Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tasting top-rated 2010 Brunello di Montalcinos with Antonio Galloni at NYCs Lincoln Ristorante

The Pope was in town. As was every Head of State of every Banana Republic on the planet. This was Papal visit and General Assembly week all rolled into one so a number of crosstown streets were closed in sections to facilitate security (and annoy the hell out of those of us who were otherwise occupied). And it was raining so traffic was doubly bedeviled. These were the conditions I faced as I tried to make my way into the city from Queens in order to attend the Antonio Galloni 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Tasting Dinner held in the East Dining Room of New York's Lincoln Ristorante. I have previously provided an overview of the region, vintage, and wines on which the tasting is focused.  In this post I detail the event.

The design of the event called for a 30-minute cocktail period, beginning at 6:30 pm, to be followed by a sit-down dinner built around four flights of the Brunellos, each flight accompanied by one of Chef Benno's heralded creations. Because of the conditions described above, I got to the event almost at the conclusion of the cocktail period. I had just been poured a glass of the NV Jacquesson et Fils Cuvée No. 738 when the call to take our seats was issued.

The seating order was not readily apparent but we eventually sorted ourselves out and took our respective seats. Antonio then stepped to the center of the room to welcome us and set our expectations for the evening.

According to Antonio, the great weather experienced in Montalcino in 2010 resulted in a magical vintage which was characterized by a dark, translucent color in the wines. The wines being tasted were all 100% Sangiovese Grosso and, Antonio said, were the creme de la creme of the 235 Brunello bottlers (As he said this I could not help but think that two of my favorites -- Poggio di Soto and Soldera -- were nowhere to be found.). Most of the wines we were tasting had been released in January but there were a few that were going to be tasted for the first time in the US.

I had not met Antonio previously and was very impressed with the easy confidence of his demeanor and speaking style. He thanked us again for coming and signaled the start of the evening's raison d'être.

Flight 1
The evening's first flight was comprised of the Costanti and Siro Pacenti 2010 Brunello di Montalcinos and the 2010 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. This flight was accompanied by a course called Verdure Arrosto whose components were Beets, Mixed Cauliflower, Romanesco, Artichokes, Sunchokes, Carrots, and Young Fennel.

The Costanti is a traditionally made Brunello in that it is aged in large barrels. This wine presented bright red fruit, cedar, and cigar box and was fine-boned with a hint of stemminess. Antonio, in his summation at the end of the flight, described it as an elegant, perfumed red with cherry, cedar, and tobacco notes. He saw it as elegant and light with the potential to age for decades.

According to Antonio, this vintage of the Siro Pacenti included fruit from both the north and south of Montalcino and was aged in French oak. The consultant to the winery is Eric Boissenot, the very-well-regarded Bordeaux oenologist. The over-riding impression on this wine was oak, oak which served to mask most of the wine's underlying characteristics.

The Stella di Campalto presented lush, ripe fruit with notes of cigar and cedar. Galloni indicated that the fruit was from the south of Montalcino and described the wine as artisan. He admitted that this was a bigger, riper wine but felt that was fine given the winemaker's style -- a style he referred to as Barolo-like. This was the most "ready-to-drink" of the wines on offer.

For my money, the Costanti was the wine of the flight.

Verdure Arrosta

Antonio Galloni discussing the first flight at his
2010 Brunello di Montalcino tasting dinner

Flight 2
The second flight included wines from Casanova di Neri (Tenuta Nuova), Il Poggione, and Biondi-Santi. This flight was accompanied by an Agnolotti di Polenta Con Ragu di Maiale the components of which were Wild Boar Ragu, Porcini, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The fruit for the Casanova di Neri was sourced form the south of Montalcino and the modern chops of the wine are indicated by its French oak aging. I found it to be jammy. Antonio said this was a good example of a modern style from the south.

The Il Poggione was traditionally made and, again according to Antonio, is the single wine that offers the highest value for money in Montalcino and brings together a lot of things that are characteristic of Italy.

The Biondi-Santi was the best of this flight though. It was uber classic. The winery had lost its direction somewhat in the past but the 2010 was the essence of "classicism." Antonio is more worried about the estate's future, however, than its past given the recent changes that it has undergone.

Agnolotti di Polenta Con Ragu di Maiale

Flight 3
Flight three included the Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona, Salicutti, and Pian dell'Orino Vigne del Versante Amiata (As of the tasting date, the latter two had not been released to market.) accompanied by a Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (Sirloin and Tenderloin of Prime Beef, Green Market Tomatoes, Corn, Roasted Potato Torta, Arugula, and Aceto Balsamico).

The Ciacci was a prototypical modern style with the oak too prevalent for my liking. Creaminess and exuberance, generosity, radiance, and intensity of fruit according to Antoinio. More mid-palate intensity than for the Casanova di Neri encountered in the previous flight.

