Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's - and the world's - most renowned red wines. Made in Montalcino Tuscany - near thermal baths, cheese producers, and immersed in breathtaking, rolling hills.
And just a 2 ½ hours drive from Rome.
Wine Searcher says it's “One of the pinnacles of what the Sangiovese grape variety can achieve, Brunello di Montalcino is a global touchstone for the variety – and great red wines in general.”
What is Brunello wine?
Brunello is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes and has the highest DOCG classification in Italy. It's likely one of the Italian grape varietals you know best but wines made with this grape vary a lot from one to another. It’s the only Tuscan red wine made of a single grape.
The Tuscan Sangiovese used to make Brunello di Montalcino, is often referred to as Brunello, and locally it's also called Prugnolo Gentile.
Sangiovese is the most commonly planted grape varietal in Italy. It is also grown in several other countries including France, Argentina and the US.
Brunello di Montalcino is made of the Tuscan grape variety known as Brunello or Sangiovese Grosso.
Sangiovese Grosso is a thick-skinned berry, producing wines with high tannin, high acidity, and bold fruit flavors. While the fruit flavors contribute to the lasting popularity of the Brunello wine, it’s the tannin and acidity that gives the wine its extended life, often developing its best expressions only after a decade or more.
Brunello di Montalcino is made from the Sangiovese grape, a variety traditionally referred to as Brunello in this area. The regulations governing wine production dictate that the maximum production of grapes per hectare must be less than 8 tons/ha (approximately 52 hl/ha of wine). It also dictates the date of the wine being released onto the market, which is January 1st of the fifth year after harvesting. During this long period, the wine must spend at least two years in wooden barrels and age at least four months in the bottle. The Riserva wine must age at least 6 months in the bottle, and is released a year later onto the market.
What is the history of Brunello wine?
The name “Brunello” is a diminutive for the word “Bruno” (brown), which was originally the name for the Sangiovese grape variety grown in Montalcino.
A “Brunello” wine made in Montalcino was first recorded in the early 14th century. But the wine we know today was first made by a Tuscan winemaker, Clemente Santi, in the mid 19th century. He isolated plantings of Sangiovese vines to produce a 100% varietal wine.
Santi’s grandson, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, released the first modern version of the Brunello di Montalcino in 1888 after aging it for over a decade in wooden barrels.
By the end of World War II, Brunello had gained a reputation as one of Italy’s rarest wines, with Biondi Santi being its only commercial producer.
Today, there are over 200 wineries producing Brunello di Montalcino, though Biondi-Santi remains one of Montalcino’s finest estates.
Rules and regulations that govern Brunello wine production
The Brunello Consortium dictates that:
Historical borders of the Municipality of Montalcino
Sangiovese (also called “Brunello” in Montalcino)
Maximum yield of grapes:
80 quintals per hectare
Ratio of grape yield to wine:
Minimum aging in wood
2 years in oak. Minimum aging in bottles: 4 months
(6 months for the Riserva)
Intense ruby red tending towards garnet as it ages
characteristic intense perfume
dry, warm, lightly tannic, robust and harmonious
Minimum alcohol content:
Minimum total acidity:
Minimum net dry extract:
can only be done with the production area
Ready to be sold:
cannot be released for consumption before 1 January of the year following the end of the fifth year calculated in consideration of the year of harvest (6 years for the Riserva)
Brunello di Montalcino can only be sold if it is in Bordelaise shaped bottles
Why are Brunello wines all so different if they are produced in the same area with the same grape?
Vinovest says: Montalcino is located 564m above sea level in the province of Siena, in the Tuscany wine region. It became the first Italian wine region to earn a DOCG designation in 1980, along with Piedmont’s Barolo.
The Montalcino terroir:
Montalcino is a hilly area with one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany.
Its altitude and climate allow Sangiovese grapes to ripen more consistently and fully than anywhere else in Tuscany. The grapes here ripen up to a week earlier than nearby Montepulciano.
The terroir in Montalcino has limestone, schist, clay, volcanic soil, and galestro (crumbly marl). The style and complexity of Montalcino wines depend much on this terroir.
Valley wines come from the base of the Montalcino hills along Val d’Orcia. The thicker deposits of clay results in a wine with stronger color and tannins with more pronounced black fruit flavors. The innate intensity of these wines allows them to age well using modern aging techniques.
Hillside wines are from vineyards located at higher elevations where the soil is of galestro (crumbly marl) and clay. The grapes from a vineyard on these hills are lighter-bodied, with more floral and red fruit accents. These wines do better with traditional aging methods.
Why is Brunello such an expensive wine?
According to Forbes: Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's—and the world's—most renowned red wines....It's released in its fifth year (or later); cellaring this wine for so long before release assures this will be expensive, but its aging potential—20-25 years and perhaps longer from a great vintage such as 2010 or 2012—helps define its sometimes lofty price tag.
What are the best Brunello production years and what about the 2022 Brunello unveiled January/February 2023?
When you explore the area and taste different Brunello wines keep in mind what the best production years are and if you want to buy something extra special, grab a wine from one of the best production years. The Brunello consortium has ranked the various years by quality.
Three stars*** is a good vintage year, four stars**** is an excellent vintage year, and five stars***** is an outstanding vintage year.
