2018 Brunello di Montalcino Report & Buyer’s Guide: Joyful, Fruity, Silky Wines for Immediate Pleasure

Text and Photos By John Szabo MS

Vineyards, Castello di Romitorio ©John Szabo

After tasting close to 150 Brunellos from the 2018 vintage last November in Montalcino, arriving in markets now, the overarching conclusions are that the vintage will provide plenty of drinking pleasure over the near and mid-term. It’s not generally a year that needs decades in the cellar.

On the heels of the hot and dry ‘17s, in which many wines showed raisined flavours and hard tannins caused by heat and drought stress, the ‘18s are positively fruity and joyful, zesty and fresh, with abundant sapidity and elegance. Yet it was far from a simple year. Winter and spring welcomed above average rain, desperately needed to replenish water in the soils, but which raised mildew pressure, in turn demanding vigilant farming with timely sprays.

It’s telling that so many organically-farmed (also biodynamic) wineries acquitted themselves so brilliantly this year, happily more and more common in the region (i.e. Salicutti, Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Le Chiuse, Poggio di Sotto, Altesino, San Polino Salvioni, Canalicchio di Sopra, Casa Raia, indeed most of my top-scoring wines are organic). This is yet more evidence, as though any more were needed, that stronger, healthier, more resilient vines can handle adversity much better than their conventionally-farmed counterparts.

Vineyards, Montosoli, north Montalcino ©John Szabo

For this reason, and others, 2018 is perfect year in which to judge both winegrower competence and site potential. Quality, while overall quite high, is far from uniform, with an unusually wide gap between the most and least successful wines compared to, say, the uniformly excellent 2016 vintage for example, when it was more challenging to make bad wine than good. 2018 is not a vintage to buy blindly.

It is clear, however, that Montalcino growers are working at a very high level, much more resilient themselves, and adaptable to erratic weather patterns, not to mention better equipped with winemaking techniques to draw the most out of every season.

Cover crops became more widespread in 2018 for example, helping to limit soil erosion on the steeper slopes while also absorbing excess moisture and preserving beneficial soil microbial activity. And stringent grape sorting also became an critical, additional expense that paid off, among the many other details that when combined have a big impact on quality.

Cellars, Le Chiuse ©John Szabo

A word that came up time and again in my tasting notes was “succulence”, a feature I prize highly, one which lends a high degree of drinkability (which I also like). After a fairly regular summer, warm but not hot, which many growers compare to more ‘classic’ vintages from the 1990s, September brought large day-night temperature shifts. The cool nights helped retain those crucial acids and deliver that prized succulence.

Another distinguishing factor in 2018 was quality of tannins. The best sites yielded marvellously fine-grained, almost powdery tannins, giving the finest wines a lovely, silky texture. From less successful vineyards, tannins came out hard, in some cases unripe, in others stressed and astringent, which, coupled with insufficient fruit concentration and extract exacerbated by the relatively high yields of the vintage to counterbalance, made for gangly, rustic wines.

Other positives include the continuing trend away from obvious oak influence, ongoing now for many vintages. Only a handful of wines still cling on to the wood-saturated profiles more popular a decade or two ago

Tasting Room, Canalicchio di Sopra ©John Szabo

In short, the best Brunellos of 2018 are delightful and will start to be enjoyable almost on release. It remains to be seen how they will age – surely into the mid-thirties for the top tier – though I’d be tempted to enjoy them on the younger side to capture the vibrant, pure fruit while waiting for the more substantial 2015s and 2016s to fully mature.

John Szabo’s Buyer’s Guide: The top 18 of 2018

(For all 100+ 2018 Brunello reviews go to John Szabo’s 2018 Brunello Report)

Podere Salicutti Brunello Di Montalcino Piaggione 2018

97 2018 Salicutti Piaggione Brunello di Montalcino

Organically farmed since first planted in 1994 in southeastern Montalcino (and among the appellation’s first certified organic wineries, along with San Polino), Salicutti’s exceptional 4.5ha estate is further divided into parcels, bottled separately. Covering 1.2 of those planted hectares, Piaggione is a south-southeast-facing, limestone-rich parcel that tops out at 450m. Usually the most muscular and powerful of Salicutti’s single vineyards, Pianggione acquitted itself beautifully in the generally lighter 2018 vintage, yielding a magnificent, monumental wine, arguably at the pinnacle of all 2018 Brunellos. There’s so much fantasy here on the nose, lifted, sweet perfume, wax, honey in the natural style, here working so well, and clean to be sure. The palate delivers a raft of fruit, and such terrific intensity and length, not to mention finesse and delicacy, lacy but taut, an exceptional wine of pure sophistication, full stop. Delicious now, but surely better in 2-3 years, or hold into the mid-30s. Tasted November 2022.

