Brunello Di Montalcino – Tuscany’s Jewel Of Red Wines

Sangiovese, Tuscany’s indigenous red grape, is responsible for the best wines of this lovely region, if not of Italy.

This grape of noble pedigree, planted and cultivated centuries ago by Etruscans, has over time mutated to many clones, which go by different names. In Montalcino some 112 kilometers south of Florence, Ferrucio Biondi-Santi, in the second half of the 19th century, observed within his meticulously kept vineyard one vigorous vine with small, thick-skinned tiny grapes. Thereupon he had the presence of mind to vinify its fruit to find out the taste of the wine. To his surprise, the wine had darker, vibrant colour, and tasted more concentrated than those produces further north around Florence. This is simply because Montalcino has a warmer climate and tends to be drier, thus yielding grapes that are sweeter and end up with alcohol contents around 14 degrees and sometimes even over that magic number.

He called the grape Brunello di Montalcino (the little brown one), but in reality it is a clone of Sangiovese, much like Morellino, Prugnolo Gentile. Lately, with EU funding, an Italian university with the co-operation of leading wineries in the region launched the largest ever research about Sangiovese to determine the most suitable terroir for this most popular red grape variety of Italian viticulture.

From the very beginning, Biondi-Santi marketed Brunello di Montalcino as a super special wine and asked for an appropriate price. His successors ensured that high standards of vitivinicultral practices be maintained, and today this unique and undoubtedly great red wine commands very high prices often more than world-famous Piedmontese red wines.

The Italian wine laws also protect the integrity and reputation of Brunello di Montalcino by forcing producers barrel age the wine for a minimum of 40 months plus 12 months after bottling and before release. For riserva quality, an additional year of cellaring is required.

Furthermore fruit yield per hectare is limited to a maximum of seven metric tonnes; this ensures deeply flavored wines with sufficient extract. Some wineries limit their yields to five-and-a-half metric tonnes, which results in highly concentrated wines and cost more.

Brunello di Montalcino has always been a cellar worthy wine and there are still drinkable Brunellos from 1890’s in the cellars of the oldest winery in the region.

Wineries and vignerons who cannot afford to wait for four years before receiving some financial reward for their efforts can cellar the wine for one year and sell it as Rosso di Montalcino, which by necessity tastes harsher and possesses a rough texture.

Annual Brunello di Montalcino production hovers around six million bottles pending on vintage.

During the first 57 years of Brunello di Montalcino marketing, only four vintages were declared (1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945), and Biondi-Santi was the only commercial producer until after 1945.

Today there are more than 85 wineries competing and many small wineries produce excellent wines superior to their much larger competitors. One of the oldest estates (here called fattoria) is Fattoria dei Barbi with 400 hectares, of which 40 are under vines; the rest is planted to wheat and devoted to pig raising.

This estate also produces a vin santo worthy of its fine reputation. In addition to a fine restaurant, the estate also offers accommodation popular with families interested in learning about rural life in Tuscany. In fact, Tuscans invented the now famous tourism branch agriturismo.

Brunello di Montalcino is now so famous that the Mariani family, originally from Italy, but now well established in the U S A, invested millions to create Castello Banfi to produce first class wines, including Brunello di Montalcino.

This extraordinary wine should be decanted prior to service, and served at 18 C in fine crystal balloon glasses to appreciate its aromas ands bouquet, texture, mouth feel, and finish.

Brunello di Montalcino requires hearty food like medium-rare grilled sirloin steak, roast saddle of venison, roast rib of beef, old pecorino, or a fine Parmigiano Reggiano.

This is a wine that represents good value, even though some people think it to be expensive. Ultimately epicures know that pleasure has no price tag!

Recommended Brunello di Montalcino wineries: Fattoria dei Barbi, Biondi-Santi, Angelini, Castiglion del Bosco, Constanti, La Poderina, Camigliano, Vitanza, Castello Banfi.

by: Hrayr Berberoglu