Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brunello di Montalcino La Fortuna: A Vertical

La Fortuna is one of the older wineries in Montalcino, and unlike some, has always been managed by farmers: Mezzadri, or Tenant farmers to begin with; in 1907 Angiolino Zanoni, Gioberto Zanoni's great grandfather, grew seed crops and raised livestock, and his son Gino did so as well. The times were changing, however -- we were by now in the 50s -- and a great many people were leaving the land to take manufacturing jobs in the towns. Gino wanted none of that, and instead bought the land his family was farming from the landlord. Fast forward again to the 70s, when Gioberto, Gino's son, stepped in: There was growing interest in Brunello, the wine that had been developed by the Biondi Santi family, and Gioberto decided, with the help of his father, to try his hand at it. The first vintage was 1974.

It was an attempt worthy of the dawn of an era; Gioberto and Gino made the wine as best they knew -- cellar technique still consisted of putting the must in a vat and letting it ferment as it would -- and then aged it for the requisite 4 years in the botti they had, which were mostly chestnut. The result was, Gioberto says with the pride of a parent thinking back to a child, strambo, which means a bit goofy. But it was a beginning, and they persevered; the first vintage they continue to be really happy with was 1977.

The wines, tasted August 31 2007, with commentary woven in:

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino 1974
This was their first vintage, and Gioberto was proud to present it though he says it's "strambo," which means a bit goofy -- a wine that is a starting point, but that's that. The first really good vintage was 1977. Returning to the wine, it's almandine with Moroccan Leather highlights and rim fading into orange. The bouquet is fairly rich, and earthy, with considerable balsamic acidity supported by some raw beef and quite a bit of alcohol, savory accents, and underlying leaf tobacco. On the palate it's bright, with an oddly earthy acidity to it supported by earthy notes and tannins that have a dusty feel to them and flow into a tongue curling tannic finish that brings chestnut leaves to mind -- likely a gift of the wood it spent 4 years in per the regulations governing the DOC. It's very much alive, though in a coarse, disjointed way that comes as no surprise when one considers that it was their first vintage; it's a wine that was obviously a learning experience, but it does suggest potential. In short, for a wine lover it's a fascinating bottle to taste, because it opens a window onto a world long gone.

Thinking back, Gioberto says they made lots of demijohns and bottled a little Brunello -- bottling was almost with a funnel, while the botti were what one could get from the Consorzio, and the wood type indeterminate -- some oak, some chestnut.
1 star

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino 1978
Deep almandine with brownish reflections and almandine rim fading into orange. The bouquet is much richer than the 74, and much more controlled; the emphasis has shifted from making wine in bulk to making Brunello to bottle it. The vintage was good, but not great, Gioberto recalls, and they were beginning to select the grapes in the vineyards and manage the fermentation. The beginning of the shift towards quality. The bouquet is rich, with leaf tobacco and brandied cherries mingled with alcohol and spice with some savory accents. Very much alive, and several fellow tasters wonder what happened the interval from 1974. On the palate it's rich, with bright fruit supported by clean bright sour cherry acidity and smooth sweet tannins with some oak leaf accents that flow into a clean bright finish with dry tannic underpinning. Beautiful balance, and quite a bit more than head and shoulders above the 74. It's a wine one needn't be a wine lover to appreciate, and will contribute considerably to a meal built around a steak or roast beef.
2 stars

In 1985 they started fermenting in steel (before they used cement) and also began to work with wood to a greater degree.

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino 1985
This is the first vintage Gioberto really feels to be his. It's deep cherry ruby with elegant slightly orange ruby rim. Impressive intensity of color for a 20-year old Sangiovese. The bouquet is elegant, with surprisingly fresh cherry fruit mingled with berry fruit jam -- a fellow taster says amarene, which are sour cherries -- savory accents, India ink, and lacy overtones; the effect combines voluptuousness with slight distance, and is rather haunting. With time, caramel also emerges. On the palate it's rich, with bright red berry fruit supported by equally bright acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that have a slight burr to them, and flow into a clean bitter cherry fruit finish with tannic underpinning. It's quite graceful, and one would never guess it's more than old enough to vote; it brings to mind a ballet dancer, and is most impressive. A beautiful combination of power mingled with grace and voluptuousness; it's quite approachable, and in this isn't absolutely typical of older Brunello, which tends to be more reserved. But it is nice.

