Brunello, it’s the Soul of Tuscany!
by John Dunham for advicesisters.com
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on the 2011 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino sponsored by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. The event, which was held at New York City’s Gotham Hall, was in conjunction with a walk around tasting featuring Brunello releases from 42 of the approximately 260 producers located in the 100 square mile corner of Tuscany. We sampled 7 wines at the seminar, all of them Brunello di Montalcino 2011 releases. They came from throughout the region and showed the differences in place and winemaking style as all of the wines were 100 percent Sangiovese.
Although the map of Italy is often compared to the image of a boot, we are resisting the urge to compare the Montalcino region of Italy to the sole of the boot. In fact, when we sale Brunello is the sole of Tuscany, we mean that the wine has heart. Montalcino is actually not located at the sole(or boot), it’s closer to the middle! However, the Montalcino region has a diverse climate with Mediterranean influences to the south and a more continental climate in the north. It is a hilly region with a lot of deep valleys providing a range of microclimates. Throughout the region the soil is rocky with a lot of marine deposits, making it an excellent region to produce the Sangiovese grape varietal which has traditionally been called Brunello in the region. (In 1879 it was determined that the Brunello and Sangiovese varietals were the same grape). Production in the region was small until later in the 20th century. The region was granted DOC status in 1966 and a DOCG classification was awarded in 1980.
Wine that receives the DOC or DOCG label must be produced from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes grown in the region. It must be aged a minimum of 2 years in oak and 4 months in bottles, and all bottling must take place in the production area. As such, virtually all Brunello di Montalcino wines are estate grown and bottled and most producers are small.
The seminar was led by Jeffrey Porter, Beverage Director for Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. According to Mr. Porter, following an almost perfect 2010 vintage, the 2011 vintage experienced some severe weather swings that both concentrated sugar in the grapes but led to a smaller yield. He added that vintages are like time capsules and that every year produced some fantastic wines reflective of the specific time and place.
The first wine was the 2011 Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) from Belpoggio, a small producer located in the southeast corner of the appellation. The wine, priced at about $50.00, had a bright red color, with a classic cherry, fruity nose with just a hint of honey. The wine was bright and light with classic cherry notes, lots of fruit and some blueberry on a lingering finish. The wine was one of our picks, and is perfect to drink today paired with a wide variety of foods from turkey, to ham, pork or pasta.
This was followed by a 2011 Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) produced by Capanna, a traditional producer located in the northern part of the region. Priced at about $45.00 this red colored wine had the classic cherry nose with a hint of rosemary. The wine was a bit stronger than the Belpoggio and featured much less fruit and some rubbery notes. While this was a bit disturbing now, the wine is designed to age and will likely improve a lot over time. Its also important to note that at a tasting seminar, wines are not paired with food, and Sangiovese is a food wine. Mr. Porter recommended pairing these wines with foods containing fat, like meats, sausage, and pastas with olive oils.
The third wine featured in the seminar was Castello Tricerchi Brunello di Monalcino 2011 (DOCG) which is priced at about $50.00 a bottle. This wine was dark red to garnet in color with a cherry vanilla nose that also had some citrusy notes. These notes were also found in the palate along with the classic cherry tastes. The wine had good acid and light tannins and would pair well with stronger foods link pasta, mushrooms and grilled vegetables. I personally don’t think this wine will age particularly well and should be drunk now.
The next wine, 2011, Cal d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) is priced at $55.00 a bottle. Col D’Orcia is one of the region’s largest wineries and is certified organic. This wine was red in color with orangey hues. The nose was woodsy and vegetal, but the palate was resonant with cherry and fruits. The wine was bright with light tannins, and would pair well with pork, pasta and savory dishes.
Located in the western part of the region at a higher altitude is Pian dele Vigne. Its 2011 Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) is priced at $80 a bottle. This wine was the California of Brunello, with a red color and a cherry nose featuring some iris flowers. The wine was extremely fruity, with tons of sweet cherry notes, bright acidity and very light tannins. Perfect for drinking now, and all by itself, the wine will also pair well with a range of food options including turkey, ham, roast pork and even salmon. The wine was one of our picks of the day.
Tenuta Buon Tempo is located in the southeastern corner of the region, and its 2011 Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) is priced at about $50 a bottle. Stronger than most Brunello’s with 15.2 percent APV, the wine was red in color with a nose that reminded us of molasses and sweet tarts. Across the palate, the wine was a cherry bomb, fresh with a slightly spicy finish. There were some vegetable notes but they fit well in the balance of the wine. Tannins were light but the wine was built to age. We would pair it with lighter dishes like turkey and pasta.
The final wine featured in the seminar was the 2011 Brunello di Montalcino (DOCG) by Uccelliera, which is located close to the village of Montalcino itself. This wine, priced at $64 per bottle is a darker red in color with a sweet cherry nose. On the palate, the wine featured cherry notes straight from front to back, but the wine was well structured and will age, even though it drank very well now. The wine will stand up across dishes, from turkey to pasta to wild boar.
While most Americans think of Chianti or Super Tuscan blends when they think of Tuscany, this small corner of the region produces some amazing Sangiovese wines. While they are priced somewhat higher than their Chianti or Chianti Classico cousins, the large number of unique micro-climates in Montalcino produce some excellent and distinctive wines. With its large number of small producers Montalcino is great to explore, and since all Brunellos are 100 percent varietals, the only challenge is finding a producer that meets your specific taste profile.
The Consortium of the Brunello of Montalcino Wine was founded in 1967 and is an association of nearly every producer in the region, It tracks all Brunello wines from production to sale to help preserve quality and ensure that only wines produced in the region are labeled as such. The Consortium also promotes Brunello around the world and assists producers in ensuring that all Brunello di Montalcino wines meet the high standards required by the DOC and DOCG.
For further information on Brunello or Montalcino visit www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it.
Postcript March 2017: After completing this review of Brunello wines, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on tourism in the Montepulciano region at the offices of the Italian National Tourist Board in New York. While this review focused on wines from just a small part of Tuscany, I was surprised to find out that the tourism authorities are so proud of the wines that they believe that they are what attract people to the 10 towns that make up the Montepulciano region.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was Italy’s first DOCG designated area, and the wines are produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano mainly from the Sangiovese grape varietal. In addition, the area was one of the last vestiges of the Etruscan Empire, and it is home to a number of museums and archaeological sites from that period. It is also dotted with myriad buildings from the medieval Medici period. After trying some of the local wines, visitors are invited to stay in one of the many hotels, and guest houses and partake in hot springs and spas that have been around since the Roman Empire. Located south of Firenze and Siena, on the way to Rome and Umbria, the Montepulciano region is worth a stop. For more information visit www.stradavinonobile.it