I spent two days in Montalcino during my trip to Tuacany. I toured the region with Stefano Campatelli, the director of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino and visited five estates. Campatelli also organized a blind tasting of 16 Brunellos, mostly from the 2006 vintage, and nine Rossos, all from 2009. At dinner with the consorzio directors, we enjoyed some older vintages.
The weather was beautiful during my stay there. A full moon bathed the picturesque hilltop town in its milky glow the night I arrived. It couldn't have been staged any better.
The Montalcino Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) covers nearly 60,000 acres in central Tuscany. Roughly half of that is forested and protected. It is less rugged and generally lower in altitude than Chianti Classico; parts of Montalcino are densely forested, while others are wide open with rolling hills devoted more to cereals and grains than grapes.
The DOC was created in 1966, the consorzio following in '67, with 25 members and about 10 different labels. Brunello di Montalcino was upgraded to DOCG in 1980. Today, there are 200 member estates, and since 2000, there is a moratorium on any expansion of the approximately 5,000 acres of vineyards dedicated to Brunello.
The northern part of the area is cooler and typically ripens 10 days later. The soils there also have a higher clay content and less stone. The south claims the largest estates, such as Castello Banfi, Col d'Orcia and Argiano. The southeastern sector is quite stony, with galestro, but also boasts red, sandy soils. The southwest is lower in elevation.
This southern area is exposed to the sea breezes (the coast is only about 50 miles away), and is also affected by Mt. Amiata, a volcano dome that rises to 5,702 feet.
I visited four estates in the two days I spent in the region: Biondi-Santi's Il Greppo, Uccelliera, Siro Pacenti and Castello Banfi. It was a mix of traditional and modern, large and small. (I'll cover my visits to the latter three estates on that list in a subsequent blog.)
It was Ferruccio Biondi-Santi that isolated a clone of Sangiovese in 1888, resulting in a style of Brunello that is the precursor of today's wines. His son Tancredi continued the estate, helping to develop the rules and regulations that eventually became the DOC. Since 1970, Franco Biondi-Santi has been in charge. Jacopo, Franco's son, who also has his own property in Maremma, represents the sixth generation.
Il Greppo consists of 370 acres, of which 62 acres are planted to a clone of Sangiovese developed at the estate (BBS11). There is a Rosso di Montalcino, made from young vines up to 10 years old, a Brunello di Montalcino annata, made from vines ranging in age from 10 to 25 years and the riserva, from the oldest vines, made only in the best years. The first two are fermented in cement vats, the riserva in oak.
The malolactic conversion occurs very slowly over the first spring and winter, then the second spring and winter, with racking generally twice a year. The Brunellos spend three years aging in wood, including a six-month stint in casks that date from the late 19th century.
The Biondi-Santi reds are Sangioveses of the highest order. The Brunellos are pure, velvety and perfumed, like no other wines in the appellation, despite their early influence in the style of Brunello in the region. If any Brunello resembles Burgundy in aromas, flavors and texture, it is Biondi-Santi.
The Rosso is excellent also—the 2007 offers floral, strawberry and cherry aromas and flavors. The 2006 Brunello is the current release, an aromatic burst of rose and cherry, with elegance and structure underneath.
But it was the riservas that stole the show, demonstrating the longevity of top-quality Brunello. The youthful 2004 offered sweet flavors like macerated cherry and spice, concentrated, intense and mouthcoating in a supple way. At 12 years, the 1999 had gained depth and complexity, showing hints of licorice and tar and ample power.
I was impressed with the 1995, which was even fresher than the '99, still exhibiting primary notes of flowers, cherry and strawberry, a vibrant structure and a mix of elegance and intensity. The lingering cherry and spice aftertaste sealed the deal. The 1983 seemed a bit tired (the wines hade been open 15 hours earlier), so Jacopo Biondi-Santi opened a fresh bottle. It was fresher, evoking licorice and tar backed by bright acidity, but overall a lighter version than its siblings.
"After 10 years, they lose their floral aromas and gain tar notes," explained Biondi-Santi. "After 20 years, they become tar and flint stone. These aromas remain."
Indeed, the '75 featured mineral, spice and tar aromas and flavors, all rich and round, full of energy and very long.
The 1955, a Brunello of legendary stature, was simply magnificent. An intense bouquet of tar, dried porcini and mineral gave way to a powerful yet elegant red. Licorice, dried cherry, iron and spice notes fused together on the palate, culminating in incredible length on the finish.
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — June 1, 2011 10:04pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — June 2, 2011 1:13am ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — June 2, 2011 7:50pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — June 3, 2011 1:52pm ET
Steven Stiansen — Saratoga Springs, NY — June 3, 2011 8:18pm ET
Albert Jochems — The Netherlands — June 5, 2011 4:32pm ET
Kevin Truax — Parkersburg, Iowa — June 10, 2011 12:58pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — June 10, 2011 2:58pm ET
Rob Lentini — Alexandria, Virginia — June 23, 2011 9:56am ET
Carole Wurster — New York — July 5, 2011 3:03pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — July 6, 2011 11:01am ET
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