If one thing that stood out at the Benvenuto Brunello annual tasting on 20 and 21 February at Montalcino, it was the elegance and aging potential of the already 5-star designated vintage of 2004 which makes it a collectible wine for any wine connoisseur.
I tasted over 100 Brunellos at the sommelier-serviced individual tasting and also with the producers present at the annual event last weekend. About 80% wines tasted merited 4-stars with the rest equally sharing the 4+ rating at the upper end with the lower end that touched 3.0. Majority of wines have just started to become drinkable subject to some breathing and have the potential of being ready during the next 3-5 years with a possible life of 20 years or more.
A life of 15 years is not uncommon for Brunellos of most vintages with the exception of a few vintages like the 2002 and 2003 which might generally be in the range of 8-12 years. Of course, some producers like Biondi Santi could rightly claim a much longer longevity and factor it in the market price of the bottle.
Every January, the previous year's vintage is tasted by a panel of professionals including wine makers and specialists who give a star rating to the vintage, announced at this annual tasting event in the cold month of February. This rating is indicative of the average potential of that vintage, with 5 awarded stars being the maximum. Last Saturday, 4-star rating was announced for the 2008 vintage- same as 2003 and 2005 in recent times. Although 2006 and 2007 have been given 5 stars, these wines are resting and maturing in the barrels and tanks.
The 2004 vintage was released last month; by the Appellation laws, Brunello may be released in the 5th year after the harvest, on January 1. This implies that the 2005 will be released only in January 2010. Interestingly, India was the first country in the world ( the city of Mumbai to be specific, followed by Delhi) to taste 2003 last January when a select gathering attended a seminar conducted by Michele Shah, the well-known writer on Italian wines, on behalf of the Consorzio Brunello do Montalcino.
So where does one buy the collectible wine? Certainly not your local neighbourhood wine shop because the poor storage and the high taxes make it impossible to make these wines approachable there- pun intended. Although Banfi, Castel Giocondo, Pian Delle Vigne, Casanova di Neri, Greppone Mazzi, Col d'Orcia are present in India and Tenute Silvio Nardi is expected to be available soon, these super beauties will be available only in the 5-star restaurants where they are imported duty free and could possibly be cellared at the hotels, but who have not yet entered the regime of storing for a few years when the values may soar.
Duty- free shops at various airports, various enotecas in Italy or the specialist wine shops in the US and UK will start selling the 2004 vintage soon. With the global recessionary trends, the prices are expected to remain the same or possibly a little lower than the slightly controversial 2003 vintage. The consistent quality means that one could pick up practically any label and not be stuck with a lemon, though the more reputed producers always have an edge.
If our duty free shops in India were wine-friendly and offered a small selection of Brunello 2004 at $40- $50, it would be a great wine investment that would yield good dividends in the next 5-10 years for those who have a good cellar and otherwise have been there, done that. A typical purchase of 2 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino 2004 at the arrival lounge would be a no brainer and highly recommended.
So next time you fly out or your friends want to bring a wine gift you would cherish for years, think Brunello di Montalcino 2004.