Ask anyone familiar with Italian wine which wine is best, red or white, and you’ll likely get one of two answers. Aside from the obvious one (Barolo), most people will also answer with the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. While the Italians are often knocked for struggling to make a name for their wines that can compete from a familiarity standpoint with the likes of Bordeaux and Burgundy, which role off the tongue of even novice wine drinkers, the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG has become widely known for producing some of the country’s (and Europe’s, for that matter) best wine. This particular bottle was given to me as a gift, and though Brunello di Montalcino can age for years, I couldn’t wait any longer and decided to crack into it.
The Brunello di Montalcino DOCG region is near the center of Tuscany, situated around the small town of Montalcino, which is about an hours drive south of the Chianti Classico region. The name of the wine comes from the grape with which it is produced – all Brunello di Montalcino wines are made from %100 Brunello. This is another example of what makes Italian wine so confusing – Brunello, which roughly translates to “little dark one”, is actually a “clone” of Sangiovese which is grown in the area of Montalcino.
While the first record of red wines made in the area of Montalcino date back to the 14th century, the all-Sangiovese wine was not developed until the 1870s. The creation of this wine, by winemaker Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, led to a handful of innovations in Tuscan winemaking of the time. This included fermenting the varietals individually, instead of lumping everything together, as well as longer aging periods in oak barrels. The local version of Sangiovese at the time was notable for the size of the berries; they were much fatter when grown in the soil around Montalcino than in other parts of Tuscany. Because of this they were often referred to as Sangiovese Grosso, or “fat Sangiovese”, before eventually becoming known as Brunello. Traditionally Brunello di Montalcino is aged in large Slavonian barrels for long periods of time, though modern winemakers have also started using smaller French barrels, which impart a bit more oaky characteristics, namely vanilla, on the wine. Today the wine must be aged a minimum of four years (at least two in oak) to qualify for DOCG status. However, many producers are of the mindset that the wines should be so thick with tannins that they must be left for at least 20 years.
This wine is produced by Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi from their CastelGiocondo estate. Being from 2007, it likely would have benefited from a bit more time aging (the drinking window in one review I saw extended to 2023), but as I mentioned in the last post, I currently lack a good place to keep a nice bottle of red wine through a humid New England summer, so I decided to put it out of it’s misery early. The wine has a clear, ruby red coloring to it. The nose, which has a medium intensity, carries notes of dark fruit, mainly blackberry and cherry, spice along with a bit of chocolate. The body is big and bold, with lot’s intensity and rigid tannins. There is also some good acidity to back up the tannins giving the wine a nice overall balance. However, a few more years in the bottle will probably smooth the tannins a bit, making the wine a little softer. On the palate are flavors of black cherry, plum, and blackberry, as well as some cinnamon and other spices. It has very nice depth to it and a long finish, with spice and more oaky characteristics backing it up. With the big tannins and acidity, this wine definitely wants food, in particular something fatty.