2004 Tuscany Dinner at the Quality Chop House

Friday, 9 October 2015 by Alastair Woolmer

Our wine trade 2004 Barolo dinner back in July was such a success (see blog) that we decided to get together again to taste another set of Italian 2004s but, this time, from Tuscany. Although, historically, Chianti Classico is probably Tuscany’s most well-known wine, few would argue with the assertion that Brunello di Montalcino is its greatest. However, in more recent times, a new breed of wines made largely from non-Italian grapes – the ‘Super Tuscans’ – have been producing wines of sufficiently high quality to give Brunello a real run for its money as Tuscany’s most prestigious.

Unlike the 2004 vintage in Barolo, which has been universally praised, critical review of the 2004 vintage in Tuscany has tended to fall into two distinct maps – those who think it is an outstanding, five star vintage; and those who think it was overrated. It would be a great idea, we decided, to assemble a line-up and decide for ourselves.

Our usual venue for Italian dinners wasn’t available so we very happily ventured into Clerkenwell to the Quality Chop House where we were treated to a specially-created Feasting Menu in their private dining room. Given that there were quite a few red wines to get through, as is customary, we started off with a white wine.

Tuscany's answer to White Burgundy?

2011 Batàr, Querciabella (93 AG)

As the name suggests, Batàr is a hommage to white Burgundy (Bâtard-Montrachet to be precise) and this blend of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco is a contender for Tuscany’s best white wine. A big, rich, opulent nose of ripe stone fruits and a big dollop of sweet oak. Much more Californian than Burgundian in style but I really enjoyed it. A first for me and a great way to start the evening. 17 points

The traditional Sangiovese-based Brunello wines

The Brunellos

2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Il Poggione (95 AG)

A very ripe, intense and surprisingly developed nose verging on sur-maturité with a little hint of volatility. A big, intense palate that was still very tight and closed and, even though it had been decanted beforehand, it definitely needed time to come around. 16 points.

2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Lisini (93 AG)

A dark, smoky, almost woody, nose. Much more old fashioned in style. I found this to be rather volatile on the palate and, with a noticeable lack of integration between the high acidity and firm, drying tannins, this really needs a few more years to find its sweet spot. 15.5 points.

2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Salvioni (96 AG)

A fresh, minty nose with lifted aromas of juicy black fruits. An intense and concentrated palate with a hint of saline acidity to keep it fresh and balanced. This had lovely texture – with the classic ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ character thanks to the combination of elegance coupled with power. My Brunello of the night and very nearly my wine of the night too! 18 points.

2004 Brunello di Montalcino Rennina, Pieve Santa Restituta/Gaja (93 AG)

A creamy, milk chocolate nose with a moreish, savoury note of truffles/umami. A big intense palate that is still closed. A long finish but with powerful tannins. As with all Gaja wines that I have tasted, I found that this speaks more of the house style than the terroir but an impressive effort nonetheless. 17.5 points.

The new kids on the block - wines made from Bordeaux varietals

The ‘Super Tuscans’

2004 Camartina, Querciabella (95 AG)

A blend of 50% Sangiovese, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot. Quite Bordeaux-like on the nose in spite of being predominantly Sangiovese! A ripe, opulent and sexy nose of dried fruits but with a hint of freshness. A little too modern for my liking and I think I’d struggle to finish a bottle. 16 points.

2004 Terriccio, Castello del Terriccio (93 AG)

A blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Petit Verdot, 25% others. This was a wine that I had never heard of and, with 50% Syrah, it was a bit of an outlier but it turned out to one of the most enjoyable wines of the night. A soft, open and approachable nose of lifted red fruits. Very plush and generous on the palate. Soft, pretty and enjoyable, it is ready to drink now but will go on. A pleasant surprise. 17 points.

2004 Le Serre Nuove (90 AG)

A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. A decent hint of Cabernet on the nose and a bit of stewed red fruit. Very Bordeaux-like. A nice level of development on the palate – sweet and open. Really quite serious considering the price level. This wine is in a good place right now. Soft and plush but with some grip on the finish. 17+ points.

2004 Ornellaia (95 AG)

A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Ornellaia is definitely my favourite Super Tuscan and this bottle more than lived up to my high expectations. A rich nose of ripe blackcurrants. Creamy and plush on the palate with lovely delineation. Soft, plush and drinkable, this too was in a great place right now and was very impressive with its fresh, mineral finish. 18.5 points.

2004 Sassicaia (93 AG)

A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc. Sadly this bottle wasn’t showing well. Not corked but definitely not correct. A pity as it would have been interesting to taste alongside the Ornellaia. Not scored.

2004 Messorio, Le Macchiole (96 AG)

Made from 100% Merlot. A very intense and focussed nose of balsamic vinegar and dried fruits with just a hint of something savoury, maybe marmite? A very textured and full-bodied palate with big grainy tannins. Whilst impressive, I found this a bit too modern and forced for my liking. 16.5 points.

2004 Tenuta di Trinoro (93 AG)

A blend of 83% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. A big, sexy, super-ripe nose of really sweet, juicy fruit with a hint of earth. Initially juicy on the palate and very upfront. Really plush and very full bodied, this had a long finish with slightly drying tannins on the back end. 17.5 points.

As you can see from the generally positive comments and generally high scores above, it would be fair to say that 2004 is a very good vintage in Tuscany, irrespective of whether the wines were made from indigenous or international grape varieties.  With the exception of one or two wines that really were à point now (Terriccio and Le Serre Nuove), the general consensus was that these wines could really benefit from another five to 10 years to really to soften their tannins and for the powerful elements to come into balance.

In comparison to the 2004 Barolo tasting two months earlier, I generally found the 2004 Tuscans a lot more closed and harder to read at the same point in time. Perhaps the thin skinned Nebbiolo grape lends itself to earlier drinking than the thick skinned Brunello and Bordeaux varietals. This tasting certainly confirmed that the top end of Tuscany is a serious challenge to anything made in France, even if the wines are stylistically quite different.

If you have any 2004s in your cellar, there is no rush to drink them anytime soon (unless you have some of the lesser or second wines). There are other vintages which offer more drinking pleasure right now. In contrast to the 2004 Barolos which have all but been snapped up by savvy buyers, there are still quite a few highly rated 2004 Tuscans available for sale (including the outstanding Ornellaia) and they can be viewed on our website here.

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