Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage report
Author: Davy Żyw
This is a vintage that “no Brunello collector should be without”, says Davy Żyw. Here, our Italy Buyer examines the growing season and gives his verdict on the wines – the best of which reflect both their terroir and the people that made them.
Brunello di Montalcino 2017 is a vintage which showcases the resilience of great terroir and offers us something very different from previous releases. We are in Tuscany, a region well used to hot summers. But the 2017 vintage presented new challenges for the producers and vines in Montalcino.
THE GROWING SEASON
The growing season was warm, but the defining character was the lack of rain. This dried some vineyards out completely, but the best sites encouraged vine roots to dig deep to find cooler temperatures and water. Many producers reported making between 10% and 50% less Brunello than in a normal year; yields were naturally reduced, but grape selection was also key. Growers had to use their full viticultural toolkit to retain freshness and beauty in the wines. The best of the ’17s combine the strength and detail of terroir, and the careful hand of the enologo.
The growing season started with a mild winter and an early spring punctuated by April frosts. The summer was hot and very dry, yielding small, concentrated berries with thick skins. Some producers in the hotter sites in Castelnuovo dell’Abate chose to pick at the end of August to avoid over-maturity, but fortune favoured the bold: temperatures eased at the beginning of September, bringing light rains and cool nights. This extended the harvest to a normal timeframe into October, slowing Sangiovese maturity and preserving acidity. The most successful wines of the vintage strike a rare balance between opulence and freshness.
The challenge of ’17 is not solely about the climatic conditions; the release was always going to be in the long shadow of the monumental ’16 vintage. The Riserva category for Brunello reaches new heights in quality and demand with the greatly anticipated ’16s – though we will need to exercise patience to wait for them to reveal their true potential.
In the meantime, the ’17s offer us “drinkability from the beginning,” as Fabian Schwarz at La Màgia puts it. It is a vintage which aptly demonstrates the importance of following the producer, rather than the vintage headline, as we are accustomed to doing in other more established fine-wine regions. There is less uniform quality across the region in ’17, without the hallmarks of a classically great vintage. But in modern climates we may need to redefine what “classical greatness” is, as many estates produced magnificent wines.
This is a vintage with intense charm: bold on the nose and fleshy and flamboyant on the palate. The wines will need little time to show their best. No Brunello collector should be without the ’17 vintage; the best wines will cellar for decades, and many will purely give joy as we wait for the ’16 Riservas to reach their peak.