The beautiful hillside town of Brunello di Montalcino covers 24,000 hectares and forms almost a perfect square bounded by four rivers (Ombrone, Asso, Arbia, and Orcia) just south of Siena. Of which, only 5,000 hectares are planted with Sangiovese Grosso - a clone of Sangiovese locally known as Brunello. Wines produced and labelled as Brunello di Montalcino have to be made from 100% Brunello grapes and aged in oak for minimum of 24 months according to DOCG requirements; and if it is Riserva it must be aged in oak for an additional 6 months. Although lots of producers exceed these requirements and age them longer. The word “Brunello” translates into “little black ones” after the grapes, which are small and dark skinned. They have elevated tannin and acid structure, which gives this wine tremendous aging potential. However, on the flip side, it can also be unforgiving, rustic and austere in its youth. Each individual producer’s preference and technique helps determine if a wine will be softer, rounder, and approachable upon release (by using smaller, newer barrels with a shorter maceration time) or a more traditional style which requires some patience but drinks stunningly with some age. Neither style is superior or inferior, but simply a matter of personal taste. With that said, let me highlight a few that I tasted this week and really stood out!
2010 Bolsignano “Grazia” Brunello di Montalcino
Classic dried cherry fruit with a dusty note. A little tight in the beginning but opens up mid-palate with generous spice and body weight to match. Very powerful finish, but needs a bit more time in the bottle to show its full potential.
2010 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino
“Orcais” is the river that runs along the southern edge of Montalcino near where this vineyard is located. Col d’Orcia has a distinct bretty (brettanomyces), earthy, leathery, and barnyard notes right out the glass, although considerably milder compared to previous vintages. Tart red cherries blossom underneath the rustic top layer. A classic old school Brunello di Montalcino with medium plus acidity and tannin. Definitely a big wine overall, but very well balanced so it can be enjoyed now and will also improve with few more years in the bottle.
2010 Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino
Rich baking spices, mocha and cocoa powder immediately explode out of the glass. The smell reminds me of a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter night. The nose is intense, yet inviting and coincides with a silky smooth beginning, but a firm structural, mineral finish on the palate. Le Ragnaie captured the spirit of both modern and old school style, making it a unique bridge wine that could easily please Brunello lovers of all sorts.
2010 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino
Mastrojanni is easily one of the most approachable 2010 Brunello’s. It offers ripe and lush fruit up front with mild (relatively speaking) and integrated structure. Easy drinking and well rounded mouthfeel leaning towards a new world style. It is a lifesaver for those who find it hard to resist drinking the 2010 Brunello now!
2010 Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino
I immediately became a fan of this Brunello due to its spicy element along with a precise, razor sharp red fruit profile accompanied by rose petal perfume, tea leaves, and earthy mushrooms. Overall it is on the leaner and more elegant side. This bottle begs for food and I could see it paired wonderfully with veal, squab, bison or other wild games.
2010 Tassi Brunello di Montalcino
By far my favorite producer from this round of tasting! It has all the bells and whistles and then some! Mocha, coffee and bittersweet chocolate comes right out of the glass, followed by tremendous ripe blackberry, cherry and raspberry fruit. As you are trying to work through the complex initial aromas you are yet hit again with more leather and forest floor minerality. This is all backed up on the palate with full tannin, acid, solid weight and a long finish. Everything magically sings in perfect harmony together. Bravo Tassi, Bravo!!
2010 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino
This is a great bottle to try if you are already a Cabernet lover and want to experience Brunello for the first time. Uccelliera shares a lot of Bordeaux characteristics of sandalwood, cedar box, nutmeg and cinnamon. Broad shoulders and manly with hints of dried tobacco, some barnyard and gravely notes perfect for pairing with dried aged New York steak. Decant 1-2 hours in advance to allow this wine to really open up.
2010 La Mannella Brunello di Montalcino
Wow, what a unique Brunello. Expressive tropical fruit waft out of the glass with almost a citrus note, high tones and lots of exotic spices that are all very welcoming. After tasting a bunch of 2010 Brunello in a row, this one definitely stands out compared to others. Ready to drink now!
2010 Poggio Antico “Altero” Brunello di Montalcino
This is a very well polished wine. Poggio Antico has a standard Brunello and also their “Altero” which uses smaller barrique barrels instead of traditional big barrel. The wine is very well integrated and the oak does not stand out too much or mask the underlying sophisticated fruit flavors and nuances. It is higher in tannin than most and can be enjoyed now. However, give it 5 years and it will be truly spectacular!
2010 Tassi “Franci” Brunello di Montalcino
Saving my favorite for last, “Franci” is a single vineyard Brunello from Tassi, named after his grandmother. More elegant than their standard Brunello, but with a rustic edge, it showcases a bit more herbal and floral notes. Stylistically more restrained, which means it really needs more time in the bottle to reach its full potential. The finish lingered a LONG time on the palate. I highly recommend putting away a few bottles and your patience will be rewarded ten fold in a couple years!