Keen to explore Brunello di Montalcino wine?
Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most cherished wines. Regal and long-lived, it is one of the Sangiovese-based wines in the famous Tuscan trio that includes Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Of the three, Brunello is known as the finest expression of the Sangiovese grape.
But what makes this garnet beauty so special?
In this article, explore where this prestigious red wine comes from, how it’s made, its taste profile, some of the best bottlings, and the best way to buy them.
This Article Contains
(Click on a link below to jump to a specific section)
- All About Brunello di Montalcino
- The Montalcino Wine Region and Wine Styles
- Brunello Winemaking: Traditional vs Modern Techniques
- How Does Brunello di Montalcino Taste?
- Some Outstanding Brunello Vintages
- Bottles of Brunello di Montalcino To Buy in 2020
- 2012 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
- 2012 Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
- 2010 Casanova di Neri Cerretalto, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
- 2010 Castiglion del Bosco 'Zodiac Monkey' Limited Edition
- 2010 Le Chiuse Diecianni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
- 2011 Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
- 2006 Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
- 2010 Il Marroneto Madonna delle Grazie, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
All About Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is a red wine made in Tuscany, under Italy’s highest Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG) wine classification.
It’s the only Tuscan red wine made of a single grape - 100% Sangiovese.
Here’s what we’ll explore:
- The Sangiovese Grosso grape varietal
- History of Brunello wine
- The Montalcino Wine Region and Wine Styles
- The Montalcino terroir
- Montalcino wine styles
- The Brunellopoli Scandal
Meanwhile, check out these comprehensive guides on:
- The most desirable Red Wine Brands in the world
- The best Italian Red Wines you need to have in your cellar right now!
The Sangiovese Grosso grape varietal
Sangiovese is the most commonly planted grape varietal in Italy. It is also grown in several other countries including France, Argentina and the US.
Brunello di Montalcino is made of the Tuscan grape variety known as Brunello or Sangiovese Grosso.
Sangiovese Grosso is a thick-skinned berry, producing wines with high tannin, high acidity, and bold fruit flavors. While the fruit flavors contribute to the lasting popularity of the Brunello wine, it’s the tannin and acidity that gives the wine its extended life, often developing its best expressions only after a decade or more.
History of Brunello wine
The name “Brunello” is a diminutive for the word “Bruno” (brown), which was originally the name for the Sangiovese grape variety grown in Montalcino.
A “Brunello” wine made in Montalcino was first recorded in the early 14th century. But the wine we know today was first made by a Tuscan winemaker, Clemente Santi, in the mid 19th century. He isolated plantings of Sangiovese vines to produce a 100% varietal wine.
Santi’s grandson, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, released the first modern version of the Brunello di Montalcino in 1888 after aging it for over a decade in wooden barrels.
By the end of World War II, Brunello had gained a reputation as one of Italy’s rarest wines, with Biondi Santi being its only commercial producer.
Today, there are over 200 wineries producing Brunello di Montalcino, though Biondi-Santi remains one of Montalcino’s finest estates.
The year 2020 is particularly special as Biondi Santi releases its Riserva Brunello di Montalcino 2012. This was the last wine that the late Franco Biondi-Santi (Ferrucio’s grandson, who passed away in 2013) had a hand in producing.
The legacy of the estate continues on with Franco’s children.
The Montalcino Wine Region and Wine Styles
Montalcino is located 564m above sea level in the province of Siena, in the Tuscany wine region. It became the first Italian wine region to earn a DOCG designation in 1980, along with Piedmont’s Barolo.
The Montalcino terroir
Montalcino is a hilly area with one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany.
Its altitude and climate allow Sangiovese grapes to ripen more consistently and fully than anywhere else in Tuscany. The grapes here ripen up to a week earlier than nearby Montepulciano.
The terroir in Montalcino has limestone, schist, clay, volcanic soil, and galestro (crumbly marl). The style and complexity of Montalcino wines depend much on this terroir.
- Valley wines come from the base of the Montalcino hills along Val d’Orcia. The thicker deposits of clay results in a wine with stronger color and tannins with more pronounced black fruit flavors. The innate intensity of these wines allows them to age well using modern aging techniques.
- Hillside wines are from vineyards located at higher elevations where the soil is of galestro (crumbly marl) and clay. The grapes from a vineyard on these hills are lighter-bodied, with more floral and red fruit accents. These wines do better with traditional aging methods.
