Brunello di Montalcino
Amidst the rolling, sun-kissed hills of Tuscany, south of Siena and the Chianti region, lies the commune of Montalcino and the home of Brunello. The town of Montalcino is perched high on a hilltop and is surrounded by vineyards of Sangiovese grapes. Brunello is made from a clone of Sangiovese, the Sangiovese Grosso grape, which is also called Brunello in the local dialect. There are a total of four Tuscan DOCG wines, including Brunello, that are made from the Sangiovese varietal. The others are Chianti, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Carmignano, however, Brunello is the only DOCG that must be made from 100% Sangiovese.
The result is a wine that is comparatively more distinct, denser and darker, the purest expression of the grape. While Chianti typically displays a red cherry flavor profile with herbal, earthy notes, Brunello is known for aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and black raspberry, with characteristic notes of violets, cocoa and leather. Rivaling the great Barolos of Piedmont, Brunellos have intense tannins and high acidity, placing them among Italy’s most age-worthy fine wines. Brunello must be aged for at least four years prior to release, two of which must be spent in oak casks, and a minimum of four months in bottle. Like Barolo, these wines benefit from lengthy cellaring and need significant ageing time in order to reach maturity and their full drinking potential. Being made solely from of the superior Sangiovese Grosso clone certainly contributes to Brunello’s character, but it is the climate of Montalcino that has the most considerable effect on these distinctive wines. Montalcino is the driest of the Tuscan DOCGs, and has a much warmer climate than Chianti, which gets more rain and is cooler overall. The Sangiovese grape achieves full ripeness in Montalcino and is harvested several weeks earlier here than in Chianti. The harvest is usually completed by the end of September, whereas Chianti is still harvesting into October, when rains pose a constant threat.
According to many Brunello producers, the different soil types and terroirs of the northern and southern parts of the appellation result in two distinct wine styles. The vineyards that stretch north from Montalcino grow on mineral-rich clay soils known specifically as Galestro, which maintain a cooler temperature. The altitude in the north is higher and the microclimate is cooler overall, factors that tend to produce elegant, aromatic wines that have more finesse. To the south, the vineyards grow in sandy clay soils, receive more sun exposure and have a warmer microclimate. Here, a shift toward the Mediterranean climate becomes apparent with the vineyards ripening earlier than those in the northern area. The resulting wines lack the zippy acidity and aromatic nuances of their northern counterparts, but are fuller-bodied, more powerful, fruit-forward expressions.