Good vintage *** years: 1949, 1952, 1953, 1959, 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1981, 1986, 1987, 1996, 2000, 2014.
Excellent vintage**** years: 1946, 1947, 1950, 1951, 1958, 1962, 1965–1967, 1977–1980, 1982, 1983, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2017, 2018.
Outstanding vintage ***** years: 1945, 1955, 1961, 1964, 1970, 1975, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020.
In January 2022 Vinitaly shared this about the 2021 Brunello di Montalcino: The exceptional value of two consecutive very celebrated vintages such as 2015 and 2016, have made 2021 a record year for the excellent Tuscan red wine. Almost 11.4 million bottles of Brunello di Montalcino were put on the market in 2021 - 37% more than in the previous three years - and more than 1 million Riserva (+ 108% compared to 2020).
As to the newly released 2022 Brunello di Montalcino, well, stay tuned!
What's the difference between old Brunello and young Brunello?
Here's how wine folly describes the difference:
"Imagine a smart – somewhat cocky – exuberant, young brunette. This is a young Brunello.
Wines packed with fruit and flower flavors, including cherries, dried cranberry, wild strawberry, blackberry, violets, potpourri, and licorice.
When you taste it, Brunello di Montalcino exudes earthy notes of espresso and tilled soil along with mouth-gripping tannins.
It’s a bold wine, but because of the high acidity, it ends on a tart, astringent note that will have you licking the insides of your mouth. This astringency is why most reviews suggest a drink-by window several years after its release date."
Sometimes I find young Brunello to be too smart and cocky, and anxious to take center stage, overpowering the food it's paired with. I like to take Brunello home and let it sit a few more years until it loses its cockiness.
An old Brunello is an entirely different story, and again Wine Folly describes it perfectly:
When "the wine is aged and softened by time...Brunello is more ravishing than ever.
With 10+ years of age, Brunello di Montalcino drops the fresh fruit flavors to reveal sweeter notes of dried figs, candied cherries, hazelnuts, and sun-baked leather. The tannins turn chocolatey and the acidity is succulent...I haven’t met anyone drinking perfectly aged Brunello that doesn’t think it’s fantastic."
Look at this Wine Folly graphic to understand the difference:
What other wines are produced in Montalcino?
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Moscadello di Montalcino DOC, and Sant'Antimo DOC are exclusively made in Montalcino.
Rosso di Montalcino DOC is made from the same Sangiovese variety, but is a red wine to be enjoyed earlier. Rosso di Montalcino is introduced to the market on the September 1st following the year of harvest. Beginning with the 1984 vintage, it attained DOC status. Rosso di Montalcino is fresh and fruity.
Starting with the 1996 vintage, Sant'Antimo DOC includes both white and red wines and must include the grape variety.
Moscadello di Montalcino is a white DOC dessert wine that's been produced for many years in Montalcino. The Brunello Consortium says that back in the 18th century Neoclassical Italian poet Ugo Foscolo mentioned it in one of his letters. All of the varieties of Moscadello – Tranquillo (Still), Frizzante (Sparkling), and Vendemmia Tardiva (Late Harvest) – are made using Moscato grapes.
Vinovest says: Sant’Antimo DOC covers a wide variety of red and white Montalcino wines (labeled Rosso and Bianco respectively.) These have to be bottled in the Siena province. They can be single varietal wines or blends using both international and local grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and so on.
Sweet Vin Santo is also produced under this DOC.
About Montalcino, and the best time to visit
Anytime is a good time to visit Montalcino, but bear in mind that winter months can be quite chilly and sometimes snowy, and by the same token summer months are filled with tourists. Spring and fall are wonderful times to visit, and in November the new Brunello starts be unveiled and available for tasting.
How to get to Montalcino
Montalcino doesn't have a train station and unquestionably the best way to get there is by car. The joy of visiting any wine country and terroir is the pleasure of the trip itself, and exploring wineries and restaurants as you travel to your destination.
Alternatively, you can reserve a private driver or do a day-trip with Flavor of Italy. For either private driver or day trip send me an email.
The best places to explore in the Montalcino area
Montepulciano is a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, Italy. Surrounded by vineyards, it’s known for its vino nobile red wine. The Torre di Pulcinella is a clock tower topped by a figure of the Pulcinella, a commedia dell’arte character. On the Piazza Grande is the 14th-century Palazzo Comunale, with a tower offering views of the surrounding countryside. Also here is the Duomo, with a huge triptych above its altar.
Pienza is one of Tuscany’s most enchanting towns. Its only 2,000 inhabitants have the privilege of living in an ancient environment full of history that was admitted to the prestigious UNESCO list of world heritage sites in 1996. But the wonder doesn’t stop here, because Pienza is also home to one of Italy’s most beloved cheeses.
Want to know more about the many Italian pecorino cheeses? Read this!
The Thermal baths
Lots of thermal baths to choose from in this area, and my favorite by far is Bagno Vignoni. The tiny town wraps around the historical thermal baths, that you see here:
The town also has some thermal baths within hotels; you can bask in the warm waters as you gaze out to the Tuscan hills. It's really quite spectacular! If you'd like to organize a day trip here to enjoy the thermal baths, and then taste some fabulous local wine just send me an email and we'll set it up… I've got you covered!
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