FABs for FOPs # 2 /10 : Vintage Evaluation

by Laura Gray on January 13, 2010

The vintage tiles on the Comune Vecchio

The vintage tiles on the Comune Vecchio

Every vintage of Brunello receives a star rating out of five, ranging from insufficient (one star) to exceptional (five stars). The vintage evaluation takes place in the January following harvest. All producers are invited to submit their latest wine for lab analysis. 20 trained technicians taste the wine and vote on the vintage’s star rating. This is kept under wraps until Benvenuto Brunello, the official launch of the new wines hitting the market (in 2010, 2005 and 2004 Riserva) which takes place at the end of February. Since 1992  a celebrity of sorts (artists, designers, Olympic gold medallists…) is selected to secretly design a tile commemorating the vintage. During BB there is an official ceremony whereby the identity of the celebrity is revealed, their tile is cemented into the wall of the town hall and the last vintage (2009) is officially given its rating. For both the tiles and the stars: http://www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it/en/the-wines/vintage-quality-evaluation.html. The vintage evaluation is a useful guide for consumers although it can be a curse for sales since often the vintage evaluation is used as a short cut to cherry-pick the “best” i.e. 5 star vintages.

Take 2002; a terribly wet year, with vineyards like rice paddies, excessive acidity, poor ripening and sugar levels, green tannins and mould. 2002 was rated as one of just 2 two-star vintages in the last 20 years and rightly so since it was a challenge for the whole Montalcino territory. Some top producers even skipped Brunello production in this vintage.

2002s generally have a shorter cellar life, a lighter structure and a more interesting price point, although for a producer, making a good wine in a difficult vintage is infinitely more expensive than doing the same in a great year since it involves increasing selection procedures in the vineyard and making less bottles. This actually means that a 2002 from a reliable estate can be a perfect ramp into the Brunello world, requiring less cellaring and showing its best earlier…

In no way would I personally avoid a 2002 right now, in fact, right now a 2002 would be infinitely preferable to the infanticide of drinking a 2004. In fact I might just slip down into the cellar to revisit the hickory smoke and citrus peel notes of our 2002 while I contemplate the order of the next 8 episodes of this series.

The Weather Rule (Fabs for Fops #1) means that there are peaks and troughs – 1997s and 2002s…  The “petit vendages” as the French so kindly put it, do not necessarily mean worse wines, but in the best scenario, they generate Brunellos that can be enjoyed earlier with a clear conscience.

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