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Benvenuto Brunello 2022

Updated: Feb 1

Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage has been released. It was a fascinating experience to taste these wines.

Usually, I know what to expect, because tasting from barrel samples can indicate a vintage’s direction. But the 2017 vintage was a difficult challenge to the winemakers of Montalcino, due to the weather. The variation in barrel samples was very noticeable.

During early spring 2017, severe frosts played havoc with bud break, coupled with such small amounts of rainfall through the summer months. Temperatures became stratospherically high in August: Montalcino’s official recorded temperatures in the first week oscillated from 102F (39C) to 107F (42C). Finally, in September the heavens opened and cooler evening temperatures prevailed, saving the vintage from disaster.

The biggest problem was drought, vines suffering from hydrocarbon stress, which blocks the vegetative cycle, introducing colour change, sugar progression and drops in yields. Most vineyards suffered a 15% to 50% loss in yield.

The difference between water deficit stress and drought stress, albeit seemingly the same thing: water deficiency is where the water potential and turgor (pressure exerted by fluid in a cell that presses the cell membrane against the cell wall) stops the plant from wilting, are reduced enough to meet with normal functions. Whilst drought stress happens when the demand of the vine exceeds the supply at any stage of the growing cycle.

On the face of the evidence, one would expect to find wines lacking balance, that are dense, flabby and jammy, bereft of freshness, others lean and tannic. And the vast majority for short term consumption.

As an amateur wine taster, I was surprised (and pleased) to taste some exceptional wines. Generally the vineyards in the north of Montalcino performed better than their southern counterparts. Of course, the skill of the winemaker, age of the vines, altitude and aspect of the vineyards, fruit selection, terroir and micro climate: all play a huge part in the success of the individual wines.

Another factor to take into consideration is that many of the wineries placed the grapes from the single Cru and Riserva in with the harvested fruit of the normal bottling. The reason for this being mostly the lack of yield and the lack of fruit quality in their own higher categories.

However, one must not judge too broadly, some of these wines may be harsh at first, but some will in time flesh out, others may never re-adjust and balance. A few will have a rightful place in our collections, to be enjoyed and teach the imbiber the character differences between one vintage and another from the same label. That is why I stated earlier ‘this was an intriguing vintage’.

Also on release, are the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2016. On the whole I cannot see a vast improvement on the wines already released from the 2016 vintage.

Usually BDM Riserva wines come from special barrel samples, or a recognised plot in the vineyard, or older vines. The major problem I have with these wines is price, as only a few justify their ticket.

Remember the same production rules apply to all Brunello di Montalcino whether they be entry level, Cru or Riserva, the latter only spending an additional year in the cantina.

In general terms, most wineries did a very good job with the difficult 2017 vintage. Wineries that decided to put their single Cru and Riserva fruit into the normal bottling have given us unusual and interesting wines to enjoy.