Winery of the Month
Brunello di Montalcino may be the most famous and prestigious of all Italian wines. The wine comes from a region inside of Tuscany about 20 miles south of Sienna. It is made from 100% Sangiovese.
The Grapes from the region were originally named Brunello, which means “little dark one” in the local dialect. This was before it was realized that they were in fact Sangiovese. It was also noted that Sangiovese grown around the hill of Montalcino grew a bit larger than elsewhere, hence the name Sangiovese Grosso or “fat Sangiovese.”
The history of the area is long and somewhat ambiguous, but we will try to give the basics here quickly. The name Brunello for wine from around the town of Montalcino dates back to the 14th century. It was not until the mid to late 1800’s and Clemente Santi that we see a commercial version. Clemente selected only the best vines for his estate. His differing approach to winemaking did not end there as he would vinify Sangiovese separately. At this point around Montalcino all grapes were harvested and co-fermented together including the white ones.
His grandson Ferruccio Biondi Santi was a soldier under Garibaldi during the “Risorgemento” (the unification of Italy). He more vigorously selected different clones for ripening and flavor, limited the crop yield, and started to harvest only ripe bunches. Vinification changed also as he left the skins with the wine longer during fermentation to extract more color and flavor instead of undergoing a second fermentation. He would then let the wines age in large oak barrels for several years.
All of these changes lead to Biondi-Santi wines displaying a better texture, smoother tannins and more fruit than other wines from the area. This of course led to greater commercial success. There are many other names like Riccardo Paccagnini who experimented with many different methods of fermentation and published the results in his paper “Practical and Theoretical Paper on Agriculture and Oenology.” Also, Giovanni Colombini who in 1935 began to manage Fattoria dei Barbi where he began direct sales and was the first to open his cellars and promote wine tourism.
Today there is a hierarchy to Brunello. There is Brunello Riserva which has to be aged for 62 months with at least 2 years have to be in oak and 4 months in bottle. Next is the Brunello “normale” which is aged for 50 months with the same 2 in oak and 4 months in bottle. Third is Rosso di Montalcino. Rosso is from the same area and made from 100% Sangiovese but is only aged for 1 year with at least 6 months in oak. Lastly is Sant’Antimo which covers the same geographic area but allows other varietals and has no aging requirements.
2003 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano
Most of the time when you buy a reserve you need to wait several years for the wine to be ready to drink, well here we have done the waiting for you. This wine is dense and opulent with cherry, anise, currant, and some light pipe tobacco flavors. The tannins have softened with time to allow the fruit flavors to express themselves more fully. It is a great example of what Brunello can be with some age. 93 pts Wine Advocate – less than 13,000 bottles made. Regularly $169.99 Sale $118.99
Casalforno Brunello di Montalcino
Here is a great everyday drinking Brunello, well almost everyday. The wine has both sweet red cherry and Morello cherry flavors along with pepper, Italian herbs, and coffee. Smooth tannins make this wine drinkable immediately or you could put it down for a couple of years. Regularly $45.99 Sale $33.99
Il Marronetto Rosso di Montalcino
This rosso comes from one of the better producers in Montalcino, their 2010 Reserva scored 100 from Robert Parker. If you would like to try a Brunello this is a nice place to start. Plenty of cherry around some baking spice with a light touch of vanilla. The tannins are present but give it some time to breathe and it will really round into shape. 350 cases made. Regularly $46.99 Sale $34.99
Casanova Di Neri Rosso di Casanova di Neri Sant’Antimo
Mainly Sangiovese with 10% Colorino blended in. Bright red cherry and berry fruits with some floral background notes. This is a great easy drinking fun wine that will still give you an idea of what Brunello can be. Regularly $23.99 Sale $17.99