This week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Tommaso Cortonesi of Tuscany's La Mannella. Decades ago his Grandfather started making wine. However at that time, and for many years later the wine they produced was for consumption by family, friends, and neighbors. In 1985 they made the move to being a commer cial winery and released their first Rosso di Montalcino. Five years later their first Brunello was produced and they were off and running. In the ensuing years they’ve added a single vineyard Brunello and a Riserva which tiny quantities of are produced in exceptional vintages.
Over a leisurely meal, paired with delicious Italian food, at the outstanding Paola's in NYC, I had the opportunity to taste each of their releases, and in a couple of cases two vintages of each. This side by side snapshot was an illuminating look into both the consistency of quality they’re putting on shelves as well as the power of vintage variation in site driven wines. Every drop of wine they bottle is produced entirely from Sangiovese Grosso. In short there’s a lot to like with what La Mannella is doing. Particularly impressive to me was the quality and expressiveness of their Rosso at less than $30 a bottle. Equally impressive in an entirely different way is their Riserva which is quite simply a rock-star Brunello that any lover of great Italian wine should seek to get their hands on. Here are some specific thoughts on the wines.
La Mannella 2013 Rosso di Montalcino ($29.99)
This younger wine is made from grapes not used in the Brunello’s. For one reason or another they decide to declassify some fruit and produce a Rosso from it. The fruit is from the same property, time in oak is less and the intent is a wine meant to enjoy in its relative youth. A big nose loaded with red fruits such as strawberry lead the way. This incredibly approachable wine is studded with tons of appealing and readily accessible red fruit flavors as well as plenty of accompanying spices. Mineral elements and warming red fruit and spices fill the above average finish. For under $30 you’re getting a lot of drinking pleasure with this Rosso. Brunello gets the (often deserved) hype but Rosso’s do a lot of the heavy lifting while you’re waiting for the Brunello’s to age.
La Mannella 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($71.99)
Aging took place over 36 months in large Slovenian Oak Casks. A deeper red hue than the Rosso, this Brunello shimmers in the glass. The deeply perfumed nose shows off cherry, tobacco and a subtle hint of vanilla. Bits of black raspberry accompany all the cherry fruit through the substantial and layered palate. Black tea and wisps of earth are present on the finish. Firm tannins yield with some air. 2010 represents a classic Brunello vintage, and here’s exhibit A. Delicious now, I’d advise laying it down for a decade and drinking it in the 15 years that follow.
La Mannella 2011 Brunello di Montalcino ($71.99)
Hints of candied cherry appear on the nose. The palate features more cherry as well as wild strawberry flavors. The deep and generous wine is a bit more open and approachable now than the 2010. Red clay, dry red fruits and a host of spices are all present on the long finish. It also has a long life ahead, of it. There are quite a few similarities between this and the 2010 but also some differences. At about 1,600 cases a year this Brunello represents their largest production wine.
La Mannella 2010 Brunello di Montalcino “I Poggiarelli” ($94.99)
This single vineyard selection was first added to the portfolio with the 1998 vintage. Aging took place over 12 months in 5 hectoliter French oak tonneaux followed by 24 months in large Slovenian oak. Less than 350 cases are bottled each year. Black and red cherry aromas fill the nose along with a touch of bay leaf and leather. The palate is stuffed with red raspberry. Cinnamon, clove, bits of earth and more are part of the long finish. Tremendous acid and big, tannins provide terrific structure here.
La Mannella 2011 Brunello di Montalcino “I Poggiarelli” ($94.99)
Hints of toasty oak and red raspberry aromas fill the nose here. Juicy, welcoming red fruit flavors fill the palate alongside copious amounts of spice. Red clay, minerals, and bits of black tea are all in evidence on the lovely, even-keeled finish. There is even more vintage variation in these single vineyard wines than in the regular Brunello’s. As with those, this 2011 also has a softer mouth-feel and mellower tannins.
La Mannella 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($249.99)
Aging for this Riserva took place over 48 months in large Slovenian oak casks. This Riserva is made from a Barrel Selection in truly exceptional vintages. Savory herbs, droves of red cherries and hints of vanilla are all present on the nose here. The palate is loaded with red fruits, minerals, earth and treasure trove of spices such as cinnamon, clove and cracked black pepper. Earth, chicory and dried red fruit flavors are all part of the absolutely prodigious finish whose length has to be experienced to be fully understood. This Brunello has a stunning level of depth, complexity and nuance befitting its Riserva designation. While this wine is beyond delicious now it’s also simply a baby. I would lay it down for 15 years and drink it in the 10 years that follow. If you’re searching for a high water mark of what can be achieved in Montalcino, this is an excellent place to start.
Considered as a whole the wines from La Mannella are an impressive collection. They represent distinct expressions of Sangiovese Grosso produced in a variety of genuine manners that while only a few degrees one way or the other from another in production techniques and grape selection, make a world of difference in your glass. The intent of each wine is varied and it shows. The firm, racy acid that is among the connective tissue these wines share lends to their overwhelming food friendliness.