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Marvellous Montalcino

Hello there Tuscan wine lovers.

Well if January is the month of Burgundy then February has got to be all about Brunello as this is the month that usually sees the release of the new vintage of the top wines from the prestigious Tuscan region of Montalcino. Tuscany has had a superb run of vintages over recent years and 2017 isn’t looking to buck that trend. Yes, 2015 and 2016 had growing conditions that enabled them to be labelled ‘vintage of the century’ before they had even been tasted, but those wise about the region know that in years like 2012, 2014 and now 2017, superb wines can be produced. Anyone that was lucky enough to taste the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino from Uccelliera (my top wine of 2020) will know exactly what I’m talking about.

So what is Brunello di Montalcino? Well Brunello is the nickname given to the Sangiovese Grosso grape that grows around the town of Montalcino and loosely translates as ‘little dark one’, despite the Grosso clone being slightly larger than Sangiovese Piccolo which is found further south. Wine has been produced in Montalcino since the 13th century but it was in the 1820s that a gentleman named Clemente Santi (immortalised with Biondi-Santi, the most sought after Brunello producer on the market) who began experimenting with using the Sangiovese Grosso grape exclusively and ageing the wine in cask. Quality continued to improve over through to the next century and, after a dip in production during and between the two world wars, in the mid-1960s Brunello di Montalcino became a force to be reckoned with in the international wine market. Over the years demand has regularly outstripped supply and most collectors will buy their favourite producers on release to avoid a hefty price tag.

Well that’s its (brief) history but here’s more about the luscious liquid itself. The area covered by vines around Montalcino is around 3,500 hectares, however only 2,100 of these vines are permitted to make Brunello di Montalcino. What about the other 1,400 I hear you ask? Well grapes from here can be used as part of the blend of Rosso di Montalcino or to produce an IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipicia) which is a classification introduced for wines that use non-indigenous grapes in the blend which can also be known as ‘Super Tuscans’. But back to Brunello, the better producers ensure only the best grapes are used and after fermentation the wine is aged in cask for up to four years or more. The rules dictate that a Brunello can not be sold until the 5th January four years after harvest and how the wine is aged up to that date will depend on producer. Large oak casks are the norm and a trend of using smaller barrels (Barriques) a la Bordeaux seems less popular now than in the 1990s. And finally, what’s it like in the glass? Well, there a few wines that have given me such pleasure as a Brunello in its pomp. The most pronounced fruit character is dark cherry but you’ll also find plum, figs and, as the wine matures, dried fruit like raisins and dates. You get spice (cinnamon, clove and nutmeg) and touches of leather too along with balsamic notes. It is a medium-full bodied wine but there is also great elegance to the wine which is helped by silky tannins. It really is a joy to drink and although not cheap it probably offers some of the best value red you can find in the £30-£50 a bottle price bracket. There are other classifications in the region which are listed below –

Rosso di Montalcino

It would be quite easy to generalise this classification as an approachable, easy going ‘Brunello style’ red produced for early drinking but it can be more than this, particularly when it comes to the very top producers like Biondi Santi, Mastrojanni and Romitoro. What you get with Rossos from these estates are top quality wine that drink well in their youth but will also age splendidly and at a fraction of the price of their Brunellos. Most Rosso di Montalcinos are released two years after vintage and the 2019 Rosso di Montalcino from Mastrojanni is looking an absolute steal at the moment.

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

The Riservas are released one year later than the regular Brunellos so we are just seeing the 2016s arrive on the market. This a wine of miniscule production as it consists of one barrel only, chosen by the winery for its superior flavour and complexity. Most Riservas cost an arm and a leg however up and coming producer Poggio il Castellare’s 2016 Riserva, Pian Bossolio, at £275 per 6 is a sure bet for those willing to cellar it for five or so years.

Super Tuscans

The name given to the likes of the Tuscany ‘Big Guns’ like Sassicaia, Tignanello and Orneillaia which are all wines that’s use international grape varieties in their blend. You don’t usually associate Montalcino with this practice but a couple of producers have gone down this route with some delicious results. Castello di Romitorio are producing a Petit Verdot and Syrah blend called Romitoro of which the 2019 is already gorgeous though further cellaring will benefit the wine further and at £108 per 6 bottles this is a wine that should be in the cellar of all Tuscan wine lovers. Those of you looking for something drinking right now need look no further than 2019 Passo dei Caprioli a juicy and totally delicious blend of Sangiovese Grosso and Merlot from the vineyards of Poggio il Catsellare and a bargain at £75 per 6. There’s currently 15 cases of this available in the UK exclusively through Songbird Wines but I have more on reserve at the winery.

The Producers

There are around 250 producers making Brunello di Montalcino and like most regions it has a handful of producers that make indifferent wine that rely on the name alone. Luckily these are very few and most of this wine ends up in the supermarkets or mediocre restaurant wine lists looking for a name over quality. Every year I access a number of producer’s efforts and choose a handful of estates to offer that I think represent an excellent price to quality ratio. Here are the producers I will be working with this year –

Mastrojanni – One of the true great producers of Brunello and regularly one of the highest rated wines of each vintage.

Castello di Romitorio –  Certainly an estate with one of the most eye catching labels  of the region and what’s in the bottle is just as striking. Their 2017 is one of the wines of the vintage.

Poggio il Catsellare – What a discovery this winery is. A change in leadership at the winery has made this an estate that is producing some very serious and appealing wine and a strong contender as the best value Brunello on the market.

What to Buy?

There is a plethora of quality wine on offer in this month’s Montalcino Offer that will appeal to all budgets. All the wines mentioned in this report will be appearing in 2-3 emails that will be sent out over the next two weeks. If you are keen to push the boat out a bit then the 2016 Riserva from Poggio il Castellare or 2017 Brunello from Castello di Romitorio would be my pick. Looking for a canny buy then the 2019 Rosso di Montalcino, Mastrojanni is a smart move. Bargain hunters need look no further than the two Super Tuscans. One thing’s for sure, every wine here will give you pleasure over the coming months or years and that’s the joy of the marvellous wines of Montalcino.


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