Radiant Brunello

The 2010 vintage is one of the best in decades, producing ripe, vibrant and balanced Sangiovese

From the July 31, 2015, issue

Vintners in Tuscany’s Montalcino district were dealt the right cards in 2010, with growing conditions that yielded ripe, fruity Sangiovese. In turn, the year’s Brunellos reveal elegance and complexity, showing fruit flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry, accented by floral, tobacco and mineral elements. The young wines’ flavor profiles, along with their impeccable balance, are so compelling that it’s easy to overlook their underlying structure. But make no mistake, the top bottlings from the best harvest since 2001 have all the components to age beautifully.

“The 2010 vintage is an easy one to talk about,” says Guido Orzalesi, sales and marketing director for Altesino, whose stunning Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli 2010 (98 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, $125) is the wine of the vintage. “It is one of the vintages in which to produce a great wine you only had to be careful not to make any mistakes in the cellar, the rest being taken care of by nature.”

The weather conditions during the 2010 growing season were slightly atypical. Not only did the Sangiovese vines begin their development later than normal, but also veraison, when the grapes change color in August, came about a week to 10 days later than average for the past decade.

“Quite unusual was the fact that the grapes reached ripening while the vines were still in vegetation,” notes Donatella Cinelli Colombini, proprietor of her namesake estate. “It was an extremely rare but very favorable situation. In 2010, the grape clusters were small, sound, and with small grape berries with lignified seeds.”

But ideal weather during August, including enough rainfall to offset the effects of the heat and refresh the vines, advanced the development of sugar and, more important, tannins, resulting in ripe Sangiovese.

The vintage’s top Brunellos—beginning with the Altesino Montosoli, a wine that shows purity and elegance—deliver expressive cherry, strawberry, raspberry and plum fruit, with accents of herbs, eucalyptus and tobacco. The flavors are aligned to firm structures that will allow the wines to age.

On the fruity side are the Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino Progetto Prime Donne (96, $65), Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino Pomona (96, $90) and Villa I Cipressi Brunello di Montalcino Zebras (96, $90). A touch more woodsy and firm, with assertive tannins, are the La Serena Brunello di Montalcino (96, $60) and Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino (96, $129), while Gaja’s Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino Sugarille (96, $190) layers vanilla, coconut and sweet spice notes over black cherry and plum flavors.

These are the highlights from the more than 85 2010 Brunellos I reviewed over the past year in our New York office. With 21 wines scoring classic (95 to 100 points) and the rest outstanding, the 2010 vintage earns an overall rating of 98 points, making it one of the best vintages in the past 20 years. Another 50 late-release 2009s are also included in this report, along with a handful of 2008s and earlier vintages. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)

Brunello di Montalcino is 100 percent Sangiovese. Although the styles within the zone vary, from floral and elegant in the north to dense and muscular in the south, the high quality of the 2010 season yielded successful wines throughout the region. This freshness is one of the hallmarks of the vintage and one of the major factors that will allow the wines to age.

Bottlings such as the Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino (95, $85) exhibit the year’s balance and harmony, while the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Pianrosso (94, $75) and Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino (94, $50), both flirting with classic ratings, also deliver freshness and cohesion. The two southernmost estates, Col d’Orcia and Castello Banfi, made excellent 2010s as well. The former’s Brunello di Montalcino ($55), offering pure cherry and plum fruit, and the latter’s single-vineyard Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura ($90), a beefy style with dense tannins, both clock in at 93 points.

The 2010 winter brought snow and rain, building up the water supplies in the soil. Cool temperatures delayed budbreak slightly. Sufficient moisture in the soil allowed the vines to withstand the heat during the summer. It was this groundwater that also delayed veraison, but the vines caught up in the end. Spring and summer were normal, with enough rainfall distributed evenly, and September, an important month for the ripening of Sangiovese, was ideal. Harvest occurred between the third week of September and the middle of October.

Good farming was also crucial to success. “I do not believe in miracles,” states Vincenzo Abbruzzese, proprietor of Valdicava. “The 2010 harvest is the result of 43 years of work in the vineyard, in the vineyard, in the vineyard, by generations who always respected the balance of nature. The idea is not to dominate nature, but to work in a friendly way.”

Certainly, 2010 was a year in which nature, man and terroir aligned. For Brunello lovers, it’s a vintage to buy and cellar.

Perhaps Cinelli Colombini sums it up best: “The Brunello 2010 unite three virtues of Sangiovese from Montalcino: elegance, concentration and longevity.”

Senior editor Bruce Sanderson is Wine Spectator‘s lead taster on the wines of Tuscany.