On the Road with the Grape Guy

Val di Suga Through the Years – a Vertical Tasting of Style

27 Mar 2020

(February 2019) … When is a “terroir” tasting not a terroir tasting? When you only show one terroir without showing a comparative terroir or different terroir … that was my concern after sitting through a Val di Suga “terroir tasting” that was touted as a “vertical tasting” (as it said on the invitation) conducted by Andrea Lonardi, COO, at the winery in Montalcino … Correctly labeled as a Vertical Tasting on the hand-out – but the focus of the seminar kept veering back to “terroir” – when it was really about the change in winemaking style the winery has undergone with its single vineyard output for Vigna Spuntali (and its other single vineyard Brunello – not tasted during this vertical – because that WOULD have made it a terroir tasting).Val di Suga Soils

Five wines were tasted. The very first vintage of Vigna Spuntali (1988) and also 1995 – part of what was referred to as “Artisanal and Barrique” style winemaking; next were the 2001 and 2010 vintage, referred to by Andrea as the “Parker Era” (big, bold, heavily extracted style); finally ending with the recently released 2015, which seems to bring the winemaking style full circle to a more artisanal approach, moving away from rich extraction and, what is lovingly referred to as the “American palate”; here we also see the influence of bigger oak barrels (casks or botti) introducing the wine to less oak integration - larger barrels equals less contact with wood – focusing more on fruit. Here Andrea gives a nod to Biondi Santi for pioneering the large barrels and Slavonian oak.

Also of interest were the thoughts on the growing of Sangiovese during these times of climate change upheaval – where hot vintages are becoming more prevalent and commonplace. Sangiovese is low tannins and high acidity by its very nature; it does not like hot vintages and is affected by three major influences: water (rain or irrigation), oxygen (sandy vs. clay soils) and light (aka: heat) – all three of these can spike Sangiovese’s tannin levels … although studies show that late rains during, or at harvest time, can help lower the naturally high acidity. There was also a discussion about barrel size and shapes and even types of wood (French vs American vs Slavonian) the results of the study, and a paper, will be presented at next year’s Anteprima (or so they say) … this would be of even more interest to those with an affinity for Italian wines made with Sangiovese from all over Italy, not just the Brunello region. I for one would love to be in the audience for that – just saying – as this truly was the most interesting part of the seminar portion … and then we get down to the wines.

Tasting notes  - Vigna Spuntali, Brunello di Montalcino …

1988 … the first vintage Vigna Spuntali was created; the wine presented itself as seemingly thick on the palate with notes of balsamic, floral, dried cherry and freeze-dried strawberry – punchy acidity with tobacco notes on the finish. Still drinkable, if not for the surprising viscosity it would be a beauty.

1995 … Described as a “beautiful vintage with very long ripening” – this wine was aged in 100% new oak, but along with the usual note of older Brunello had some white wine characteristics like candied-citrus peel, along with herbal and fig notes; there was also some dried cherry and balsamic on the finish.

2001 … This wine comes from what is considered as the “Parker Era” of winemaking and is “just a regular vintage” – rich, concentrated fruit with jammy notes; nothing much to write about here, the acidity was nice, but the tannins seemed overwhelming with each additional sip; I never made it past the first few minutes in the glass, but I suspect within an hour the oak/tannins would overwhelm the wine.

2010 … Another from that “Parker Era” and also a hot vintage; the wine tasted older than its 10 years, had plenty of stewed rich fruit: strawberry, cherry, and thick kirsch-like notes – acidity was good and drinks okay, but not much life left in this bottle – drink now.

2015 … Here the older traditions are meeting some new style and trends in Italian winemaking, focusing on larger barrels and getting away from French oak. This was a hot vintage wine but shows more character and longevity than either the 2001 or 2010 does, even when taking into account its age.  Sour cherry, cranberry, cigar box with a long finish and big acid punch – the tannins are soft and round, quite the elegant wine here that has a long life ahead of it.

Parker may have influenced the decade of 2001 – 2010 but it definitely was not for the better or age-worthiness of those wines, and while the ’88 and ’95 were not “fresh” by any stretch they are certainly more drinkable and had more of a “life” ahead of them. The return to a more delicate and finesse-filled style with less oak and more understanding of the fruit being used can only benefit Val di Suga’s winemaking, age-ability and the region as a whole.

To see the other single vineyard offerings from Val di Suga check out my report of Brunello Seleziones (linked here)


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