You’ve heard of the elegant, structured wines of Barolo and Piedmont and, lately, more and more about the fruitier, softer wines from Sicily. Now here’s another region that shines with rich reds known as Brunello di Montalcino. This type, as with Champagne in France, has strict growth and production standards that must be met in order to carry the name Brunello di Montalcino. For example, all Brunellos must be made with Sangiovese grapes and have only so many vines per hectare. The best of these wines typically carry steep prices.
The Montalcino region is in an area of Tuscany that’s high above sea level between the valleys of three rivers, Ombone, Asso and Orcia, a strategic spot where wars for land ownership have raged in the past. The area is cut off from major roads and so has for centuries been making its living mainly from the production of wine and oil. Four main types of wine are made in the 24,000-hectare region: Brunello (2100 hectares), Rosso (510 hectares), Moscadello (50) and Sant’Antimo (480), with about 360 hectares being used for other wines.
Montalcino is protected on the south by mount Amiata against atmospheric phenomena such as cloudbursts and hailstorms, weather happenings that can spell disaster to tender vines. The soil differs greatly from area to area, starting with loose at the lowest areas to richer areas higher up, and many winemakers pick their grapes from various locations. The climate is typical Mediterranean with most precipitation in the spring and late autumn and little if any snow in higher regions. Even halfway up the hills, generous winds ensure that vineyards seldom encounter fog, cold weather or late frosts.
To help all winemakers in the Montalcino region meet standards and promote their products, a consortium was put together in 1967, on the day Brunello was branded a DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) wine. And surprisingly, every Brunello di Montalcino vineyard owner has joined the Consortium – a rare occurrence in Italy, where it’s common for vineyard owners to refuse to join an area consortium. Happily for consumers, organic growing is common in the vineyards of Montalcino, as the favorable weather and other growing conditions make it relatively easy and inexpensive to follow such dictates.
Below are a few wines that stood out at a recent master class held at The Drake Hotel:
- Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2011 – Riper, richer and rounder in its youth than some Brunellos, which can be highly acidic early on. These wines age very well. ~$55.
- Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2011 – Soft, elegant, well-balanced, with lots of minerality, this one is aged in smaller Allier and Slovenian oak barrels for 3 years, then joined in stainless steel and then bottled in a dark, cool room for 5 to 6 months. Consult your wine vendor for price.
- La Magia Brunello di Montalcino 2011 – From the south central area of Montalcino, this one is toasty and elegant with aromas of dried herbs and florality from being aged in giant French oak barrels. ~$38.
- Pinino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva 2010 – The favorite of the day, this is a beautiful wine grown in a couple of different 20-year-old vineyards in a mix of clay and lime-rich soil. You’ll note flavors of macerated red fruit in a taste that’s very giving, well-balanced and complex. ~$80.