Essence of Merlot: Miani 1994-2006
Miani Merlot (magnum)
Miani Merlot (magnum)
Miani Merlot (magnum)
Miani Merlot Filip
Miani Merlot Buri
Miani Merlot Filip
Miani Merlot Buri
Tocai Buri (magnum)
is one of Italy’s cult properties, and with good reason. Proprietor Enzo
Pontoni crafts some of the most profound, monumental wines readers are likely
to come across. The range includes a number of compelling whites, two
phenomenal Merlots and an equally majestic red from Refosco, the legendary
Rosso Calvari, all made in miniscule quantities. Incredibly, this was the first
comprehensive vertical tasting Pontoni had ever held of his Merlots. Because
bottles have become extremely scarce – even in Pontoni’s own cellar – a number
of wines were tasted from magnum, a format that is not commercially available. To
say this was unforgettable tasting would be a colossal understatement, as the
wines were brilliant in every way.
Pontoni represents the very finest of the Italian vigneron spirit. Originally trained as an engineer, Pontoni spent
the first part of his career working in many of Italy’s largest cities, a
cosmopolitan life that seems like another world compared to these humble, agrarian
surroundings. Shake his hand though, and it is clear Pontoni is a man of the
land. Despite his lack of formal training, Pontoni seems to be blessed with a prodigious,
innate talent for understanding his vineyards. He is intensely critical of his
own wines to a degree I have rarely seen in another producer and his
excruciatingly high standards are the stuff of legend in the parts. The wines only
go into bottle when Pontoni feels they are exceptional. Accordingly, there was
no Merlot in 1995, 1996, 2003 or 2005.
all of the emphasis at Miani is on the vineyards. Pontoni’s philosophy relies
on old vines, tiny yields and a maniacal dedication to the land. The winemaking
facilities and cellar are as stripped-down as possible. Among the items of
interest are several farming tools Pontoni designed and built on his own.
Otherwise, the winery itself is unremarkable. Pontoni farms a number of tiny
Merlot parcels in the towns of Rosazzo and Buttrio, both in the Colli Orientali
appellation in Friuli. The early Merlots were made from a combination of fruit
from Rosazzo and Buttrio, but in 2004 Pontoni began experimenting with bottling
the wines separately; giving birth to his Merlots Filip (Rosazzo) and Buri (Buttrio).
The Filip is generally rounder and more immediate while the Buri is firmer,
fresher and more structured, with greater overall complexity. I consider the
Merlot Buri to be one of the most profound expressions of Merlot on the planet.
first commercial release was 1987. The early reds were made in a relatively
fresh style. It would be a few years, until 1993 or so, before Pontoni’s work
in the vineyards would give him the raw materials to make the style of rich,
complex wines consumers are familiar with today. In the following years Pontoni
sought a super-ripe style supported by lengthy periods of aging in new oak, an
approach that was in fashion throughout Italy during the mid to late 1990s.
Since then he has moved to slightly earlier harvests, gentler extractions and
reduced the period of oak aging, all choices that have left the wines with more
freshness, detail and textural elegance than was sometimes the case in the
past. Pontoni’s Merlots are still building their track records, but judging by
this and other tastings, they are more than living up to the potential my high
scores have suggested over the years.
1994 Merlot is a sublime wine in
this important vintage for Friulian reds. Layers of dark fruit, grilled herbs,
spices and tobacco emerge from this medium-bodied yet surprisingly rich wine.
Refined, elegant tannins frame the fruit all the way through to a long finish
that practically lasts into the next day. This is a wine that made me literally
lose my mind. Wow. In 1994 the growing season was quite hot, but then freshened
up towards the end of the maturation cycle. The 1994 Merlot saw 11-12 days of fermentation
and maceration, and was aged in 100% new French oak. Drinking window: 2009-2014.
1997 Merlot (magnum) is remarkable
for the integrity of its fruit and its overall freshness. This muscular Merlot
flows with the essence of graphite, minerals, grilled herbs, spices and dark
fruit. The 1997 is perhaps the most unctuous, opulent Merlot in Miani’s history.
Although tertiary notes have begun to emerge, the wine will continue to age
nicely on its sheer density and looks to have at least another decade of very
fine drinking to offer. The 1997 Merlot captures the peak of Pontoni’s search
for muscle and extraction in his wines. One might argue that the 1997 is a
touch monolithic, but at this level that is pretty much splitting hairs. The 1997
Merlot saw a relatively lengthy fermentation and the various lots spent 30-33
months in French oak. Drinking window: 2009-2019.
1998 Merlot (magnum) is another
firm, tightly-wound wine. This isn’t one of the flashier vintages, but as the
wine sits in the glass its pedigree emerges with great eloquence. Suggestions
of graphite and minerals add complexity on the cool, refreshing close. In time
the 1998 may very well challenge some of the very finest vintages here. There
is a slightly angular quality to the 1998 that is in some ways reminiscent of
the 2002, but the truth is that any other producer in the world would kill for
a wine like this! Rain and generally deteriorating weather towards the end of
the growing season forced Pontoni to bring in the fruit a few days earlier than
he would have liked and for that reason he finds a slight touch of greenness in
the wine. Drinking window: 2010-2020.
