In an impromptu show of excess, three friends dropped by 'for a glass of wine' after the kids went to bed. The 'glass' turned into a full-blown blinded tasting of Italy's greatest:
1998 Gaja "Sugarille" Brunello di Montalcino
1999 Castelgiocondo (Frescobaldi) Brunello di Montalcino
2001 Tignanello (Antinori)
Actually, this tasting was not so 'accidental'. I had a devious plan, which my friends were only too happy to indulge. First, I always wanted to taste a sangiovese-based Super Tuscan blind vs. a Brunello. Are the best grapes below the mountain really that inferior? My second objective in constructing this flight was to compare a lower-priced upstart (the Castelgiocondo) Brunello with high ratings vs. a more established great house (Gaja) with slightly lower. Two lesser objectives (clearing out my cellar and drinking some good wines) were also met.
For those of you who know the Tuscan greats, this was an all-star line up (i.e expensive, rare). Blinded, the wines were taken from my cellar and decanted 2 1/2 hours before the first sip, and we finished scoring nearly four hours after opening the bottles. These were three awesome wines, and I think the group had trouble rank ordering these wines - they were all winners. The group was also successful in picking out the Tig from the Brunellos, but the differences were much less than anticipated. Here are the results:
The group favourite was the 2001 Tignanello, one of Antinori's 'Super-Tuscan' wines. A blend dominated by Sangiovese (85%), with the remaining 15% being Cab Sauv and Cab Franc. The wine was a dark cherry red in the glass with some purple at the edge. Very aromatic, with haunting leathery tobacco notes, pepper, smoke and dark berry fruit. On the palate is was rustic and intense at the same time, with firm powerful tannins coming together in a very elegant and balanced wine. An extremely long finish (I lost count over a minute), this is a 'vin de garde' and should show even better in a few years (but it is not a crime to enjoy this now, after a good decant). My second choice...
The second choice of the group was 1998 Gaja Sugarille, but this was my favourite of the evening. Brunellos are 100% Sangiovese (the Sangiovese Grosso clone is used in Montalcino). It was also the most expensive wine of the evening, by a fairly wide margin, like most Gaja wines. A deep cherry red in the glass, the nose led off with kirsch, creme caramel and mint, but was rather silent for a few hours, opening much later than the others to show more classic leathery and spice undertones. On the palate it was luscious, with velvety tannins, chocolate and cherries, and a very long finish. Stunning, this old man of the flight actually needs a few years. This was a classic expression of a great Brunello.
While the 1999 Castelgiocondo was the third choice this evening, the gap between it and the other, pricier wines was rather small. Bright cherry red in the glass, of note was a very slight musty smell on the cork and the wine. Despite that, over the evening the wine still revealed beautiful floral notes, berries, almonds, vanilla, cooked fruit and a delicious meaty smell. On the palate the wine was extrememly soft and elegant, silky with powerful tannins. Full bodied with a never-ending finish, this would probably need a few more years of cellaring. I am amazed at how well it showed with that slight mustiness, and I look forward to retasting another. Also note that this wine was very comparable to the other two, but a fraction of the cost. Can I use Value and Brunello in the same sentence? While I am not publishing my score given the problem with the bottle, it was on par with the Tig, in my opinion.
1) A well made sangiovese-based Super Tuscan is a glorious thing, and the quality and style are similar to those of a well-made Brunello.
2) A better stored bottle of Castelgiocondo should be a stunning value.
3) Gaja is a god.