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Sesta di Sopra 2013: Brunello Brilliance

the tiny barrel room at Sesta di Sopra, they make a very small amount of wine

I have, for a few months now, been dithering over a disparaging screed leveled at the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Why? Because I find the hype surrounding the region to be misleading. It is a region that should be quite attractive to the devotee of fine terroir-driven wine, but way too much Brunello is over-extracted, over-oaked and over-priced. Between high pricing and lack of balance, I often think of Brunello as one of Italy's least interesting wines. Imagine, as a wine merchant, feeling this way about one of the world's "great" wines; it's a bit weird. I speak often and highly of the great value to be found in cellar-worthy Italian wines; just not in Brunello. I want to rant, but to what end? Should I not just abandon the screed and talk about the wines I like?

No... I'll go on a bit more, and ask the question clearly: what use is Brunello? You could say that the average Brunello is great for red meat, but in the world of seriously structured red wine, that is just not saying much. You could also say that Brunello needs to age, but the experienced taster knows that the balance needed for a wine to improve over time will typically be apparent in a wine's early appeal, not its early difficulty. So, again, what use is Brunello? It must be quite easy to sell, because there's a lot of it, and the land prices in the region are exorbitant, so we know it is commercially viable... but who really likes the stuff and collects it as distinct and delicious terroir-driven wine? Well, I adore at least a few wines of Montalcino, so lets get on with it. In the meantime, I hope I haven't offended anyone, and I hope the rant wasn't totally boring.

Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 2013

I should say that there are more than a few wines of Montalcino that I would be very happy to sell and drink. Today, however, at Craft and Cru, and in my cellar, there are currently just a few Montalcino wineries. Perhaps our favorite, Sesta di Sopra, remains incredibly reasonable for what it represents, and their 2013 Brunello is one of the best buys of 2019. If I had the resources and the space in my cellar, I would happily buy every bottle of 2013 Sesta di Sopra in Massachusetts (only 264 bottles came to the state). Please, let me make my case:

- Sesta di Sopra is a 44 hectare property on the side of a wild mountain, but only 2 hectares are planted to vines, and only 1 of these hectares is classified for the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. This makes their Brunello extraordinarily rare and limited, with about 300 cases made in any given vintage. They also make a Brunello Riserva, but the couple vintages I've tried have not been nearly as interesting as the normale. The extra time in wood diminishes the beautiful sweet but fresh fruitiness that distinguishes the wines of the high-altitude Sesta zone. I might, however, add that fans of traditional Rioja, like Lopez de Heredia, or La Rioja Alta, might find much to admire in the riserva.

- The high-altitude vineyards of the Sesta zone of Montalcino are sites to pay attention to. Ian D'Agata lists Sesta as one of the top ten terroirs in all of Italy, alongside sites like Barbaresco's Asili and Barolo's Cannubi. Sesta di Sopra is unquestionably a leader, if not the leader, in the Sesta zone. Their Brunello is equivalent to a rare single-parcel cuvee from one of the DOCG's most prestigious producers, yet it is still priced like other entry-level Brunello. It should sell out in a heartbeat, but here I am offering a nice discount on a vintage destined for greatness.

- Ian D'Agata has also regularly declared Sesta di Sopra to be among the best wineries in all of Montalcino. Of the 2013 Brunello he says: Another knockout Brunello from Sesta di Sopra, a small and little-known Brunello producer that in my book rates among the best of the best.

- Sesta di Sopra really sticks out as different, in Montalcino, especially in a cool year like 2013. The 2013 growing season in Montalcino was perfect for amplifying the virtues of sites prone to fresh and elegant styles: yields were limited by spring rains, the summer never got very hot, and harvest occured a few weeks later than the contemporary norm. For those who want fresh and lifted aromas, as well as vibrant acidity, without sacrificing concentration and power, the 2013 vintage in Tuscany should not be ignored. Of course there are still plenty of bombastic monoliths, but if combed carefully, one can find 2013 Tuscan Sangiovese worth comparing to the world's most elegant and cellar-worthy red wines.

- My tasting note: typically exhibiting a prominent and pure fruity character, the Brunello of Sesta di Sopra is one of the most elegant and gracious expressions of powerful Montalcino Sangiovese. Their 2013 is particularly successful in this regard. Aromas of cranberry, red plum, red cherry and raspberry are exuberant and focused, while hints of herbs, flowers, licorice and nougat round things out. Firm and structured, youthfully imploded, tight on the palate today, the long finish hints at prolonged and positive development. Unlike so much Brunello, the tannins here are fine and balanced, with a satin texture that grips long but gently. Oak hardly comes into the picture, though one knows it is there. Purity and delicacy are through the roof, and I wouldn't mind saying that it reminds me of Burgundy, if that could even be a thing with Brunello... maybe at a couple places. It opens up over several hours, turning darker and deeper, more sultry and velvety, blackberry compote and pine forest taking a turn. Ideally it would sleep in a nice cellar for a few more years, but it's a delicious temptation today.

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