1999 Merlot (magnum) marries power
to elegance in a style that foreshadows the wines of recent years. This is
simply an awesome bottle of wine, that’s all there is to it. Everything is
right there in the glass; inner perfume, ripeness and complexity all come
together in a profound Merlot of the highest level. This three-dimensional
Merlot should continue to drink beautifully for at least another decade,
perhaps longer. The 1999 is the first wine that shows a more enlightened
approach to vinification, and it is marvelous juice. Drinking window: 2009-2021.
2000 Merlot is one of the leaner
wines in this tasting. Here the acidity is a touch high and the wine reveals
more of a linear expression in its dark fruit, leather, licorice and spices. The
2000 Merlot is beautifully balanced, especially considering the less than optimal
conditions that year, but it understandably lacks the explosive quality that
informs Miani’s very finest vintages. Pontoni relates that he had higher hopes
for the 2000 when it went into bottle. Drinking window: 2009-2019.
2001 Merlot is a beautiful, stunning
wine. Still somewhat coiled, the 2001 reveals impeccable balance in its silky
fruit, new leather, chocolate and spices. This is a refined, layered wine, yet
the aromas and flavors are very slightly forward, suggesting it won’t be one of
the most long-lived vintages. In the meantime, it should provide memorable
drinking. In 2001 production levels were normal, which is to say Pontoni
bottled just eight barrels of this juice. As always, the wine was aged in 100%
new oak, mostly Taransaud with a touch of Vicard. Drinking window: 2011-2019.
2002 Merlot makes an eloquent case
for a place alongside Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Riserva Monfortino as one of the
finest Italian reds to emerge in this very difficult harvest. The wine is
simply awesome for its sheer pedigree even if today it is a touch rough around
the edges. After a few hours in the glass the wine comes together, hinting at
its ultimate potential. There is tons of inner sweetness to be found, along
with suggestions of roses, raspberries, roasted coffee beans and spices. In 2002
Pontoni had the courage to wait to harvest until after the rains had passed,
and for his patience he was rewarded with an utterly profound, magnificent
wine. The 2002 Merlot can be enjoyed today if opened several hours prior to
serving, but it will continue to gain complexity in bottle. This is another
marvelous vintage and one of my personal favorites. Bravo! The 2002 spent 24-26
months in 100% new French oak. Drinking window: 2012-2022.
2004 Merlots, both tasted from magnum, represent the first vintage in which
Pontoni bottled his wines from the villages of Rosazzo and Buttrio separately. The
2004 Merlot Filip (magnum), from
50-60 year-old vines in Rosazzo, reveals awesome richness and length in a
refined, perfumed style that is simply breathtaking. It is an exceptional wine
in every way, but I am most struck by the vivid detail of roses, mint, flowers
and sweet spices, along with the silkiness of the tannins. This is utterly sublime
juice. Drinking window: 2012-2024. The 2004 Merlot Buri, from vineyards in Buttrio, is even better. The
Buri is a firm, powerful and massively structured wine bursting with dark
fruit, licorice, graphite, leather and melted road tar in a sepia-toned
expression that recalls a great Serralunga Barolo. The long, powerful finish
lasts an eternity. Significant patience is required, but readers lucky enough
to own this bottle are in for a thrilling drinking experience that will satisfy
the intellectual and hedonistic senses to the maximum. Drinking window: 2014-2026.
2006 Merlots look to be equally superb. As is typically the case, the Buri is
significantly more backward than the Filip, but both wines are full of promise.
The summer was hot, particularly during July, but later on in the growing season
bouts of rain lowered temperatures and allowed for a leisurely October harvest.
The 2006 Merlot Filip is austere and
powerful. Blackberry jam, chocolate, spices and leather emerge from this
refined red. The 2006 is painfully young at this stage and will require
significant patience, but it is shaping up to be magnificent. In a word:
awesome. Drinking window: 2016-2026. The 2006 Merlot Buri shows extraordinary balance in a mineral-infused
expression of ripe, dark fruit. The wine turns even more complex in the glass,
as layers of sweet menthol, grilled herbs, spices and graphite emerge over
time. In 2006 the Buri was made from eight tiny parcels in the town of Buttrio.
As I look at my notes I am struck by this phrase; “great, great, great!” Drinking window: 2016-2026.
finished with the 2006 Tocai Buri,
which was tasted from magnum. This superb, chiseled white lingered on the
palate for an eternity with layers of crushed rocks, laser-like fruit and
flowers. The wine was so extraordinary I confess I drank two full glasses…and enjoyed
them immensely. A vertical of Miani’s epic Rosso Calvari is next on the
schedule. Needless to say, I am already looking forward to that date with much
excitement and anticipation. Drinking window: 2012-2021.