Tasting Date: 1/4/2012
Varietal: Brunello di Maontalcino 2009
Country: Tuscany, Italy
Tasting Date Price: $44.99
Rating: WS 93 WE 90
Alcohol Content: 13.5%
Vineyard Website: click here
Visual Aspect: Dark red
Nose: Fresh floral & cherry aromas
Palate: Sweet cherry flavors w/a herbal character & a nice finish.
Food Pairing: Meat, big meals
Winery Notes: Brunello di Montalcino, alongside Chianti, is arguably the most prestigious of all Italian wines. It certainly holds the top rung in Tuscany, despite its relatively short history. It is made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes grown in Montalcino – a classic Tuscan hilltop village 20 miles (30km) south of Siena. Brunello translates roughly as ‘little dark one’, and is the local vernacular name for Sangiovese Grosso, the large-berried form of Sangiovese which grows around Montalcino.
The first recordings of this wine date back to the early 14th century, and the first modern version came about during the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy) in the 1870s. Its evolution into the wine we now know is due in no small part to the efforts of Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, a soldier of the Garibaldi campaigns. He returned home to manage his grandfather Clemente Santi’s estate, Fattoria del Greppo, where he developed some novel winemaking techniques.
Biondi-Santi’s unique approach to oenology took Brunello from Montalcino to another level, as he vinified his Sangiovese grapes separately from the other varieties. In Tuscany at that time it was common practice to co-ferment all the grapes together – not just different clones and varieties, but red and white grapes too. Thus Biondi-Santi’s pure, high-quality Sangiovese was something of a novelty. His wines were also noticed to be livelier and fruitier than most other wines, something he achieved by forgoing the second fermentation which was also standard procedure among his contemporaries. What makes the freshness of these wines all the more remarkable was that these wines were aged in wooden barrels, sometimes for over a decade; the third key change that this ‘maverick’ Tuscan winemaker dared to make. The distinction between Brunello and other Tuscan Sangiovese wines was reinforced by the local synonyms given to Sangiovese. In the Montalcino terroir Sangiovese vines grow particularly large berries, which led it to be dubbed Sangiovese Grosso (‘fat Sangiovese’), and later Brunello (whence the official name of the modern day wine).
This wine gained repute as one of Italy’s finest wines by the end of World War II. According to government documents of the time, the only commercial producer of Brunello was the Biondi-Santi firm, who had only declared four vintages by that time; 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945. This encouraged more producers to try their hand at making this new Brunello di Montalcino and by the 1960s, there were at least eleven Brunello producers. At this time Brunello really began to make a name for itself, and was formalized as Italy’s first DOCG in July 1980, alongside Piedmont’s Barolo. Today, there are almost 200 winemakers producing this high quality red, most of whom are small farmers and family estates.
Traditional Brunello di Montalcino winemaking methods involve ageing the wine for a long time in large oak vats, which results in particularly complex wines, although some consider this style too tannic and dry. Modernists set the ball rolling for a ‘fruitier’ style in the 1980s, when they began to shorten the barrel maturation time and use smaller barriques (225 liter/59 gallon French oak barrels).
In keeping with the regulations of Brunello’s DOCG classification, the vineyards must be planted on hills with good exposures at altitudes not surpassing 600 meters (1968 feet) above sea level. This limit is intended to ensure that the grapes reach optimal ripeness and flavor before being harvested; any higher than 600m and the mesoclimate becomes cooler to the point of unreliability. Fortunately, the climate in Montalcino is one of the warmest and driest in Tuscany, so achieving ripeness is rarely a problem for Brunello’s vignerons. In good years the Sangiovese Grosso grapes ripen up to a week earlier than those in nearby Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Naturally microclimates vary between the different vineyard sites depending on their exposure. Grapes grown on the northern slopes tend to ripen more slowly, resulting in racier styles of wine. On the southern and western slopes, however, the grapes are exposed to more intense sunlight and cool maritime breezes, resulting in more complex and powerful wine styles. Top Brunello producers tend to own vineyards on all of the finest terroirs. This allows them to create base wines of both styles, and to use those to create a blend in their desired house style.