2013 Brunello di Montalcino: The Throwback Vintage


Montalcino’s climate and wines have greatly changed over the last 20 years, and that change accelerates with every passing vintage. The idea of having a cool and extended growing season is slowly disappearing into the pages of history, as even the top years of the last decade would be considered warm by the standards of the past. Today, the quality of a vintage is less about the overall climate and more about how the individual sub-regions find balance and deal with the warm and dry conditions that are now the norm. However, 2013 is the year in recent memory that we can still look back on and undoubtedly consider a throwback or even classic.

At Castelnuovo dell'Abate, looking out toward the Orcia Valley from Poggio di Sotto.

Interestingly, from a seasonal weather standpoint, 2013 draws comparisons to years that didn’t yield such classic wines, such as 2005 and 2008. That is partially due to a combination of precipitation and cool conditions that all three seasons exhibited. Yet, as each year shows its strengths and weaknesses, 2013 resulted in beautifully balanced wines due to warm and sunny weather at the end of the season, propelling the berries to ideal ripeness. Rain threatened many producers at the end of September, but most were able to avoid any issues through properly timed harvests. Two thousand thirteen was a successful year throughout the entire region, which seldom occurs in modern-day vintages. From northeast to northwest and southeast to southwest, collectors will more success stories than failures. Numerous wines show wonderful transparency of terroir. The tragedies that did occur had more to do with farming and timing than location because some producers chose to pick prior to the forecasted rains in late September and failed to achieve phenolic ripeness.

As great vintages go, we look to 2004, 2006, 2010, 2016 and now 2019 as some of the best years of the last two decades, as each displays balanced wines that blend power and richness. What 2013 has that most of them lack is a combination of finesse, zesty acidity and tenacity, coupled with the structural girth to propel them to the age of 20 or beyond. Upon release, 2013 could have been considered an early-drinking vintage or “restaurant vintage” because the wines displayed such charm and mouthwatering qualities right out of the gate. Yet, even in their youth, the 2013s would sneak up on the taster, slowly building with structural tension and concentration, simply begging for a chance to blossom properly. When compared to the sun-kissed 2011s and 2012s, two years that truly are “restaurant vintages,” the contrasts are pretty obvious.

Today, the 2013s have hit a pleasant stride in their evolution, where some are just on the cusp of early maturity, and others are demonstrating the balance, depth and complexity to continue evolving for another ten years or more. Most of the wines I tasted for this report are still in an adolescent stage—all elbows and knees and full of angst—yet some are beginning to reveal their inner beauty. As Sangiovese ages, it softens, seeming to gain in both volume and weight, providing a perfect juxtaposition to the wines’ zesty acidity and often saline character. This is also one of the last years in the past decade where the majority of the wines finished in the 13.5-14% alcohol range, as opposed to the new normal of 14.5-15%, making them a total pleasure, wibalance that keeps bottles emptying at an accelerated pace. Savvy consumers can still find them in the market, and likely at reasonable prices.

The new normal is veraison, pictured in mid-July 2023.

Readers will also find several Rossos in this report that have matured gracefully and are a testament to the quality many producers now choose to strive for within the category. This is a perfect example of how beneficial it is to consider cellaring Rossos or buying them in larger quantities to follow as they evolve over time. I expect years such as 2016 and 2019 will bear similar results. Baricci, Le Potazzine and Pian dell'Orino make Rossos of particular note.

The 2013 Growing Season

While the results are quite spectacular, the journey to achieve that level was far from easy. The 2013 vintage began with a cold winter and a rainy spring, leading to uneven flowering that reduced yields by up to 30%. Late spring into summer remained cool, yet there was an increase in temperatures and sunny skies from mid-August into September, allowing the vines to catch up and ripen the berries. However, with rain in the forecast for late September, some growers chose to harvest early, resulting in grapes that had not achieved physiological ripeness. Cool, breezy conditions followed, and sunny weather resulted in perfectly ripe fruit and a mid-October harvest. Most producers, on average, harvested as much as two to three weeks later than in recent years.

The 2013s are blessed with soaring aromatics and elevated acidities thanks to large diurnal shifts. For me, 2013 lags slightly behind 2010, 2016 and 2019, simply from the standpoint of overall balance, but the wines are cool-toned and possess a charm and seductive, sultry character that cannot be denied. Expect the best of them to make it to their twentieth birthday easily.

I tasted the wines for this report through a combination of producer visits and in our New York office in the latter part of 2023. Many of the wines came directly from producers’ libraries, yet quite a few were sourced from my own cellar and those of fellow collectors. It’s important to keep in mind that the fifty-plus notes in this report are just a snapshot of the wines from 2013, yet the wines were specifically chosen in many cases for the potential they showed upon release.

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