Savouring the pleasures of wine with good companions is truly one of life’s great joys. Let this overview of Italy’s Brunello di Montalcino, one of the world’s great red wines, inspire you in the search for your next bottle.
Labels play a big role in the way consumers purchase wine. Colour, size, language, and back label detail are all important, but experts suggest that colour, animals or other images, quirkiness, and the brand itself are all factors that come into play when consumers are confronted by shelves of wine bottles with all their competing labels. Personally, I have this theory that many consumers avoid purchasing wine with labels that don’t provide the information they are seeking.
Moreover, many consumers may shy away from wines with unfamiliar names and places. This is where a dose of education comes in handy, and even a cursory amount of good information can yield a much better wine-buying (and wine-drinking) experience, often introducing you to bottles that you may have otherwise overlooked.
One such wine that deserves attention from any aspiring oenophile is Brunello di Montalcino from Italy’s famed Tuscany region.
TUSCANY: HEARTLAND OF WINE
Brunello is a specific red wine made from Sangiovese grapes grown in a defined region surrounding the compact hilltop town of Montalcino located in southern Tuscany.
This region is tightly controlled by its wine producers to the extent that all wines with the Brunello di Montalcino label must attain a minimum standard, but the bar is set very high. These standards are guaranteed by the ‘DOCG’ on the label of every Brunello (other countries like France use a similar system called AOC, or appellation d’origine contrôlée).
DOCG, or denominazione di origine controllata e garantita is Italy’s highest and most stringent classification, and controls and guarantees not only the wine’s origin, but its production methods, as well.
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the three original DOCGs in Italy.
To differentiate themselves from other Italian wine producers, those in Montalcino decided upon Brunello di Montalcino. The Biondi-Santi family led the charge, and if you ever see this estate on a wine list, you’re assured that the restaurant knows a thing or two about wines. This is the holy grail of Brunello – and priced accordingly – with a vintage like 1955 going for about RM10,000, while the 2011 (not a Riserva) can be snapped up for just RM1,000.
Brunello di Montalcino is arguably one of the world’s finest red wines and one that has contributed to the global success of Tuscan wines.
Roughly translated as ‘dark skin,’ Brunello is the local term given to a grape clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso that gives the wine it characteristic deep dark colour. Mere mortals probably can’t distinguish between Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, but experts can.
Protecting minimum standards also ensures that only a certain amount of Brunello is produced annually, and this means it’s not a cheap wine. However, there are some good bottles of Brunello that, while not inexpensive, still won’t end up breaking your budget. Here are a couple of fine (and locally available) examples to seek out next time you are looking for a celebratory wine.
Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2016 (14% ABV)
95 points, James Suckling
94 points, Robert Parker
This Brunello from leading Tuscan wine producer Banfi exhibits the uniqueness of Brunello where Sangiovese grapes are nurtured in the hotter and drier conditions of Montalcino. The result is a ‘ripe’ wine, which requires some mellowing. This is done in oak casks and in the bottle and the wine is not released for at least five years after the grapes have been harvested. (Under DOCG rules, a Brunello must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak casks, followed by an additional minimum of four months ageing in the bottle and not be released until January 1 on the fifth year after harvest.)
It is a big, dark ruby red wine with a lot of appeal, especially when enjoyed with red meat, game, and dark poultry; try it with Peking duck. Also fabulous with piquant aged cheeses if you’re snacking and not having a full meal. In Montalcino, 2016 was a terrific year and this is an exceptional vintage, so snap this up. Retail pricing should be around RM230 to RM250.
Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino 2015 (14% ABV)
97 points, James Suckling
95 points, Wine Advocate
Poggio alle Mura is a fine example of a single vineyard Brunello from the acclaimed Banfi estate. Planted in 1992 at 220m above sea level, the grapes are sourced from a small knoll called Alle Mura close to the estate castle. This wine has a deep, rich garnet-red colour and a sweet and complex nose of red berry fruit, hints of spice, vanilla, and dark chocolate. Long finish.
Boasting a wide range of flavours and soft tannins, the Poggio has great ageing potential. Both 2015 and 2016 were exceptional vintages. This wine is priced at a premium because it comes from a specific site considered to be one of the best on the whole estate. Save it for a special occasion, as it retails for about RM330 to RM350.
Note that as output is limited on these wines, they may be a little bit harder to find than a more mass-market, mainstream wine. But trust me, they’re worth the little extra effort to track down.
WINES FOR ALL MOODS
Banfi makes other Tuscan wines, as well, including Rossa di Montalcino which is produced in the Montalcino district from grapes harvested with a maximum of nine tonnes/hectare (eight tonnes for Brunello) and made available on September 1 of the year after harvest.
So, Rosso di Montalcino provides an introduction to the bling of Brunello without breaking the bank. Typically, Rosso di Montalcino is about half the price of a Brunello.
A Brunello wine is best left for a few years for the tannins to fully mellow while a Rossa can be consumed immediately upon purchase, although it, too, will benefit from appropriate cellaring before opening a few years later.
Some other Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino estates to seek out include San Polo, Bottega, Campogiovani, Carpineto, La Gerla, and Poggio do Sotto. (If you’re about to open a bottle of the latter, please give me a call!)
Look for these wines at the following retailers and e-commerce sites, or at your favourite wine shop:
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