A Brunello di Montalcino worthy of its rank | AspenTimes.com

A Brunello di Montalcino worthy of its rank

Kelly J. Hayes

I admit it, I am influenced by the Wine Spectator. That is not a very cool thing to say as a wine scribe. While just about everyone in the wine industry is aware of, and affected in some way, by the nation’s largest and most established wine journal, it is much cooler to deride it as either too mainstream or too highbrow, or both.

The fact is, I watch Monday Night Football and I fly United Airlines despite the fact that they are both far from perfect. But on occasion they serve their purpose ofshowing me a game I need to see (between celebrityinterviews) and getting me to where I need to go (frequently with great delay). The Spectator, in its own way, does the same with wine.

But enough of the rant. The point is that, in 2006, Wine Spectator, in its infinite wisdom, selected the Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2001 as its wine of the year. Obviously I have not tasted all of the other wines considered, but I am willing to bet this is one theygot right.

Each year the editors of the Spectator review an incredible number of new releases in blind tastings. Last year, they say the number was 13,500, or a little more than 35 wines each and every day. Each wine is assigned a numericalrating, with nearly 3,000 of the wines getting the golden90-plus point rating that can earn them near-guaranteed shelf space in your local wine shop. At the end of the year, the editors of the magazine cull the 3,000 wines further using quality (the scores), value, availability and what they call their X-factor, the excitement factor.

After all that, they selected the Casanova di NeriBrunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2001, a wine from an extraordinary vintage made by a winemaker with a heritage, from a grape that has as much buzz as any in today’s wine world.

Brunello di Montalcino is made from a clone ofSangiovese grapes called Sangiovese Grosso, or “little dark one.” They are grown in Tuscany in a sun-soaked, piping-hot region southwest of Florence on slopes that surround the hilltop town of Montalcino. Brunello di Montalcino(pronounced Brew-NELL-oh dee mawn-tahl-CHEE-know) has in the last 40 years become one of the “hot” grapes for wine connoisseurs and collectors, in part because it ages so well and because the style emphasizes the concentrated big, bold attributes of the grape.

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Giacomo Neri has become one of Montalcino’s most revered winemakers. His father bought property in the region in the early 1970s when Giacomo was in his early teens, and since that time his life’s work has been the cultivation of Sangiovese grapes. His philosophy is that a wine is made in the vineyard and that small, carefully selected yields make the finest wines. This wine comes from two small vineyards near the family’s “farm,” a phrase many winemakers in the region use to describe their vineyards because, in their eyes to this day, they are farmers first.

I first tasted this wine last summer in Montalcino and it was a heady experience. A believer that, for whatever reason, a wine always tastes better in the region of its origin, I was consumed by the summer heat and haze, the views over the surrounding Tuscan countryside and the dark liquid in the glass. The wine is brusk and earthy, but elegant, starting with a big burst of dark fruit and finishing silky and smooth.

My next acquaintance with it came here in town at Specialty Foods of Aspen, where Marco had managed to obtain some of the sought-after juice. There is still some of the Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova available for sale at Specialty Foods at the not so regal price of around $60 a bottle for the 2000 vintage. While not so acclaimed as the 2001, this wine will still render a sample of just how wonderful Brunello can be when made by a master.

Soon there will be a new issue of the Wine Spectator with a list of the 100 top bottles from 2007. They should be so lucky as to have a selection as tasty as their 2006 No. 1.Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designatedappellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.