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Allegrini 2018
THE INTERVIEW

Monica Larner: better and better Italian wines, the classics and territories to be discovered

WineNews interviewed the Italian Editor of “The Wine Advocate”, who gave 100/100 to Brunello di Montalcino 2016 by Il Marroneto and Le Chiuse di Sotto
BAROLO, BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO, ITALY, MONICA LARNER, THE WINE ADVOCATE, WINE, News
Monica Larner with the two 100/100 Brunello di Montalcino

Monica Larner, the Italian editor of the most influential international wine review magazine in the world, founded by Robert Parker (and today of the Michelin group, ed.), the famous restaurant guide, talked to WineNews in a long interview. She is interested in discovering new wines and territories, especially in the South, like in Sicily, Campania and Apulia, telling their stories outside the scores, but alongside great Italian wine classics, Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo first of all, but also Chianti Classico, Amarone, Bolgheri and more, which improve year by year, seeking ever greater "stylistic purity" and finesse. Further, she wants to narrate the "thousand voices" of Italian wine, which like the regional dialects, speak the language of their territories in a much clearer and more appreciative way for fans around the world. Wines that are better and better and more expressive, which this generation’s critics that have an increasingly international palate and are more open to comparison than in the past, are eager to reward with very high scores. Even the rare score, but less so than in the past, of 100/100, symbol of perfection, like The Wine Advocate just assigned to two expressions of Brunello di Montalcino 2016, Madonna delle Grazie by Il Marroneto and Gianni Brunelli - Le Chiuse di Sotto.
The chat started from wanting to find something new, represented by the “Top 100 Wine Discoveries 2020”, which awarded 12 Italian wines; three from Sicily, two of which from Etna (Etna Rosso Contrada Sciaranuova VV 2016 Tasca d’Almerita and Tenute Bosco’s Etna Rosso Pre-phylloxera Vico 2016, as well as Tenuta di Castellaro’s Terre Siciliane Nero Ossidiana 2016), three from Tuscany (G. Punto 2018 by Duemani, Liù 2018 by Castello dei Rampolla and Val d’Arno di Sopra Bòggina C 2018 by Petrolo), three from Piedmont (Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Fausto 2016 by Vigne Marina Coppi, Langhe Nebbiolo Claré JC 2019 by GD Vajra and Barolo Undicomuni 2016 by Arnaldo Rivera), two from Campania (Greco di Tufo Goleto 2017 by Tenute Capaldo, a company in the Feudi di San Gregorio company, and Phos 2017 by Roccamonfina de I Cacciagalli) and one from Alto Adige (Isarco Valley Kerner 2018 by Köfererhof).

“We created the list following a long discussion with colleagues, because we wanted to find a way to reward wineries by going beyond the wine score, which is what we usually do”, explained Monica Larner, “finding a way to narrate, relate the stories, and discover news. Therefore, the idea, which we had tested last year, of the “discoveries” took shape, from which we created a list of those that struck us in a special way. Every year we taste thousands of wines. I am already at quota 3.000 this year from Italy alone, and there are many discoveries, wines that may have a lower score than others, but still have something special, distinctive, wines that describe a territory, an innovation, or an organic or more sustainable way of working. And, that is how the list was invented, which for me and for Italy was particularly nice because it gave me the opportunity, for instance, to reward wines from Campania and Sicily which really are territories to be discovered. When you discover new wines, you feel almost like a “wine archaeologist”, finding new methods of winemaking, new vineyards or ancient vineyards which, however, are new to discover, for those who do my job and also for enthusiasts. I tried to reward native vines and out of the 12 awarded, only 2 are international vines, a Grenache and a Merlot that come from Tuscany. Then there is the concept of the vineyard, of how the land is worked. I awarded a vineyard in the Aeolian Islands, for instance, as well as, in general, wine that represented discovering a place, the spirit of a territory. I am also proud that all the choices regarding Italy are “sustainable”, and the producers are working with meticulous attention in this regard”.
Alongside the innovations, there are, of course the great classics; those timeless territories that are the pillars of Italian wine, from the Langhe of Barolo and Barbaresco to Montalcino, and its Brunello, Chianti Classico, Bolgheri and Valpolicella. The classics are constantly undergoing significant renewal within, explained Monica Larner. “There is a search for greater “purity”, in general, on a stylistic level in the classical territories. Right now we are meeting with colleagues from The Wine Advocate to take stock of the year, and among the 5 most read articles, 3 were on Italy, and in particular on Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Sassicaia. After all, even the reader of The Wine Advocate is definitely interested and attracted to those great classic denominations. They are the wines and territories that will always remain the ambassadors of Italian wine around the world. These great denominations also have the desire to look for innovation and the ever-present desire to go towards a greater finesse of the wine, a greater stylistic precision. I believe that, in general, the many voices of Italian vines, which are a bit like dialects because they speak about their territory, are clearer, more evident and expressive, which we can see in the great denominations as well as in the "discoveries”. Everyone is working toward this direction, looking for a greater identity of the thousands of voices of Italian wine”.