The Salicutti was stunning. An almost Burgundian expresssion of Sangiovese. Powerful, intense, and long without being heavy. Great tannic structure and perfect weight on the palate. Can be drunk now but will also reward patience.

The Pian dell'Orino was also stunning. An explosion of flavor and intensity. This wine was constructed using traditional methods and was the best wine tasted up to that time.

Bistecca Alla Florentina
Contemplation. 2010 Galloni Brunello Tasting Dinner

Flight 4
The final flight included the Il Marroneto Madonne delle Grazie, Salvioni, and Cerbiano 2010 Brunello di Montalcinos and were accompanied by Peccorino Toscano, Canestrato, Chestnut Honey, Fig-Grappa Conserva, Cerignola Olives, Apricot, and Date and Hazelnut Bread.

The Il Marroneto presented fruits, coffee, spice, cedar, and Provencal herbs along with a florality. Aromatic. Complete.

The Salvioni was redolent with red fruit accompanying earth and spice. Youthful with harbinger levels of tannin and acidity and a long, juicy finish.

The Cerbaiona was the best of the wines on display that night endowed as it was with finesse, elegance, layered complexity, and a wonderful balance.

Galloni 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Tasting Dinner


This tasting exceeded the expectations that had been set at the time of the offer. My disappointments were twofold: (i) I did not get there early enough to mingle and so did not have an opportunity to assess the quality and interests of the attendees beyond my table mates (who were fantastic, by the way) and (ii) that Soldera and Poggio di Soto were not among the wines tasted (I did not get any indication as to why they were not. The quality and excellence of the tasting were not diminished by their absence but I just felt that they belonged in this company.)

The culinary creations were somewhat overshadowed by the wines and my sense of the event. I will have to revisit the restaurant at another time to assess the food without the distraction of such a profound vintage and lineup. I am not a dessert guy so I did not partake of the fourth course while the first course did not reach me. The second and third courses showed well but were victims of my distracted eating.

The tasting was over but it provided me with a north star to guide my future acquisition of the amazing 2010 Brunello di Montalcinos.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Galloni 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Tasting Dinner: The region, the vintage, the wines

One of the ways in which Antonio Galloni's Vinous differs from his former employer Wine Advocate is the practice of building community with subscribers through Vinous Events which are targeted at "fostering dialog and education through once-in-a-lifetime seminars, tastings and dinners." One such event was a tasting of 2010 Brunello di Montalcinos held at New York's Lincoln Ristorante on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. This was a limited-seating event which promised "a comprehensive look at a number of the very best Brunellos from Montalcino's exceptional 2010 vintage" wherein the attendees would "taste the entire stylistic range ... from the super-classic to the ultra-modern" paired with offerings from Chef Jonathon Benno of the Lincoln in the unparalleled setting of the restaurant's East Dining Room.

I attended this exquisite tasting and will cover it in two parts on this blog. This post provides relevant background material while a follow-up post will provide the details of the actual event.

The Region
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is unquestionably one of the leading red wine regions of Italy and the world. I have covered the region at some length in a prior post and supplement that material herein with the sub-zone information provided in the chart below. This is relevant in that some of the wines presented in the tasting hail from some of these sub-zones.

The Vintage
The 2010 vintage yielded stellar wines in most of Europe's fine-wine regions; and Montalciono was no exception. Tim Atkin MW described the 2010 Brunello di Montalcinos thusly (Wine Searcher, 2/25/15):
At their best they are delicious, combining freshness, structure, opulence, and balance ... One of the unusual features of the vintage is that it was good everywhere -- from north to south, east to west.
In his normally understated manner, James Suckling (Tasting Report, 12/1/14) described the wines as:
... the greatest modern vintage of Italy's most famous red wine region. Never have the wines been so profound in quality, character, and quantity from the best hillside vineyards of Montalcino.
Galloni praised the vintage in a more studied fashion:
Two thousand ten has turned out to be a superb vintage for Brunello di Montalcino ... At their best, the 2010 Brunellos offer gorgeous Sangiovese purity, tons of site specifity and high quality across the board, all signatures of a classic Montalcino vintage.
The Wines
The wines on offer are presented in the chart below which shows (i) their geographic location and (ii) their positioning in the tasting. Some observations on the chart below:

  • The Montalcino estates are concentrated in the B column with significant clumping in the bullseye quadrant
  • Approximately half of the wines on offer are drawn from the cluster around the town of Montalcino
  • There is no apparent geographic rationale for the flighting of the wines. For example, the first flight has one wine from the north of Montalcino, one from the south of Montalcino, and one from the south of Castelnuovo dell'Abate.