Ciacci Piccolomini D'aragona Brunello Di Montalcino Pianrosso 2018

96 2018 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Pianrosso Brunello di Montalcino  

Ciacci’s Pianrosso Brunello hails from a selection of grapes of the single vineyard of the same name, just under 12ha in total, the oldest and most representative vines of this estate in the Orcia Valley that also supplies the fruit for the estate’s riserva. It’s produced only in worthy vintages, and ages three years in large Slavonian oak cask. The 2018 shows considerable aromatic fantasy, a wine with a range of resinous-medicinal cherry aromatics to be revered. The palate is marvelously juicy, slippery, with powdery tannins speaking to a great, carefully-farmed site, and a light, sophisticated hand in the winery. Terrific length; really top kit. Best 2026-2036. Tasted November 2022.

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

96 2018 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino  

Le Chiuse has produced another sensational Brunello from the estate’s vineyards on the north slope of Montalcino (8ha total), planted mainly to massale selections from Biondi-Santi’s historic Il Greppo estates. The 2018 pours a lovely pale red-garnet colour, and offers fine purity and drive on the nose, well-contained, precise, complex, with a mix of resinous wild herbs, ripe cherry, earth, crushed leaves and more in a complex ensemble, more on the oxidative side. The palate is fullish, firm, saturated with flavour, with harmonious, fine-grained, abundant tannins giving the wine more structure than the mean for the vintage and auguring well for future development. Length and depth are excellent – so much wine here. Best after 2024, or hold into the ’30s. Tasted November 2022.

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino 2018,

96 2018 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino  

Poggio di Sotto strikes again, another important, historic estate under new ownership since 2011 but without missing a beat. The 2018 is a marvelously perfumed, complex and complete wine in the house style that I’ve long admired, lifted but not in the volatile way, just a lovely waft of flowers and dried herbs, and perfectly ripened and poised fruit. The palate is silky, really well composed an balanced, with fine, powdery tannins, so well integrated, with excellent length. A superb wine for the vintage to be sure, always among the top in my view. Best 2024-2034 – this doesn’t need decades of cellaring but delivers immense pleasure. Tasted November 2022.

San Polino Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

96 2018 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino  

Among the first certified organic wineries in Montalcino, San Polino has, since inception in 1990 farmed in a truly sustainable way, evolving techniques such as agroforestry (plating trees in and around vineyards), and combatting fungal diseases by inoculating vineyards with friendly bacteria, fungi and insects to outcompete or naturally predate on vine pathogens, techniques which have since been adopted by many. Hard work has clearly paid off, as this 2018 since among the very best Brunello’s of the vintage, standing out from its peers. It offer a lovely, pure, agricultural nose, like a basket-full of fresh picked cherries, with sprigs of rosemary and thyme, penetrating, potent. The palate is equally compelling, lively, energetic, well-structured, with excellent length and depth. Best 2026-2038. Tasted November 2022.

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

95 2018 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Montosoli  

Altesino’s vineyard selection from the Montosoli hill on the north side of Montalcino pours a deep and saturated red colour in the 2018 vintage, with plenty of spiced red cherry fruit noted, savoury and slowly integrating wood influence which should be digested by the wine within the next 2-4 years. The texture is already quite silky, taut and firm but relatively delicate, while length and depth are excellent. A really fine, powerful and complete wine, substantial, best after 2025 or so, or hold well into the ’30s. Tasted November 2022.

Salvioni Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

95 2018 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino  

A rich and ripe, pure-fruited, proper red cherry-inflected wine from Salvioni, an estate which performs year after year. The comfort of the balance, the tannins and acids, the integrated, even if pronounced alcohol, the fine length – all speak to good farming and proper minimal intervention in the winery. Length is excellent. Terrific overall for this lighter vintage to be sure, if not quite the wine of the year, nor Salvioni’s best, with a shorter drinking horizon, 2024-2034 or so. Tasted November 2022.

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna La Casaccia 2018

95 2018 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino  

Established in 1962 by Primo Pacenti, and one of the 12 founding members of the Brunello consorzio, Canalicchio di Sopra owns a magnificent 60ha property on the north side of Montalcino, of which 19ha are planted to vines. With its pure, elegant perfume, Canalicchio di Sopra’s 2018 is a marvelously composed wine, with silky-firm texture, fine but firm tannins, succulent, fresh acids, and terrific length. I love the harmony and balance, the lingering, perfumed finish. A very fine wine that will please early on, even now, though surely age gracefully into the ’30s. Grace and sophistication personified. Tasted November 2022.

Casa Raia Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

95 2018 Casa Raia Brunello di Montalcino  

Owned by the husband and wife team of Kalyna and Pierre Jean Monnoyer, the tiny, c. 4ha Casa Raia estate sits just below the town of Montalcino on the south side, featuring mostly old vines farmed with organic and biodynamic methods, while wines made with absolutely minimal intervention. Things don’t always go according to plan, but the 2018 Brunello is a meticulously-crafted wine, intriguing, high-toned and spicy in the natural Casa Raia style, one that really draws you in with its measured acetic-volatile lift, the red fruit chutney, the fine, powdery tannins. I love the succulence and the finesse on offer, the lingering perfume, the deceptive density of flavour, the overall harmony and balance. A really top notch example. Long cellaring not required; best 2024-2030 or so.  Tasted November 2022.

