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somavite brunelloWhen Brunello is good it is very, very good.  Made from the “Grosso” clone of the Sangiovese grape, it produces fuller, richer flavor than other variants of the grape. The grapes are sourced from an area near the town of Montalcino in Southern Tuscany where it gets warmer than Chianti to the North producing riper grapes with smooth tannins; and appellation rules require at least 5 years of aging in barrel and bottle before release. Great grapes, warm weather, and aging, along with a commitment to quality, usually mean good wine and high prices.

Thus, I never seek out Brunello when looking for inexpensive wine. They are almost always well over $50 and even at that price the quality can be uneven. Vintage variation matters in Italy where regulations prevent manipulation of the wine in bad years. And the aging process is inherently a crap shoot. You never quite know how a wine will develop over time. To make matters even more complicated, some producers are wedded to old-school winemaking in which wines are intended to age for 25 years and may not be ready to drink for 10-12. Thus even $80 bottles can be disappointing.

So how good could a $20 bottle be? As luck would have it, quite good. The nose is typical Brunello—dark cherry tinged with dried flowers and prominent herbal notes,  on a gentle layer of dusty earth. Subtle vanilla notes indicate this is a “new school” Brunello aged in small oak barrels that soften the wine quickly and make it drinkable in its youth. Bold yet supple and silky  on the palate with medium acidity and soft tannins, the finish is a little short but the wine has depth and focus.

This doesn’t have the complex, delicate, ethereal aromas of the very best Brunellos and the tannins are softer than most so I wouldn’t put it down for 20 years. 2009 was a scorching hot year in Tuscany and the wines from that year are probably a bit evolved. But at this price it is worth buying a few bottles to lay down for 5-7 years.

I couldn’t find out anything about this winery. This wine is available in the U.S only at Trader Joe’s as far as I can tell. This suggests TJ’s buys excess juice from a large, quality producer and puts their label on it. But I’m only speculating. In any case, an absolute steal. Highly recommended.

Score: 90

Price: $20

Alc: 14.5

Brunello is a slow blues wine to be savored and sipped while reflecting on the bitter and the sweet. This calls for Cowboy Junkies “Postcard Blues”