High-level overviews of the vitivinculture of the producing estates are provided in the chart below. Biondi-Santi and Casanova di Neri have been covered in more detail elsewhere on this blog.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grape- and oak-derived tannins in wine

The quantity and quality of phenolic compounds (especially tannins, anthocyanins, and co-factors) in the wine post-fermentation, and the interaction of those compounds, are critical elements in the postmodern winemaking process as laid out by Clark Smith. Before delving into these phenolic interactions, some background discussion is in order, beginning with tannins in this post and followed by anthocyanins in a subsequent post.

Key tannin properties are:
  • Astringency
  • Bitterness
  • Reaction with ferric chloride
  • The ability to bind with protein.
As shown below, flavan-3-ols are the primary tannins in the flavonoid class of phenolics and are derived from the skin, seed and stem while hydrolizable tannins are primarily oak derivatives. There is some small amount of hydrolized tannin in the flavonoid group that is derived from the fleshy part of the fruit but they are bound with other non-phenolic compounds and play no part in tannin-tannin or tannin-anthocyanin interaction. Hence, flavonoid hydrolyzable tannins are not included in the following discussion.

Grape-derived tannins are primarily monomers and increase in quantity from fruit set through veraison. It is thought that the primary purpose of these compounds in the plant is as a defense against bacteria, viruses, and higher herbivores. The naturally occuring flavan-3-ol compounds are catechin and epicatechin which register at between 10 and 50 mg/L in white wines and 200 mg/L in reds. Catechin and epicatechin are characterized by a single OH group at position 3 of the C ring (shown below). The formation of the compounds gallocatechin and epigallocatechin is signaled by the presence of three OH groups in the B ring. We can also have a gallic acid acylated at position 3 of the C ring to form catechin-3-o-gallate or epicatechin-3-o-gallate.


Tannins have the ability to associate (form long chains; also called polymerization) and grape tannin polymers are called proanthocyanidins or condensed tannins. These condensed tannins are unstable and, in the acidic wine environment, are subject to polymerization, hydrolysis, and depolymerization. A limited degree of polymerization occurs during fruit maturation.

If a tannin is hydrolyzed under the acidic conditions in wine, it can break up into shorter lengths, producing one electron-neutral and one positively charged tannin. The positively charged tannin thus released will react with another tannin or with an anthocyanin. In the case of tannin-tannin interaction, a longer, non-colored polymer is formed. This tannin polymerization continues until the chain is end-capped by an anthocyanin molecule.

Increasing polymerization brings increased polymer size which is quantified by a measure called degree of polymerization (DP). DP increases with wine age, yielding greater wine suppleness and a reduction in astringency. Tannin quality is generally considered to be a function of the degree of polymerization and the level of association with other molecules.

Hydrolizyable Tannins
The journey from oak tree to hydrolyzable tannin is shown in the graphic below.

According to Puech, et al., hydrolizyable tannins contain a polyhydric alcohol (more than one hydroxyl group) as the basic structural unit of which the hydroxyl group has been esterified by gallic and hexahydroxydiphenic (HHDP) acid. The bonds between these units can be easily broken -- through enzymatic action or contact with an acid or base -- to produce free gallic acid and HHDP acid, the latter of which spontaneously converts into the lactone ellagic acid by internal condensation. Oak-sourced tannins are classified as gallotannins or ellagitannins depending on the type of acid formed.

Ellagitannins may comprise up to 10% of heartwood. In the plant, ellagitannins are toxic to micro-organisms and provide the oakwood with a defense against fungal degradation. It differs from lignin by its ability to bind with, and precipitate, alkaloids, gelatins, and other proteins. Ellagitannins may be monomeric (one glucose core) or oligomeric with differences based on the position of the couplings. The most frequent ellagitannin monomers extracted from oak are vescalagin and castalagin while the most important oligomers are roburin A and E, both vescalagin or castalagin dimers, or granidin. Fully 50% of the total ellagitannin in heartwood is unextractable.

Ellagitannins influence the structure of phenolic compounds and red wines by speeding up the condensation of procyanidins while limiting their oxidative and precipitatiive degradation.

Augustin Scalbert and LaPierre Catherine, Ellagitannins and Lignin in aging of spirits in oak barrels, Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistyr, November 1993.
Bruce Zoecklein, Various Enology Notes
Daniel Kuelder, The influence of commercial tannin addition on wine composition and quality, Master of Agricultural Sciences Thesis, Stellenbosch University, 2006.
James A. Kennedy, Grape and Wine Phenolics: Observations and Recent Findings, Ciencia Investigacion, 35(2), 2008.
Puech, et al., The Tannins of Oak Heartwood: Structures, Properties, and their influence on wine flavor.
Zhentian Lee, Monomeric Ellagitannin in Oaks and Sweet Gums, PhD Dissertation, 2002.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme