘12 Brunello was dark, imposing and monolithic; yet with time in the glass, an array of crushed cherry, sweet herbs, cedar, and moist earth tones came forward. On the palate, I found velvety textures with a fresh core of vibrant acidity adding verve, as notes of tart berry, cherry, plum and exotic spice set upon the senses. The finish was long and structured with herbal dark red fruits lasting throughout. I can imagine that five years or more will do this wine a lot good, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from there. (95 points) Find it at Morrell
Tenuta Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Vigna La Casa 2012 – The nose was intense and layered with fresh red berries up front, giving way to earth tones, savory herbs and minerals. On the palate, silky-broad textures coated the senses while tart red berry and zesty acidity provided lift. Hints of spice, leather and inner florals lasted on the finish, along with fine-grain tannin that promised years of development. (95 points)
Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Filo di Seta 2012 – The nose was gorgeous, showing depths of black and red fruits, dark floral tones and notes of undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft, velvety textures which were contrasted by zesty acid, minerals and tart red fruits, with notes of spice and cedar. It finished long, structured and balanced with persistent red berry fruit and spice. What a difference this northwestern vineyard makes from the normale. This is a beautiful 2012 Brunello for the cellar. (94 points)
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli 2012 – The nose was gorgeous with dark red fruits, plum, sweet florals, dark chocolate, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky, deep textures which seemed to coat all of the senses, giving way to dried red berries, earth, leather tones and fine tannin. It finished structured, yet with a sweet tannin that was still coated in dark red fruit. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Il Poggione (Proprietá Franceschi) Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose was gorgeous with perfumed floral tones up front, giving way to notes of ripe strawberry, cranberry, dried spices and undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures offset by vibrant acidity and fine tannin, as inner florals, earth and berry tones soothed the senses. It finished long on dried berries, hints of spice and young tannin, promising many years of development. This was simply a pleasure to taste, and it is deceptively enjoyable today–as the best is yet to come. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose was classic, displaying crushed strawberry, dusty florals, earth, leather and hints of cinnamon spice. On the palate, I found silky textures hosting notes of tart red berry, exotic spice, minerals, zesty acidity, and ending in a web of fine tannin. The finish was long and refined with a classic structure and persistent red fruits. This wine should have many, many years of development in store for us. (93 points) Find it at Morrell
Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne 2012 – The nose was deep and intense with luscious, ripe blackberry fruit tones backed by notes of sweet herbs and dusty florals. On the palate, I found an almost-juicy persona with vibrant yet silky textures showcasing black and red berries with savory mineral tones. It finished long and textural on sweet spice and cherry liquor. (93 points)
Capanna Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose showed soaring dark red fruits and floral tones with hints of spice and damp earth. On the palate, I found velvety textures with smooth tannins, crushed strawberry, plum and sweet inner floral tones. The finish was long, showing dark fruits and fine tannin that coated the senses. (93 points)
Castelgiocondo (Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi) Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose was dark with masses of sweet and spicy black cherry, chocolate and floral tones. On the palate, i found soft textures backed by intensely concentrated dark red fruits, spice and hints of mocha. Even through the richness in this glass, a wave vibrant acidity provided freshness, which lasted throughout the finish. This may not be my personal preference for Brunello, but it’s a solid performer for those looking for an extroverted style. (92 points)
Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose showed perfumed red berry fruit and floral tones with hints of dusty spice and wax. On the palate, I found silky, refined textures offset by saturating dark red fruits and fine tannin. Persistent red fruits continued to resonate on the finish, nearly masking the refined tannin that coated the senses. (92 points)
Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose was dark and earthy with notes of crushed strawberry, exotic spices and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures on a medium-bodied frame with tart, dark red fruits and lifting inner floral tones. Its fine tannins made themselves known throughout the finish, along with a lasting impression of concentrated wild berry fruit. (92 points)
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Here I found a lifted mix of red berry fruit, plum, and dark chocolate. On the palate, silky textures were made vibrant though zesty acidity with spicy red fruits and hints of leather. It finished medium-long on dried strawberry and hints of herbs. Not too shabby. (92 points) Find it at Morrell
Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – On the nose, I found perfumed florals, dark cherry, and hints of moist soil. Silky textures flooded the senses on a medium-bodied frame with notes of tart cherry and hints of herbs, yet there was a pleasing richness here that surprised me. The finish displayed medium length and fresh red fruits. (91 points)
Tenuta Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose displayed a perfumed bouquet with notes of tart red berry and minerals. On the palate, I found medium-bodied textures with dark red fruits ushered in by acid-driven silky textures. Hints of earth and spice lingered on the finish. (91 points)
Voliero Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose was remarkably pretty and refined, displaying tart red berries, spice and dusty earth. On the palate, I found an intensely fruited burst of energy that leveled out into silky, balanced textures with a core of crystalline minerality and spice. The finish was long, with light tannins coating the senses and notes of dried cherry lingering long. (91 points)
Tenuta Buon Tempo Brunello di Montalcino “P. 56” 2012 – The nose showed pretty red florals with dusty spice, minerals and hints of candied cherry. On the palate, I found soft textures offsetting persistent red berry fruits, dark earth and savory minerality. It finished on bitter cherry, spice and hints of fine-grained tannins. (91 points)
Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose displayed floral perfumes with notes of tart berry and crushed stone minerality. On the palate, I found dark, concentrated red fruits with grainy intensity and a core of savory minerals. It finished long on persistent red fruits and dry tannin. (90 points)
Tenuta Buon Tempo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose displayed a mix of plum, cherry and cranberry, before giving way to woodsy earth tones and spice. On the palate, I found tart red fruits on a medium-bodied frame with a core of minerality which settled on the back palate. The finish shorter than expected, seeming almost hollow, with hints of bitter red fruits lingering. (89 points)
Pian Delle Vigne (Antinori) Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – The nose was dark, imposing and intense with spicy candied red fruit and notes of plum. On the palate, I found weighty textures with sweet and sour cherry and spice, yet one-dimensional. The finish was long with bitter dark red fruits. (88 points)
A recipe & pairing by: Eric Guido
I’ve posted quite a few recipes that could take from an hour to six hours of preparation and usually with a decent hit to the wallet. So I got to thinking about the average person or aspiring cook in this busy day and age. I know that entertaining can be laborious and often expensive, but what if you could make a pasta plate that could stand tall next to anything a restaurant has to offer and do it in under a half hour from start to finish? Then, what if I told you it could cost less than $30 to feed a party of four? Seems too good to be true? Well it’s not; it’s Penne alla Vodka.
