Critics are fairly unanimous on the fact that Brunello di Montalcino is a strong contender for the title of best Italian red. After all, in 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was one of the first three Italian wines to be given DOCG recognition – in conjunction with Barbaresco and Barolo – testament to its superlative quality. This silky and luxurious wine is made exclusively from a particular variety of the Sangiovese grape native to Tuscany, variously known as the ‘Brunello’, ‘Sangiovese Grosso’ or ‘Prugnolo Gentile’. Indeed, the region is also home to another world-famous Italian wine export made from the Sangiovese grape in the form of Chianti. Whilst Brunello di Montalcino has to be made with 100% Sangiovese, it can be found in blends with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir under the Sant’Antimo DOC.
How is Brunello di Montalcino made? Exclusivity permeates this wine’s production process. Only just over 2000 hectares of this grape are cultivated, with many wineries voluntarily limiting usable yields to 60 quintals per hectare in order to maintain the highest standards of production. Brunello di Montalcino is grown in relatively arid conditions, and undergoes a minimum two-year aging process in small barriques, resulting in highly refined, silky wines with notes of vanilla and spice thanks to its time spent in contact with the wood. From the time of harvest, it can typically take five years for a bottle of Brunello to arrive on the market, rising to six for its Riserva version. Most recently, its five best vintages come from 2015, 2012, 2010, 2007 and 2006; but if you’re celebrating a very special birthday you might want to take a look at 1961, 1970 or 1985 for example.
Which wineries make the best Brunello di Montalcino? Widely recognised as the ‘founding father’ of this prestigious variety, the Biondi Santi winery is without a doubt a standard bearer for its famous offspring. Other immensely highly regarded producers include Castello Banfi, Argiano, Tenute del Cerro, and Ciacci Piccolomini D’Aragona, to name but a few. Here at Tannico you can find a broad range of options, to suit every pocket. An excellent mid-level entry point is the Antinori winery’s Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montacino: a beautifully executed, elegant exemplar which will leave you keen to explore further.
What is Brunello di Montacino like? This wine has a warm, dry mouthfeel with a lingering aftertaste to savor unhurriedly. It is reasonably full-bodied but not overwhelming, and generally has notes including red berries, red cherry, Victoria plum, vanilla, herbaceous plants, terracotta and leather. Its high tannin level and medium to high acidity make this wine a perfect candidate for laying down for ten years or more, in order to achieve the optimal balance and expression of every bottle. Brunello di Montalcino also benefits from decanting an hour before serving – trust us, it’ll be worth the wait!
What about good food matches for Brunello di Montalcino? Game meats are traditionally deemed a good partner for this wine, owing to its robust acidity – think wild boar and venison for example – although you can’t go wrong with a top-notch steak either. It is also ideal simply for savoring solo and sipping slowly, in your favorite chair. Would a log fire be too much to ask?