San Filippo 2016 Release

If I had to think of one way to universally describe the majority of wines from the 2016 vintage, I would offer that they are like a well-muscled black stallion in its prime. They are dark yet radiant, expressive, nearly explosive at times, yet pure, poised and structured. These are wines that capture your imagination. ERIC GUIDO, Vinous.

As the saying goes, that escalated quickly!

In the decade or so since we started importing the wines of Roberto Gianelli, his estate, San Filippo, has catapulted into the top tier of Brunello producers. They are now tightly allocated and those who follow the point scores will note the perennial high 90s the top bottlings attract from the world’s top wine press. So what happened here? Why has San Filippo gone from relative obscurity to a position amongst the best of the semi-modern brigade of producers?

I think the answer comes in two parts. The first is Gianelli himself. When he purchased the estate, he was new to the wine game, his motivation came from pure unadulterated love for the wines of Montalcino. His infectious passion powered a thirst for knowledge and a search for what made his wines tick. In the beginning he relied heavily on a consultant oenologist (most do in this part of the world) but to his enduring credit he slowly started to decouple from the process and impart his own stylistic imprint on the wines. As his understanding of the vineyards grew and his understanding of what was needed to best translate that through his wines, he started to force his own changes to the cellar practices. Less oak, bigger oak and longer fermentations has changed the shape of the wines – tannins are more balanced and play a supporting role to the fruit and this in turn is allowing more savoury nuance to appear in the wines earlier on in their evolution.

The second reason as I see it is the vineyard. This place (same neighbourhood as stars Cerbaione and Conti Costanti) and Le Lucere (the single vineyard plot within) in particular gives ebullient fruit and bramble aspects like I don’t see anywhere else. There’s almost a concentrate aspect to the red and black fruits which is tinged with more heady herbage flowers. Rosemary, sage and pipe tobacco create a heady aromatic matrix. Crazy stuff and so unique to this one site. I’ve never experienced the same profile, even from producers nearby.

Of course, the last two vintages have given a perfect stage to show the best of what Gianelli has achieved – two of the greatest in living memory coupled with an estate full of confidence in their vision makes for compelling wines. Ask Roberto which vintage he prefers and he says 2015 but, it depends on the day he tastes them. Ask me, it’s the 2016s but they will take a little longer to emerge to show their best than the already effusive 2015s.

There are two main bottlings here. The Brunello di Montalcino is sourced from around the small property’s vineyards (including Le Lucere) is one of the better “entry level” Brunelli you will find. It sees slightly less oak as well as a little less new oak. There’s density and presence here and beautiful details and layers of flavour here. Unusual complexity for a wine at this level. Looks more like the top wine from most other estates.

The second of the wine is a single plot within the estate called Le Lucere. It has been the wine that put the estate on the map. Extra depth and intensity of small berry fruit and floral nuance and just brooding power and presence to burn. Always here you see the San Filippo terroir stamp – small berry fruit, balsam and garden woody herbs, tobacco backed up by judicious use of oak providing some spice. Modern leaning in the best sense.

The journey with these wines has been one of the more exciting I’ve witnessed in three decades of being in the wine game. Every new release builds on a track record that is becoming littered with accolades. I can’t recommend them enough, on top of that if you ever were going to purchase Brunello, 2016 is the time.