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Brunello di Montalcino 2012: Top wines and vintage review

Richard Baudains takes a look at the 2012 vintage for Brunello di Montalcino wines...

Brunello di Montalcino 2012 is hard to generalise about. The vintage won the consorzio’s top, five-star rating, but it divides opinion. My own view is that 2012 shows both the positives and the downsides of a hot, dry vintage.

It is a ‘choose with care’ vintage in which terroir differences played a determining role. Wines from cooler sites have much better balance; those from hotter slopes can be tough and alcoholic.

It is certainly a powerful vintage. The wines are not easy to drink now, but the best have the prerequisites for long-term ageing.

The summer of 2012 was hot and very dry, with no rainfall at all from July to mid-September, a situation exacerbated in August by three days of scirocco, the hot, dry wind from the Sahara, which not only raised temperatures by day but kept them high at night.

View all of Decanter’s Brunello 2012 tasting notes

At the Baricci estate they resorted to spraying water in the vineyards in the early hours of the morning to try to give some respite to the vines. ‘I couldn’t say 2012 is a five-star vintage,’ says Francesco Baricci; ‘there was just too much drought stress.’

On the other hand, Riccardo Fratton, winemaker at San Polo, has no doubts about the five-star quality. ‘It is true that 2012 was hot, but we had some rain before we picked and that freshened the vines. The wines are closed now, but they will come out in time.’

This article continues below the list of wines

Richard Baudains’ top Brunello 2012 wines:

Click on the wine to see the full tasting note and stockist information for UK and US, where available. 

Defining features of Brunello 2012

Probably both producers are right. The defining features of the vintage are depth of colour, massive extract and high alcohol. When this all comes together without losing fruit aromas, the result is a big, chunky mouthful of Brunello. The variables are the ripeness of the tannins and the acidity levels.

Two factors made the difference to the overall quality and balance of the wines: the date of picking and the site. At Poggio di Sotto they picked early, at the end of August, and made a wine with 13.5% alcohol on the label and an elegance that’s rare for the vintage.

Silvio Nardi’s Poggio Doria single vineyard selection was picked much later, but benefited from its high, cool location in the far northwest of the DOCG zone to produce a Brunello with tight, ripe tannins and complex aromas.

The downside of 2012 is that many wines lack these qualities. Aromas are often baked and leathery, extract is huge but the tannins are hard and underripe, and the palates have a very peppery quality and a flat finish.

Whether the wines will soften with age is an open question. In many respects they recall the 2006s – another hot and powerful vintage which started life tough, and in my experience remains tough and unyielding today.

This is an abridged version of an article that first appeared in the August 2017 issue of Decanter magazine. Subscribe to Decanter here.

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