James Suckling's Top 100 Wines of Italy


James Suckling 12/2020


My Top 100 Wines of Italy is unabashedly mostly about Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Barbaresco. This year and next are when you need to buy some of the greatest wines ever made in these three regions. So don’t miss out. The 2016 Brunellos and 2015 Brunello riservas will be released on the global market in January. Some are already being sold as pre-arrivals. Barolo and Barbaresco 2016s are already on the market.


You know that I love Brunello di Montalcino. I have been covering the region since the 1980s and I first visited Montalcino in 1983. I have forever been intrigued by the wines, region and people. That’s why I can say wholeheartedly that the 2015 vintage is the best year ever for Brunello di Montalcino with 2016 coming very, very close behind. The latter is more tannic and structured, while 2015 has all the ripe fruit, firm tannins and length that you could ever want in a great sangiovese. We will see which year comes out ahead in the future, but my money is on 2015.

Meanwhile, Barolo and Barbaresco also have a pair of great years: 2015 and 2016. And for the moment I have a slight preference for the 2016s, which are a little more classic in nature with firmer tannins and longer finishes. It may be the greatest young vintage I have ever rated from Barolo, harking back to such classics as 1964 and 1958. Most are already on the market. I am also very impressed with the hotter 2017 vintage for Barbaresco, but let’s see how the year is for Barolo when I taste the wines next year.

I am still a little shocked that I have not been to Italy this year, but I, like many others, had no choice because of the pandemic. I miss my house there and all my friends and colleagues. In so many ways, it is home. I moved to Tuscany in 1998 from London and my children essentially grew up there in their early years. My ties and memories are solid with Italia. I look forward to going back.

So, just about all the Italian wines we tasted this year were rated in my office in Hong Kong. The wines were air freighted, allowed to rest in our warehouse and then reviewed. I did many phone calls and Zoom tastings. In all, we managed to review almost 4,000 Italian wines over this year, compared to 6,000 in 2019. That’s about 20% of the 20,000 wines that I and my editors rated from around the world this year.

Our Italian Wine of the Year has to be the Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino 2016. It was the No. 3 wine in our global Wines of the Year 2020 list. And it represents extraordinary quality – 100 points – and at the super reasonable price of $80 a bottle. I judge young wines by their structure and depth in the mid-palate, but most importantly by their finish and the Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino 2016 seems to have an almost endless finish. It’s exceptional in every way. Lorenzo and his wife Sabina Sassetti are masters in their vineyards and cellar, making perfectly proportioned Brunellos.


The No. 2 Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino 2016 at 99 points comes very close in quality with its super balance and purity, which I attribute to the small percentage of whole cluster fermentation and a reduction in new wood maturation for the 2015. But it’s in the second position because it represents extraordinary value at $50. In fact, it was the highest rated bottle of all Italian wines for this reasonable price. There are a number of 100-point Brunellos in this list, but they sell for two or even six times the price per bottle.


I need to mention that prices in general for the best Italian wines have really escalated in recent years, even in less popular regions. And this is worrying, considering Italy was such a great source for reasonably priced wines with great quality. We will see in the future how this develops, but it’s a shame for all of us who looked to Italy for daily consumption of unique and high-quality wines.

The next four wines are all Brunellos that are perfect wines and cost between $120 and $200 a bottle on pre-arrival, according to Wine Searcher. I rated all of them 100 points: Giodo Brunello di Montalcino 2016, No. 4; Tassi Brunello di Montalcino Franci Riserva 2015, No. 5; Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino PS Riserva 2015, No. 6 and Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d’Oro Riserva 2015, No. 7. Most of you already know the classic names of Siro Pacenti or Ciacci, but you may be less familiar with the other two. Giodo is the small Brunello estate of Tuscany’s famous consulting enologist, Carlo Ferrini, while Tassi is the winery of Montalcino wine and restaurant leader, Fabio Tassi.


The truly great vintage of 2016 for Barolo and Barbaresco deserves two great, benchmark winemakers in my Top 10 list: Bruna Giacosa and Robert Voerzio. Roberto and his son Davide are probably the greatest vineyardists in Italy with their incredible precision and know-how. This gives them formidably structured yet balanced Barolos. Meanwhile, Bruna Giacosa is carrying on her late father’s dream of making some of the most soulful and harmonious reds in the world from their top vineyards in Barolo and Barbaresco. This is why I have their perfect-rated reds at No. 7 and No. 8: Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2016 and Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 2016, respectively.

The No. 9 wine in the list also comes from a father and son team – father Giacomo Neri with his sons Giovanni and Gianlorenzo, at Casanova di Neri  – with the 2015 single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto. It is a longtime legend from a stone-laden site whose slopes bask in the afternoon sun, creating fabulous sangiovese almost every harvest.

Our final wine in the Top 10 of the Top 100 Italian Wines 2020 is a red from ancient, head-pruned vines on the volcano of Etna in Sicily. The Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso Prephylloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino 2018 is a longtime favorite and made from vines nearly 140 years old and still on their original roots. The two and a half acre vineyard is on the lava flows of the volcano and produces small and concentrated grapes. It’s a bottle of unique history and highlights the special character of all wines from Etna. Check out the other two Etna reds on the list: No. 20 Pietro Caciorgna Etna Rosso Guardoilvento 2017 and No. 52 Tasca d’Almerita Etna Tascante Contrada Sciaranuova VV 2017.

There are plenty of other superb wines to check out in this list. The selection was primarily made on score with the ranking based on price and wow factor, which is when wines are so fantastic that you have the feeling that you need to buy or drink them. That wow factor was incredibly high with the Brunellos, Barolos and Barbarescos on the list, but there are many others.