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Brunello vs. Super-Tuscans?


MarkinHouston
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I am gaining a healthy mistrust for the Parker-WS advice and would rather know what unbiased (read: no commercials!) opinions might have to say.

In an attempt to cut through the marketing behind these wines, I would appreciate some comments regarding whether Super-Tuscans are worth the premium price over Brunellli from the same vintages. Does the inclusion of other grapes with the Sangiovese improve the IGTs to a noticeable extent? (I am under the impression the Brunello is made from a particular strain of Sangiovese.) Thanks.

Bonus question ;) I know that many Brunello and Super-Tuscans need years of aging. How long do Chianti Classicos and Riiservas need to age?

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Indeed Brunello is made from a Sangiovese clone called Grosso, big with thicker skins. The first vintage of Brunello was in 1888 and the grosso is the only grape in the uvaggio. A pretty rigorous DOC law implementation in 1960 requiring 42 months of cask aging is partially responsible for the over the moon pricing of modern Brunello, who among us sit on merchandise for almost 5 years before selling it?!!?

Comparing Super Ts and Brunello is sort of not such a good idea; the restrictuve DOC requirements imposed upon Brunello do not let it play in the same sand lot as sangiovcese that is blended with Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and god knows what else.

Me, I prefer SuperTuscans with heavier Merlot content. Sometimes Tuscan Cabernet just seems to shut the whole book down; I am sure there are many who disagree with me.

Maybe you could start by playing around with aging some young vines stuff, Ornellaia makes a second label (not La Volte, that is sourced fruit) with young fruit that is handled exactly as Ornellaia is. Rosso di Montalcino is young vines and not up to snuff Brunello. Age these guys for a few years see if you like it before dumping a bunch of money into other stuff.

I think Gaja's Sugarille Brunello is sublime, ageworthy and incredible, and while you may need to take a second mortgage out on your house, it is well worth it.

Good Luck.

edited for spelling

Edited by Carema (log)

over it

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I'll answer what I can, and then you'll need others to respond and fill in the blanks.

You are right, Brunello is made from sangiovese grosso grown in a very specific geographical area. Typically, these wines are best after a decade of bottle age. Some in ripe vintages (like 1997) may be enjoyed upon release, but most of those are taking a nap now.

As far as Super-Tuscans go, those are just any wine from Tuscany that is made outside the bounds of DOC or DOCG laws. Some 100% sangiovese wines are Super-Tuscans. Some 100% merlot wines are Super-Tuscans. And many times the label doesn't contain information as to what combination of grapes are in the assemblage. For the consumer, that means doing some research, or asking the merchant (if he or she knows). Your best bet is to taste as many as you can as cheaply as you can or find a critic (or other source) to whom your palate calibrates fairly well.

Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva wines can age well. I have some 1995 CCR still in the cellar and some 97 CC. Other people I know still have some 1990 CCR. Also, if you didn't know. some Brunello di Montalcino wines are also bottled as Riserva, with a huge hike in price.

Edited to add that I posted this fairly simultaneously with Carema's response, and some of my comments overlap.

Edited by Brad Ballinger (log)

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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You are right, Brunello is made from sangiovese grosso grown in a very specific geographical area.

I was speaking to a Brunello maker recently and he mentioned that many of the more more modern Brunello do not contain the Sangiovese grosso as more modern clones had largely replaced them, the legend of S. grosso being a great marketing tool (as if they required it). Does anybody know if there is any truth in this? This wine ages very well (Brunello in general).

Many of the ST are mande for the export market and they vary from excellent to rubbish. Chianti ages well for 5-7 years, the Riserva for 7-10, maybe longer in better years and from more modern style wines. Many '97's (vintage of the century) are falling apart now, where as the '99 are developing much better.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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1. The term super-Tuscan no longer means anything. It is an illusion that is used for marketing. Wines that are marketed as super-Tuscan are now fully eligible to be called Chianti Classico - like Tignanello for instance. You have two types of Tuscan red wines - those with a DOC or DOCG discipline they are supposed to follow and IGT which covers just about every other possible combination. The result is that just like everywhere else in the world - Napa, Pomerol, Cotes de Nuits etc. - it is the producer COMBINED with the terroir that decides what the wine will be. If you want to buy good wines you have to take time to learn the producers you like. It requires some work, but there are worse things to do.

It is also worth noting that producers in Chianti Classico make 100% sangiovese grosso wines and that Brunello estates produce super-Tuscans.

The term super-Tuscan was invented because of laws that don't exist anymore. The term should have died with the old laws because it is no longer relevant.

