The light is Tuscany is dazzling; its pinpoint accuracy is edged in a soft glow that illuminates the region’s tremendous agricultural bounty. Tuscany, the province that harbours Brunello di Montalcino, is home to phenomenal wines, prized olive oils, extraordinary cattle (Chianina from the valley of Chiana), tasty pecorino, out-of-this-world Chianti in all its variations, sweet wines, not to speak of vegetables, fruits and cereal that are the envy of all regions both in Italy and abroad.
But Brunello di Montalcino must be regarded as the special tribute to an observant agronomist who selected from among thousands, if not millions of vines, that particular Sangiovese plant today known as Brunello di Montalcino (literally translated as the little brown one of Montalcino). Clemente Santi was a grower with a special talent to nurture and inspect his vineyards. He would pace neat rows and observe each vine, its characteristics, how prolific and vigorous it was and make notes. During one of his inspections, Brunello caught his attention and he made a special study of it. In the end, the vine was propagated and eventually a wine produced.
He won a local award for “select red wine” in 1865 then continued to propagate his ”find” and make more refined wine. However, it was Ferrucio Biondi-Santi who invented, branded and marketed Brunello di Montalcino. He decided that aging would contribute immensely to the overall taste and texture profile. The first Brunello di Montalcino was marketed in 1888, and the venerable winery Biondi-Santi today still has a bottle or two from their inaugural year reportedly in good condition. Subsequent vintages can be found in Biondi-Santi’s wine library, and in many fine restaurants all over the world, but more important, in English establishments catering to an older, appreciative and wealthy clientele
Today, Brunello di Montalcino is a world-famous dry red wine, the fruit of which must originate in a well-defined area around the medieval town of Montalcino. The 13th century fortification in the middle of the town is a museum cum wine shop where the majority of Brunello producers offer their wines for evaluation and sale.
Brunello di Montalcino fruit comes from approximately 1000 hectares of manicured vineyards producing 45,000 hectolitres of wine annually. There are over 90 wineries, the oldest of which is Biondi-Santi, followed by the venerable Fattoria dei Barbi, Castello Banfi (owned by the Mariani family from New York), Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, Marchesi Antinori, San Felice, Argiano, Capanna, Caparzo, Mocali, Cantina Constanti just to name a few.
Brunello di Montalcino was the first Italian wine to be granted Denominazione di Origine Controlata e Garantita (D O C G) status by the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of bestowing such honours. To date, there are only 19 DOCG wines, a coveted status that prescribes limits of fruit per hectare (eight tonnes), at least 36 months of barrel aging and one year in the bottle. For riserva wines the bottle aging must be a minimum of two years. This simply means that the winery must keep the wine for a minimum of five years – a financial burden many small producers can ill afford.
For this reason, a good portion of Brunello di Montalcino production is sold as Rosso di Montalcino, which requires only one year of barrel aging, but has only Denominazione di Origine Controlata (D O C) status. It is considerably less expensive but also offers less pleasure.
Connoisseurs prefer Brunello di Montalcino, however, for its beautiful brick red, limpid colour, its bouquet of cherries, leather, and silky smooth texture. The wine evolves in the mouth to show its multidimensional character, its full body and depth of flavour. It finishes with a long satisfying aftertaste that few red wines possess. In short, in a good vintage and from a reputable winery it can be heavenly and deserves to be appreciated by all who enjoy wine.
Enjoy it with fine roast rib of beef, medium-rare grilled steaks, game stews, roast saddle of veal, pan-fried buffalo filets with a Sauce Bordelaise and s election of Tuscan pecorino or other flavourful Italian cheeses of which there is no shortage.
Of course Brunello di Montalcino can also be enjoyed on its own to contemplate the beauty of wine!
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.