Vertical Tasting of Il Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino

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.

See all the wines (ordered by vintage)

--Ian D'Agata