traveling and meeting other cultures: ideas, destinations, reviews and tips
Tuscan Wines (Crash Course) - Part I: Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino
That is how red wine is aged in barrels in wine cellars (cantine). Each of the barrels contains about 280 gallons of wine (10.5 hectolitres)
Chances are high that you already know one of red wines produced in Tuscany - Chianti. Indeed, Chianti is one of the most recognized names of red wines in the world. I've met people for whom Chianti was synonymous to red wine. However, Tuscany, as the wine producing region can offer much more. Do not get me wrong. Chianti with all its varieties is a good wine. But if I am to tell you about Tuscan wine, I start with Brunello di Montalcino.
Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is not only the best Tuscan wine. It is one of the best wines produced in Italy. If you've heard about Baloro (produced in Piedmont, Italy) or Taurasi (sometimes called Barolo of Southern Italy), think about Brunello di Montalcino as Barolo of Tuscany.
Brunello di Montalcino, Campogiovanni San Felice, 2001 . Has dark black cherry color with a distinct shade of brown. Very good, long velvet finish. It may take several hours for this wine to show its beauty. Plenty of tannins but when fully open are balanced nicely. The nose of earth, coffee, black cherry and vanilla. Alcohol content: 13.5 % Vol. Retails from $45 to $140 depending on the year. 2001 is usually around $90 (prices 2010).
Brunello di Montalcino, Campogiovanni San Felice, 2001 is well deserved to be treated like this.
Similarities between Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino is not only in quality. Both wines share some major characteristics: both tend to be rich, deeply concentrated full bodied wines with pronounced tannins and acidity. Both are DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wines, and today both are the Italy's best-known and, alas, most expensive ones.
Brunello di Montalcino is a relatively young wine. Although there are records indicating that Brunello red wine was produced in 15th century, it started gaining momentum only in the second part of the last century. According to government records there were only about 10 produces of Brunello in early 60s. But by 1980 there were already more than 50 producers. Right now the number of produces is more than 200 - mostly small farms and estates. The growth in production is a direct response to growing demand. Indeed, today, Brunello di Montalcino enjoys a strong reputation of one of the Italian finest wines. The quality of Brunello di Montalcino brand was protected by granting it the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1968 and in 1980 the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation.
Let's look at some important requirements in DOCG of Brunello di Montalcino. Among other things, this wine:
- Can be produced only in Comune di Montalcino in Provincia di Siena
- Can be produced 100% from "Sangiovese" grapes (denominated in Montalcino as "Brunello" - Brunello is actually a variety of Sangiovese).
- Can be produced only following a number of rules regarding growing vines (altitude, density of vines, etc.) and production yield (not more than 68%)
- Must stay at least two years in oak containers and cannot be released to consumers before the January 1st of the year following five years from the grape harvest year. This period is six years for wine labeled "Reserva." In addition, Brunello di Montalcino should stay in bottles at least four months (six months for "Reserva" wines) before it can be delivered to consumers. Wine aging should be documented according to rules prescribed.
- Producers can add up to 15% of a different (usually younger and darker) vintage to improve their Brunello at their discretion.
- Should have several specific characteristics. Among them color (deep ruby red with garnet hue) and min. alcohol content 12,5% vol.
- Can be bottled only in Bordeaux type of bottles of several allowed sized without any additional qualifications such as "Extra", "Fine", "Selected", "Superior", "Old", etc.
Brunello di Montalcino, Col D'Orcia, 2004. Another good Brunello; it retails at about $40 (2010). Red cherries, mint, minerals, tobacco and licorice. After six years tannins are still a bit sharp. Alcohol 14%
Brunello Di Montalcino Podere Bellarina, Tenute Niccolai, 2004. After two worst vintages in many years, 2004 appears much better. This wine has deep ruby red color, nose of red berry fruit with traces of leather, earth and leaves. Alcohol content is 14.5 % Vol.
The success of Brunello is often attributed to Montalcino's climate, one of the warmest and driest in Tuscany. Grapes in the area ripen on average a week earlier than in nearby areas producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico. This difference results in wines with more power and complexity. By the way, Montalcino is a small wine area with less than 3,000 acres (about 1,200 ha) planted.
Brunello's typical description is that of smooth tannins and ripe, fruit driven character with aromas of blackberry, black cherry, black raspberry, chocolate and leather. This wine has deep, rich texture with a long and voluptuous finish. Because of the high concentration of tannins, Brunello di Montalcino is capable of lengthy aging. It takes usually about 10 - 12 years for Brunello to fully show its beauty.
Two greatest (and recent) vintages for Brunello are 1999 and 2001 where the former offers beautifully defined acidity and aromas and the second excellent fruit concentration. Fortunately, 2004 turned out to be a good vintage as well. One thing I noticed is that Brunello 2004 can differ rather significantly from one producer to another. The two I liked are Brunello Di Montalcino Podere Bellarina, Tenute Niccolai, 2004 and Brunello di Montalcino, Col D'Orcia, 2004.
Brunello di Montalcino is best served at a temperature of about 64 - 68F (18° - 20°C). It should be decant and left to breathe for at least 15 - 20 minutes (or more). This wine can be paired with such dishes as red meat, game. also accompanied by mushrooms or truffles. Brunello is also excellent with cheeses including aged Tuscan pecorino.
Rosso di Montalcino
Rosso di Montalcino, Fattoria Casisano Colombaio, 2008. Widely available in the US, this wine has a retail price between $15 and $18 (prices 2010). Alcohol 13.5%. Aromas of cherry, cinnamon, red licorice, charcoal. Surprisingly, this wine is well balanced. What is missing is individuality - it seems like everything is balanced in this wine. Which may be not that bad if you think about it. But at least you do not have to pay a fortune to drink it.
DOCG requirements for Brunello di Montalcino are one the most stringent in Italy. They help produce and guarantee a quality wine, but result in expensive wines where the costs are amplified by the need to reserve only finest grapes for their production. To offer a less expensive alternative and at the same time ensure good quality of wine from Brunello grape, the second denomination in Montalcino was created for Rosso di Montalcino (Montalcino Red). This denomination though is only DOC (with missing G for Garantita). In a way, Rosso di Montalcino is like a younger brother to Brunello di Montalcino: its less expensive, second tier version. Rosso di Montalcino is lighter, less intense and has fresher character.
You may hear that Rosso di Montalcino is called sometimes "Baby Brunello" to reflect its younger and less demanding nature. Often, Rosso di Montalcino is a not-happened Brunello when produces notice that the wine is not developing to their expectations. Good news for red wine lovers is that Rosso di Montalcino is usually 1/2 or 1/3 of the price of the mainstream Brunello di Montalcino.
Rosso di Montalcino DOC highlights (wher it's different from Brunello di Montalcino) include:
- Production area: Montalcino Township
- Variety: Sangiovese (also called “Brunello” in Montalcino)
- Ratio of grape yield to wine: 70%
- Ready to be sold: 1rst September of the year following the harvest
- Color: intense ruby red
- Taste: dry, warm and lightly tannic
- Minimum alcohol content: 12%
- Total minimum acidity: 5 per thousand
- Bottling: can be done only within the production area
- Packaging: Rosso di Montalcino can be sold only if it is bottled in Bordeaux type bottles.
Rosso di Montalcino goes well with dishes of medium structure, such as pasta with meat sauce, poultry, mushrooms or truffles, risottos; main courses of pork or veal with sauce. It should be served in crystal glasses for red wines at a temperature of about 18°C.
To Be Continued...