Ian D’Agata: “there is no better Brunello di Montalcino than Il Poggione”

My father and I have just received the following tasting notes from Mr. Ian D'Agata from the International Wine Cellar who has tasted and annotated a vertical flight of our wines stretching back to the 1955. We are very happy to share his impressions with you. 


Vertical Tasting of Il Poggione's Brunello di Montalcino

Ian D'Agata

In many respects, there is no better Brunello di Montalcino than Il Poggione. This statement may surprise some, but given the stellar level of quality here, the impressive quantity of wine made (now 200,000 bottles a year of the Brunello normale alone!), the wine's track record for ageability, and the pristine reputation of the estate, it is logical enough. It's one thing to make 5,000 bottles a year of a top-quality wine, but quite another to make a couple hundred thousand. Moreover, Il Poggione's reputation has never been soiled by rumors of using other grape varieties to make what is supposedly a 100% sangiovese wine.

This is also one of the oldest estates of Montalcino, an area where Brunello has only been produced recently, at least by the standards of the world's great wines. Brunello was essentially created by Clemente Santi in the 19th century, when he isolated what he believed to be a special clone of sangiovese, and by his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi (the son of Clemente's daughter Caterina and Jacopo Biondi) who is generally credited with perfecting Brunello in the 1870s. In fact, Il Poggione is one of the earliest Brunello producers. In 1890, Lavinio Franceschi travelled from Florence to S. Angelo in Colle, a small village in the Montalcino production zone, and so fell in love with the area that he bought the estate. At the Siena wine exposition of 1933, Franceschi's Brunello (not yet called Il Poggione) was one of only four Brunellos being produced at that time. 

In 1958, Lavinio Franceschi's sons Leopoldo and Stefano divided up the large property into two and thus the modern-day estates of Il Poggione and Col d'Orcia were born. Leopoldo loved agriculture and took work in the vineyards seriously, so much so that the large Italian nursery of Rauscedo selected his sangiovese for propagation and has since sold it all over the world. Initially there were only 40 hectares planted to Brunello, then another ten were added in 1975. Today there are 125 hectares of Brunello under vine from which the Brunellonormale is made, with a single vineyard called I Paganelli serving as the source of roughly 30,000 bottles of year of stellar Brunello riserva. The Riserva Vigneto I Paganelli was first made in 1995, although the designation I Paganelli does not appear on the label until vintage 2003; all riserva bottlings prior to the 1995 vintage represented blends of the best grapes and lots grown all over the estate.

Another important advantage enjoyed by Il Poggione is that its vineyards are situated in the area of Sant'Angelo in Colle, located southwest of the town of Montalcino. Insiders know that the Sant'Angelo in Colle subzone is not just one of the highest-quality areas for sangiovese in all of Montalcino, but also where Brunellos with the greatest balance and breed are made. The microclimate here is warmer than that of Montalcino and the northern side of the hill but not quite as hot as that of Castelnuovo dell'Abate. (The northern side of the Montalcino hill can yield lean wines in cooler vintages, while Castelnuovo dell'Abate may actually get too hot in some years to produce truly refined wines.)

Interestingly, in the 1990s Il Poggione began planting its new sangiovese vines at higher altitude, roughly at 400 meters above sea level. Before that, most sangiovese was planted at around 250 meters in an effort to benefit from slightly warmer temperatures. Another characteristic worth mentioning about Il Poggione is that it has always benefited from the contributions of some of the most enlightened wine figures in Italy. Cellarmaster Pierluigi Talenti, a highly respected viticultural expert and an extremely talented winemaker who was with the estate from 1959, was intimately linked with many of the great wines made at Il Poggione. Today, Fabrizio Bindocci runs the show with equal aptitude and passion, helped by son Alessandro. Bindocci took over from Talenti in 1976 and the estate has never been in better shape.

The wines in this vertical are a mix of riserva and normale bottlings. (Unfortunately, analytical data was not available for the older vintages.) The tasting was conducted in Rome in February 2010 and again in March 2011, with more vintages from the '80s and '90s tasted at the second event to give IWC readers more information on wines they are more likely to hold in their cellars. As always with these vertical tastings, when it comes to older wines not all bottles will prove as wonderful as those I report on here, as oxidation and cork issues are always a possibility. For instance, I have recently had some 1999 and 1995 Riserva wines that were hopelessly oxidized.

