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Jamessuckling.com organizes Tuscany’s first en primeur tasting; first ratings of 2015 vintage. 94-95 Points for Pecchia 2015!

Designed to generate buzz and attract investors, en primeur (or wine futures) has long been one of the great traditions of Bordeaux. But in Tuscany? It’s an unknown practice, which is why I decided to organize one last September at Osteria dell’Acquolina restaurant with about two dozen of the best wineries in the region.

Axel Heinz, the winemaker of Ornellaia and Masseto, explained the amazing quality of the 2015 vintage well. “We expected an earlier harvest because of the hot summer. We thought we would harvest under hot weather, but we had a lot of rain in mid-August, and it changed all around,” he said. “It was cool and beautiful after that. It was warm and sunny during the day and cool at night. We could take our time.”

Indeed, the 40 or so barrel samples I tasted on September 9 underlined the ripeness of the vintage from the hot, dry growing season but the cool and warm temperatures in September gave the wines a freshness and tannin definition underneath the beautiful fruit. “The wines are so fruity now but never too much,” added Luca Sanjust, the owner and winemaker of Petrolo that makes such coveted wines as Galatrona and Boggina.

Some producers are comparing 2015 to the excellent 2008 vintage or 2001, but I think 2007 is a more apt parallel, as the wines from 2015 are fleshy and fruity with an underlying freshness. Either way, the 2015 has turned out to be an excellent vintage, producing fruity, structured, and balanced wines.

I find it surprising that some vintners and critics are against en primeur tastings, saying that the wines are not ready to evaluate. Some even say that the samples are not a clear reflection of what will end up in the bottle. I disagree. I think en primeur is an exciting tradition for the wine trade and consumers. It offers everyone an opportunity to learn and understand a new vintage and make a mental note in their minds to follow that year, regardless if it’s in Tuscany, Bordeaux or anywhere else.

“I was really surprised how the barrel samples showed so well at the tasting,” admitted Luca d’Attoma, owner and winemaker at Duemani as well as consulting enologist for various estates in Tuscany such as Pupille and Tua Rita. “The barrel samples were so beautiful.”

I explained to the 50 or so wine producers and enologists who also joined the tasting that a great barrel sample is already a great wine. This is the sign of excellent quality. I first learned this in the mid-1980s tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux with the late and legendary negociant Daniel Lawton and enologist Émile Peynaud. The later always said a great wine must be excellent from both barrel and bottle. In fact, I still remember drinking 1982 from barrel one lunch at Château Prieuré-Lichine.

One important note: This event had no commercial connection like the one in Bordeaux. It was simply a chance for me to evaluate, what is destined to be, an outstanding vintage in Italy’s most famous wine region and a chance for producers to taste wines together and discuss the year. Keep your eyes peeled for en primeur 2016.

The wines below were scored in two-point ranges, as is customary for barrel samples. Sassicaia was tasted in the cellars of the winery at the beginning of the year, while Ornellaia and Masseto were not ready because the blends had not been made.

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