Castello Romitorio Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

95 2018 Castello di Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino  
A silky and perfumed, elegant, well-structured but above all well-balanced and harmonious Brunello from Romitorio, with lovely length and lingering finish. I love the finesse on offer, the refined texture, the carefully curated but authentic and natural aromatics. A wine that will drink quite early – it’s very nearly ready now, or hold comfortably in the cellar into the early-’30s. Tasted November 2022.

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino I Poggiarelli 2018,

95 2018 Cortonesi Poggiarelli Brunello di Montalcino  

Poggiarelli is Cortonesi’s cru vineyard in southeast Montalcino, planted on particularly stony, galestro-rich soils than yields a very fine, structured and ageworthy Brunello. The 2018 shows remarkable depth on the nose, with impressive breadth of ripe red fruit and old wood spice, alongside juicy acids, firm texture, and very good to excellent length. A terrific 2018 to be sure, best after 2025, or hold until 2035+. Tasted November 2022.

Gianni Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino Le Chiuse Di Sotto 2018

95 2018 Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino  

Laura Brunelli has fashioned a terrific 2018 Brunello from her estate vineyards on both the north side in Canalicchio planted in 1989, as well as from the Podernove estate on south side planted in 1998, aged the 30 months in large Slavonian oak casks. It pours a saturated pale red, with pure red fruit nose to match, clean, limpid and inviting. It’s like pure cherry-raspberry purée, with a drop of spice chutney in the ensemble. Length and depth are excellent. An accomplished, balanced wine all in all, with terrific harmony and drinkability, best from about 2023 to 2032 or so – I’d be tempted by the immediately delicious fruit on offer. Tasted November 2022.

Il Poggione Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

95 2018 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino  

Il Poggione’s vineyards in Sant Angelo in Colle south of Montalcino enjoy the cooling drafts coming down from Monte Amiata, cooled as well by elevation, up to 450m. The 2018 is a grand success, with notably sustained red colour and immediately arresting nose featuring deep red fruit and wood influence (aged in French barriques), following through with a significant wash of fruit on the palate, also structure and depth – a wine of genuine concentration. This is really serious wine, sapid, savoury, energetic, with terrific substance and length. A top reference, best 2024-2036. Tasted November 2022.

Mastrojanni Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna Loreto 2018,

95 2018 Mastrojanni Vigna Loreto Brunello di Montalcino  

Gabriele Mastrojanni bought the San Pio and Loreto estates in Castelnuovo dell’Abate (south of Montalcino) in 1975 – then fallow – and planted his first vineyards. Loreto is the cru with more tuff and pebbles, yielding a generally more refined and elegant wine than Mastrojanni’s more structured Schiena d’Asino cru, as is on display here in 2018. It offers a full, intense nose, very ripe at 14.5% alcohol declared, with an impressive wash of saturated cherry-red fruit, fine structure and sapidity – a wine which really comes together beautifully. The extra depth and substance is really on display here in front of the (very good) ‘normale’ Mastrojanni Brunello, clearly a step above. Length and depth are excellent. Best 2025-2035+. Tasted November 2022.

San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

95 2018 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino  

Fine nose here, open and pure, with great red fruit purity. The palate shows those fine, powdery tannins of the best sites in Montalcino for this vintage, certainly well-farmed. The balance is impeccable, and length is excellent. Best 2024-2034. Tasted November 2022.

Agostina Pieri Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

94 2018 Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino  

Pale garnet red. Clean and fresh, attractive fragrance, gentle herbal spice, red fruit; a heady perfume fills the glass. The palate is pure silk, really finely woven, so delicate and fine, yet with deceptive underlying power and length – this really hangs on nicely. Tannins are ultra fine, though the stuffing is present to ensure at least mid-term development. A very elegant and sophisticated wine all in all, best 2023-2030. Tasted November 2022.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

94 2018 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino  

A lovely, advanced very savoury, spicy Brunello from Donatella in 2018, quite open and ready to go on the nose, also on the palate, already into a very sapid and umami-rich zone, with ripe, comfortable tannins and acids coated in abundant fruit extract. The length and overall depth, and indeed complexity, are impressive; this wine should give immense pleasure from now over the next decade or so. Really enjoying the harmony and balance here. Tasted November 2022.

La Màgia Brunello Di Montalcino 2018

94 2018 La Magia Brunello di Montalcino Ciliegio

Mostly from the basso part of the Ciliegio vineyard, originally planted in 1974, though about half of the vines have been replaced. Made in the same fashion as the Brunello, fermented in wooden tanks, though there’s a bit more new wood here, usually 70-80% new (500l tonneaux). The 2018 offers sweet, spicy oak notes, some lactones, toasty and inviting. Tannin quality is excellent, silky but firm, not overly drying. Long finish. Needs at least 3-5 years for the wood to digest. Tasted November 2022.

John Szabo, MS


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