Renowned Brunello producer Biondi-Santi has simultaneously released two historic vintages, Biondi-Santi 2016 Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Biondi-Santi 2017 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. The 2016 Riserva is the final vintage that previous owner and winemaker Jacopo Biondi-Santi had a hand in, while the 2017 is the first that was fully crafted by the new winemaking team with no input from the winery—and appellation’s—founding family. Together, these two astounding wines are a piece of history representing the past, present and future of Biondi-Santi.
The 2016 Riserva is only the 42nd produced by the winery since it was established in 1888 by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi; riserva wines are only made in exceptional years. Ferruccio’s grandfather, Clemente Santi, is said to be the first in the area surrounding the hilltop Tuscan village to have produced a wine using 100 percent Sangiovese, known locally as Brunello, while Ferruccio was the first of the family to produce a bottle labelled “Brunello di Montalcino Biondi-Santi Tenuta Greppo.” Although the family’s winemaking history in the region stretches back to the Middle Ages, their winery and Tenuta Greppo estate were sold in 2016 to EPI, a French company which also owns several Champagne houses and is headed by Christopher Descours.
At an event unveiling not only the two vintages but the second edition of La Voce di Biondi-Santi, a new audio experience that introduces wine lovers in the stories of Biondi-Santi. The evening included readings from the exclusive podcast (accessible by QR code included with each bottle) by actor Tomas Arana and commentary and piano performance from Susan Lin MW, who was the featured artist for last year’s release, which featured the theme “Equlibrium.” The theme this year is “Wonderment.” Biondi-Santi CEO Giampiero Bertolini explained to members of the wine press, “Last year, when we launched the last vintage from Jacopo Biondi-Santi, the 2012, we held a tasting comparing the first and last vintage from him, the 1971 and 2012… When we put the two wines together, the color was exactly the same. I was amazed by this. There was a sense of wonderment that appeared in my mind that got me thinking about the meaning of this word. And that is why we decided to use this word to explain the vintage to our consumers.”
The first wine tasted was the Biondi-Santi 2017 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($270), which was sourced from estate vines with between 10 and 25 years of age and fermented in concrete tanks before three years of aging in large oak barrels and one in bottle. It exhibited an elegant nose of black cherry and caramel with a hint of mint. It has gorgeous, polished tannins and bright flavors of pomegranate, strawberry, cocoa powder and eucalyptus. The long finish is marked with soft dried herb notes. Speaking about the vintage via video, technical director Federico Radi explained that although 2016 was a warm vintage, the estate’s position “in the cooler part of Montalcino offered great acidity. At first sip you can perceive excellent balance and harmonious consistency with beautiful elegance on the first impression, with good density and depth.”
Next up was the Biondi-Santi 2016 Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($800). There was more complexity on both the nose and palate, with aromas of cassis, black plums and herbes de Provence. It has a sense of sophistication in the mouth, with flavors of dark berries, dark chocolate and dried Mediterranean herbs. Opulent tannins carried on into the lengthy finish, which was marked with a burst of fresh cranberry. Harvested from vines more than 25 years old, the 2016 Riserva was fermented in vertical oak barrels, aged in oak barrel for three years and bottle-aged for two additional years prior to release. Federico Radi, again by video, pointed out, “You can enjoy this today but also put it in your cellar for many, many years.”
The Biondi-Santi family held back 30 percent or more of their production each year, a practice that continues under the Descours’ leadership, offering a deep library of back vintages that are released annually. The current back vintage release is 1999; last year’s was 1985. To offer a perspective on ageability, we tasted the Biondi-Santi 1983 Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (released in 2021) and can confirm a sense of wonderment at the color alone, which did not appear to have faded at all after almost 40 years. It has a bouquet of cherry liqueur, shaved truffle and a whiff of rose petal. It opens on the palate with baking spice notes that are quickly joined by luscious tannins and flavors of black cherry, cigar box and a touch of charcuterie. Vibrant acidity is evident from first sip through the enduring finish. These wines are definitely built not just to age but to age exceptionally well.