Brunello di Montalcino may be Montalcino’s premiere wine, but it’s not the only style produced in the region.
Montalcino wine styles
Brunello isn’t the only Montalcino wine.
A winemaker in the Montalcino region can also produce wine under the Sant'Antimo and Moscadello di Montalcino DOCs, and the Toscana IGT. The wines produced under Toscano IGT usually feature Bordeaux grape varieties.
Here’s are the different Montalcino wines:
1. Brunello di Montalcino (Normale & Riserva)
Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese, produced and bottled in Montalcino, with a minimum of 12.5% Alcohol by Volume (ABV.)
The two variations of this great wine are:
- Normale: Requires a total of 5 years of aging, with a minimum of 2 years in oak and 4 months in the bottle after harvest
- Riserva: Requires a total of 6 years of aging, with a minimum of 2 years in oak and 6 months in the bottle after harvest
2. Rosso di Montalcino
The creation of Brunello di Montalcino requires a lot of time, and vintages don’t always turn out well.
The Rosso di Montalcino DOC appellation was a way to let Brunello winemakers have something to produce while waiting for Brunello to age.
Rosso di Montalcino is a fine alternative for Brunello for two reasons.
- It’s a 100% Sangiovese wine.
- Regulations from the Consorzio del Vino Brunello Montalcino are so strict that some wines intended for Brunello are declassified into Rosso.
For example, some wineries declassify their Brunello that’s been aging 2-3 years to Rosso if it’s not developing as expected.
This doesn’t make Rosso di Montalcino an inferior wine. It will merely lack Brunello’s potential to age and arrive at a more complex character. But this also means that Rosso is more approachable than Brunello, being lighter and less tannic.
Sant’Antimo DOC covers a wide variety of red and white Montalcino wines (labeled Rosso and Bianco respectively.)
These have to be bottled in the Siena province. They can be single varietal wines or blends using both international and local grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and so on.
Sweet Vin Santo is also produced under this DOC.
4. Moscadello di Montalcino
Moscadello di Montalcino is a sweet white wine made from white Muscat grapes and comes in three styles — still, sparkling and late harvest. One of the most popular Moscadello di Montalcino wines is a late harvest known as Castello Banfi Florus Moscadello di Montalcino.
Brunello di Montalcino is popular, expensive, and also one of the most counterfeited wines.
The Brunellopoli Scandal
In 2008, Italian authorities investigated claims that several Brunello di Montalcino producers were “adulterating” their Brunello wines with other grape varieties like Merlot, in violation of DOCG regulations.
The wineries who made it later declassified these wines. And, the Italian wine press coined this fiasco “Brunellopoli.”
Brunello Winemaking: Traditional vs Modern Techniques
Brunello di Montalcino wine undergoes an extended maceration period during alcoholic fermentation, where the flavor and color are extracted from the skin. A secondary malolactic fermentation typically follows before the wine is ready for aging.
There are two techniques when it comes to aging Brunello wines.
1. The Traditional Method
Traditionally, winemakers use a large, Slavonian oak barrel, called “botte” from northeastern Croatia. These barrels leach very little oak lactones into the wine and are used simply as containers to allow oxygen exposure for tertiary flavor development.
Wines aged this way tend to develop more dried fruit, floral, forest floor, and leather flavors with long aging potential.
2. The Modern Method
Some winemakers consider the traditional method taking too long to age Brunello. They use smaller French barrels called “barriques” that impart more oak lactones into the wine.
Oxygen exposure increases due to the smaller barriques, so the wines will be ready to drink sooner than those produced traditionally. These wines tend to have more black fruit, brown sugar, chocolate, and vanilla flavors.
How Does Brunello di Montalcino Taste?
The aging method can impact how a Brunello di Montalcino eventually tastes. But this wine has such an ability to evolve that the longer it ages, the more its taste profile changes.
The most common expressions of this wine include an intense, persistent perfume with scents and flavors of aromatic wood, underbrush, blackberry, black cherry, light vanilla, and jam. It’s usually full-bodied with an excellent tannic structure and a balance provided by a bright acidity.
Young Brunello is fruity and floral, featuring cherries, dried cranberry, wild strawberry, blackberry, violets, and licorice. The tannin is mouth-gripping with a high acidity that ends on a tart, astringent note.
Old Brunello would have aged at least 10 years. It becomes mellower, with sweeter notes of candied cherries, dried figs, hazelnuts, and sun-baked leather. The tannins soften, turning chocolatey, and the acidity is luscious. Look for plenty of red fruit flavors and high acidity for an age-worthy Brunello wine.
