As one of the first super Tuscan wines, Luce was the joint vision of the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and the late Robert Mondavi. Blending the Montalcino clone of Sangiovese with Merlot, they created a red with supple vigor and friendly tannins that was immediately met with popular and critical success. More than two decades have passed, and Luce remains a powerful alternative to the best Brunello di Montalcino. In recent years, however, the Tenuta Luce delle Vite estate has branched out with a more approachable and affordable second level wine called Lucente. They are also changing the way they age their Brunello.
When Luce’s technical director, Stefano Ruini, passed through Boston recently, we sat down to taste the latest releases and discuss changes at the winery. For starters, Luce has a new facility with vastly expanded cellars and a new welcome center. Like many winemakers, Ruini is also switching over—at least partially—to tulip-shaped concrete vats. The most radical change at Luce is the switch from aging its Brunello entirely in casks instead of a mix of large barrels and small casks. This began with the 2017 vintage, so the all-cask wine won’t be on the market until 2021 or 2022.
Tasting notes on the new releases
The little brother to Luce, Lucente features both Sangiovese and Merlot. The silky 2015 is smooth and ever so slightly muted, making it a well-mannered dinner companion. The Sangiovese component was harvested a little earlier than for Luce in the same year, and the juiciness of the finished wine suggests a higher proportion of very ripe Merlot. Spicy notes from the Sangiovese come through as undertones, suggesting that it should drink very well with ripe cheeses and light game dishes. Expect to pay $25-$30.
The flagship wine of the estate deserves all the excess implied by its sunburst seal. The 2015 is bright, a tad brash with its tannins, and downright plump in the mouth. The riper Sangiovese plays out in the dominance of cherry over plum on the nose as well as the treacly gingerbread flavors that soften into cloves and cinnamon. The structure is still evolving—this wine could easily cellar for a decade. Right now, it’s a top choice for drinking with a rack of lamb. In a couple of years, skip the food altogether and just sip. Expect to pay $120-$130.
LUCE BRUNELLO 2013
The Tenuta Luce della Vite vineyards show their greatness in the Brunello di Montalcino, a small-production wine of the estate (usually fewer than 20,000 bottles). The 2013 vintage was just right for the Frescobaldi’s modern approach to Brunello. The heat of summer stopped the vine growth early, but alternating hot days and cool nights at the end of the season produced highly concentrated grapes with both good sugars and balanced tannins.
At first sniff, the wine smells like Mediterranean scrub—that heady, balsamic mix of rosemary and eucalyptus. Blackcurrants and blackberries come through in the mouth. The finish is still a little tannic, but a few hours of exposure to air should bring it in line. Spectacular wine. Expect to pay $140-$150.