About a year ago I added some Italian wines to our distribution list at Tiedemann Wines. Of the 11 to 12 wines I added, I believe my favorite was Brunello di Montalcino, followed by Barolo, Amarone, Rosso di Montalcino and Chianti Classico. I believe Brunello wines can be quite complex. They also have incredible aging potential.
Brunello di Montalcino is the superhero of Italian red wines, made from Sangiovese grapes: a Tuscan red grape that gets its name from the local name for Sangiovese (Brunello) and Montalcino. Montalcino is a small, but popular, medieval hill town overlooking the Tuscan countryside. In my blog on March 26, 2015, I wrote about one of the Brunello’s we added to our distribution list: the 2009 Belpoggio Brunello di Montalcino. Click here to read my review of that excellent wine.
A Little History Review of Brunello Wines…
The Italian government strictly controls the production of wines in Italy. For example, Brunello di Montalcino must be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes and aged for at least two years in wooden casks and then another three years in the cellar for a total of five years aged. If it is a Riserva it must age for a total of six years before release.
Also, the Italian government has designed a four-tier classification system that controls the quality and quantity of their wines. You’ll notice seals or labels on Italian wine bottles with initials such as DOC or DOCG. For more information on the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG) system click here to go to my blog on the topic.
It is said one of the first Brunellos was a red wine made in the Montalcino area in the 19th century. In 1865, at an agricultural fair in that area, a red wine won a prize and it was a “select red wine” known as a Brunello. In about 1888 the first modern version of Brunello di Montalcino that was aged for over ten years in wooden barrels was released.
By the 1940s Brunello had developed a reputation of one of Italy’s rarest wines. Today there are over 250 producers of Brunello wines who produce some 350,000 cases a year.
Rosso di Montalcino
The Rosso di Montalcino DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – Denomination of Controlled Origin, DOC) was established in 1984 to allow Brunello di Montalcino producers the opportunity to continue the tradition of long aging of the region’s flagship wine. Rosso di Montalcino is required to be made of 100% Sangiovese, grown in the same region as Brunello. Further, it is only required to be aged one year, with six months of that time being in oak. This allows Brunello producers to make an earlier releasing wine than the Brunello and benefits their cash flow.
Baby Brunello, as Rosso is sometimes called, is typically lighter in body, fresher tasting (like a younger Brunello) and much more approachable upon release. Rosso wines are often one-third to one-half the price of Brunello di Montalcino. They are also made to be drunk young and aren’t typically good for aging.
Why I Like Brunello di Montalcino
To me Brunello wines have Old World wine elegance. Other wines have some of the same features, but Brunellos seem to be more consistent than others. The wine is typically a bright garnet color which will be softened by age. The younger Brunellos are awash with aromas on the nose and packed with flavor on the palate of fruit, flowers, licorice and expresso. Brunello is a bold wine at times with big tannins and, because of its high acidity, its finish can be a little tart, causing you to lick the inside of your mouth after a swallow.
Because of its characteristics, Brunello can be aged for a considerable amount of time: 10 to 30 years and sometimes longer. As Brunellos age they tend to improve and lose a little of their flamboyance. They tend to soften and drop the fresh fruit flavors and take on sweeter notes. The tannins tend to turn more chocolatey and the finish is smoother.
Vintages to Consider
Like a lot of great wines the perfect vintage doesn’t happen every year; they happen only during a perfect ripening season (not too hot, not too cold). In the past 20 years there have been about eight outstanding Brunello vintages. They are 1997, 2001, 2004 (a great vintage to seek out now – see my notes on the 2004 Belpoggio Brunello di Montalcino), 2006 (this vintage is ready to drink), 2007, 2010 (perhaps one of the best Brunello vintages of all time), 2012 and 2015. These later wines will be ready to drink beginning in 2018 to 2025 and should age for years after that.
Brunello di Montalcino Available on Our Local Area
As I mentioned in a previous post, my friend Dave Thompson has returned to City-Wide Liquors as wine buyer and is currently perking up their wine selection. I stopped by City-Wide on Jefferson Street in South Bend to talk Brunello wines with Dave last week. At the time Dave’s selection of Brunellos was pretty low. He told me has tasted and ordered more to improve his selection. He did however have one on the shelf that he thought I should try.
2005 Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
This 11-year-old wine is still in its young and maturity stage. It had dense color with dried fruit on the nose and palate. This 2005 was a big wine with aggressive tannins and wonderful acidity on the finish. Dark fruit abounds in this wine. It has a silky texture that will make you lick your teeth after a taste.
This wine scored well at 92 to 93 points by various wine critics. Prices range from $53.00 to $89.00 a bottle nationally.
From City-Wide I went to my other favorite local wine shop, Chalet Party Shoppe on County Road 17 in Elkhart, to see my friend Stan Minden. Stan told me that he is more of a fan of Barolos than Brunellos. But, like Dave Thompson, he knows his wine and is very familiar with the wines he has available.
Stan’s selection of Brunello is currently a little larger. He says they are steady sellers in his store. After some discussion on his wines I selected two to taste and report on.
2006 Donatella Cinelli Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
This wine was very light and would do well with two to three hours of decanting – given some time it did open in the glass. It showed black fruit notes on the nose which continued throughout the palate, with some, just a hint, of sourness. The finish was great with tannins and acidity in check. This is a medium-bodied, rich wine…an excellent choice that will benefit from a little more cellar time. It will drink well for another five years.
This wine ranges in price from $40.00 to $62.00 a bottle and scored well at 90 to 94 points. This is a Brunello to try now.
2009 Tenuta di Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
The second Brunello I purchased at Chalet was a little younger by a couple years. This wine opened to a dark garnet color with hints of coffee, chocolate and dried cherry aromas on the nose. There are cherry and plumb notes on the palate with balanced tannins and acidity through the finish. I enjoyed the finish!
The wine ranges in price from $35.00 to $55.00 a bottle and scored between 75 to 92 points. It will drink well from now to 2020.
If you are a red wine drinker you should have some Italian wines in your stock. I suggest you purchase a couple bottles of Brunello, Barolo, Amarone, Chianti Classico or Rosso di Montalcino to try and decide if you like one better than the other.
These wines pair well with red meat, red sauce, etc. and are a delight to taste. Pick up a Brunello di Montalcino the next time you’re at your favorite wine store.
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Until next week,
National Wine Days
There are a couple of National Wine Days coming up that you may want to participate in.
- December 20th – National Sangria Day
- December 31st – National Champagne Day