Il Poggione

2001 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2001 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva I Paganelli (14.9% alcohol; 5.93 g/l total acidity, 32.1 g/l dry extract): Deep red-ruby. Captivating aromas of redcurrant, violet and marzipan complicated by balsamic and woodsy notes. Very dense but also vibrant and juicy, featuring nicely focused, rich flavors of raspberry, strawberry and licorice. Solid harmonious acidity gives a refreshing quality and impeccable balance to what is essentially a big, broad wine. The complex, very persistent finish shows very silky tannins. One of the best Brunellos of all in 2001, a truly great year for these wines that was characterized by greatly reduced yields due to a late spring frost followed by near-ideal growing conditions thereafter. 96(+?)

1999 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva (15% alcohol; 6.18 g/l total acidity, 32.6 g/l dry extract): Bright, dark red. Flamboyant aromas of red cherry, dark berries, plum, chestnut and game. Sweet in the mouth, with densely packed, superripe flavors of red cherry, smoky plum, licorice and milk chocolate. A concentrated, powerful wine, boasting impressive youthful energy thanks to firm, lively acidity. Finishes very long, but can't quite match the overall balance and grace of the 2001. Another outstanding vintage in Tuscany, 1999 was very warm but with well-timed rains, and, above all, cooler nights and less heat than the vastly overrated 1997 vintage. 93

1995 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva (14.1% alcohol; 5.63 g/l total acidity, 28.4 g/l dry extract): Lively bright red. Racy aromas of blueberry, red cherry, minerals and mint on the rich, complex nose. Rich, weighty and chewy in the mouth, showing precise flavors of red and dark berries and minerals complicated by hints of underbrush. Finishes smooth and extremely persistent, with lingering mineral nuances. This is a simply superb sangiovese, and I was surprised by its huge, almost brooding nature, given that the vintage is not known for wines in the same blockbuster mold as 1990 or 2001. This still needs at least another ten years in the cellar to show all it's got. The 1995 vintage was characterized by a warm summer (at times very hot), but rain began falling in August and continued off and on right up to the harvest. The resulting wines do not have any of the superripe warm-weather personality of vintages such as 1990 or 1997. 94+

1993 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva (13.8% alcohol; 5.70 g/l total acidity, 28.8 g/l dry extract): Bright medium red-garnet. Musky aromas of red cherry, earth and game, with exotic notes of blood orange and cumin emerging with air. Sweet and supple on entry, offering flavors of red cherry, blackberry, quinine and tobacco. Then turns tighter and more vinous on the back, finishing with mounting acidity and substantial but smooth tannins. With its precise aromas and flavors of mature sangiovese, this stylish, very clean lacks only the complexity of the best vintages. 91

1988 Brunello Di Montalcino Bright full red. Pure, mineral-driven aromas of red cherry, redcurrant and violet are very typical of the S. Angelo in Colle subzone of Montalcino. Plush and silky in texture, showing impressive depth and power to its red cherry and red berry flavors complicated by hints of underbrush, spicy oak and sweet pipe tobacco. Lovely balancing acidity gives this wine a nicely delineated mouthfeel and extends the flavors on the complex, rich, extremely long finish. A strong raspberry quality lingers on the chewy, tannic yet smoothly rich palate. A simply outstanding example of how great sangiovese can be when grown by scrupulous producers with vineyards in sites suited to it. This is mesmerizingly good Brunello, and it's not even a Riserva. It still needs at least another five years in the cellar for its tannins to resolve fully. 95

1985 Brunello Di Montalcino Bright garnet-red. Musky aromas of ripe red cherry, underbrush, sweet spices and tobacco are lifted by an exotic floral element. At once plump and juicy, but with an impressive delicacy to the rich, tactile red fruit and underbrush flavors. Finishes long and creamy, with very good balance and length. Another very good entry-level Brunello, and one that looks, tastes and smells of sangiovese. This was an exceptional vintage characterized by dry, hot weather overall but with just the right amount of timely rainfall. 92