Penne alla Vodka is not a traditional Italian preparation and searching for its roots leads to a wealth of disinformation and theories. What is fact is that ages ago it was realized that alcohol can help to bring out flavors in tomatoes that cannot otherwise be obtained through any other preparation (known as alcohol soluble). This is often why a red sauce will include wine in its list of ingredients. Not only does it help to bring out these flavors but it also imparts its own qualities to the sauce.
Penne alla Vodka is a balancing act of flavors. The sweet sautéed garlic and onions play against the woodsy and smoky pancetta. The crushed red pepper provides a heat that is kept in check by the addition of heavy cream, which also rounds out any rough edges left behind by the vodka. The tomatoes take center stage providing a deep, fresh, succulent tomato flavor that, I find, can only be achieved in this dish. Lastly, the basil grounds you in reality with an earthy, vegetal mintiness, which brings it all together… God I love Penne alla Vodka!
As for the wine, pairing with this dish can be tricky. It’s a rich, cream based, tomato sauce so you’d think that any high acid red would do the trick. However, there’s a spiciness to this dish that would react badly to anything high in alcohol. This led me to think of Sangiovese, but in this case I wouldn’t go for something mature, as the tannins in a young will interact well with the cream sauce. Lastly, in keeping with the value oriented theme of this recipe, let’s keep our pairing under $35 and make it easy to find. I believe the answer is pretty obvious. The perfect pairing here would be Rosso di Montalcino, and I can’t think of a better option than Canalicchio di Sopra, which is a property that has been truly exciting me over the last few years.
This is truly fine dinning in your home without the price tag or the hassle. Enjoy!
Penne alla Vodka
Serves 4 – 5 guests
A note on the ingredients: Try to find San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. Believe it or not there are domestic brands that try to trick you with tomatoes of inferior quality and a completely different taste. Also, using penne “rigate” (instead of regular penne) is important because the texture holds the sauce to the penne. Lastly, an entire bottle of vodka is not included in the cost of the recipe and since it is only a ¼ cup, use the good stuff if you’ve got it. Remember, your food is primarily the sum of your ingredients.
- 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
- 5 cloves minced garlic
- ½ cup yellow onion cut into fine dice
- ½ cup pancetta small dice
- ¼ cup vodka
- ¾ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 – 2 tbls olive oil
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on your preference for spice)
- 1 pound penne rigate
- 8 fresh basil leaves cut chiffonade (This should not be done until the end of the cooking process.)
- salt and pepper
While bringing a pot of salted water to a boil, measure out and prepare your ingredients.
In a large saucepan, pour in olive oil and set to medium flame. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pancetta and cook until browned (about 4 minutes). Remove the pancetta from the pan and reserve as a garnish for later.
Add the onions and garlic to the pan and season well with salt. It is also at this time that you should add the pasta to the boiling water and set the timer for 1 minute short of the recommended cooking time. Cook the onion and garlic mixture until translucent (about 2 minutes).
Raise the heat to medium high, and add the red pepper flakes to the pan and stir. Pull the pan from the stove (away from the flame. This is not a flambe) and add the vodka. Place back on the stove and add the tomatoes. Stir well to combine.
You should stir regularly as the sauce cooks over the medium high flame. Make sure that it does not begin to burn on the pan bottom. If the sauce appears to be reducing too quickly, lower the flame to medium.
About the same time that the pasta is done, add the cream to the sauce and stir to combine. Season the vodka sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Drain your pasta completely and quickly rinse out the pot and dry.
Pour the pasta back into the pot and add ½ cup of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and half of the brown pancetta. Stir them into the pasta and then pour the sauce into the pot. Move the pot onto a medium flame and continue cooking for one minute. Remove from the heat and stir well.
Allow the pasta and sauce to sit in the pot for two more minutes, stirring from time to time. This allows the pasta to absorb and integrate with the sauce. While the pasta is resting, cut your basil.
Stir one last time and ladle the pasta onto warmed plates. Dress with basil chiffonade, browned pancetta and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Clean the rims of your plates with a warm, moist towel and serve.
2014 Canalicchio di Sopra Rosso di Montalcino – On the nose, I found fresh red floral notes offset by sweet strawberry and minerals. It was lifted and focused on the palate with pure red fruits, beautiful mouthwatering acidity and spicy grip. The finish was long, showing red berries, herbs and mineral tones. (91 points) at Morrell
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