Made from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Tuscan countryside, Brunello or Brunello di Montalcino is a red Italian wine produced from the same grapes as Chianti. Wines produced from grapes grown in and around the village of Montalcino receive Italy's higest designation, denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) for quality winemaking, indicating that government approved personnel have tasted and approved the wines before bottling. The resultant quality of the wines have turned Brunello di Montalcino into one of Italy's most well-known and highly celebrated wines.
Italian winemakers began producing Brunello in about the 14th century. The wines contained a blend of grapes, including the Sangiovese that grew heavily throughout the region. In the mid to late 1800s, one onemaker began producing Brunello wines made from 100 percent Sangiovese. The wine's powerful flavors won acclaim, and the Biondi Santi firm made four vintages of the wine, which they allowed to age in barrels for up to ten years.
With only four vintages, Brunello wines were a rarity and Italy and commanded a premium price. After World War II, other winemakers in the region began to see the value in producing their own Brunellos, and over the next 20 years, more winemakers came aboard. In the 1960s, Montalcino had 11 winemakers in the Brunello business. After the government granted denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status in 1968, the number of winemakers doubled, and when the government granted DOCG status to the wine in 1980, those numbers grew even more. Today, Montalcino has more than 200 winemakers producing the wines.
Brunello di Montalcino Wines
Making Brunello di Montalcino is a carefully controlled process. After pressing, winemakers leave the juice in contact with the skins for an extended period of time in order to extract flavors, tannins, and dark colors. The wines then age for a period of about three years in Slavonian oak casks, French barriques, or both, depending on how pronounced of a vanilla flavor the winemaker would like in the wine.
Brunello di Montalcino wines are medium-bodied reds with pronounced tannins and subtle flavors of vanilla, spice, jam, game meats, and sweet tobacco. Flavor changes as the wines age, and Brunello is meant to be aged for years.
Brunello is an expensive wine, and needs to be handled with care in order to preserve your investment. Store it on its side between 50 and 55 degrees fahrenheit, away from temperature fluctation, vibrations, and light. These wines fare well with age, so avoid drinking it too early or you may miss out on the wine's best characteristics.
Serve Brunello di Montalcino at slightly cooler than room temperature: about 62 to 67 degrees fahrenheit. The wine pairs well with tomato based pastas, lamb chops, beef stew, and duck.
Try Brunellos from these producers.
Where to Buy
Most wine shops sell at least a few types of Brunello di Montalcino, and you may find more in wine shops that cater to upscale clientele. You may also be able to find bottles by visiting Wine Searcher, or shopping one wine websites such as Hart Davis Hart, Sokolin, and Wine Exchange.
Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's most acclaimed and expensive wines. If your only experience of Sangiovese has been Chianti, then you are in for a treat. If you find a bottle of Brunello that fits your budget, give it a try. You'll be glad you did.