It’s tempting to imagine that things are always idyllic in Tuscany, but not every summer provides the warmth and sunshine we, and the vineyards, might hope for. One such year was 2014, which started mildly, but promising warmth in June was followed by a cool summer with rain during the height of the growing season. Mold and mildew love moisture and humidity, and in some areas hail also damaged fruit. The vintage might have been a total loss had it not been for mild weather and a merciful respite from the rain in September and October.
Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, with their shorter aging times, have moved on to more recent vintages, but Brunello di Montalcino, with five years aging required before release, only rolled out the 2014s this January. The good news is that thanks to dedicated work on the part of producers, things aren’t as bad as they might have seemed.
It’s hard to say which sub-zones handled these travails the best; it seems to be more a matter of how individual producers responded rather than a matter of terroir differences. Vintners had a few options on how to handle things, either in the vineyard or in the winery. For many of the most successful wines, it took rigorous selection of fruit at every step, regardless of the cost in terms of volume. There was a lot of fruit left on the ground in the vineyard, and careful sorting at harvest weeded out a few more tonnes of damaged grapes. At Poggio di Sotto, for example, yields were tiny. “In 2014 we had 16,000 bottles of Rosso, and only 4,000 of Brunello; it’s one cask, really,” said Luigina Villadei of Colle Massari, which bought Poggio di Sotto in 2011. “In that case the wine wasn’t able to age four years in oak; it did three in oak and two in bottle. It just didn’t have enough structure.” There won’t be any Riserva in 2014, she added.
Most of the resulting wines still show the character of the vintage: they are generally lighter, with brighter fruit and not as much power and depth as in other years; they are nonetheless enjoyable and the best examples highlight the more elegant side of Sangiovese.
Regulations allow producers to include up to 15 per cent of wine from a younger vintage and we can assume that a fair number took this step, the ripe 2015 vintage offering a good way of increasing quantity and quality. But fifteen percent isn’t always enough, and in any case needs to integrate into the rest of the wine; a few wines seem disjointed, with a Jekyll and Hyde character that one hopes will knit together with time in the bottle.
Some producers chose instead to opt out of producing Brunello at all for the year, declassifying fruit into their Rosso di Montalcinos. Salvioni, Biondi-Santi and Costanti, among others, took this option. One can expect few Cru or Riserva wines from 2014. Fortunately for now the 2013s Riservas, from a much more classic, balanced year, are showing well; for those looking for wines to put down there are some pleasing options to be found.
In the meantime, the 2014s are enjoyable now, and should hold up for a decade or so with no trouble. These are restaurant wines in more than one way: less powerful than other vintages, they go nicely with a wider range of dishes. Since few restaurants these days lay down wine, it’s also pleasing to think that restaurants can list and sell these wines immediately without Brunello purists condemning it as vinous infanticide.