Italy has been producing wine since antiquity, and the population of this sunny country is used to enjoying wine daily, with or without food.
Since Italy is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, it stands to reason that Italian vitiviniculturists have developed a wine culture and love of wine unlike most other nations. Italian wines enjoy popularity in many countries including the United Kingdom, the U.S.A, Canada, Germany, all Scandinavian countries, China, Japan, and Australia.
With the introduction of wine laws in 1963, the Italian government has emphasised the importance of quality wine production. At the time, few regions were already producing wines that were as good as the laws prescribed, and in many instances surpassing minimum standards.
One such region was Montalcino located in Tuscany only 40 kilometres south of Sienna. The countryside is charming with gentle rolling hills covered with vineyards and other agricultural crops.
The population has always found sustenance in growing food and wine rather than trying to industrialize. The climate is warm enough for olive trees to grow, but the heat is never unbearable. Winters can be cold, but generally they are mild by North American standards.
Refugees from Roselle who were attacked by Saracen hordes at the beginning of the 10th century A.D founded Montalcino. The town grew on the hillsides, which were crowned with an imposing observation tower and castle to accommodate all the soldiers and rulers. Montalcino’s history is rich with battles, political upheavals, and diplomatic manoeuvres between the 12th and 16th centuries.
On August 4, 1559, the French and Spanish governments signed the treaty of Chateau Cambresis whereby Montalcino had to surrender to the powerful Medici family; its historical importance gave way to the peaceful pursuit of husbanding the land.
Today Montalcino is an agricultural and touristic region proud of its heritage and the quality of its foods.
Wine has always been part of agriculture here, and farmers produced this noble beverage for centuries not so much to sell, but for themselves and to enjoy the fruits of their labour with visiting friends and family. Even today it is quite unthinkable not to be served a glass of wine, usually the best the host can offer.
Ferrucio Biondi selected brunello, the grape responsible for the wine now called, Brunello Di Montalcino. The grape was discovered on the on the Il Greppo vineyard, which he had inherited from his father. He was convinced that the quality of the wine could be improved. When he took over Il Greppo, the vineyard was planted with sangiovese, and while inspecting the vines each day, he noticed one vine that showed more vigour, better looking, and more desirable characteristics than all the others. He made a wine exclusively from the fruit of this vine, and this proved to be more flavourful and pure than others from the same vineyard. It was 1870 when Ferrucio succeeded in producing a wine, which many residents acclaimed as being superior to others in the region. Brunello Di Montalcino was born.
It took a long time for Brunello to acquire its fame. Until early 1900’s only a few hardy enthusiasts would travel to Montalcino and to buy a few bottles.
Tancredi Biondi-Santi, the son of Ferrucio is credited with the popularization of Brunello Di Montalcino.
It is well known that even the best of all products will not sell on their own. Tancredi Biondi-Santi understood perfectly the importance of publicity, marketing and advertising. In the 1950’s he embarked on a campaign to achieve his goal of making his wine world famous.
Tancredi’s major breakthrough occurred when he arranged for Brunello Di Montalcino to be served as the main course wine during a banquet Queen Elizabeth II of England attended at the Italian Embassy in 1969.
When the news spread that the 1955 vintage Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva was served to the queen, English merchants started to import the wine.
This was an excellent coup, and sales of Brunello Di Montalcino grew, and continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
The Colombini family owned the Fattoria Dei Barbi Estate for over two centuries but it became efficient only when Giovanni Colombini, a lawyer by profession, decided to dedicate his undivided attention to growing food and vint excellent wines on the property.
Late Giovanni Colombini was an entrepreneur, and a man with a passion for husbanding the land. In the early 1950’s, he decided to uproot all existing vines and replant with brunello (the clone Tancredi had selected) exclusively, save for a few experimental varieties.
He started to keep animals for both milk and sausage production and made good use of the manure by spreading it on the vineyards. Cereal was planted, and grew satisfactorily.
Fattoria Dei Barbi is now a self-sufficient property, except for electricity and a few modern inventions. It operates a restaurant serving typical local specialties.
Mrs. Francesca Colombini-Cinelli, a distinguished lady, and perfect hostess to the many visitors and importers of her wines, now manages the estate. She manages approximately 40 hectares of vineyards, and exports to more than 50 countries all over the world.
She insists on quality first and foremost. She also produces a dry white wine called Bianco de Beato, and a vin santo. The largest part of the production is Brunello Di Montalcino, and Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva.
Brunello Di Montalcino was one of the first D. O. C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designated wines of the country when the Minister of Agriculture introduced the Italian wine laws in 1963, and 17 years alter the again the first to receive the acclaimed designation of
D. O. C. G (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).
The yields per hectare are restricted to eight tones per hectare and juice extraction per tone must never exceed 680 litres. Aging occurs in botte (huge upright barrels ranging from 1000 up 6000 litre capacity) of Slavonian oak. Some wineries use now French barriques with a capacity of 225 or 500 litres, and a few age their wines in both, and blend.
Brunello Di Montalcino must be aged for a minimum of two years in either botte or barques, and after bottling four months (six months for riserva).
Rosso Di Montalcino is generally aged for six months or more but there are no regulations.
There are now 270 Brunello Di Montalcino producers, 210 of which grow their fruit and buy from farmers. Others are negotiants.
While most wineries concentrate on producing Brunello di Montalcino, and Riserva, Fattoria Dei Barbi is also known for its Brusco Dei Barbi that is produced by a special and secret recipe. It is always vibrant, fruity, balanced and refreshing.
Fattoria Dei Barbi’s vin santo produces also using Muscat (aka moscadello di Montalcino) , malvasia and trebbiano Toscano grapes.
A new appellation was added recently. Sant’Antimo is a sub-appellation allowed to plant sangiovese, syrah, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, and blends any or all according to the winery’s standards.
Vintages are important when buying Brunello Di Montalcino.
2002 was rated 77/100, 2003 89, 2004 95, 2005 91, 2006 97, 2007 97, 2008 91.
Recently, more than 30 wineries visited Toronto pouring their wines.
The following vintages, and brands are recommended:
Rosso Di Montalcino:
Fanti, 2011, 92/100
Brunello Di Montalcino:
Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse Di Sotto, 2008, 90/100
La Magia, 2008, 92/100
Loacker-Corte Pavone, 2009 92/100
Loacker-Corte Pavone, 2008, 93/100
San Polino, 2008 91/00
Fattoria Dei Barbi, 2008, 90/100
Caparzo, 2007, 92/100
Castello Di Romitoria, 2009, 93/100
Cerbaia, 2007, 93/100
Colosorbo, 2008, 92/100
Corte Di Venti, 2009, 91/100
Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva and Single Vineyard bottlings
La Fornace Riserva, 2007, 90/100
Tenute Friggiali e Pitranera, Poggiotondo, 2009, 91/100
Caparzo,Vigna La Casa, 2008, 92/100