Fabrizio Bindocci, winemaker, Il Poggione (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Last week, Alessandro Bindocci of the great Brunello producer Il Poggione entered a new post on his Montalcino Report blog that featured Antonio Galloni’s review of the 2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. Galloni, the Italian specialist for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, labeled the wine as “awesome” and commented that this wine “stood apart.”
I’d like to comment on this review, as it is a notable one. First, it’s good that Antonio was so generous in his review of this wine, especially as this is such a great estate and the 2004 is a stellar wine. I praised the wine back in February when I first tasted the wine in Montalcino as part of Benevenuto Brunello (Alessandro Bindocci also was kind enough to post my review of the wine, which you can read here – thank you Alessandro!)
Now that Galloni has written his review, I’ve been getting emails from retailers bragging about their price for this wine and of course, they have included Galloni’s review. I understand this, especially in this economy, as retailers are doing what they can to move this wine out of the store and bring in some much-needed cash.
But where were these retailers a few years ago? As dozens, if not hundreds of wine writers in Italy and the United States have known for years, Il Poggione has been one of the leading estates in Montalcino for more than four decades; there aren’t many estates that can make that claim. But the way these retailers are pushing this wine, you’d think this was a new producer.
One thing that will happen with some of the customers who buy this wine is that they will purchase it because of a review, meaning it could have been any producer, not just Il Poggione. These people are called cherry pickers and are notorious in the business as they buy the top rated wines whenever they can. But where were these people in previous years? Probably buying such wines as Casanova di Neri, a Brunello that has consistently received scores in the upper 90s in The Wine Spectator.
If so, this would be highly ironic, as Casanova di Neri produces a very ripe, very modern, international style of Brunello while Il Poggione remains in the traditional approach of winemaking for Brunello. So many customers are buying a wine because it gets a high score, not because they think they’ll like it.
I’d like to stay positive, but I’ve been around too long and have seen this before. I hope that the “new” customers of Il Poggione based on Galloni’s review will seek out Il Poggione when the next few vintages are released. So of course do Alessandro Bindocci and hs father Alessandro the winemaker! But let’s see what happens when the 2005 and 2006 are released; as these are two very good – but not great – vintages for Brunello, will the cherry pickers be there to support Il Poggione or will they look for other wines (perhaps not even Brunello) that receive higher scores?
Producing wine is a long-term business and love affair; vintners don’t just release wines from great vintages (great is such an overused and misunderstood term), they must release them from virtually every harvest. Readers of my newsletter have known of my love for Il Poggione for years; I rated their bottlings from 2002 and 2003 – two less than stellar years - as excellent. It’s easy for any producer to make a very good wine in a notable vintage such as 2004 (if you can’t, as they say, find another job!). But to me one of the best qualities about a producer such as Il Poggione has been their track record with Brunello. As I wrote earlier, how may estates have been at the top of their game for more than 40 years?
So for consumers, retailers or restaurant buyers who might be tempted to purchase a bottle or several of the 2004 Il Poggione Brunello based on Galloni’s review, please do the Bindoccis a favor and buy the wine when the 2005 is released next year – you will not be disappointed!
A few final notes: Antonio, congratulations again on getting it right. While no score was published with this review, I can only make an educated guess, but I’m sure the score will be in the mid to high 90s. If so, this is in contrast to James Suckling of The Wine Spectator, who awarded the wine 91 points. Some of you might be saying, “wait, 91 points is pretty good.” Well there’s a big difference between pretty good and stellar. The 91 from Suckling is a shrug on his part, letting us know he admires the wine, but isn’t wild about it. No surprise here, as the Il Poggione Brunello is all about elegance and harmony; it isn’t flashy enough for Suckling’s tastes.
So how nice that a major wine publication awards Il Poggione as among the very best of Brunello. But Antonio, two things. First, this mention of this wine “standing alone” among the 2004 Brunellos. While I’m sure that the Bindoccis are pleased, there are a dozen or so examples of 2004 Brunello that are first-rate including Sesta di Sopra, Pian dell’Orino, Talenti, Il Palazzone, Fuligni, Caprili and Uccelliera (read my February post on vinowire here). I want readers to know that there are other estates that made an outstanding 2004 Brunello and have been at the top of the pyramid of producers in Montalcino for several years and that all of these estates including Poggio Antico and Ciacci Piccolomini are to be commended as well for their recent Brunello releases.
So, Antonio, I’d rather you didn’t write that one wine stood alone among the 2004 Brunellos. It’s this type of wine writing that gives the business a bad name. It’s as though there has to be a best. Il Poggione is among the very best and has been for years. Let’s celebrate that. But let’s also remember another dozen or so producers that deliver the good every year.
Finally, I do have one more bone to pick with Signore Galloni, one that is far more serious than the one I just wrote about. That is in regards to his text about the Il Poggione where he writes that the wine was aged in French oak casks. This is accurate, but why write this? All this does is open up a can of worms.
Let me explain. To the average consumer that reads this, French oak aging for a Brunello will probably signify that the wine is made in a modern style. But nothing could be farther from the truth, as Il Poggione is a traditional Brunello producer, through and through. Yes, the oak happens to be French, but the casks are the large ones called botti grandi, which are the traditional ones that have been used to produce Brunello for more than a century; Fabrizio Bindocci made the decision a few years ago to work with new coopers, so his large casks are French oak and not Slavonian. The modernists, who prefer flashiness and ripeness over balance and subtlety, use the small barrels known as barriques (225 liters instead of the botti grandi, which range from 2000 to 6000 liters).
So Antonio, what is important about oak aging with Brunello is not where the wood comes from, but the size of the casks. This is something you need to communicate to your readers; it’s your responsibility to be accurate. Certainly, Galloni has heard of the scandal in Montalcino, where some producers have been accused of bypassing regulations, by including grapes other than Sangiovese. The big picture here deals with tradition versus doing what some people feel is right for the moment. Given that, it’s so important these days to let people know about traditional producers and how they view their work. Il Poggione is a traditional producer and one of the best.