There is no doubt that knowledgeable Brunello fans consider Il Marroneto to be one of the top dozen or so estates in Montalcino today. This is because over the last ten years especially (i.e., the wines of the 21st century), with the increasing age of its vines, Il Marroneto has been the source of some of the purest, most perfumed and most archetypal renditions of sangiovese made anywhere.
Il Marroneto produces a very refined Brunello di Montalcino that showcases pungent floral aromas, sneaky concentration and a strongly mineral personality. Unfortunately, the estate’s wines are often penalized in blind tastings due to their high natural acidity and apparent lack of flesh. A single-vineyard Brunello, named Madonna delle Grazie, is also made in the best years; though it offers much greater concentration and a more textured mouthfeel than the “regular” Brunello di Montalcino, even the cru bottling is never one of the bigger, thicker wines of Montalcino.
Owned by Alessandro Mori, the son of a Siena lawyer and once a lawyer himself, Il Marroneto is located in the heart of the Montalcino production zone, on the outskirts of the main town (you’ll need to drive right through Montalcino to get there). This is a fairly northern location in the Montalcino production zone, so the fact that the estate’s wines are characterized by high acidity and mineral tones should not be much of a surprise. The vines were first planted in 1975 near the church of Madonna delle Grazie (which is where the idea for the name of the estate’s top Brunello came from), the original building of which dates back to 1247. The rest of the estate’s vineyards were planted in 1979 and 1984, at that time entirely with clonal selections of sangiovese from the University of Pisa. The estate’s name derives from a central tower that was once used to dry chestnuts (castagne or “marroni” in Italian), long a source of flour in Italy.
The estate first made a Brunello in the 1980 vintage (only 1,855 bottles, with production rising to a whopping 2,555 in 1982), and was originally guided by brothers Alessandro and Andrea Mori. Since 1993, Alessandro has run the show on his own. Anyone who has tasted Mori’s wines won’t be surprised to know he considers his two mentors to have been Mario Cortevesio (who had long worked in Chianti) and Giulio Gambelli, two acknowledged fathers of great sangiovese wines of exceptional purity and breed. At Il Marroneto, grapes are grown organically and yields are never more than about 38 hectoliters per hectare. The vines are almost always harvested in mid-October and the fruit is only partially destemmed. The wine is very traditionally made, with plenty of pumping over and use of large oak barrels only.
Il Marroneto is a Brunello far removed from the fleshy, ripe-fruit versions from warmer Montalcino sectors such as Sant’Angelo Scalo or Castelnuovo dell’Abate. So, for example, think of it as a wine more along the lines of those made by Biondi-Santi and Costanti, rather than Poggio di Sotto or Uccelliera. While initial vintages betrayed the young age of the vines, with many wines (even from outstanding vintages) lacking the depth and complexity of the greatest wines from Montalcino, since the 2000 vintage Il Marroneto’s wines have ranked with the best. Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more vibrant, precise and pure examples of monovarietal sangiovese anywhere in Italy. On the other hand, the estate’s wines from poor vintages can be characterized by rather shrill acidity and a lack of sweet fruit.
In what is yet another first for the International Wine Cellar, and English-language coverage of Italian wine anywhere, the following report describes the largestever tasting of Brunello di Montalcino vintages made by Il Marroneto. I thank owner Alessandro Mori for his generosity and willingness to show essentially every vintage he still has in his cellar, including the less favorable ones. To his credit, he believes that tasting all of the wines available provides a better understanding and a more complete picture of Il Marroneto’s history and winemaking style. It also showcases the changes and improvements that have taken place at the estate over the years.
The following wines were tasted two different times last July in Cortina d’Ampezzo (in northern Italy) and again at my house in Rome in December, 2013. There were no significant discrepancies between the two tastings: my tasting notes and scores were similar. The wines were all in impeccable condition and all of them came either from the estate or my own cellar (I purchased them on release). Rather amazingly, not a single bottle was marred by cork taint.
By Ian D’Agata
Good medium-dark red. Rich aromas and flavors of ripe raspberry, bitter cherry pith and minerals. Rather large-scaled for this wine but intensely flavored and well delineated, offering an outstanding combination of ripeness and energy and neatly avoiding any sense of chunkiness. Finishes with a firm tannic spine that provides support to the lingering red cherry and berry flavors. A promising Il Marroneto that has improved greatly since its initial release, picking up flesh and sweetness. Il Marroneto is never a big ripe wine, but this vintage is one of the sweetest and fleshiest versions of this wine that I recall.