Among all the wines, Brunello di Montalcino always shines in the spotlight, primarily because of the two great consecutive vintages, 2015 and 2016, which will be going on the market at the beginning of 2021. Brunello is also the subject of the latest report Monica Larner published in The Wine Advocate where, as we said, the two 100/100 scores for Brunello di Montalcino 2016 Madonna delle Grazie by Il Marroneto, and Brunello di Montalcino 2016 by Gianni Brunelli - Le Chiuse di Sotto stand out amongst many very high scores. “We hadn’t waited for a Brunello with just eagerness since 2010, when as a matter of fact, just a few hours after the report was published, The Wine Advocate website registered such intense traffic that it caused it to crash. Six years have gone by and another great vintage, 2016, will be going on the market in a few weeks. A lot has changed in the past 6 years. Then, over the last year, of course, everything has changed in the wine market. Montalcino is in a very good position. The reviews on Brunello came out a little earlier, which will help on the market. The reason is also because the 2016 vintage, compared to the 2015 already released and the 2017 that will arrive, is a longer-lived vintage, and will be able to stay on the market even longer than usual, for a couple of years. It is really fortunate for the appellation to go on the market with the 2016 vintage and the 2015 Riserva in such a challenging period as this one. In particular, I wanted to reward two wines that I am very happy about with a score of 100/100. I had awarded one of them with the same score for the 2010 vintage, namely Madonna delle Grazie de Il Marroneto, which I really like for its purity, its transparency, and for this beautiful Sangiovese voice that comes out with great clarity. Plus, Brunello 2016 of Le Chiuse di Sotto by Gianni Brunelli, and this wine also struck me for the purity of the fruit, and its transparency. There is a pinch of “Sangiovese truth” in this wine, of Montalcino “truth”, of the territory, of the view of Monte Amiata, of the woods surrounding the vineyards. It is a wine that takes you directly there, to the territory. However, there are many wines that achieved very high scores”, explained Monica Larner. She awarded 98 points to the wines of Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Giodo (Bianca and Carlo Ferrini) and Le Ragnaie; 97+ to Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 2016 by Casanova di Neri and Brunello di Montalcino 2016 by Le Chiuse; 97 points to Brunello di Montalcino Petroso 2016 by Le Ragnaie, Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Loreto 2016 by Mastrojanni and Brunello di Montalcino Vigneto Manachiara 2016 by Tenute Silvio Nardi. And the scores were very high for the 2015 vintage as well: the highest score, 98+ went to Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 2015 by Casanova di Neri; then, 98 to Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015 by Canalicchio di Sopra and the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015 of Fuligni, and 97+ to Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015 by Uccelliera; 97 to Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d'Oro Riserva 2015 by Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015 by Gianni Brunelli - Le Chiuse di Sotto, Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Paganelli Riserva 2015 by Il Poggione, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2015 from Poggio Antico.
The two new 100/100 scores awarded to Il Marroneto and Le Chiuse di Sotto - Gianni Brunelli, however, spark a spontaneous reflection. The “perfect score” is still a rarity, awarded to very few wines, but maybe not quite so rarely as in the past and not only for Italian wines. Have the wines improved, or has the critics’ approach also changed? “I think both are true. The wines have undoubtedly improved”, explained Monica Larner, “as I tasted almost 200 wines from Montalcino, and there were no products with defects, they were all beautiful; it was almost boring to continually write positive reviews, and award 95 points upwards to so many wines, which definitely all deserved those scores. The point is that there are many great wines arriving on the market from all over Italy, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico. But there are also the wines from Campania and Sicily, from Etna, from Apulia, which has more powerful wines, from Friuli Venezia Giulia that has these great whites with a unique creaminess, or Amarone della Valpolicella, another wine of great character. All of these wines are definitely improving. The criticism world is also changing, though. There are more discussions and communication between colleagues. In the Robert Parker years, maybe it was because he worked a bit alone, it was just him and his palate. Today, we all have a more international palate, we are a different generation, more open stylistically, and we have more elements of comparison. In some way, the most important thing about doing this job is having courage, passion and enthusiasm, which is what Parker taught us. If you taste great wines, you just have to come out and say it. We need to have confidence, courage and hope that many other wines in the future can achieve these results, because quality is continually increasing”.
There was a message of positivity, too, in view of a future that is truly more uncertain than ever. “I think next year will still be very difficult for everyone. I have not traveled, and I have not been able to visit companies, but I must say that I have traveled the same, thanks to the many wines I have tasted”, said Monica Larner In my job, I have been able to travel every day, with my imagination. Through the glass, I can see vineyards that I know well, and the faces of the producers who made these wines. There is magic in the wine that in some ways this year perhaps we have learned to welcome more. I spoke with Luca Sanjust (Villa Petrolo, in Valdarno, Tuscany, ed.) about the “genius loci” concept,which is very important to find in the glass. This year, 2020, has changed the way many of us approach wine, as the only way to travel was through the glass. Let’s hope this magic doesn’t go away. Next year will still be problematic, even on the market, and we hope to get out of this situation soon”.
Yet, from the point of view of wine critics, like Monica Larner, not everything has gone so bad. “There have been some positive things that I don’t want to change. For example, I tasted all the wines in my home, under the same conditions, using the same glass that I really like, and the wines were all at the same temperature. I spent more time with wines, I was able to taste and re-taste them several times, and even tried several combinations in the kitchen. The way we work has completely changed, but we have found consistency in tasting, which is very important. When we were working and traveling, we often realized that we were making 5 different visits in one day, and always in a hurry, or tasting wines in a room that was too hot or too cold, in a glass that we didn’t like. So, from this point of view, this year everything was perfect, and that’s why perhaps my scores were a bit higher; although, above all, the scores are also merit of these beautiful vintages, 2016 in the Langhe and Brunello.
Monica Larner, and the many other wine critics who “taste Italy all over the world”, were assisted in doing their work thanks to increasingly efficient and precise logistics, an aspect that is anything but secondary. Therefore, Monica Larner herself closed her report on Brunello in a very special way: “I want to send a special thanks to Carlotta Mini of the shipping company Fieramente, in Arezzo. She worked with great diligence to collect the samples, sort out all the missing documents for the wines so that they arrived safely in California, to my home. Each wine I have had the honor to taste has come thanks to the work of professionals such as Carlotta, who did everything in their power to complete the job. Thank you so much!”.

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