1982 Brunello Di Montalcino Amber-tinged red. Light red berry and plum aromas along with riper coffee and tobacco nuances. The palate offers intense but firm-edged strawberry, iron and mineral flavors, but the high but reasonably well-buffered acidity left me wishing for a bit more sweetness and pliancy. Finishes brisk and concentrated, with notable length for an entry-level wine. The very fine 1982 vintage yielded many fat, opulent Brunellos, some of which lack a little perfume and elegance. Incidentally, Il Poggione's riserva bottling is even better and more concentrated than this normale. 91

1980 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Garnet-, almost brick-red. Slightly oxidized aromas hint at red licorice, superripe red cherry, strawberry jam, iron and tar. Enters smooth and fresh, with high acidity nicely framing red berry, mineral and toffee flavors. The finish is smooth but only moderately long and this wine lacks the intensity and complexity I look for in a Riserva. It's fair to say that 1980 was originally overrated by almost everyone in Montalcino: most of the wines have not turned out as well as early tasters predicted they would. 87?

1975 Brunello Di Montalcino Amazingly bright, dark red with only a hint of garnet at the rim. Profound, complex, exhilarating aromas of superipe red cherry, marzipan, cinnamon and sweet pipe tobacco. A great deal more plush and silky in texture than the 1970, boasting red cherry, sweet spice and almond flavors of uncommon energy and vibrancy. The smooth finish lasts for minutes: you won't want to put the glass down. With its great depth and power, this entry-level is a thrilling wine. 98

1970 Brunello Di Montalcino Bright red with a hint of garnet. Intensely mineral nose also hints at pomegranate, redcurrant and faded violet. Spicier and less sweet on entry than the 1975, this seems rather light in weight and gently textured at first, but there is sneaky concentration to the pure, mineral-driven red berry and mint flavors. Finishes very long and slightly austere, but with beautiful precision to its varietally typical flavors; this is not unlike a smaller version of the 1982 Riserva. Those who especially prize wines with grace and refinement will be blown away by this one. 95

1969 Brunello Di Montalcino Red center, with a paler garnet rim. Perfumed nose hints at strawberry jelly and underbrush. Tangy and penetrating in the mouth, with laser-like precision to the red berry and underbrush flavors. This medium-bodied wine conveys impressive delicacy and perfume on the rather long, high-acid finish. A very successful wine from what is generally regarded as a poor vintage. 91

1966 Brunello Di Montalcino Bright brick-tinged red. Strawberry, earth and herbal notes on the perfumed nose, complicated by dried flowers and cardamom. Dense and focused, with utterly pure, mineral-driven flavors of red cherry, red berries, sweet spices and dried herbs. There's a tangy, refreshing quality on the long, clean finish that is less creamy and more direct than some other vintages of Il Poggione. Another outstanding wine that is holding up beautifully, seemingly with decades of life ahead–and particularly amazing as it's from what is generally considered to be a lackluster vintage. 96

1965 Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Garnet-red. Lively aromas of red cherry, red plum, tea leaf and mint. Big and broad, with concentrated, deep, strikingly pure flavors of red cherry, dried redcurrant, orange zest and marzipan. This put on considerable weight in the glass and displayed seductive floral tones on the amazingly long, smooth finish. Another impeccably balanced wine that is aging splendidly and has years of life ahead of it. This is the last vintage in which Il Poggione used chestnut barrels to age its wine. Another great performance from an unheralded vintage. 97

1955 Brunello Di Montalcino Lively brick-red color. Complex nose melds raspberry, minerals, nutty oak, mint, tobacco and some enticing floral high tones. Suave on entry, then fresh and alive in the middle palate, with noteworthy intensity to the flavors of superripe red cherry, raspberry jam, marzipan and licorice. This seems a lot more fat and lush than some of the other great vintages of Brunello by Il Poggione yet shows even more definition and mineral lift to its spicy red fruit flavors,. The raspberry element veers toward liqueur-like but with no loss of cut or clarity on the extremely persistent, smooth, creamy finish, which shows just a trace of warmth and building tannins. Still, this is one of the best wines I've ever tasted. 98


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