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Italy: Tuscany, including Montalcino 

Big on bling and big on price these might have been, but they really delivered. Some terrific wines here if your list can take the financial strain

There are times with wine when you’re happy with cheap and cheerful; a wine that will, metaphorically, trundle down to the shops and back without breaking down. Equally, there are times when you want to swank around a bit with the sunroof down, a big growly exhaust and those fancy little headlights that pop up when you turn on the ignition.

Guess which category these wines came into? You’ve got it. We’re definitely talking Ferrari rather than Fiat here. Although actually the prices of this year’s medal winners were no worse than 2012, when we had no Golds under £24. Seen in that light, 2013’s Tuscan/Montalcino offerings look like something of a bargain.

Our tasters, obviously, didn’t complain too loudly about being given flight after flight of £20+ Italian bling to taste, but they did at least have one or two (possibly token) reservations about how easy they would be to sell.

‘There’s got to be a reality check in the current market. These are quality wines and they’re really tasty, but they’re going to be nudging £80-£90 on a restaurant wine list and they’re just not all worth it,’ said The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking.

Maybe not. Not all of them. But hell, they were good! We ended up with a staggering seven Golds on the final list, three of them Brunellos, and were it not for financial considerations we could have had many more. This is one of those categories where there are really good pickings to be had among the Silvers as well as the Golds.

Santa Cristina’s Le Maestrelle is a case in point. ‘It had fantastic definition and complexity,’ said Vinopolis’s Tom Forrest. ‘It really spoke of Sangiovese and Tuscany. At the price it really delivers.’ It also had the not inconsiderable advantage of being the only wine in this section that would make it on a list sub-£30.

Interestingly, given that usually these wines are about as shy and retiring as Louie Spence, our panels this year felt they were a touch lighter. It could, of course, have been the effects of vintage, but since most of the medal winners were spread evenly between 2007, 2008 and 2009, it seemed to be consistent enough for our tasters to feel that they were spotting a trend towards less extraction.

‘The best wines here had balance and a touch of austerity, but a unique style,’ said Marco Feraldi of St James’s Hotel and Club. ‘We found a typicity and uniqueness and an identifiable style that will come through in a blind tasting.’

To a man, our tasters loved the way the highly structured nature of the local lead variety (plus its high-maintenance dancing partner Cabernet) sashayed around on the palate.

‘The Gold List contenders were all quite similar in style,’ said Hakkasan Group’s Christine Parkinson, as she picked through the vast number of hopefuls for the final list. ‘So I was looking for really attractive fruit. On some wines, it was rather hidden under the oak. Those that got Gold Listed had a finish that went beyond wood.’

Obviously they had to be drinking well now, too. There was, as one judge put it, ‘no bad wine’ in the early flights, but there was, equally, not much point in stocking something that will be ‘great in five years time’. ‘Quality had to be faultless,’ intoned team leader Peter McCombie MW.

And for the seven Gold-Listed wines it was. They were some of the best-received wines of this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards.

The words ‘balanced’, ‘complex’, ‘expressive’ and ‘great with food’ came up time and time again. It was like Groundhog Day, but with teams of sommeliers and £40 bottles of Italian hooch instead of Bill Murray and Andie MacDowall.

‘What I like about Tuscany is that combination of freshness, elegance and intensity, coupled with fine tannins,’ said Dabbous’s Charles Pashby-Taylor of the Critics' Choice-winning Col d’Orcia. ‘This wine spoke of place and typicity.’

‘As sommeliers, we need both modern and traditional styles on the list and we need to explain to our customers so they know what they will get.’
Tobias Brauweiler, The Ritz

‘All the medal-winning wines from Montalcino have the freshness you expect of Sangiovese at their heart, which is part of what makes then go so well with food.’
Marco Adreani, The Pass at South Lodge