Occasionally I like to have a structured tasting with a purpose — of older vintage that have been slumbering in the cellar. I wanted to share this recent “raiding of the cellar” as an example of the joys that can come with the patient act of cellaring wine.
True, most of the wine made around the globe is meant to be consumed within a couple of years of bottling but there are wines that just don’t show their full potential in their youth.
Typically I present wine, beer, and spirits features with the hopes of you, the reader, being inspired to grab a product or to make a cocktail at home. Granted, this is more of a passive engagement as the wines featured here are long gone from most wine sellers.
I wanted to encourage more wine lovers to find a wine category they love and go through the process of gathering wines to cellar. You need not have a fancy wine cellar or a giant budget. This is an ideal adventure to take with a friend who shares your wine passion. Buying three to four bottles of a particular style be it Bordeaux, California Cabernet, Rioja, or Brunello di Montalcino to be cellared for a period of time. Perhaps you could even set a rough date — “we will all meet and taste these four wines in 2021.”
A Note of Cellaring Wine
Aging wine is an old and simple practice. Of course in the days when almost everyone had a cool, dark cellar in the home for storing meat and vegetables it wasn’t hard to find a corner to stash a few bottles of wine. In today’s world simply obey a few easy rules:
- Keep the bottles on their side — you want the wine to be in contact with the cork to keep it moist.
- Keep the bottles as cool as possible (50-65F) but not cold. More important than finding that perfect 55F is to store wine in a spot that has no rapid temperature swings. If your cellar spot is 67F in the summer and 50F in the winter with gradual changes this is perfectly fine.
- Avoid light, especially sunlight so ideally the wine will be kept out of direct sunlight.
- Humidity is important but don’t get to worried about it unless you live in a very dry climate.
- Leave them alone! Don’t drag out your resting bottles every weekend to show your friends. These slumbering bottles like a long and vibration free rest.
- Last, if you are committed to cellaring wine you may want to consider a free-standing wine cellar. These units look much like a refrigerator and are sold in sizes ranging from a dozen or dozens of bottles to hundreds of bottles. Plug it in, load the bottles, and forget about it.
Raiding the Cellar – Brunello di Montalcino
My tasting featured eight Brunello di Montalcino wines all from the 1997 vintage. The 1997 vintage created a bit of a stir when released in 2002. The wines were bigger and more juicy than most previous vintages leading some to believe that the wines lacked the balance and finesse to age gracefully. I can tell you with certainty that myth has been busted. All eight wines showed youth and vigor. Many of the wines were far from peak maturity. All of the wines impressed while they all featured unique characteristics — there was a familial quality with no homogeny.
All of the wines had been handled with great care from cellaring to decanting.*
Brunello di Montalcino is Tuscany’s premier wine. Like most of Tuscany’s red wines, Brunello di Montalcino is made with Sangiovese, a particular clonal variation that is known locally as “Brunello.” The wines are made in a rather small zone, about 1/60 the size of Bordeaux, near the hill town of Montalcino. Prized red wines have been made in this district since the 14th century. Brunello di Montalcino wines are rich but delicate focused on tart berry fruit flavors with generous herbal, earth, and spice notes. The wines are typically best enjoyed after their respective 10th birthday.
Without further ado I present the results of the tasting. The wines are presented in order of tasting.
Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 1997
Appearance: Substantial ruby to brick red with a bit of age evident at the edge.
Nose: The nose is as complex as always showing waves of mineral, dried herbs, brown baking spice, black cherry, red currant, forest floor, and fresh mushrooms.
Palate: The palate echoes the nose adding a meaty note and texture. Overall superbly balanced with a mature, delicate appeal.
Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino 1997
Appearance: Bright, ruby red with just faint evidence of age at the edges.
Nose: Incredibly aromatic with bright red fruits (a little jammy for Brunello but delicious), burnt sugar, red cherry, and anise.
Palate: Confirms the nose with a rich, generous fruit core, delicate layers of spice and subtle earth notes are intertwined with a long, gorgeous finish.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 1997
Appearance: Dark, dense, ruby red with no signs of aging.
Nose: The aromatics are quite intense revealing layers of intense black fruits, plum, and concentrated red berries with supporting notes of tar (very Barolo like), marzipan, iodine, and allspice. It’s supple with incredible elegance.
Palate: Confirms the nose being fruit forward (dark and tart cherries) with waves of spice. This wine is amazingly youthful promising more than a decade of continued aging.
Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli 1997
Appearance: Deep, dark, garnet red with little signs of aging.
Nose: The dense red and black berries are nearly equaled by scents of forest dew, mushroom, cedar, cigar box, and brown baking spices.
Palate: Echoes the nose with perhaps more depth of fruit than the nose would indicate. This mature Brunello is very Bordeaux like in its fruit profile, oak, and hint of cigar box. It’s a big and bold wine.
Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino 1997
Appearance: Deep, dark garnet with little sign of age.
Nose: The nose is filled with the scents of dark fruits flanked by lavender, dried fruits, wet stone, allspice, dark chocolate, licorice, and hints of vanilla.
Palate: Confirms the nose delivering an elegant berry fruit mélange with a focused mineral and spice supporting cast. It’s quite sophisticated with great length.
Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 1997
Appearance: Brilliant, deep, ruby red with just faint signs of aging.
Nose: The aromatics are very floral followed closely by earth notes including mushroom, earth, dried herbs, eucalyptus, and licorice.
Palate: Echoes the nose delivering a fruit-centric core rich, flanked by earth and spice. A classic.
Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 1997
Appearance: Deep, garnet to burgundy color with no real signs of aging.
Nose: Incredibly refined and complex marrying rich, dense red fruits with accents of roasted meat, leather, baking spices, and hints of blackberry jam.
Palate: In full concert with the nose delivering a gorgeous, silky, fruit-forward core with flanking spice and earth notes. This Brunello is wearing its age so well being wonderfully elegant and refined.
Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino Pertimali 1997
Appearance: Deep, brilliant, ruby red with faint signs of aging.
Nose: The aromatics are quite smokey and meaty equaled by dense red fruits, spice, and leather.
Palate: Confirms the nose delivering a generous fruit core seamlessly integrating earth and spice accents. Incredibly youthful, generous, and long on the plate.
* The Brunello di Montalcino wines in this tasting had been cellared in ideal conditions in a professional storage facility. Two weeks prior to the tasting the wines were stood upright in a cellar in order to allow the sediment that collects in aged wine to settle to the bottom of the bottle. One hour prior to tasting the wines were decanted allowing them to breathe and come to life again while separating the clear wine from the chunky and fine sediment.