Brunello 2012s – A Taste from Mastrojanni

Mastrojanni and glassThis week we’re featuring our first (but not last!) 2012 Brunello: the 2012 Brunello from Mastrojanni, a relatively new winery that’s on a roll (this Brunello earned 94 points from the Wine Advocate).

Some are saying that the 2012 Brunellos are a cross between 2006 (but with less tannin) and 2008 (but with more body and fruit). Others offer even higher praise, comparing their 2012s to the monumental 2004s (if, perhaps, with a tad less concentration).

A bit of history about Mastrojanni:

From Brunello Tradition…
Mastrojanni vineyardMastrojanni is a gem of an estate for wine lovers, both because the quality is outstanding and because the market hasn’t fully caught on to just how fine the wines have become. The estate was created in 1975 when Gabriele Mastrojanni purchased the San Pio and Loreto estates in the southeastern portion of Montalcino’s Brunello zone.

Gravel rich clay soils over limestone bedrock and a climate moderated by nearby mount Amiata, an extinguished volcano, made this perfect Sangiovese Grosso country. But Mastrojanni also planted a little Cabernet Sauvignon in the San Pio vineyards to see what it could do.

In 1992, Andrea Machetti joined as Managing Director, a position he continues to hold today. Under Machetti’s guidance the Mastrojanni wines improved substantially and by the 2007 and 2008 vintages was recognized as a fast-improving estate in the “traditional” (i.e., limited new oak) style.

…To “Glorious”
Andrea Machetti of MastrojanniIn 2008, following the death of the founders’ son, Mastrojanni was purchased by Francesco and Riccardo Illy of Italy’s leading coffee company.

What they did next was simply brilliant: very little. They essentially asked Andrea Machetti what he needed to make better wine and then did that and little else. The vineyards needed little work – the sites were excellent, they had been planted to high-density from the beginning, and were coming into full maturity.

The winery, however, had lagged behind. So the Illy’s invested in better sorting tables – all grapes at Mastrojanni are sorted twice to ensure only the best fruit makes it into the fermenters – built a winery that allowed more gentle handling of the fruit and wine, and allowed Machetti to swap out some tired old barrels for newer, large, casks.

The style of the Brunello remained unchanged – a “traditional” approach that emphasizes Montalcino’s ripe fruit and power without obvious oaky notes or over extraction. And, they allowed Machetti to further improve the San Pio Cabernet blend, first made in 1997.

“On a Roll”
As Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner says, today “Mastrojanni is on a roll. This extraordinary estate has been enjoying the spotlight lately and very much deserves the attention. I’m adding my name to a long list of their fans.” Commenting on last year’s releases, she adds:

“Mastrojanni is an estate that is living a true moment of glory. The new winery has been up and running for a number of years, the best vineyard sites are in their prime production years and a slew of interesting additions (such as a charming on-site country hotel) are about to go online. The Illy family (of the famed coffee house) bought the property in 2008 and made a series of important investments. The cellars were completely renewed. Managing Director Andrea Machetti stayed on during the many years of transition and his role has been crucial to the continuity and the improvements made at Mastrojanni since the Illy ownership commenced.”

This stunning 94 point Brunello di Montalcino shows how Mastrojanni’s progress plus a truly outstanding vintage combine to create a simply stunning Brunello. Don’t miss it!



Rosso di Montalcino – More Than “Baby Brunello”

As Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner says, “Rosso di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most food-friendly wines (think pasta, grilled sausage and lasagna).” Like its big brother, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso is made entirely from Sangiovese Grosso – the larger berried clone of Chianti’s Sangiovese that seems to thrive only on the rolling hills of Montalcino. But, unlike Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino is supposed to be … fun!

Brunello is intended to be a “serious” wine. When Biondi Santi first labeled Sangiovese from Montalcino “Brunello” in 1888, it was for their best wine from a great vintage. And, so it continued for years, with Biondi Santi only releasing new Brunello in 1891, 1925 and 1945. As “Brunello” became an annual event and more producers joined the party, everyone agreed to keep things serious. Only the most ripe, powerful, and intense wines qualified or could withstand the mandatory four years of cellar time before release – especially before 1998 when the wine had to stay in cask for a full 42 months.

When the Rosso di Montalcino designation was created in 1984, the objective was to let new Brunello producers (they were multiplying furiously by then) generate a little cashflow by selling at least some Montalcino wine a year after harvest. The first Rossos were a mixture of wine from younger vines and casks that didn’t make the cut for the “big boy” Brunello.

But, over the years, the best Brunello producers have come to see Rosso as its own distinct style of wine. The best Rossos retain many of the flavors of Brunello – dark cherry, wood spice, leather, and violets – but in a more fresh, vivid, and approachable style. Eric Asimov captured the whole point of Rosso di Montalcino in the introduction to his 2011 Rosso tasting:

“Here sat the wine panel, having tasted 20 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino, reveling in the unmistakable earthy, dusty flavors of pure sangiovese. With their winsomely bitter, citrus-tinged cherry flavors, these wines were soulful and elemental, like good trattoria food. They wanted less talking and more drinking.”

What Will You Taste? I’ve been drinking wines made by Andrea Cortonesi for years, and one of the many things I appreciate by the man who is often called “a master of Montalcino” is how his Rosso does just what Rosso is supposed to do.

Certainly, you’ll find echoes of Cortonesi’s two Brunellos in this pair of 2013 Rossos. The Uccelliera – from heavy soils in Montalcino’s south – emphasizes breadth, power, muscular tannins, and dark, intense, fruit. In contrast, the Voliero – from sandier soils in the northern part of the zone – delivers more perfume, more elegance, and a lovely floral spice not often found in powerhouse Sangiovese.

But I love that neither wine is trying to be Brunello. They both have the right touch of wood to match their open, pure textures and a level of extraction and tannin that invite drinking young with delicious, fresh foods. You can enjoy either right now, although both will get better over the next few years (and Uccelliera benefits from a decant today). And both cost about half what you’d expect to pay for even an average Brunello.

A Look at the Ratings. One last note, this time about ratings. We’ve come to admire and respect the experience and critical faculty for Italian wines of both Antonio Galloni (formerly of Wine Advocate, now with his own Vinous publication) and Monica Larner (formerly of Wine Enthusiast, now Wine Advocate). And, to quote Galloni, both are most valuable when you look beyond their ratings:

“Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in the value of ratings. In a perfect world, a score neatly summarizes everything that is contained within a review. But a number can never give you context, or tell you important things about a wine, how it was made, and, most importantly of all, if you will like it. I believe it is time for us – all of us – to start giving a little more importance to words. The keys to understanding these wines lie in the producer commentaries and tasting notes more than it does in the scores alone.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous, February 2015

In this case, we suggest you look beyond both the ratings and the words when evaluating Monica Larner’s review of Uccelliera Rosso 2013. I’ve tasted this wine – as you can on Friday and Saturday – and I can’t find the “brimstone and pencil shavings” notes she cites first or the “easy tannins” she finds at the end. What I taste and smell is a rich, ripe wine, with powerful tannins that really want a little time to mellow. Perhaps her sample bottle was shocked or off somehow? We’ll be interested in hearing your comments when you come by to try the wine this weekend!