Brunello di Montalcino - 2019 Vintage Report
The 2019 Brunello Vintage is getting the wine world very excited. We've spoken to 'our man in Italy', Michael Palij MW, for his views on this corker of a wine
"The 2019 vintage in Montalcino deserves a place in everyone’s cellar. After the torrid conditions of 2017 and the roller-coaster that was 2018, 2019 is solidly and unequivocally, delicious.
The best wines are pure, fragrant, and have that “Chianti with an extra gear” quality that one rarely finds in this over-priced and usually disappointing DOCG. The recent influx of almost unlimited capital has led producers to heap superlatives on every vintage and on every vineyard and to employ all manner of winemaking interventions. For Sangiovese, however, the requirements are relatively simple: a long growing season punctuated by cool nights and marked by hot days. 2019 supplied this in spades.
The winter was slightly warmer than long-term averages with moderate precipitation. The majority fell between 18-25 January and again in early February with 70mm over the two months. Although spring was wet it was also mild and fruit set was irregular due to rain and occasional strong winds which were also often cold and unfriendly despite warmer averages. Abundant rainfall (100 mm from March to May) was crucial for vine health given the hot and dry conditions later in the year but the issue for some growers was that over-enthusiastic leaf-plucking at this stage (to encourage air circulation) came back to haunt them when temperatures soared later in the year.
Budding was a little early but irregular due to the wind and rain and, by the end of May, the vines were 10-15 days behind the curve. There was no significant rainfall in June and temperatures increased in July to peaks of 35C - 38C but the average across July and August was 32.5C, so actually not as hot as some have indicated. In fairness, two decades ago this would have been an inferno but these days it's pretty much par for the course. Crucially, rain fell at the end of July (70mm) which was just what the doctor ordered.
August was hot and dry but the vines were buoyed by July's showers and Mother Nature obliged again on the 25 with another drenching. By this point, the vines had made up for lost time and veraison was bang on schedule. September was nail-biting as there were humid days and rain at the end of the month with some disease pressure but also many dry, sunny days. As one producer wryly noted: ‘you needed to be in the vineyard during September, not on the beach.’
If September was variable, the grapes still used the time wisely and packed on physiological maturity, even if sugars did not (thankfully) continue to accumulate at breakneck speed. The harvest started in early October – late by recent standards but a welcome return to the days of yore and the wines reflect this traditional mould.
There is wonderful purity of fruit with clearly defined red and black notes of cherry and plum supported by fresh earth, cold tea, tomato leaf and exotic spice including sandalwood and anise.
The tannins are fine and (hopefully) derived from the skins rather than from the timber merchant. The acidity is fresh and these wines have the potential to be very fine indeed. Much has been made of Brunello’s legendary ability to age – I’ve never been convinced apart from a few estates. What I am sure of, however, is that Brunello (like Nebbiolo) has no need for small and/or new oak and a deft vintage such as 2019 rams that point home like no other. Having tasted more
than 70 Brunelli from 2019 it is clear that producers who persist in ageing their wines in barrique or in tonneaux really are robbing these wines of the ethereal perfume that can elevate this DOCG."