2. Clonal selection as described in the past - like in the Brunello story of sangiovese grosso - does not exist anymore. For instance in the quote below from Castello Banfi you will get an idea of what clone selection means today and that the concept of this or that sangiovese being used is no longer relevant:

Yet they found no scientific standards or documented results for the Sangiovese, despite a centuries-long history of that vine in the area. On their own, they identified over 100 distinct clones of Sangiovese Brunello. They first narrowed the selection down to 60, which they planted in experimental vineyards on the Castello Banfi estate. Through subsequent field study and microvinification, the selection was further narrowed to a final six clones, based on their individual contributions to the final blend, including color, structure, tannin, body, and bouquet.

A similar process called Chianti Classico 2000 has also changed the way clones are selected and mixed in Chianti Classico vineyards. For instance in Barolo they always said there where 3 clones of nebbiolo - lampia, michet and rose' and that each did well in specific communes, but today growers pick from dozens of clones and mix them according to very specific vineyard conditions.

I would also suggest that you read:

This on Chianti Classico

and

This on Brunello

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In an attempt to cut through the marketing behind these wines, I would appreciate some comments regarding whether Super-Tuscans are worth the premium price over Brunellli from the same vintages.

Mark,

Other posters have given you alot of background and technical information; I'd like to play the role of consumer in trying to answer your question.

I have had excellent Brunello and Super Tuscan wines but I find that both have become generally over priced. Hence, any attempt to taste through a number of different producer's wines requires substantial capital.

But it is absolutely required if you are to find good ones because, these days, the international style and the experimentation implicit in that style change make picking good wines (those suited to your palate) more difficult than traversing a minefield. And I have yet to find a reviewer (certainly not Parker) that give sufficient space to identifying new wave and old world producers, let alone consistently dependable notes on their wines.

So usually, the only way I buy these wines is if I have tasted them on someone else's dime (usually store sponsered tastings) and have read and talked to folks that know the producer's wines. I say and because I know that the best of these require aging (and I prefer aged wines) so I like to have input on track record for aging from people I trust.

Frankly, I don't buy many. I'd rather by Rosso di Montalcino and Vino Noble at fractions of the price for Brunello, or Chianti Classico at much less than Super Tuscans. These wines have prices that, in the most part, bear some relationship to their quality (as opposed to many Brunello and Super Tuscan wines) and they also tend to drink a little earlier and accompany lighter fare better. These later two criteria are also my preference.

I still love great Brunello (and occasionally enjoy some aged Super Tuscan) but I have no desire to spend large amounts of money on wines that are quite often not worth the tariff or that seem to have become some variant of domestic Cab. in an effort to capture a piece of the market for that style of wine.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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I have had excellent Brunello and Super Tuscan wines but I find that both have become generally over priced.

As on the money as Jim's tasting notes. The only Brunelli I've purchased from the 95 or 97 vintages have been at attractive discounts, any I've usually tasted the wine or have had wines from the producer in previous vintages. But the riservas are out of reach for me.

With STs, the price range varies more greatly, and I'm able to find many in a price range on par with similar quality wines from other growing regions.

As with most anything else in wine, tasting for yourself is the best way to answer the question.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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There are still deals on Brunello available - for instance at Sam's:

****1997 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino 750ml $45.99

Also while 98 is no 97 or 99 - there are some very good wines at fair prices that have the added benifit of not requiring ten more years of aging before you can drink them. For instance the following sale at Vinsrare in CA. (the stars are mine):

****1998 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino $46.99 (this one always needs aging)

***1998 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino $46.99

***1998 Pertimali (Livio Sassetti) Brunello di Montalcino $37.99

**1998 Suga di Val Brunello di Montalcino $28.99

***1998 Due Portine-Gorelli Brunello di Montalcino $37.99

***1998 Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino $40.99

****1998 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura $52.99

****1998 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino $59.99

***1998 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino $37.99

****1998 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino $37.99 (my recommendation for the steal of the bunch)

For someone just starting out to learn Brunello or for those without proper storage conditions these 98s are very nice wines.

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There are still deals on Brunello available

Craig,

These may be relative values for Brunello but you just listed 11 bottles of wine whose total cost is about $475, plus tax. That is what I meant by "substantial capital."

And I'm reasonably certain that you have spent a lot more than that to be able to make these suggestions, ie., to have the experience needed to be this discerning.

That said, I would agree that, if one is set on learning about Brunello, your way is a good way to go about it. And your advice, and others on the boards who have your experience, can be extremely helpful.

But one should also be aware that $40-$60 per bottle is the low-end of the spectrum.

For me, that's just too much.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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Thank you for all of this information. I am particularly interested in some of those price comparisons since I need to view them from the perspective of buying IN Italy in the next two weeks versus the US prices. For example I found a price of 38 euros for the '98 Ucceleria that Craig lists at $38--not much of a bargain! But what about a '97 Costanti for 36 Euros or a '97 Canalicchio for 26 euros? I also see a '97 Siro Pacenti for 26 euros (these are at www.casadelvino.it in Florence). There is a '97 Lisini for 31 euros which was rated 95 by WS. Any experience with these bottles? Craig, particular thanks for links to your articles!

