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1997 Brunellos: A Deal for this Weekend


With the manic-depressive economy, it might seem inappropriate to write about buying wine at auction. But if you’re a serious wine lover, auctions often offer some of the best deals—at least on rare and older wines. For bargain hunters with a big budget, Christie's will auction off the ultimate mixed lot this Saturday—168 bottles of 1997 Brunello di Montalcino (a vintage that’s been considered a benchmark for the Tuscan wine). The estimated cost of the lot is $5,000 to $7,000—way out of my price range. But that’s just $30 to $40 per bottle for wines that cost well over $100 each at retail.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to taste through 12 of the Brunellos for sale and eat a fabulous six-course pizza menu prepared by pizza fanatic Mark Bello. The tasting included 6 riserva bottlings, which are aged longer and cost more. There’s been some controversy lately over the vintage, with collectors and critics saying the wines aren’t as great as they were once predicted to be. The verdict: If you have a ton of cash, the lot is a pretty incredible deal. Even though the tasting had a dud or two, there were plenty of wines to keep a Brunello lover happy for years...and me, a pizza lover, ecstatic (if only those pizzas would keep in a cellar). 

More geeky details:

-    In general, the normale bottlings (those aged for less time than the riservas) are showing better right now. For the most part, the wines seemed intact and more or less ready to drink. The most traditional wine in the tasting, the Palazzina Le Machioche, was actually still quite youthful, with a vibrant, floral nose. This wine seems to have a good life ahead. Only one bottling, the 1997 Angelini Vigna Spuntali, had completely fallen apart, with little fruit left.

-    The riserva bottlings, in general, had lots of chocolatey flavors from the oak but, for the most part, the fruit wasn’t showing: The wines just need more time to age. The best was the lush, slightly herbal Uccelliera Andrea Cortonesi.

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