Shades of Red in Montalcino: Part Two

Feb 22, 2008

Continuing on with my Brunello trip: According to the Consorzio del Brunello, the territory of the appellation is roughly circular, with a diameter of 16 kilometers. This is a pretty big area, and after walking and driving all over its hills and valleys and viewing the variety of altitudes and expositions, I became convinced that it is a very diverse place—one that cannot be defined simply as Montalcino.

The town of Montalcino is the high point of the appellation, in terms of altitude—and altitude counts for a lot here. Surrounding the town are a number of other little communes whose borders lend some additional definition to the general areas. Here we can start to discern some of the differences.

We started our tour on the northern side of the appellation, nearly in the shadow of the town and heading toward the commune of Buonconvento. Here we found the wines to be very elegant and perfumed—very pretty Sangiovese. Some say more sand is mixed with the local calcareous clay/marl (called Galestro soil) here, and that this, along with the northerly exposition, creates a more feminine wine. We enjoyed really lovely wines from Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Valdicava and Pertimali.

Next we visited the area to the east of Montalcino and south of the commune of Torrenieri. Here the soils appear to be heavier, and the wines show this too. We found a certain natural density to the Sangiovese fruit here. The result differs from the northerly wines in that it feels more masculine. The wines here didn’t seem to show the elegance of the cooler northern side nor the opulence that we would find as we went south but instead are their own animal. One of our favorites is always Diego Molinari’s Cerbaiona.

The southern part of the appellation is a broad swath that runs from Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the east, across to S. Angelo in Colle, S. Angelo Scalo and beyond Tavernelle in the west. Nearest Castelnuovo dell’Abate, we found an awesome richness and opulence that spoke of the sunshine and the southerly exposition. The wines of Piero Palmucci at Poggio di Sotto were standouts for their richness and balance.

As we traveled west, we stopped in one of the most beautiful spots in Montalcino, referred to locally as the area of Argiano. It’s home to the winery of the same name, as well as another we really enjoyed, Sesti. Here the wines show richness as well as finesse. They are perhaps not as opulent as at our prior stop, nor as perfumed as at our first, but they had a measure of both and made for an entirely different style of wine that we found special.

Finally, we headed back up the slope toward Montalcino, still on the southern flank. Here we found some of the most graceful and elegant wines with terrific energy. Near Tavernelle and the Chiesa di Santa Restituta are Gianfranco Soldera's Case Basse estate and Angelo Gaja's Pieve di Santa Restituta estate. While these neighbors employ different winemaking techniques, we found that both wines have perhaps the most grace while still showing the richness of the southern slope.

All in all, we came away with a better understanding of the complexity of Montalcino. I also feel as though the palette with which I paint each night as a sommelier has grown. I can now speak more specifically to the different shades of Brunello and not treat it as a single color.

I think that time and experience will allow us to better understand the differences and particulars of each spot. Perhaps someday we’ll see it better defined, much as we understand the communes of Barolo or the villages of Burgundy. Until then, I’m excited to keep exploring, tasting and refining my own understanding of Brunello in all of its varied shades.

Italy Tuscany Brunello di Montalcino

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