I recently spent a week in Italy with my wife, a couple of friends and the goal of gaining a better understanding of that fabled wine, Brunello di Montalcino.
The town of Montalcino is a beautiful little hilltop hamlet in southern Tuscany about 90 minutes north of Rome or a couple hours south of Florence. Around the town lie vineyards planted to the local clone of Sangiovese known as Brunello, or Sangiovese Grosso.
As a wine-producing region, Montalcino is actually relatively young, at least by European standards. The birth of Brunello is widely credited to the Biondi Santi family and their efforts at the end of the 19th century. Even as late as the 1980s, only a handful of producers were making fine Brunello. So you can begin to imagine that, in the wine's relative youth, there exist a number of ideas about what it is supposed to be and, consequently, there are numerous styles.
I believe that this occurs for a couple of reasons. One is the hand of the winemaker. Montalcino, like the rest of the winemaking world, has its share of the "modern vs. classic" debate, and we’ve talked about that here recently. (Read my New School, Old School post.) But I didn’t go to Montalcino to beat this nearly dead horse. I wanted to learn more about what we see “underneath” the hand of the winemaker: the terroir. So I set out to explore the geographic diversity of the appellation.
What I learned there I found really interesting and has lent even more enthusiasm to my enjoyment of these wines. We tasted wines of finesse, wines of girth, wines that showed both as well as wines that showed neither. We also found that many of the stylistic traits can be linked to specific areas of the appellation. All in all, we found a very complex picture and believe that it is also still open-ended as there is more to explore, learn and define.
Check in for my next installment here, describing our drive around the appellation and tastings of specific examples of the various “shades” of Brunello di Montalcino.
Paul Manchester — Santa Cruz, CA — February 20, 2008 10:58am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — February 20, 2008 11:45am ET
Bryan Hassin — Houston, TX — February 20, 2008 3:43pm ET
Brian Wang — Woburn, MA — February 20, 2008 9:54pm ET
John Danby — Napa — February 20, 2008 11:52pm ET
Paul Manchester — Santa Cruz, CA — February 21, 2008 5:12pm ET
Patrick Wallace — February 23, 2008 9:30am ET
Gerry Stuart — Calgary — March 1, 2008 6:58am ET
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