Good full red. Red berries, dried flowers, spicecake, licorice and a loamy nuance on the nose. Juicy, sappy and rather stylish, combining sweet spice and herb qualities with harmonious acidity. The long finish features spreading tannins and hints of black olive and faded flowers. Not a hugely concentrated wine but soft and very approachable already; shows much livelier acidity than most 2003 Brunellos.
Bright dark red. Lovely lift to the captivating aromas of raspberry, Asian spices, minerals and fresh flowers. Supple and intensely flavored, showing an almost pinot-like silkiness to its raspberry, marzipan, cocoa and mineral flavors. Very graceful and lush Brunello, with real depth as well as uncommon power for this wine. Finishes subtle, gripping and long. This wine is yet more proof that 2001 is not just the best Brunello vintage of the 21st century (thus far) but one of the greatest of all time.
Dark red-ruby. Aromas of black cherry, ripe red berries, licorice, dried flowers and spices are a bit aromatically compressed owing to the vintage’s hot weather. Sweet and rather soft on entry (again due to 2000’s warm weather), then nicely stuffed with surprisingly energetic red fruit in the middle. The broad finish features repeating, lingering flavors of ripe red cherry and licorice. A very successful 2000 Brunello.
Good ruby-red. Spicy aromas of strawberry, sour red cherry, licorice and minerals. Bright and deep but quite suave, showing lovely lift to the archetypal sangiovese sour red cherry, violet, and licorice flavors. Firmly structured and long on the aftertaste, with a strong mineral note and very lively acidity giving the finish a slightly austere quality. This wine has improved tremendously with bottle age, gaining in flesh as well as precision, and can be enjoyed now.
Dark red. Expressive aromas of plum, redcurrant, herbs and leather. Lively acidity initially gives the wine a slightly lean mouthfeel, but the flavors of sour red fruits and spicy herbs pick up considerable weight and sweetness with aeration. The smoothly tannic finish offers lingering notes of underbrush, coffee and spicecake. A very typical Il Marroneto Brunello, with sneaky concentration and terrific finesse and subtlety rather than rich, fleshy fruit flavors; those who prefer a bit more weight to their wines won’t be as positive about this one as I am. It’s also a bottling that demonstrates Il Marroneto’s knack for producing above-average wines in less than favorable vintages.
Slightly dullish deep red. Aromatic nose offers red cherry, tobacco leaf and balsamic herbs lifted by a peppery quality. Dense and chewy on the palate, showing an almost high-toned quality to its dark red fruit, leather, spice and balsamic cocoa flavors. Showed increasing vibrancy with aeration and finishes smooth and long. Made from a very hot vintage, the majority of the 1997 Brunellos were tragically overrated and have aged poorly. By contrast, this wine from Il Marroneto is fresher and livelier than most, a direct consequence of the estate’s cooler microclimate. One of the success stories in this troubled Montalcino vintage.
Bright red. Minerals, black cherry, blueberry, licorice and orange peel on the nose, plus a whiff of roasted meat that quickly dissipated. Juicy and light on its feet, with brisk acidity and a repeating peppery quality giving precision and energy to the perfumed mid-palate. Finishes long and crisp, with still-vibrant red fruit notes persisting nicely. A very well delineated wine that can be enjoyed now or held. A major success for the vintage.
Good bright medium red. Lovely floral aromas of sour red cherry, redcurrant, orange peel, Oriental spices, sandalwood and cinnamon. Fairly sweet, lush and round for this wine, showing sneaky intensity and a strong mineral underpinning to the precise red cherry and berry flavors. I love this wine’s combination of texture and focus. Finishes broad and long, with fine-grained tannins and harmonious acidity extending the fruit and star anise flavors at the back. A knockout wine with impeccable balance, and one of the best Il Marronetos ever.
Moderately saturated bright red. Sour red cherry, camphor and a hint of orange peel on the nose. Still bright and lively but a little peppery in the mouth, with a leafy, herbal quality suggesting only modest ripeness of fruit. Finishes minerally and moderately persistent, with repeating notes of orange peel and sour red cherry an little sign of dryness, bitterness or overt greenness. But doesn’t have the flesh for a higher score.