The elegant composition of Brunello di Montalcino, with its smooth tannins, fruit-driven personality, and high acidity makes it a good pair for red meats and game accompanied by fleshy mushrooms or truffles.
Cheeses like the Tuscan pecorino, seasoned tomme, or other structured cheeses are also suited to the Brunello.
Some Outstanding Brunello Vintages
Outstanding wine vintages don’t come every year.
According to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello Montalcino, there have only been eight stellar vintages in the last 20 years. These are 2019, 2016, 2015, 2012, 2010, 2007, 2006, 2004.
The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino, for example, is reputed to be an exciting vintage of vivid fruits, fresh acidity and chewy tannins. A wine enthusiast or collector should keep an eye on these vintages for their great aging potential.
However, different winemakers have managed to produce excellent Brunello wines even in years that were not considered stellar, so you’ll still find stars among other vintages.
Best Brunello di Montalcino Wines To Buy in 2020 (Includes Taste, Prices)
Here are some fine Brunello di Montalcino wines to add to your collection.
1. 2012 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
The Argiano estate has been producing wines since the late 1500s and currently makes five wines — Brunello, a Rosso di Montalcino, and three Toscana IGT wines. This 2012 Brunello is earthy on the nose with a velvety palate. Fruity and structured with hints of tobacco, chocolate, and a smooth finish.
Average price for 2012 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG: $100+
2. 2012 Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Biondi Santi is a name synonymous with the Brunello wines. This Riserva comes from the oldest vines at the Tenuta Greppo estate, lying 564m above sea level. The 2012 vintage is full of dark cherries, plum, and floral notes on the nose. The palate is soft and silky, ripe tannins with luxurious fruit and well-integrated acidity.
Average price for 2012 Biondi Santi Tenuta Greppo Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: $500+
3. 2010 Casanova di Neri Cerretalto, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
The Cerretalto is Casanova di Neri’s superstar, with the aroma of black cherries and blackberries intermingling with violets, exotic spice, and crushed stones. Full-bodied and complex, it has a remarkable texture and long finish that lingers on ripe fruit and graphite flavors.
Average price for 2010 Casanova di Neri Cerretalto, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: $400+
4. 2010 Castiglion del Bosco 'Zodiac Monkey' Limited Edition
Bright, ruby red, the 2010 vintage has an aroma of complex bouquet that begins with a rich blend of red wild berries and plum that opens to balsamic, mineral notes. Soft, velvety tannins result in a long finish.
Average price for 2010 Castiglion del Bosco 'Zodiac Monkey' Limited Edition: $700+
5. 2010 Le Chiuse Diecianni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
This Diecianni Riserva was released after aging 10 years in the estate’s wine cellars. It opens with classic aromas of red berry, dark spice, rose, and crushed herbs. The lovely, structured palate delivers red cherry, licorice orange zest, and mint with refined tannins and fresh acidity.
Average price for 2010 Le Chiuse Diecianni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG: $100+
6. 2011 Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
Fattoria dei Barbi is one of five Montalcino estates that have been in operation for over a century, with Brunello di Montalcino bottles dating back to 1892 in its cellar. This 2011 Riserva delivers a nose of red berry, chopped herbs, and spice aromas. The palate is round and approachable, offering raspberry, cherry, pipe tobacco, and star anise with lithe tannins.
Average price for 2011 Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG: $100+
7. 2006 Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
Soldera Case Basse has a small and exclusive production, making its Brunello wines a sought-after experience. The 2013 vintage is a sensual wine with silky tannins that create structure around expressive, perfumed fruit. This is a mid-weight, gracious Brunello.
Average price for 2006 Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG: $700+
8. 2010 Il Marroneto Madonna delle Grazie, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
The Madonna delle Grazie is named after a 13th-century church located near the estate. This garnet wine pleases the palate with dark red cherries, mint, lavender, hard candy, flowers, and cinnamon. This is a perfumed, juicy Brunello di Montalcino that will continue to age well.
Average price for 2010 Il Marroneto Madonna delle Grazie, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: $400+
Brunello di Montalcino is certainly a wine worth collecting.
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A Brunello for You, from Under the Tuscan Sun!
Here’s a wine that ages with such grace and dignity that it holds the hearts of wine enthusiasts and converts those new to its charms as well!
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