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Thank you for all of this information. I am particularly interested in some of those price comparisons since I need to view them from the perspective of buying IN Italy in the next two weeks versus the US prices. For example I found a price of 38 euros for the '98 Ucceleria that Craig lists at $38--not much of a bargain! But what about a '97 Costanti for 36 Euros or a '97 Canalicchio for 26 euros? I also see a '97 Siro Pacenti for 26 euros (these are at www.casadelvino.it in Florence). There is a '97 Lisini for 31 euros which was rated 95 by WS. Any experience with these bottles? Craig, particular thanks for links to your articles!

I agree with Jimbo on his take that $40-$60 is a high admission for Brunello experimentation. And one is better off sticking with a reliable wine if one can find that early. And unless you have money to burn, the riservas seem to be priced for people above my station.

But to your Lisini question. Throw the WS rating out the window. The 97 Lisini is a good wine period. And 31 euro is about as low as you will see it. This wine was offered on a pre-arrival in the U.S. for around $40. By contrast to Craig's list, let me share with you some sale prices in my market...

98 Lisini, $59

98 Canalicchio di Sopra, $68

98 Argiano, $60

97 Campogiovanni Riserva Quercioone, $128

97 Casanove di Neri Cerretalto, $112

97 Validicava Riserva, $125

I'd like to revisit Jim's endorsement of Rosso di Montalcino for well-made wines that drink nicely upon release. The 99s from Valdicava, Nardi, and Agostina Pieri are stunning wines in the $25 range.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I certainly don't disagree that $40 plus is an expensive starting off spot for Brunello, but that is indeed the cost of the game. If you want to experience Brunello it is going to cost big money. The fame and demand is just too high. I also am a big fan of Rosso di Montalcino, but drinking RDM is not drinking Brunello any more than drinking the second label of a Bordeaux First Growth is the same as drinking the first wine.

To tell you the truth if I was going to recommend great values in Tuscan sangiovese they would be coming from the Pisa area and other lesser known Tuscan regions - not Montalcino, Ch. Classico or even Vino Nobile. Other outstanding sangiovese is now coming from Romagna (Zerbina) and Umbria. Also with so many excellent wines coming from other Italian varietals there is no shortage of great wines in the under $40 range. (from what I hear the '03 Aglianco wines from southern Italy are going to make people forget a lot of more expensive wines)

However the question here is about Brunello. Jim is right, in that I am fortunate as a writer that I can taste almost all of the releases in a vintage without dropping the money on the bottles myself. I do not argue the point that there is such a thing as a true bargain when it comes to Brunello. Nor do I urge anyone to spend the money. Yet if you really want to taste what Brunello is about that is your only choice.

I will echo Brad's comment on Lisini. These are exceptional wines. My other favorite year in and out is Costanti. Other favorites are Fuligni and Poggio Antico. As you can see I appreciate more than one style.

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(from what I hear the '03 Aglianco wines from southern Italy are going to make people forget a lot of more expensive wines)

I hope you're right. Of course, Notaio will try to capitalize on the hype and price La Firma above $50 (perhaps quite a bit above). But there are plenty of other producers to choose from.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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(from what I hear the '03 Aglianco wines from southern Italy are going to make people forget a lot of more expensive wines)

I hope you're right. Of course, Notaio will try to capitalize on the hype and price La Firma above $50 (perhaps quite a bit above). But there are plenty of other producers to choose from.

I think you will see a lot of labels in American market that are as yet unknown in the USA by the time '03 southern Italian reds are released. There is so much investment going on in the south. There will a lot of bargains to be had

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My other favorite year in and out is Costanti. Other favorites are Fuligni and Poggio Antico.

Funny ... those are some of my favourite producers as well! I'm looking forward to tasting the '99s in a couple months to get a feel for how they are at a young age and extrapolate the pleasure they will provide in a decade.

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To tell you the truth if I was going to recommend great values in Tuscan sangiovese they would be coming from the Pisa area and other lesser known Tuscan regions - not Montalcino, Ch. Classico or even Vino Nobile.

Any views on Morellino de Scansano (sp?). About five years ago it was very cheap and being served in carafes, nice wild cherry flavors etc, last year I noticed that it is similar in price to the Chianti. Seems like very rapid development.

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To tell you the truth if I was going to recommend great values in Tuscan sangiovese they would be coming from the Pisa area and other lesser known Tuscan regions - not Montalcino, Ch. Classico or even Vino Nobile.

Any views on Morellino de Scansano (sp?). About five years ago it was very cheap and being served in carafes, nice wild cherry flavors etc, last year I noticed that it is similar in price to the Chianti. Seems like very rapid development.

You can still find cheap Morellino in restaruants and bars in Italy. However, the wines that are exported tend to be from top producers and so are not cheap, but are still good values. Great examples come from Moris Farms and Le Pupille and they are well worth the prices asked.

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