Brunello 2016 Review

All month long, we’ve been celebrating the wines of Tuscany, from the old-school panache of Chianti Classico to the wild west of Super Tuscans to the virtues of a skin-contact Vernaccia, all leading up to the release of our Brunello Review.   

2016 is the best young vintage of Brunello with which I’ve ever worked. They have the structure of 2010 (the last great vintage before 16) but so much more flesh and fruit. Tasting through these wines from barrel samples was the last big tasting I did last year before the world shut down. My notes are filled with words like “Towering”, “Skycraper”, “Monumental”. There is just so much class to these wines, I felt taller just tasting them.

If you’re not fully familiar, Brunello di Montalcino is made entirely from Sangiovese. It has become the iconic expression of one of Italy’s most noble grapes. The best Brunello are as good as anything in the world, full stop. They age effortlessly. Though they’ll last for decades, I’ve consistently found 10 years after the vintage to be the sweet spot. Brunello is required to age in barrel and bottle for a combination of 5-ish years hence why everything being released right now is from 2016.

These are generally dark, masculine wines (though there are exceptions which prove the rule). They have bifurcated into a modern style which favors new oak flavors with big, plush fruit and the traditional style of Brunello which is deeper and wild, more country than city. 

I certainly think there is a place for both but I must admit my preference for the traditional. One of the joys of drinking wines like this is that sense that this wine could have come from nowhere else. A Brunello shouldn’t be able to be mistaken for a Napa Cab or a modern Margaux. It should be a singular expression. 

Finally, one last note on the 2016 vintage. I was told recently that not many fine wine purveyors talk much about vintage anymore. We live in a producer focused age and the year itself has become a secondary concern. I see the point of that. Great producers make really good wine regardless of vintage and if you like an estate’s style in year X, you’ll probably like it in year Y. 

But the reason we talk about vintages like 2016 is because it is by definition special. There are 1-2 vintages like this per decade. When a place that already produces great wine has a particularly compelling growing season, that’s worth noticing! It’s like going to a concert and watching your favorite band perform one of the best shows they’re ever going to do. If you could predict that in advance, wouldn’t you go to that show?!?

Below you’ll find my top selections from 2016 in Brunello di Montalcino. It’s an honor and a privilege to advocate for these wines and wineries so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or desire guidance.

Hope you’re staying safe & drinking well!

 

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2016

$64.99 48 Bottles

Altesino was the first estate to introduce the small new oak barrel (barrique) to Brunello. There is a bit of schism in Brunello between those who use small, new oak barrels (as they do in Bordeaux and Napa) or the larger, neutral botte, which slowly matures the wine but does not impart any flavors.

There is an argument to be made that Altesino is both modern, “non-traditional” Brunello while at the same time being exactly what everyone thinks of when they imagine Brunello which, in a sense, makes it traditional, right?

If you like richly styled reds, you'll like Altesino.

"95+ Points. Bold cherry, dried raspberry and myrtle add to the intensity and the brightness of the bouquet. The Altesino 2016 Brunello di Montalcino displays a lively and fruit-forward ensemble with an infectious and cheerful sense of energy. This is a tonic and crisp expression of Sangiovese with lifted berry aromas backed by subtle spice, tar and licorice gained over two years of barrel aging. This is a 110,000-bottle release (and a good buy for Brunello)." Monica Larner, Wine Advocate

 

Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2016 

$79.99 24 Bottles

If Altesino represents the modern arrow of Brunello then Uccelliera represents where it started. These are intensely and self-consciously artisanal. The oak treatment is invisible, the structure more “rough and ready” than some of its sleeker contemporaries.

I have always been struck by the individuality of these wines, and I mean that from vintage to vintage. He takes what the year gives him and gets out of the way.  Each vintage is its own adventure with Andrea, always good but never predictable.  

If you like the wilder side of Sangiovese, you'll like Uccelliera.

