Tuscany: The Best of 2005 and 2006

by Antonio Galloni

Tuscany is a region of great contrasts that at its best is capable of producing an extraordinary range of wines. A few years ago I would have thought it unthinkable, but the simple fact is that many of the finest Tuscan wines are being made in Chianti Classico. The region once so maligned (and rightly so) for its mediocre, weedy, acidic wines is today home to some of Italy’s most exciting bottlings. Chianti Classico really seems to have come of age. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising, as this is where much of the revolution in modern-day Tuscan oenology began, back in the early 1980s. Many of the vineyards which were re-planted during that era are now beginning to express the full range of their potential. Winemakers have also arrived at a level of experience that allows them to make the best of their raw materials. Maremma is a much younger region but its producers are following a similar trajectory in searching for elegance to complement the richness and opulence that the wines from these terroirs are blessed with by nature. I also tasted a number of exciting wines from the smaller appellations of Carmignano and Montepulciano, in addition to a few wines from Montalcino I missed in my report in my Brunello article.

Of course, Tuscany has major issues as well. The situation in Montalcino involving Brunellos that allegedly contain varieties not permitted by law has become a drawn-out soap opera, as the US government threatens to block imports of those wines and the producers’ Consorzio takes small and measured steps at a very slow place. From an economic standpoint, the 2003 vintage may turn out to be a disaster for Montalcino. The vintage was once highly anticipated by the trade, largely in part because of the lack of wine in 2002, but as the year drags on many buyers will almost certainly opt to wait for the higher-quality 2004s. The demand for that vintage, once approaching feverish, has now softened, and if that situation persists consumers may win out in the long-term as producers will have a hard time passing on price increases. As I have written in these pages before, things in Italy can change on a dime, so the scenario above might look very different in a few months’ time. We shall see. As we go to press, Montepulciano has become the latest region in Tuscany to have its wines under review and producers have told me that inspectors have been making regular visits to another historic region in the north for some time. Add to this a major health scandal involving tainted wines from the south sold in supermarkets and you have a serious public relations disaster. Not Italy’s finest moment, to be sure.

But I digress. Readers will find a large number of exciting new releases from Tuscany’s 2005 and 2006 vintages entering the marketplace over the following months. Two thousand five started off as a promising year, but the summer was rather cool and fresh, with many areas receiving rainfall that was significantly higher than the average. The final period of the growing season saw periods of rain which compromised the harvest for later-ripening varieties in some spots. Conditions such as these are typically most favorable to smaller estates that can harvest their fruit in a matter of days rather than weeks, as they can be nimble in terms of timing their picking, a luxury larger estates simply don’t have. The most adversely affected regions in 2005 seem to be the higher- altitude regions in Chianti Classico and Montepulciano, where I tasted quite a large number of diluted wines with modest structures. Conversely, the most successful regions in Tuscany are the towns in the coastal areas of Maremma, which makes sense intuitively. These microclimates, which are by nature very hot and dry, were less affected by the rain as showers were often intermittent and the warm weather dried off the moisture relatively quickly. The wines of Maremma can often be overblown and super-ripe, but in 2005 a number of estates made wines that are beautifully balanced and elegant.

In general the 2005s from Tuscany are smaller scaled wines, with pretty aromatics and vibrant fruit, but without the layered, structured personalities that made the 2004s so compelling. The best of these are relatively accessible, medium-bodied wines that can be enjoyed today or cellared for the mid-term. Overall, 2005 is a consumers’ vintage. The wines aren’t likely to attract the frenzied attention of the 2004s and 2006s so patient consumers should be able to find the wines at reasonable prices at some point. The exception may be the US, where an ever- weakening dollar has resulted in wines that are in many cases more expensive than the 2004s. In those cases, readers will want to make sure their cellars are adequately stocked up on the best wines of that historic vintage before venturing into the 2005s. As always, challenging vintages are those where the cream rises to the top, and in virtually all cases the most important estates managed to make successful wines.

Two thousand six looks to be superb as it is incredibly consistent both across the various Tuscan appellations and at all levels of quality. I visited the region three times that year. In September I spent some time in Maremma, where I saw the tail end of the harvest at a number of properties, including Tua Rita, Ornellaia, Le Macchiole and Montepeloso. In November I spent a week or so in Chianti Classico, where producers were ecstatic with their young wines. So far I have tasted a large number of 2006s from tank and later from barrel that confirm the early promise of the vintage. The growing season was made in the last month or so. Warm daytime temperatures alternated with cool evenings, which extended the grapes’ hang time and gave growers the luxury and peace of mind to harvest without being rushed. These weather conditions were ideal for achieving full phenolic ripeness along with the maximum development of aromatics, acidity and structure. In general these are big, full-bodied wines loaded with super- ripe fruit, but with plenty of stuffing underneath. They will be tempting to drink young, but the best wines seem to have the potential to age gracefully for many years.

Readers can get an early sense of the vintage by exploring the wines that are coming into the marketplace now. Savvy consumers should focus on the sweet spot in 2006, which is to be found in the entry level wines, such as the top Rossos from Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Morellino di Scansano and the second labels of estates that have a Bordeaux-like selection model. Simply put, 2006 is a phenomenal vintage for Tuscany, and may very well surpass 2004. The 2006s have more power, fruit and structure, while the 2004s are finessed wines with perhaps a touch more elegance. Debating the merits of these two great vintages over the following years is sure to be fascinating sport.

Two thousand seven is another potentially top-flight vintage for Tuscany even though it is less consistent across the various regions. For some, but not all properties, 2007 may turn out to be more successful than 2006. Obviously these wines still have a long way to go before their potential is evident. In the meantime, readers who enjoy the finest Tuscan wines will find no shortage of great bottlings to drink and cellar.