Brunello di Montalcino – those words seem to roll effortlessly off the tongue and how appropriate considering how hauntingly delicious, elegant and powerful these wines are. Brunello is classified DOCG, which is Italy’s the highest standards when it comes to wine making. They are one of the world’s most terroir driven, expressive, and brutally honest wines we have the pleasure of tasting.
Brunello di Montalcino is named after the town in southern Tuscany where is the wine is coming from, and based on one sole grape variety: Sangiovese Grosso which produces slighter plumper, richer berries that its neighbor to the north — in Chianti. History credits Clemente Santi of Tenuta Greppo’s Biondi-Santi with the invention of the Brunello style, as the producer was the first to isolate the Brunello clone and bottle it alone in 1865. The idea was to make wine only from Sangiovese.
The medieval town of Montalcino and the surrounding hills have about 2,000 hectares which are planted to make Brunello. Wines here are very tannic, high in acidity and fierce to drink in their youth so they need to time to mature and develop.
The Sangiovese Grosso clone has quite thick skin and high acidity making the wines quite powerful and austere in its youth, so that is why these wines are aged for as long as they are. Legally, Brunello di Montalcino cannot be released until 5 years after the year of harvest. At least 2 of those 5 years on oak. When Riserva is seen on the label of Brunello that means the wine has been aged for 6 years, with at least 3 on oak. These aging requirements add considerably to the cost of production due to the investment in oak containers and to have the space to house them.
What expression can you expect from Brunello’s and what should you buy?
There are always exceptions but at the moment, but given the aging requirements, you can expect to find the 2015 vintages in stores. If you’re drinking newly released vintages, it will be bursting with floral notes and red fruit characteristics like cherries, cranberries, strawberries, and lots of blackberry and sweet licorice. There will also be notes of espresso, earth and very grippy mouth drying tannins and a fierce, tart acidity.
With an older Brunello, the wine becomes more approachable and softens with time. If you have the patience of waiting 8-10 years or more, Brunellos will be fantastically delicious. Those tart red fruit flavours will have developed into more sweeter dried fruit like fig, candied cherries, leather and dried violet. The tannins are silky and the acidity finely balanced and harmonious with other elements of the wine.
One would be hard pressed to find a bad bottle of Brunello Di Montalcino but my advice is that if you have never had a wine from this denomination before you should start with a Rosso Di Montalcino, otherwise known as the ‘Baby Brunello’. These wine are ready to drink upon release. They are youthful as they require less aging, and without the use of oak. These wines are also 100% Sangiovese, and come from the same area as Brunello but which grapes are grown on more youthful vines. They’re still fantastic wines that are more approachable in youth and of high quality.
This category also allows producers to declassify from Brunello to Rosso wine in very difficult vintages, which means the consumer is getting huge value here! NO matter which wine you are curious to taste just know that this denomination has the strictest standards when its coming to producing wine. The elegance, complexity and highly regarded reputation for fine wine is evident with Brunello Di Montalcino and everyone should at least once experience these beautifully crafted wines.
The following wine recommendations are currently available at various SAQ outlets and online via the SAQ website:
Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino, 2016
- SAQ:11213343, $49.85
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, 2015
- SAQ: 10268596, $55.00
Brunello Di Montalcino Caparzo, 2015
- SAQ:10270178, $50.25
Fornacina Brunello Di Montalcnio, 2015
- SAQ: 11195325, $52.00
Campogiovanni San Felice Brunello Di Montalcino, 2015
- SAQ: 634881, $68.75
Altesino Roso Di Montalcino, 2018
- SAQ: 11472345, $27.45
Mandi Robertson earned her Sommelier Attestation (ASP) from Pearson School of Culinary Arts then worked as a Sommelier in Melbourne, Australia. Upon returning to Canada, she is now completing her WSET Diploma. Besides having extensive experience hosting private tastings, her passion for all aspects of the wine industry is furthermore demonstrated on her website, ‘A Walk on the Wine Side’. She is also the wine contributor for CJAD800 ‘Weekends with Ken’, Global News Morning.
— Mandi Robertson