Apr 032013
 

 

Tracy Ellen Kamens

Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photography

In February 2012, I had the pleasure of presenting an educational seminar on Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (among others) at the Italian Wine Masters event. Standing at the podium a few minutes before I was scheduled to begin, I noticed Kevin Zraly second row, center. OK, considering the very first wine book I ever owned was written by this well known and highly regarded author and educator, no pressure! After my presentation, I had the opportunity to say hello to Kevin and admitted to him that his presence had made me a bit nervous. He graciously shared that he had taken three pages of notes and I floated through the rest of the day (and perhaps the week). High praise indeed!

A year later, I was invited to attend a session on Brunello di Montalcino, this time presented by Kevin. You can bet I was eager to attend. Arriving early (as usual), I took a seat in the front row and was immediately welcomed by Kevin. He teased me a bit, asking if I knew anything on the topic and made sure to tell me it was a red wine. He jested that my arrival had just added to his nerves and, while I doubted the validity of the statement, was appreciative of his kindness. I then sat back and waited to see what Kevin would say.

Surprisingly, in one sense, he didn’t say much. For one, he ignored the Powerpoint presentation. Yes, he let it loop from slide to slide, but never really called attention to it or directly used it for instruction. For another, he skipped to the tasting almost immediately. Kevin did note that it was the job of the educator to start at the beginning and made sure to do so, first ensuring that the audience knew he was talking about Italy, then Tuscany, and then, more specifically, Brunello di Montalcino. Next, he drew on the similarities and differences among Chianti Classico (Sangiovese blend), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Sangiovese blend) and Brunello di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese). Then, he stopped.

That’s not to say that the seminar was over or that he ceased to talk, but he did not provide any further factual information on the wines. In fact, aside from making us repeat the names of the producers aloud (to correct our pronunciation), we didn’t even get any information on the producers’ histories or winemaking practices.

At first, I was annoyed. Was he phoning it in? But, despite this seeming lack of a presentation, Kevin actually provided us with a lot of information. We tasted the eight wines several times each, using the Zraly method, which he demonstrated and reinforced repeatedly. Also, Kevin also had us discuss our tasting notes with our neighbor before we discussed them as a group. Moreover, Kevin continued to point out the key characteristics of the wines, particularly with regard to tannic structure, wine style and readiness to drink.

Kevin Zraly

Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photography

All in all, once the seminar was over, I realized that he had, in fact, given us an extremely good overview of the 2008 Brunello di Montalcino vintage, while also underscoring how each wine was both similar and different from its counterparts. Additionally, the tasting included three wines from the 2004 vintage, providing further delineation among Brunello vintages.

This experience reminded me that there are multiple approaches to teaching and that each has its time and place. Kevin’s style and approach were exactly what was needed to provide attendees with an understanding of the new Brunello vintage, which was precisely his goal. The positive comments I heard from fellow participants after the seminar reinforced that they agreed his presentation was a success. Moreover, although I pride myself on being a good educator, I recognize that my style is very different from Kevin’s and that I could never pull off his style successfully. Instead, I can learn from Kevin’s approach, but must remain true to myself as a teacher and present my own seminars in a style that is authentic to me, while always keeping the audience and their education in mind.

So, what did I take away from the seminar? The bottom line is that the 2008 Brunello di Montalcino wines are accessible wines, most of which are ready to drink now. They are classic and elegant with vibrant acidity and firm tannins, but enough fruit and complexity to make them easy drinking, very pleasant and, in some cases, extremely complex.

And, more specifically, my 2008 favorites were the Podere Brizio, which I noted as being complex with cherry, cocoa, cedar and herbal notes, along with the Castello Romitorio, which I described as lush with cherries, earth, spice, herbal and floral. Among the 2004s, the Podere Brizio again stood out, as did the Camigliano, both of which were surprisingly still youthful, but drinking well now.

  2 Responses to “Style and Class at NY’s Benvenuto Brunello Event”

  1. Traditional Brunello di Montalcino winemaking methods involve aging the wine for a long time in large oak vats, which results in particularly complex wines, although some consider this style too tannic and dry. Modernists set the ball rolling for a ‘fruitier’ style in the 1980s, when they began to shorten the barrel maturation time and use smaller barriques (59 gallon/225L French oak barrels).

  2. While we were there, we spent an awful lot of time driving around the roads near Siena, Montepulciano, and Montalcino, and an awful lot of time tasting the Sangiovese-based wines of the region.

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