Are the wines of Brunello di Montalcino the best of Tuscany? Despite the worldwide fame of neighbours Chianti Classico and the excellence and following for the top ‘super-Tuscans’ from coastal Bolgheri, there are many who believe the best expression of the Sangiovese grape comes from the hills around the medieval town of Montalcino. Brunello translates roughly as ‘little dark one,’ and is the local synonym for the Sangiovese Grosso variety – the only permitted grape in Brunello wines.
It is believed to be a special clone first developed by Ferruccio Biondi Santi in the late 19th century, though the area of Brunello di Montalcino was not designated as a DOC until 1966, with Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo being declared Italy’s first DOCGs in July 1980. In the ’60’s there were only a dozen bottlers of Brunello, whilst today there are 250. What makes Brunello do Montalcino special? Well there’s the Sangiovese clone, but the area is also slightly warmer and drier than most of the rest of Tuscany, and its almost square shape represents a gently rising dome, with vineyards planted at between 120 – 650 metres on a complex range of soils, most famously ‘Galestro’, ancient soils of shale, clay and marine deposits over limestone.
Sangiovese reaches maximum ripeness here, then the rules of Brunello require long ageing in barrel and bottle before the wine can be released: three years for Brunello and four years for Riserva. I was lucky enough to be engaged by the Consorzio of Brunello producers to present a masterclass on the wines recently, based around the 2010 vintage – a vintage renowned as one the best ever historic years for Brunello. The tasting notes for the wines we tasted follow, plus two other 2010 wines from Silvio Nardi, which I have also tasted recently. See all stockists of Brunello di Montalcino on wine-searcher.
Altesino, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
This wine is a selection of Altesino’s six crus, planted on clay soils with sand and marine deposits. It had four years of ageing in total, with two in large Slavonian oak casks, and has 14.0% abv. Beautiful colour showing some luminosity, and what a knock-out nose, not at all heavy but bursting with ripe cherry and briar, cream and gentle smokiness. Just gorgeous on the palate too I must say, the spice and tobacco of the subtle oak melted into that full, deep fruit, enough firm tannin and juicy cherry acidity to balance into a very long finish. Beautifully approachable but undoubtedly age-worthy too. 94/100. £26.95, Roberson. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Camigliano, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
From vineyards at 300m altitude, and rocky soils with silt and fossils, this spent 24 months in French oak casks, ranging in size from 300 to 600 litres. It has 14.5% abv. I pick up dried herbs and cherry on the nose here, and delightful colour and not too dense, the fruit seems ripe and elegant. In the mouth a Morello cherry ripeness and juicy sweetness, a bite of bittersweet liquorice to the structure. Another delicious and approachable wine. 93/100. £35.99, The VineKing.
Capanna, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
Vineyards are again at 300m altitude on clay and schist soils, rich in stones. This wine spent 40 months in Slavonian oak of varying sizes, and has an abv of 15.18%. Cherry and floral nuances here, nice aromatic lift though there is a slightly resinous oak note, though not jarring. In the mouth it is certainly a little more strict at this stage than the previous wines, gripped by tannins and arguably just a little too much oak. There is a great density of fruit and tannin, and this is certainly a wine that needs to be aged for a few years – at which time I suspect my score might be a point or two higher. 92/100. £25.00 in-bond, Fine+Rare Wines.
Caparzo, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
From four distinct vineyards ranging in altitude between 220- and 300 metres. Soils include sand, clay, marine sediment and schist. The wine spent 36 months in 800-litre Slavonian oak and 500-litre French oak, and has an abv of 14%. Herbs, cherries and flowers on a beautifully lifted nose, some toast and nutty notes too. The palate doesn’t quite follow through on the perfume of the nose at this stage, the tannins tight, with a chicory bite to the acidity in a very focused and linear wine that at this stage misses a little of the sumptuous nature of others here. Again, a wine that I think will need some time before it really blossoms. 92/100. £33.99, AG Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Caprili, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
The vineyards here are at 340 metres altitude and have an average age of 15 years. Only copper and sulphur is used, and only ambient yeasts, the wine spending 36 months Slavonian oak barrels of varying sizes. It has 15.33% abv. Quite pale in colour and lots of brackeny, herb and briar notes here, a touch of charcuterie meatiness. On the palate really sweet fruit, very pure with cherry and fleshy ripe plum, but good balance, the firm touch of tannin and acid nicely judged into the finish. 92/100. UK stockist not known
Le Macioche, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
Elevated vineyards at 450m altitude for this small estate with vines on average 25 years old, and farmed organically using only natural yeasts. The wine spends 40 months in 300-litre French oak barrels and has 14.5% abv. A richness to the nose of this wine, a touch of strawberry and juicy orange too, and very pretty lift. Lovely freshness to the acidity and fruit on the palate, elegant and spicy at the same time, keen tannins and yet there is density and structure to suggest good ageing potential. 93/100. Distributed in the UK by Top Selection. Retailer not known.
San Giorgio, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy
From an ambitious estate founded in 2001 alongside sister estates in Barolo and Bolgheri, the vineyards for this wine range from 350m – 450m in altitude on clay and loam soils said to be rich in calcium and iron. It spent 12 months French barriques, 50% new, followed by 24 months in Slavonian 300-litre barrels and has an abv of 15.5%. Very refined, very charming, with discreet classy oak giving a gentle Sandalwood fragrance along with the cherry fruit. Beautifully balanced palate too, creamy fruit and full texture, there’s a hint of coffee and plushness but the tight tannins and spritely acidity give length. 93/100. UK retailer not known.
Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino ‘Poggio Doria’ 2010, Tuscany, Italy
A selection of grapes from a relatively new vineyard in the north-western corner of the region (which has a reputation for more elegant wines), this spends 12 months in new and used French barriques, then a further 12 months in large Slavonian casks. It has an abv of 14.5%. It has a little softening to the colour and a gorgeous nose, warmly suffused with woodsmoke and cocoa, an autumnal feel, with deep briar and berries. On the palate there’s a real creaminess of texture here, the fruit becoming a little more focused on blackcurrant and liquorice-spice, plenty of wood in evidence still, and a long finish on tannin, spice and black plum and cherry skins. 91/100. UK retailer not known.
Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino ‘Manachiara’ 2010, Tuscany, Italy
A wine from the single cru Manachiara which has sandy soils, rich in quartz and clay. It has 14.5% abv and spends 12 months in French barriques followed by 18 months in Slavonian casks. Quite a dense colour, just a softening ochre on the rim. Meaty, deep nose, there is red fruit in there – plum and cherry – but it is layered with spice, charcuterie and cedar, with just a fleeting glimpse of a floral note at the top. In the mouth this is enveloping stuff, the welter weight of dark fruit flowing across the tongue, notes of coffee and chocolate, tobacco spice again and a keen juicy edge to the fruit. The tannins are supple and cocoa-rich, and though the finish is suffused with quality oak, it stays focused on fruit and freshening acidity. A terrific Brunello. 95/100. £49.00, Fine+Rare Wine. See all stockists of Brunello di Montalcino on wine-searcher.