"97 Points. This is really beautiful with complex black cherry, berry, walnut and dark chocolate. Some mushroom and smoke. It’s tight and reserved with polished tannins and wonderful balance and finesse. Persistent and intense. Drink after 2025." James Suckling

 

Castello Romitorio Filo de Seta Brunello di Montalcino 2016

$100.00 48 Bottles

My road to discovering Romitorio was through their Chianti Classico. We’ve been working with it for about a year now and, for $20, I was thrilled at the quality. So, when I found out their main function was single vineyard Brunello, I was more than a little intrigued. The word “artist” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to winemaking, including by me later in this review, but Sandro Chia, the estate’s founder, is a legitimately famous painter and sculpture. His son makes the wine and he paints the labels.

This is, dare I say, the most Pinot-ish of the bunch. This is lower alcohol than most, redder fruit, a lighter overall palate impression. There is also a powerful mineral thrust. The Filo de Seta is not trying to impress you with its power or largess but rather beguile with its light and airy charms.

If you like Burgundy, you'll like Romitorio.

97 Points. The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino Filo di Seta is a remarkably pretty and pure expression of the vintage. It impresses with a lifted yet stimulating display of bright red fruits and savory spice, framed by notes of crushed stone, animal musk and dusty florals. This boasts striking depth and elegant textures, all offset by a mix of tart wild berries and cool-toned acids, as salty minerals create an almost-crunchy feel toward the close. The tannins are firm yet rounded, displaying tremendous balance and length, as the 2016 Filo di Seta never grows tiring or youthfully clenched. That said, the best is yet to come for this complex and age-worthy effort.” Eric Guido, Vinous Media

 

Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2016

$175.00 36 Bottles

Valdicava is everything Brunello should be. This is a monumental wine. While having only bottled as Valdicava since 1977, the Abbruzzese family (father to son to grandson) has been making wine from this estate since the early 50s. When they started, there was no such thing as Brunello di Montalcino. It was Valdicava and a handful of others who founded the appellation.

The valley which gives the winery its name is home to nearly all the great single vineyards in the region (Montosoli, La Casa, Vigna del Lago). Undoubtedly wines which deserve and even require cellar time, my notes were just different versions of the word “density”. This will be a special bottle you can return to again and again over the next 10-25 years. If I had to chose one of these wines to put in my own cellar, I'd choose Valdicava.  

If you like Pomerol, you'll like Valdicava.

"98 Points. Attractive aromas of balsamic, tea, dark berry, walnut and coffee bean. Full-bodied, yet tight and very intense with ripe tannins that are fine and reserved. Racy and polished. Beautiful length to this wine. Needs at least two to three years to come. Try after 2024." James Suckling

 

Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino Madonna delle Grazie 2016

$350.00 9 Bottles

Allesandro Mori is an artist, there’s just not a better way to put it. His Madonna delle Grazie, which is a barrel selection totaling approximately 5,000 bottles, is in contention at any moment in time as the greatest Brunello produced by man. This is HYPER traditional Brunello. No oak influence, no chemicals, old vine Sangiovese, minimal intervention, high tannin/acid structures. About as far from the modern idea of Brunello as is possible.

Despite this strong scaffolding, Allesandro’s Madonna is a tremendously graceful wine. It envelopes the palate and then glides across it. The Madonna delle Grazie is a linebacker doing ballet. This should be spoken of with the same respect as Grand Crus or First Growths.  

If you like having your mind blown, you'll like Il Marroneto Madonna.   

"100 Points. There it is: that Il Marroneto magic. To my palate, Alessandro Mori's 2016 Brunello di Montalcino Madonna delle Grazie best captures the soaring spirit and ambition of Brunello, made in its purest and most naked form. This vintage is a twin sibling to the 2010 that I awarded a perfect score. Whereas that wine surprised me, appearing with so much unexpected radiance and brilliance, this wine won me over in a more careful, less emotional and more contemplative manner. Having now tasted the 2010 vintage multiple times, I better know what to expect in terms of the near-term aging evolution of the 2016. I know that the laser-sharp purity of the fruit will soften, leading to more nuanced and finessed tones of underbrush, lilac, iron ore and candied orange peel over the next five years. This wine unfolds to show deep complexity up front with buoyant and jovial red fruit at its core. It vibrates with electric energy and charm." Monica Larner, Wine Advocate