Brunello di Montalcino

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Today, Brunello di Montalcino is without doubt the greatest expression of Sangiovese, the most bred vine in Italy, and the undisputed king of Tuscan viticulture. But the viticultural history of Montalcino was born well before Brunello. Traces of it can be found as early as 1550, when Bolognese monk Leandro Alberti, in the “Descrittione di tutta Italia,”, wrote that Montalcino was “… mentioned quite frequently in the country for the good wines produced from those beautiful hills …”. In 1553, during the siege in the city by the Spanish troops commanded by Don Garcia of Toledo, the Marshal of Montluc, commander of the Senese garrison, “was reddening his face with a robust vermilion wine.”. Furthermore, there are many chronicles and travel books from the seventeenth century which talk about the wine of Montalcino, although at the time, the most popular was his white wine, remembered by Dutch Francesco Scoto in his famous guide, “Itinera Italiane,”the most popular travel manual of the century: “… Montalcino, famous for its Moscadellis …”.

In order to arrive at a “scientific” approach, both from an agronomic and enological point of view, it is necessary to take a leap forward of almost three centuries, and arrive in the mid-nineteenth century, when Clemente Santi, Giuseppe Anghirelli, Tito Costanti and Camillo Galassi delved into the studies on grapes and winemaking systems. A crucial step to reach the Brunello we know today, codified in the second half of the century by Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who was himself the first to brew Sangiovese, aging the wine for many years in barrels. Thus, a strong and velvety wine was born, which in no way resembled other more famous aging reds, called Brunello, most probably for its color. The oldest bottle, preserved by Tenuta Il Greppo, dates back to 1888, but that intuition was embraced, studied and improved by a small group of winemakers and families from Montalcino: Colombini, Franceschi and Angelini, the only ones to bottle it at the time in addition to the Biondi-Santi, but also Costanti and Padelletti (Guido, Professor of Law at the University of Rome, had shared with Ferruccio Biondi Santi their Garibaldi struggles), in a journey of growth which came to a halt in the second half of the 1930s, when phylloxera brought the entire Italian viticulture industry down to its knees. To see the light again, it had to wait for the sixties and seventies. In 1966, the COD (Controlled Origin Denomination, Denominazione d’Origine Controllata) certification was born, and the following year, on April 18th, 1967, the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium was established. By then, the wine’s fame had abundantly crossed national borders, but a few more years would be needed for its boom. In the eighties and nineties, investments and commercial efforts multiplied, while purity and excellence in Sangiovese making techniques were still refined, becoming what we know today, that is one of the greatest, sought after and award-winning wines in the world.

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Such greatness also rests on the great aging of Brunello di Montalcino, a feature which emerged as early as in the end of the nineteenth century, but was rendered into a fixed manufacturing practice by the same Brunello Consortium over the last seventy years, with a rating that highlights the best years, the “five stars” rating. Going back, but not too much, it is the 1990 vintage year which has proved to be a proper distinction from the past. This was due to an exceptional vines harvest according to experts, and to an international boom caused by the mythical Top 100 of Wine Spectator from 1995, the most awaited ranking in the world of wines, where Brunello’s labels were 6: Conti Costanti (53), Castello Banfi (49), Mastrojanni (34), Caparzo (22), Altesino (12) and Campogiovanni (7). It wasn’t the first time in the US magazine’s charts for Brunello. The first one dates back to 1988, with the 1982 Reserve scoring 54th, and following that, we can recall 1990 with the 1985 production, with Poggio Antico (4), Roberto Cosimi-Il Poggiolo (54) and Castello Banfi (76). Many other labels found their way in the ranking, with the never-since reached top of the charts conquered in 2006 by Casanova di Neri’s Montalcino 2001 Tenuta Nuova. It was also Casanova di Neri, again with Tenuta Nuova, this time together with another Montalcino brand, the Marroneto, with its Madonna delle Grazie, which for the first time won the 100/100 from Robert Parker, the American guru of world wine criticism, as well as the creator of one of the most authoritative publications, “The Wine Advocate.” It does not end here because over the years, Brunello’s most precious labels have also become protagonists of the Italian and international auction world: in 2018, a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1955 by Biondi Santi was sold for 4,316 euros.

Technical specifications

As per the Consortium’s website, “Brunello di Montalcino is a visually clear, bright wine, with a bright garnet color. It has an intense, persistent, ample and ethereal fragrance. There are hints of undergrowth, aromatic wood, small fruits, light vanilla and composite jam. On the palate, the wine has an elegant and harmonious body, vigor and breed. It is dry with a long aromatic persistence.”

Due to its peculiarities, and as we have all seen rather well, we are talking about a wine which tolerates long aging, indeed expressing itself at its best a few years after its release on the market, (from January of the fifth year following the harvest), and can evolve and improve for many more years. Obviously it should be stored properly, in a cool environment, at a constant temperature, and definitely with horizontally placed bottles.

Production Regulations for Brunello di Montalcino Docg

Production area: Historical boundary of the Municipality of Montalcino.

Variety: Sangiovese (called, in Montalcino, “Brunello”)

Maximum grape yield: 80 quintals per hectare

Grape yield in wine: 68%

Minimum aging in wood: 2 years in oak

Minimum refinement in the bottle: 4 months (6 months for Riserva varieties)

Colour: Intense ruby red tending to garnet due to the aging process

Smell: Characteristic and intense smell

Flavour: Dry, warm, a little tannic, robust and harmonious

Minimum alcohol content: 12,5% Vol.

Minimum total acidity: 5 g/lt

Minimum net dry extract: 24 g/lt

Bottling: To only be performed in the production area

Entry for consumption: After 5 years from the year of harvest (6 years for Riserva varieties)
Packaging: Brunello di Montalcino can be marketed only if packaged in Bordeaux-style bottles.

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