Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Montalcino, centered on a little hilltop town located 110 Km south of Florence in the southern portion of Siena province, is home to Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and its associated wine, one of the most famous, revered, and sought after in all of Italy.  The town, sitting at 1900 feet above sea level at its highest point, encompasses approximately 24,000 hectares and is bordered by the River Orcia to the south, the River Asso to the east, and the River Ombrone to the north and west.


Of the 1200 or so hectares available for viticulture in the area, slightly less than half is used to grow Sangiovese Grosso (its official name) or, as it is more commonly called, Brunello di Montalcino.


Montalcino has a warm, Mediterranean climate that is cooled by its altitude. The area is one of the warmest and driest (20 inches of rainfall per year) in Tuscany but that is tempered somewhat by cool evening breezes. The warm, dry conditions allow the grapes to ripen fully, an end result that is aided and abetted by the protection from hailstorms and rainfall that is afforded by the Amiato mountain range to the south.


In general, the soils in Montalcino are sandier and have greater limestone content than is the case for the remainder of the Chianti region. To the north and east, the soil is primarily clay with a high volcanic-sandstone content. In the western third, the soil is a calcium-rich, chalky gravel marl over a clay subsoil. At the highest point the soil is schist-based.

The 1200 hectares of Montalcino suitable for viticulture is located between 300 and 500 meters above sea level.  The most desirable vineyards are located on south-facing slopes where the intense sunlight and cool maritime breezes lead to more powerful, complex wines.  Grapes grown on north-facing slopes tend to ripen at a slower pace and have distinctively different aromas and flavors.  Due to the steepness of the terraces, manual harvesting is the norm.

Brunello (the name means "little dark one," a reference to the brown hue of the skin) di Montalcino is one of Tuscany's eight DOCGs, a status it obtained in 1980. Sangiovese Grosso is a clone of the Sangiovese grape which produces wines with rich fruit, quality tannins, and elevated acidity, factors which contributes to long ageing.  The production rules for Brunello di Montalcino are as follows:
  • 100% Sangiovese Grosso produced within the delimited zone
  • Vineyards must be planted on hills with good exposure at altitude not surpassing 600 meters
  • Maximum yield of 80 quintals/hectare
  • Maximum of 2.7 kilos of wine/vine
  • 68% of yield can be called Brunello
  • Aged a minimum of 2 years in wood and 4 months in bottle; Riserva to be released a minimum of 5 years after harvest
  • 12% minimum alcohol
  • All production operations to be carried out within the production zone
  • Wine required to undergo chemical and tasting tests prior to bottling in order to receive certification
  • May only be sold in Bordeaux-style bottles
Brunello di Montalcino wines have been described variously as "full-bodied and earthy," with a muskiness on the nose and red berries on the palate.  The wine is generally characterized by significant tannin, concentration without jamminess, blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, and leather.  The wine ages slowly and gracefully and pairs well with hearty Tuscan dishes such as wild boar.  Some of the important Brunello producers are Altesimo, Casanova di Neri, Poggio Antico, Siro Pacenti, and Biondi-Santi.

A second tier wine, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, was introduced in 1990 to allow wineries to market a Sangiovese Grosso after 1 year rather than the four years they traditionally wait to introduce the Brunello. Rosso is less expensive than Brunello and is also lighter, less intense, and easier to drink.

Brunello di Montalcino wines have historically been matured in large old Slovenion oak casks which impart no flavors to the wine.  The wine produced using this traditional method has been characterized by some as tannic and dry and "modernists" have sought to address this complaint by ageing in new French oak barrels.  These barrels soften the Sangiovese tannins and contribute a "lingering" vanilla flavor to the wine.

The Consorzio di Vino Brunello di Montalcino is responsible for the protection of Brunello's "welfare and reputation."  It does so through activities such as marketing the wines, rating the vintages , and ensuring that DOCG standards are adhered to by association members.  This voluntary association was created in 1967 and now represents about 250 producers.

No comments:

Post a Comment