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Italy: Red Tuscany, including Montalcino 

Big wines, big prices and big love from the tasters. But the best wines here didn’t just have size, they had elegance and grace as well

Now this, you could practically hear our tasters saying, as they got halfway through the Tuscan flight, is more like it… Taking in ‘everything else in Tuscany apart from Chianti’, there were some heavyweight wines in here, with Brunellos and Rossos di Montalcino, Vini Nobile di Montepulciano and all manner of Supertuscans.

Just like last year, we saw Golds and Silvers galore, and there was, as you might expect, a lot of sommelier swooning over the wines.

It was a shame that we had to lose some of these in the first round,’ said a lachrymose Gustavo Medina of The Tate Group. ‘Overall, it was a very strong flight.’

Cynics might say ‘as it bloody should be at those prices’, because they weren’t exactly cheap. Hardly anything under the £10 mark was sent in, and prices headed rapidly north from there, barely pausing at the £20 barrier and heading full-steam ahead for £30 with real enthusiasm.

That said, our panels did manage to find a raft of well-priced Silvers, which doesn’t often happen, proving that it needn’t be all about the bling. Who are we kidding? Of course this is all about the bling. The expensive wines (and there were plenty) were fantastic and fascinating – a condensation of all that Italy can do well.

Tuscany, as you would expect, was a mix of international varietals and Sangiovese-based wines. There was a very strong selection of Silvers in the £10-£20 region, and two pricey but excellent Golds, with the Poggio al Tesoro W Dedicato a Walter making it onto the Gold List for the second time in two years. Montalcino contributed two superlative Gold wines over £20 – one of them, indeed, over £50 – and three Bronzes that were good, but simply needed more time.

With a plethora of expensive wines on show, it is always tempting for our tasters to be dazzled by the egos, but in fact they were admirably restrained. ‘We couldn’t justify putting through all of the top-end wines for medal status, so in the end we just picked the best ones,’ said James Teng of Hakkasan.

There’s a good reason for that, as his colleague Serdar Balkaya concurred. ‘Even at [Michelin-starred] Hakkasan, people are scared to spend more than £150 in the current climate. If a wine doesn’t have a reputation and a label, it really needs to have something special in the bottle.’

And our tasters genuinely did find some special wines. Interestingly, they weren’t all about size either. The Tolaini Valdisanti was described by consultant Angela Reddin as ‘a sensitive wine. It doesn’t rely on power alone, it has grace as well.’ The Talenti, meanwhile, ‘showed a more delicate, red fruit spectrum. It had a recognisable local character, but with an approachability and affordability that was impressive – and drinking very well right now,’ according to consultant Frédéric Jean-Yves Billet.

The W Dedicato a Walter might have been at the kind of price that would make it a luxury in some parts of the wine list, but The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking, for one, wasn’t fazed by that. ‘This price point is almost irrelevant in the on-trade – because you will sell this,’ he said. ‘It’s right there in age terms.’

As for Col d’Orcia’s Brunello. Well, first, the submitters should be applauded for having whatever the Italian equivalent is of cojones for sending in such a pricey wine to be judged blind. But their confidence paid off. The extra age on the wine probably helped, because our tasters absolutely loved its integration and elegance.

‘A very expressive example of Brunello, wonderful, complex, with a great wealth of fruit, but also an elegant wine with great length that is drinking well now,’ said The Glasshouse’s Sara Bachiorri. ‘This would be expensive on the list, but still represents good value for customers who know what they are looking for and want a classic Italian style and expect to pay for quality.’

‘To me, there was regional typicity. They were definitely terroir-driven,’ Serdar Balkaya, Hakkasan

‘The consistency here was very good. You could drink all of the wines easily. All the wines we put through in the first round really delivered for the price.’ Gustavo Medina, Tate Group