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Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2018

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In the world of wine, a change of ownership or a stylistic paradigm shift can reap huge benefits, but there are always risks. In the case of Argiano, change has paid off in spades, as new owners arrived with a commitment to a return to a more traditional expression of Brunello. Reflecting more than $10 million in investment in the estate over a decade, the stellar quality of Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2018 earns it Wine of the Year honors from Wine Spectator in 2023.

Argiano changed course in 2013, when Brazilian billionaire André Esteves and a group of investors purchased Argiano from Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano and Bordeaux-trained winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers, who wanted to focus on their project in Argentina, Bodega Noemía de Patagonia.

A relatively large property by Montalcino standards, Argiano is one of the region’s historic wineries. Its villa, recently restored, dates from 1581. The vineyards sit on a plateau in the central part of the Brunello zone, just west of the village of Sant’Angelo in Colle. The northern vineyard parcels—made up of alluvial clay, alluvial sandy silt and loam, with outcroppings of limestone and clay over a bed of limestone and marl—are planted to Sangiovese. The southern part of the estate is devoted to international grape varieties.

The 141 acres of vineyards consist of 54 acres designated for Brunello and 25 acres for Rosso di Montalcino. In 2014, 17 acres of Sangiovese were planted with a selection developed by Paolo de Marchi of Isole & Olena in Chianti Classico in conjunction with the French nursery Guillaume. The new projects fell under the direction of Bernardino Sani. He had interned in the cellar at Argiano in 2002, rejoining the Argiano team as sales and marketing director in 2012. At the beginning of 2014, he was appointed CEO.

In late 2014, Sani enlisted consulting enologist Alberto Antonini to work with his team of cellar master Adriano Bambagioni and vineyard manager Francesco Monari. The first task was cleaning the wine-aging cellar and investing in large casks of 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 liters, plus 600-liter tonneaux to replace the barriques that were used to age both the classic Brunello and a single-vineyard Brunello bottling called Vigna del Suolo. (A new vinification facility had been built in 2000.)

The team then turned its attention to the vineyards. With the help of viticultural consultant Pedro Parra, the various parcels were mapped for soil type and composition and electromagnetic surveys were undertaken. The results provided a better understanding of how to manage each parcel, pinpoint any problem areas, determine harvest dates and plan micro-vinifications. They also eliminated fertilizers and pesticides to work organically, though the estate has not obtained certification. Since the change, Monari feels the vines’ vegetative growth and the grape quality have become more uniform.

The classic Brunello di Montalcino is a blend of six different parcels. (The Vigna del Suolo bottling, made since the 2016 vintage, comes from a 10-acre parcel of 60-year-old Sangiovese vines planted on pure limestone soils.) After harvesting, the grapes for the Brunello are chilled with carbon dioxide for a five- to six-day cold maceration. Fermentation takes place in cement vats with indigenous yeast, and maceration on the skins runs 20 to 21 days. After the malolactic conversion in cement, the new wine ages 3.5 years in 1,000-, 2,000- and 3,000-liter casks. The 2018 was bottled in May 2022.

The move to a traditional style infuses the Brunellos with greater purity and energy. Combined with the elegant 2018 vintage’s character, the classic Brunello features rose, strawberry and cherry aromas and flavors, along with wild herb, mineral and cut hay accents matched to a racy profile.

Sani is a big fan of the 2018 vintage. “Personally, I love 2018, it’s very classic,” he told me in October 2022, when I first tasted the Brunello di Montalcino and Vigna del Suolo 2018. That said, there were challenges up until the beginning of August, including a lot of rain in the spring. (Sani reported hail on July 15, but it affected the southern vineyards of the estate, where the international grape varieties are planted.) A north tramontana wind in the last week of September ushered in dry conditions and concentrated the grapes. It also led to cooler nights and perfect conditions to ripen the Sangiovese. The Argiano team began picking at the end of September, finishing by the second week of October.

“My goal is to have Argiano become an ambassador of Brunello di Montalcino again,” Sani confided when I visited in April 2016. With the investment in the cellar and vineyards, he has achieved that goal and more.

For its traditional expression of Brunello, its quality and its value, Argiano Brunello di Montalcino 2018 is not only a leading representation of the region, it’s our Wine of the Year.

—Senior editor Bruce Sanderson

Tasting Note

Rose, strawberry and cherry aromas and flavors are the main themes in this red, along with wild herb, mineral and cut hay accents. Racy and full of energy, with a long, saturated finish. Best from 2025 through 2042.

Special Designation:
Highly Recommended
Tuscany, Italy
Issue Date:
June 30, 2023