Brunello di Montalcino: A Tuscan Splendor!
Brunello di Montalcino is an Italian wine style protected by its DOCG, the highest tier in the country’s quality pyramid. This wine may only be produced within the municipal limits of the Municipality of Montalcino in the Province of Siena in Southeast Tuscany. The Ombrone, Asso, and Orcia Rivers run through the region.
In fact, Brunello was instrumental in launching the international triumph of Italy’s great wines. In 1931, it was the first premium Italian wine shipped to the US. Only following this did Barolo and Amarone appear. And, of course, the Super Tuscan, which did not even exist at the time. But what exactly is it about Brunello di Montalcino that captivates wine enthusiasts all over the world?
Brunello di Montalcino’s Ancestor
Red wine by the name of Brunello goes back to the 14th century, and the wines made around Montalcino have been praised since then. The wine style’s fame increased significantly in the mid-19th century when winemaker Clemente Santi gave preference to Sangiovese in his estate.
Brunello was planted on 900 hectares in 1929. Although each winemaker had their own recipe for Brunello di Montalcino, the wine was in such high demand that the first export contracts with the United States were arranged. However, things were not always so bright. First, phylloxera infiltrated Tuscany and wiped out a large portion of the vines. The country was then hit by an economic crisis. Just as the wineries were beginning to recover, the Second World War started.
As a result, in the 1960s, only eleven winegrowers remained who cultivated a meagre 63 hectares of Brunello vines, and the legendary wine edged toward the verge of extinction. Fortunately, the Italians copied the French appellation system around the same time. Brunello di Montalcino was one of the first regions to be granted DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status in 1963, establishing the first binding rules for Brunello. It was decided that a Brunello di Montalcino had to be aged in oak for at least 2 years with a minimum aging period of 4 years, including at least 6 months in the bottle.
Montalcino’s Geographical Characteristics
The vineyards around Montalcino are diverse, so, even if small, there are several soils and altitudes, making the wine varied. Limestone, white Albanese soils, marl, sand, and clay make the terroir.
The region’s location between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Apennines mountain range creates ideal conditions for growing grapes. Although you’ll find Sangiovese planted all around Central Italy, none are as concentrated as those produced in Brunello di Montalcino.
The influence of Man and Geography on its Wine
Brunello’s quality is defined by its terroir and the human element. The terroir produces concentrated grapes, critical for making age-worthy wine. The region’s altitude allows the grapes to keep their precious acidity, and the wind running down the Apennines keeps the grape vines safe from fungal disease.
Producers work with the most exemplary standards in the winery to make one of Italy’s most spectacular wines. The wine is concentrated and full-bodied, and it can usually age very well.
A Perfect Pairing
Brunello di Montalcino is an opaque ruby-red wine that develops an orange tinge as it ages. On the nose, the wine offers wild red berries, leather, tobacco leaves, and spices. The palate is dry and full-bodied with medium-high alcoholic strength. Brunello stands out for its bold flavors and structure and its piercing acidic backbone that brings it all together.
Brunello is ideal for well-structured and complex dishes. It goes exceptionally well with pasta with meat sauces, poultry, mushrooms and truffles, spicy risottos, and pork and veal on sauces, due to its elegance and harmonious body. It also pairs well with strong cheeses, perfect with a ripe Toma, for example, or a Tuscan pecorino (sheep’s cheese).
Ranging from strong and savory to light and sweet, the characteristics of Brunello di Montalcino pair best with the robust dishes of Tuscan cuisine, but also with a wide range of international dishes.
Fun Facts about Brunello
- It must be made from 100% Sangiovese. (same grape used to make Chianti, but in a different region).
- The current requirement for a Brunello to be labeled as ‘Normale’ is at least five years of aging, with at least two years in oak and four months in the bottle.
- To be labeled as ‘Riserva’ the wine must be aged at least six years, including at least two years in oak and six months in the bottle.
Key Dates in Brunello’s History
1553: The legendary siege of Montalcino in the Middle Ages nearly obliterated its vineyards, but the production of great wines in the area continued.
1865: In 1865, the prize-winning wine of a Montalcino agricultural fair was a “select red wine” also known as a Brunello. Midway through the 19th century, local farmer Clemente Santi separated certain plantings of Sangiovese grapes in order to create a wine that was made entirely from Sangiovese and could be matured for a long time.
1879: The Ampelographic Commission of the Province of Siena reached the judgment that Sangiovese and Brunello were the same grape variety after several years of meticulously controlled research, and the former should be used as its authorized appellation.
Also read: The History of Montalcino Wine
In 1968, Brunello received Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) designation. By the 1960s, the area had 11 producers.
2000: Around 200 Brunello di Montalcino producers, largely small farmers and family estates, produced close to 330,000 cases annually around the turn of the century.
Want to read more about wine? Try reading these books!
- Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
- Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
- The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019