Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's most famous and prestigious wines. In Tuscany, its homeland, it perhaps ranks alongside Chianti Classico. On global markets it seems to command even greater attention.
The wine is typically garnet in colour with aromas of red and black fruit with underlying vanilla and spice, and perhaps a hint of earthiness. The wines are usually full bodied with alcohol levels around 14 or 15 percent abv. Good tannic structure and bright acidity provides balance.
All Brunello di Montalcino wine is made exclusively from Sangiovese Grosso grapes grown on the slopes around Montalcino – a classic Tuscan hilltop village 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Siena. Sangiovese Grosso is the large-berried form of Sangiovese. Its name here translates roughly as 'little dark one'. The use of this synonym and its inclusion in the name of the wine was part of a clear strategy to differentiate the wine from Chianti.
The first recordings of red wines from Montalcino date back to the early 14th Century. However the all-Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino style we know today did not emerge until the 1870s, just after the creation of a single Italian state. Its evolution was due in no small part to the efforts of Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, whose name lives on in one of Montalcino's finest estates.
Traditional Brunello di Montalcino winemaking methods involve long aging in large vats, typically made from Slavonian oak. This results in particularly complex wines, although some consider this style too tannic and dry. Modernists began to pursue a 'fruitier' style in the 1980s, when they began to shorten the barrel maturation time and use smaller 225 litre French oak barriques.
DOCG regulations require Brunello vineyards to be planted on hills with good sun exposure, at altitudes not surpassing 600 meters (1968ft). This limit is intended to ensure the grapes reach optimal ripeness and flavour before being harvested. Any higher than 600m and the mesoclimate becomes cooler to the point of unreliability.
According to the disciplinare di produzione (the legal document laying out the wine's production laws) for Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello must be made from 100 percent Sangiovese and aged for at least four years (five for riserva wines). Two of these years must be spent in oak, and the wine must be bottled at least four months prior to commercial release.
The "junior" version of Brunello is the Rosso di Montalcino appellation. Fruit from young vines in Brunello vineyards might be used, or perhaps vineyard plots which catch less sun. These wines are designed to be more approachable when young and aging requirements are greatly lowered.
Some producers in Montalcino make small amounts red and white wine under the IGT Toscana designation. The reds usually feature Bordeaux grape varieties from a few well established plots.