Brunello has survived “Brunellogate,” said Bill Daley in the Chicago Tribune. Last spring a micro-scandal erupted in Italy after reports emerged that some winemakers of Brunello di Montalcino—required by law to be made with 100 percent Sangiovese grapes—were diluting it with 5 percent of Merlot or other varieties.
Although some winemakers still feel that adding a little Merlot to the Brunello formula will make the wine softer and fruitier, the Italian consortium of Brunello producers rejected a proposal to allow other grape varieties in their wine. They were right. This great wine—“one of the best red wines of Italy”—should not be tinkered with. Brunellos that have been aged for five years—half of that time in wooden barrels—are officially designated riservas. The latest riservas have now been released, and are close to their peak and ready to be drunk. In a recent blind tasting by our panel, these emerged as the four best:
2003 Altesino ($69)
This wine’s black cherry color practically glows in the glass. A “fruity, wood-scented nose touched with a whiff of the sea.” Delicious when served with roasted pheasant or braised short ribs.
2003 La Gerla Vigna gli Angeli ($75)?
“The knockout aroma of spice and black pepper” is the first thing you notice about this young, somewhat rough, velvety purple wine. Serve with roast beef, risotto with porcini mushrooms, or crown pork roast.
Neri Tenuta Nuova ($75)?
A lively, tannic wine, “with lip-smacking acidity.” A perfect match with roasted soy-lacquered duck, braised rabbit, or prime rib.
2003 Canalicchio di Sopra ($60)?
This astringent wine has notes of fruits and black pepper. Serve with roast turkey and trimmings or venison.