The extended ageing of Brunello means that when Chianti producers are unveiling their 2004s, Montalcino’s finest are only just uncorking the 2001s. stephen brook gives his verdict on the latest releases from the two Tuscan giants

Tuscany is large and varied. Many miles separate, for example, the Chianti zone and Montalcino further south, which explains why the flavour and structure of Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino can vary enormously even in the same vintage.

Winemaking practices mean that one has to wait, of course, to taste the same vintage side by side. But back to geography. Within Chianti Classico, not only are there differences between the northern areas near Florence and the southern ones near Siena, but differences in altitude can also be significant. Meanwhile, areas such as Montepulciano and Montalcino are normally much warmer than Chianti Classico, which enabled their vines to survive the extreme heat of 2000 and 2003.

The equatorial heat that afflicted France in the summer of 2003 extended south into Italy, too. This was bad news for young vines, without root systems to haul up moisture from the subsoil, but older vines suffered too. The main problem was that phenolic ripeness did not keep up with sugar development, leading to unbalanced wines.

CHIANTI

The Chianti Classico consorzio’s oenologist, Daniele Rosselini, admits: ‘Those who waited for phenolic ripeness ended up with abnormally high alcohol; those who picked early had green tannins. Elevation, a deciding factor in some vintages, made little difference in 2003.’