Col d'Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio al Vento 2001 (Palm Bay International, $160): I don't drink Brunello di Montalcino on a regular basis (who does?) and therefore I sometimes forget how much I love this wine. Thirty-plus years ago, a Brunello was the first great wine that I ever experienced -- my "Aha!" wine, as Oprah might put it -- and my admiration for Brunello has grown ever since. Tonight I am fortunate enough to be swirling in my glass a terrific Brunello from a top producer in an excellent vintage.
A seven year old Brunello Riserva should by all rights be a baby, too young to enjoy. But Col d'Orcia's Riserva Poggio al Vento is approachable and delicious, a powerful wine that is nonetheless soft and ample and fills the mouth with ripe rather than aggressive tannin. The reason has to do with the production area as well as the wine's traditional winemaking technique.
Although small, the Montalcino vineyard zone varies in altitude, climatic influences and soil types, and wines from different parts of the area exhibit different traits. Col d'Orcia's estate is in the southern part of the DOCG zone, where the vineyards experience a maritime influence, and the wines are generally richer in flavor and riper in tannin. Unusually for this area, however, this particular vineyard sits at an altitude of more than 1,100 feet. As a result, this wine combines relative softness and approachability with a subtle backbone of firm acidity. In terms of winemaking, the wine aged for 50 to 52 months in French and Slavonian oak, but not barriques; the casks, averaging 10 years of age, are 25 hectoliters in size (equivalent to 10 barriques) for the first two years of aging, and 75 hl for the next two. Oak tannin and any flavor of oak in the wine are negligible.
The wine's aroma, medium-plus in intensity, suggests ripe, dark fruits such as black cherry and plum. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied and ample with soft tannins, barely perceptible acidity and rich flavors of ripe dark fruits, with a hint of minerality. Only on the very rear of the palate do fine-grained oak tannins emerge. But the wine does not lack structure: try it in a glass with a relatively narrow bowl, and you can sense the tautness and concentration that lies within.
The 2001 vintage was a great one for Brunello di Montalcino. Along with 2004, it is one of the two greatest of the past ten years, despite the five-star rating that the Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino gave to the precocious 1997 vintage (compared to four stars for the 2001). Yields were low because of a frost in mid-April; this particular wine came in at only about 1.6 tons to the acre.
As approachable as this wine is, it will age well for ten years or longer. Brunellos are typically long-living wines, and although they are becoming more approachable in style, a great vintage such as 2001 should go the distance. At a tasting I attended three years ago in Montalcino, an official of the Consorzio remarked that the 2001s will age thirty years. 'If they don't, we have done something wrong,' he said.