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Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2010–2019 – Three Vintages of the Century and Counting

The lastest 'vintage of the century', 2019, succeeds 2016, which succeeded 2010

Just a decade into the new century, Brunello di Montalcino had its first ‘vintage of the century’ in 2010. Within the next decade it had had two more, 2016 and 2019.

If, inevitably, there isn’t absolute consensus on the relative merits of the each vintage – some rank 2016 higher than 2019, some rank 2015 within a hair’s breadth of 2016 – there’s little room for doubt that these are outstanding years. And without pre-judging wines yet to be released, none of the vintages since 2019 has been hailed as a vintage of the century and none is likely to be.

To celebrate the international release of Poggio di Sotto’s 2019 Brunello, winemaker Leonardo Berti came to London at the end of February to host a tasting of eight vintages, bookended by 2010 and 2019.

These eight, he said, show the complete variety of climatic conditions the estate gets from year to year and the different approaches they take to viticulture and winemaking. The two vintages omitted were 2014, wet, cool and widely regarded as the weakest of the decade across the DOCG, and 2017, a year impacted by frost, heat and drought.

Although Leonardo Berti didn't join Poggio di Sotto until autumn 2016, he has had some input in all vintages back to 2013, which was then still in oak. Even the release of the 2012 (bottled in July 2016) came under his watch.

Since his arrival, oak ageing – always in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels – has been reduced from 42 months: to 36 months in 2019, and to 30 months in the cool, wet, late, but ultimately successful, 2018 vintage. Not that Poggio di Sotto has ever been a heavily wooded style of Brunello. From the start in 1989, when Piero Palmucci bought the estate, the emphasis has been on a wine that is an expression of pure Sangiovese grown in its particular, geologically rich terroir.

Time spent in Slavonian oak has been reduced under winemaker Leonardo Berti's watch

The 48-ha estate, of which 20 are vineyards, is certified organic and has been cultivated organically since 1989. The vines have an average age of 20–25 years and in a normal year yield about 25hl/ha. They lie at 200–400m asl on steep ridges, most with southwest exposure, at the foot of Monte Amiata in the prized Castelnuovo dell Abate subzone in the southeast of the DOCG. The lofty extinct volcano gives shelter the vineyards from maritime winds and also channels in cooling nocturnal air.

Diverse soils, including rocky soils rich in ferrous minerals and organic matter, white and gray clays, galestro (friable schistous clay) and loamier soils, are another asset, but perhaps Poggio di Sotto’s greatest distinction is the 182 native biotypes (clones) of Sangiovese from massal selections dating from the 1970s and ‘80s.

A four-hectare plot has been planted with every biotype, but when they replant vineyards today they don’t select clones; they plant randomly, as in Montalcino’s oldest vineyards.

The biotypes are so varied that Leonardo Berti says there can be a 2.5º potential alcohol difference between grapes in the same vineyard, which makes harvesting complicated. They often do two or three passages through the vineyards, always picking the largest grapes, which have the most fragile skins, first. With tartaric acid levels at 7–7.5g, they call this 'the acidity harvest'.

The extended picking means that total vinification, in oak and cement vats, lasts for a lengthy 50–55 days and it includes frequent, aerating pump-overs. The aim is to achieve uniform extraction of intense aromas and silky, structural tannins.

Aim achieved: these are exquisite Brunellos.


Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2010

A cool, wet spring and late budburst, but then steady, favourable weather through the summer culminating in a late, by current standards, but excellent harvest. 48 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, 8 months in bottle. 14% abv.

Fragrant, floral red fruit, incense and sandalwood aromas layered with mocha and cocoa on the palate. Silky texture, orange zest and fresh raspberry; intense yet elegant, aerial and long. Glorious and will be for more than a dozen years more. 96

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2011

Early budburst and an early harvest by the standards of the time, thanks to high temperatures, particularly in the second half of August, when there were also very strong winds, and in early September. There was a strict selection picking berry by berry in the vineyards and dropping about 45% of the crop. 42 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, bottled July 30, 2015. 14%.

Black, cherry-ish fruit, truffle and dark chocolate aromas, chestnut, forest floor and cedar on the palate – a combination of ripe dark fruit and more savoury flavours. Drier tannins and a chunkier, more foursquare structure than 2010. Drink over the next 4–5 years. 92

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2012

After an exceptionally cold first three months of the year, a hot, very dry growing season produced extremely low yields with high sugar levels. 42 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, bottled July 7, 2016. 13.5%.

Perfumed black fruit with a leafy accent. Dark chocolate interleaved with spice on the palate; a streak of acidity and tannins that are more elegant than in the 2011, but not as polished as the 2010 or later vintages. Drink over the next 5–6 years. 94

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2013

A warm but not hot year with good rainfall in winter, spring and the middle third of July, then dry weather and a latish harvest. 42 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, bottled August 9, 2017. 13.5%.

Fragrant with some of the floral lift of 2010. Intense, fresh, black fruit and cherry, with blood orange, cocoa, dried herbs and sandalwood. Concentrated and with notable but integrated acidity and fine-sand tannins. Drink over the next 12 years. 94+

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2015

Temperatures reached 40ºC in August but overall it was a medium-warm year with significant and beneficial diurnal swings in key periods. After cluster-thinning at the end of July, the harvest in the first half of September brought in very healthy, balanced grapes. 40 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, bottled May 13, 2019. 13.5%.

Lovely floral aromas, red cherry purity, depth and freshness. A touch of milk chocolate, gossamer texture, fine acidity and filigree tannins. Elegant, ethereal, complex. 96

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2016

Quite a challenging growing season, but one that ended very well with a harvest in the first half of September that was declared a ‘vintage of the century’. 40 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, bottled at the end of May 2020. 13.5%.

A rich, heady, expressive perfume of roses, cherries and red berries. Intense, sweet but fresh fruit; richness channelled by a long line of fine acidity and elegant, super-smooth tannins. Not ready, although already delicious. Drink from 2026–2040. 96

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2018

Except for a heat spike in late July and early August, it was a cool, rainy year frequently threatened by fungal attack. On the night of 16 August there was record rainfall and from 16–19 August fog, too, which is almost unknown. They lost 55% of the crop. Grape selection was done first in the vineyard, then on the vibrating table in the cellar and finally after destemming. 30 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak barrels, bottled in November 2021. 14%.

After such a roller-coaster year, the resulting wine is all the more astonishing. Less expressive on the nose than 2016, but intense, raspberry and cherry fruit, sweet spice and orange on the palate, with streamlined acidity, chalk-dust fine tannins and an aerial and textural quality reminiscent of the 2010. Drinkable now – extraordinary! – and should still be drinking well in 2040, even if it closes up for a period in between. 96

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2019

Released in January and described at the end of February by Leonardo Berti as, “Very, very young and raw. Not ready to drink, but an important vintage – the vintage of the century for quality and quantity.” Volumes were 10–20% above average and the grapes were very healthy. Aged for 36 months in 30-hl Slavonian oak and bottled in May 2023, 18 months after the 2018. 14%.

Rich, juicy black-plum aromas, with a cardamom spicy note and mineral freshness. Generous, full and fleshy with lush fruit, lively acidity and a fretwork of smooth, chalk-dust tannins. Long and with layers still to unfurl. Great potential. Drink from 2027–2039. 96

Photographs by Joanna Simon


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