Even more than their french counterparts, the top Italian red-wine appellations often require great patience from us. Five years ago, Elisa Sesti and her father, Giuseppe, sent word about their just-completed 2015 vintage, saying, “The harvest here at Castello di Argiano was perfect in every sense, with the grapes balanced in color, perfume, and above all the organoleptic quality of the must. In Montalcino, everyone is convinced that we are talking about an historic vintage.” This statement tantalized just about every Sangiovese lover in our shop, who would have to wait half a decade before getting to taste the magic. In a sense, we’ve gotten to enjoy hints of this prophecy, first in the domaine’s rosato, then in the Monteleccio, followed by the Rosso di Montalcino. Remarkably, these are all made with grapes that could qualify for Sesti’s Brunello di Montalcino, but are excluded because Elisa uses only the most immaculate grapes for that wine. As you might imagine—or perhaps experienced firsthand—these bottlings were real treats. But Sesti’s masterpiece is undoubtedly the Brunello, which represents the pinnacle of how complex Sangiovese can be and how thoroughly it can translate terroir. Now, in 2021, with the 2015 Brunello just off the boat and in a glass in front of us, we can finally validate, and vociferously endorse, Sesti’s early judgment that 2015 was indeed an outstanding year. The conditions were pretty much perfect. Those of us who prize finesse and elegance over power may have bitten our lips for a week or two in late summer, watching anxiously to see if water reserves from the spring showers would last long enough to prevent heat-induced stress on the vines. Fortunately, Sesti is situated in a relatively cool microclimate in Montalcino and also practices extremely judicious viticulture. In warmer vintages, they keep more leaves on their vines to shield the grapes from the sun, and they also work the topsoil with the rippatura technique, preserving moisture in the soil when it rains without drastically altering the soil structure. On top of this, Montalcino received perfectly timed, scattered showers in September 2015, which, Elisa and Giuseppe say, “refreshed the vines and above all the olive trees, which had begun to need the rain.” The resulting Brunello di Montalcino is a remarkable bottle of Sangiovese: complex, succulent, and slightly savory, with notes of red fruit, spices, and earth, and a long finish. It is versatile enough to pair with your favorite cut of meat, though I find the wine’s layers of flavors, texture, melting tannins, and acidity are perfectly suited to fowl: roast chicken or turkey, or a pan-seared duck breast.
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