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990
This is a selection in the vineyard, and was their first attempt at a Riserva. Deep black cherry ruby with cherry rim that has brownish almandine accents. The bouquet is rich, though more mature than the 85's; it has more leather and leaf tobacco accents, and some pungent India ink as well, with underlying berry fruit. Gioberto says it was shaping up to be great, but they were hit by hail, and as a result they had to anticipate the harvest or loose everything. On the palate it's full, and rich, with slightly balsamic red berry fruit supported by smooth cedar-laced tannins that flow into a fairly warm clean slightly tannic finish. It's a much more classic expression of Brunello than the 85, which is a bit sweeter and more voluptuous -- here we have greater distance, and a wine that is more reserved. But elegant, and has a great deal to say, and improves with time most impressively. A pity that the hail hit because it did result in a slightly dilute feeling to the wine.

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1997
Deep black cherry ruby with ruby reflections and rim. The bouquet is powerful, and quite fresh, with jammy berry fruit supported by violets and some floral accents, with hints of India ink bitterness as well. It's quite impressive, and very harmonious in a powerful key; it brings to mind a weight lifter who hasn't overdone it and isn't muscle-bound. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful red berry fruit supported by clean chewy tannins that have a slight burr to them and by clean bitterness; there is a little less acidity than other vintages, and also a hint of sweetness, and this is the ripening that we had in 1997 revealing itself. Many 1997 wines come across as over the top, while this instead toes the line, and is extremely pleasant, in a slightly more up front sort of way than "lesser" vintages are. In other words, great balance, elegance, and power, but not quite as much finesse, and this is a vintage variation of the sort that makes wines so interesting. It will in any case age very well, and should you come across a bottle that has been well kept, it will add joy to an occasion built around succulent red meats. Of the wines poured, it's the one that will be most appreciated by the widest variety of wine drinkers -- those new to Brunello will be excited, those who prefer tradition will find it, while those who prefer the more modern style will find things to appreciate too.

Though the Montalcino production area is small, there's considerable variation between the more northerly area where La Fortuna is located, and the hotter, drier zone towards Castelnuovo Abate, to the south. A number of the more northerly wineries have purchased vineyard area in the south, including La Fortuna, which bought its vineyards in 1996-7. Production began with the 2001 vintage.

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino 2001
Deep ruby with cherry reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with jammy red berry fruit supported by alcohol and slight menthol with some cedar as well. It's still quite young, and though it is harmonious, it is still developing. On the palate it's full, and a bit sweet, with rich berry fruit supported by clean cedar laced tannins and considerable bitterness that emerges in the finish, which carries at length with dry tannins and some smoky accents. It's very young, and needs time to come together -- the tannins have some cedar and sea salt that at present are a bit forward, and need some time to reabsorb into the wine. Also, the sweetness is a bit of a surprise, and the tannic structure, if it holds as is, draws more from oak than I would like. This wine, unlike the earlier ones, draws from vineyards both in the northern section of the appellation and the south, near Castelnuovo Abate (where they bought some land), and has a different feel with respect to the others. The bouquet is elegant, but on the palate it does have these sweetish accents, which are likely at least in part related to a fairly high alcohol content, and I have the impression that they're still working out how best to mingle the northern and southern halves of the appellation -- it feels like a change in direction somehow, but the wine is also very young and judging it is like judging a toddler. I will be quite curious to follow it as it evolves.
2 stars

After the tasting proper, we went to dinner in a nice restaurant in Montalcino. As one might expect, Gioberto and Angelo served more Brunello.

2003 Brunello La Fortuna
Prerelease sample, bottled 2 months before tasting
Lively ruby with ruby rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with violets and jammy berry fruit laced with some cedar, alcohol that is evident but not overbearing, and moderate acidity. Very young, and does reveal the summer heat. On the palate it's full, soft, and rich, with clean berry fruit supported by moderate acidity and considerable India ink bitterness that flows into a clean bitter finish. It's qite elegant, though a little lighter than I had expected, and there are slight greenish accents that are likely related to the way the grapes dealt with the summer heat. It's not a fruit bomb, nor is it overripe, problems that could have surfaced considering the vintage, and I found myself preferring it over the 2001. Expect it to age quite nicely, becoming ethereal with time.

La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001
Deep cherry ruby with ruby rim. The bouquet is rich, and young, with powerful berry fruit supported by alcohol, while direction comes from bitter accents and some graphite shavings. Voluptuous, with the brashness of youth. On the palate it's full, and rich, with red berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins that have slight bitter accents and flow into a clean bitter finish. There's considerable elegance and finesse in a woefully young key, and though one could drink it now with grilled or stewed meats (we had the latter), it will richly reward those with the patience to give it the time it needs. Now it's a toddler, but in 5-8 years it will be most impressive, and go from there.
88 now.

Bottom Line: This is one of my favorite Brunello producers, and it was an honor to be invited to their tasting. For further information, check their site.

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