The Pendulum Swings: 2012 Brunello di Montalcino
BY ERIC GUIDO | JANUARY 17, 2023
Two thousand twelve is a vintage I have always enjoyed, but I
also questioned just how well the wines would age. I was working in retail when
I started tasting the 2012s. At that time, the first bottles of Brunello would be
placed on presale in December of the year before they were released, yet the earliest
critical reviews would come out only the following February or later. Tasting
deeply and broadly through as many Brunellos as possible was paramount to making
decisions, simply because a buyer had to depend solely on their palate to judge
which wines were the best. Making buying decisions while tasting the 2012s at
trade events, importer portfolio presentations and Benvenuto Brunello was
challenging because the wines were so widely appealing.
The 2012s were dark in color, forward and ripe in style, yet
they didn’t feel like the result of a warm vintage. Instead, they were precise
and lifted with dramatic floral perfumes, full of energy and framed by sweet
tannins – in the end, balanced. For example, the 2011s, wines from another warm
year, were the complete opposite on release. They were ripe and racy at first
yet would tire the palate out with gobs of primary concentration and tannins
that never felt quite ripe. When comparing the two years, it was easy to
imagine drinking 2012s almost upon release and placing them in the cellar to
enjoy a steady maturation, while the 2011s were what we would call “restaurant
Both vintages were warm and dry, yet 2012 had a steady and
balanced heat that allowed the vines to adapt slowly, while 2011 suffered a
shocking heat wave that shriveled the fruit. However, the drought conditions of
2012 did leave an impact, creating much smaller, dark berries and a reduced
quantity at harvest, between 15-30% lower than usual. Jan Hendrik Erbach of
Pian dell’Orino went as far as to explain, “the berries had the size of small
blueberries with a very thick skin and just a small drop of juice inside.”
Subsequent conversations with producers revealed that many
estates felt that they had learned much dealing with warm and dry vintages over
the previous decade or more, starting with 2000 and punctuated by 2011. As a
result, many growers changed their canopy management (using the leaves to shade
the fruit), reducing grape thinning (green harvesting) and employing grasses
between the rows to conserve moisture. Filippo Chia of Castello Romitorio related,
“two thousand twelve was the first vintage in which we seriously had to take
climate change into consideration," which is now a daily conversation
amongst Montalcino producers.
Older vines certainly had the advantage throughout the year’s
drought conditions, as did those estates that had already begun adding
irrigation. Some properties even began harvesting early to retain acidity.
However, in the end, the real saving grace was the precipitation at the end of
August and into September, providing just enough time for the fruit on the vine
to ease its way through the final maturation period.
Looking back now on 2012, it’s as if it was a precursor of
the vintages to come, providing Montalcino with a glimpse of the success that
could be possible even through the warmest and driest seasons. Granted, as is
often the case in such years, the higher-elevation vineyards of the north had
an advantage, but that’s not to say that the deep south didn’t succeed either. When
tasting through the 2012s at age ten, I was surprised by how well many wines
from the south or lower elevations fared. However, except for only a handful of
estates, the wines that are continuing to thrive in bottle hail primarily from
It’s quite confusing to consider that the Consorzio del
Brunello di Montalcino ranked 2012 as a five-star vintage, sandwiched between
the four-star 2011 (overrated, in my opinion) and four-star 2013 (underrated). Time
has shown that these rankings are utterly useless.
So, Where Are the 2012s Now?
I often look at modern-day Brunello on a scale of 10-year or
20-year wines. That’s not to say that a ten-year wine isn’t going to be
drinking beautifully up to twenty years, but that at its ten-year mark, the
wine is at or approaching its peak. However, a twenty-year wine will begin
peaking at twenty and continue to drink well for years to come. The 2012s are
ten-year wines. Does that mean you need to pull all your corks and drink them
now? Absolutely not! However, it does mean that the 2012s are overdelivering in
every possible way and will continue to perform beautifully over the next three
to five years – depending on the wine.
What’s also interesting about the 2012 vintage is how
successful and relevant the Riserva category proved to be. Where the estate
Brunello of many houses is drinking beautifully today, the Riserva continues to
maintain balance while maturing at a glacial pace. Of note, the Riservas from
Baricci, Fuligni, Biondi Santi, Conti Costanti, Canalicchio di Sopra and Siro
Pacenti are seriously worth hunting. With a little work, these wines can still
be found in the market.
All of the wines in this article were tasted in Montalcino
with producers, at our offices in New York or from my cellar during the summer
and fall of 2022.
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