Bright medium-deep red. Musky aromas of strawberry, red plum, dried flowers and tobacco leaf are complicated by notes of blood orange and Mediterranean herbs. Juicy, fresh and rather stylish, combining bright redcurrant, dried apricot and herb qualities with a subtle touch of sweetness. Not surprisingly (given the cooler growing season), this is not a hugely concentrated wine but is silky and suave, finishing with spreading tannins and a lingering floral note. Very typical of the Il Marroneto house style and a major success for the vintage.
Good medium red. Enticing, complex aromas of red plum, redcurrant jelly, orange peel, sandalwood and sweet Oriental spices. On the palate, ripe red cherry, flint and underbrush flavors are nicely framed by highly polished tannins. Finishes creamy-rich, smooth and long, with a slightly high-toned quality contributing to the wine’s suave, ready-to-drink personality.
Dark red with a hint of garnet at the rim. Redcurrant, strawberry jam, menthol, faded flowers and spices on the nose, plus a whiff of leather. Bright and juicy but lacking in generosity, showing lean red berry and herb flavors. Made in a cooler style, finishing with slightly dry-edged tannins and less depth than usual for Il Marroneto.
Good full red. Penetrating aromas and flavors of minerals, black cherry, woodsmoke, cocoa and fresh herbs, complemented by notes of quinine and flint. Then rich and dense on the palate but without any undue weight, combining silky texture, intense minerally red and black fruit flavors and enticing vinosity. Finishes very long and vibrant, with high but harmonious acidity that really extends the flavors and gives this a 26-year-old wine a slightly austere quality. A marvellous wine offering real palate presence without thickness of texture. For my money, the best Brunello ever made at Il Marroneto–the single-vineyard Madonna delle Grazie bottling excluded–and a lesson on what sangiovese is about.
Amber-tinged red. Aromas of redcurrant, licorice, orange peel and faded flowers. Nicely delineated if a bit ungiving and not especially fleshy, with a floral topnote contributing to the wine’s high-pitched character. Finishes with a firm tannic edge, bright acidity and lingering floral nuances. I would have liked a bit more pliancy and fruit, as with many other ’87s from Montalcino.
Bright red with an amber tinge. Expressive, full-blown aromas and flavors of raspberry, redcurrant jelly, licorice, tobacco and dill. The palate offers very good energy and inner-mouth perfume. Finishes with substantial but polished tannins and a firm acid spine, but the fruit is starting to fade: drink up. Still, this is one of the best ’86 Brunellos I can recall, and a noteworthy success for the vintage.
Healthy amber-tinged red. Scented nose of red cherry, faded flowers, tobacco, quinine and orange peel. A supple, spicy midweight with flavors of raspberry jam, graphite, licorice and tobacco. Nicely seamless and sweet, and delicious right now, but lacks the complexity of many of the top 1985 Brunellos. Finishes with a light dusting of tannins and decent length. Considering the many truly memorable Brunellos that were made from this vintage, this wine might be viewed as slightly disappointing for Il Marroneto, but the young age of the vines at the time really couldn’t deliver anything more.
Bright orange-red. Kirsch, licorice, leather and faded flowers on the nose. Sweet and pliant but beginning to tire, showing moderately concentrated flavors of red fruits, leather and tobacco leaf. Rather silky in texture, offering good breadth and restrained sweetness along with soft, ripe tannins on the clean, persistent finish. I don’t believe there’s anything to gain by holding onto this wine much longer, but it should remain alive for another decade if stored in a cold cellar.
Good dark red with a hint of amber at the rim. Perfumed aromas of red berries, sweet spices and flowers, complicated by nuances of tobacco and loam. Taut and tangy in the mouth, with lovely acidity framing and lifting the red berry, underbrush and sweet spice flavors. Outstanding purity of fruit here. Finishes with sweet tannins and a firm edge of acidity. For those who know the 1982 Brunellos well, this wine is very typical of the vintage, showing slightly less of 1981’s floral perfume but much more flesh and sweetness. The best Brunello of the initial trio (’80, ’81, ’82) made at Il Marroneto.
Pale red with an amber rim. Aromatic nose combines red cherry, strawberry, spices and a penetrating floral note. Still intensely flavored after all these years, showing good concentration to the red fruit and sweet spice flavors. Finishes with fine-grained tannins and a lingering, almost pungent floral quality. Not the last word in complexity but I like this wine’s brightly floral personality.
Other wines tasted: 1980 Brunello di Montalcino. (Montcalm Wine Importers)