If you like bold Italian red wine on the order of a pinot noir, you have probably tasted Brunello di Montalcino, made from the sangiovese grape. How the sangiovese grape can taste so different within such a small geographical area from Chianti to the lovely Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to the divine Brunello di Montalcino clearly demonstrates the importance of terroir (geography, geology, and climate). Montalcino has one of the highest and driest climates in Tuscany, and the sangiovese grapes there grow larger and ripen earlier than do other sangiovese grapes in Tuscany. Brunello is a premium Italian red wine with a price to match.
Business in the beautiful medieval hill town of Montalcino focuses on one thing: promoting and selling Brunello. The town reminded Michael and me of Sancerre, a beautiful hill town in the center of France that focuses on producing and selling Sancerre wine, one of my favorite sauvignon blancs. We spent two wonderful weeks there sort of studying French, eating in charming restaurants, and tasting as many Sancerres as we could, accompanied by the delicious local goat cheese, Crottin de Chavignol. Makes me smile to remember it! But I digress.
Montalcino is older and arguably more beautiful than Sancerre. Situated high on a hill above the Val d’Orcia, it lies about 30 minutes or so west of Pienza. We stayed in Montalcino overnight the first weekend in March and wandered through the narrow, winding streets late on a chilly, windy Saturday afternoon and again on a warm, balmy Sunday morning. We stayed at Il Giglio. The proprietor there has a passion for wine and sells Brunello by the glass. We sipped our first glass of Brunello in front of the fireplace in the lounge and later enjoyed the chef’s dinner with wine pairings. We would stay there again.
On Sunday we booked a tour of the Poggio Antico winery, which we found at the bottom of a gravel lane about 10 minutes from Montalcino. The scenery was spectacular, our tour of the new facility was interesting, and our tasting (and buying) was a ball! The winery had made a lunch reservation for us at Boccon di Vino, a short distance away. I wish it had been spring so we could have eaten on the huge terrazzo overlooking the Val d’Orcia, but the food was good, we drank Brunello,the room was warm, the view knocked our socks off, the server was delightful, and we were happy.
In addition to Brunello the winemakers in Montalcino make Rosso di Montalcino, which I think of as Brunello’s little brother. It’s made from the same sangiovese grapes but is not aged so long as Brunello. Brunello can be drunk after four or five years, but it reaches its peak after 10 years or more. Although Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino are the big draws, if you prefer white wine, Castello di Argiano in Montalcino makes a lovely sauvignon blanc, Sesti Sauvignon.
If you see Rosso di Montalcino or Sesti Sauvignon in your local wine store, buy them and enjoy them right away. If you find a Brunello that you like, put it away for a while before you drink it. I wish I could join you!
P.S., I so wish my niece’s husband, Steve, could have been with us. When he hears the name Brunello, he sighs and shuts his eyes, remembering long lazy meals in Tuscany last summer. This post is for you, Steve!