Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Brunello di Montalcino the hills around the Tuscan town of Montalcino produce some of the most expensive and sought after wines in Italy, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. In fact, in 1980, Brunello became the first ever area to be awarded DOCG status (if you’re not sure what this means look at my post on Italian Wine Terms. The area in which Brunello di Montalcino can be grown is a rough square shape with Montalcino located in the north east of the square, it is about 16km across, there are around 250 producers, of whom one third own less than three hectares of vineyard. The production is limited, around 6.5 million bottles are produced each year. The grape used to make Brunello is a particular sangiovese clone, brunello or sangiovese grosso, which has a high level of polyphenols and tannin in the skin. The soils here are chalk and schist, a combination of grape, microclimate, soil and elevation mean that the wines here are highly structured and suitable for lengthy ageing. Brunello is made from 100% sangiovese grosso grapes, has been grown in the DOCG area, has to spend at least two years in oak and cannot be released until 50 months after the harvest. If you come across a bottle labelled Riserva, it will have spent three years in oak.
There are four distinct areas within the DOCG zone, north, east, south and west. The north facing slope has the widest change in temperature and limestone soil known as crete. The wines made here are robust and packed with aroma, in the mouth they have noticeable minerality and acidity.
The western facing slope has a warm climate mitigated by winds blowing in from the Mediterranean, the wines here are noted for their minerality and longevity. The eastern slopes are the coldest and the grapes take longer to mature on the vine, producing wines that are highly structured with lively acidity and decisive tannins. The southern slopes produces wines with the highest alcohol content thanks to the lower rainfall and higher temperatures.
In addition to the variation caused by terroir, there are two distinct winemaking styles, some producers opt for ageing in botte, the traditional larger barrels, which give a more subtle oak influence whilst others use smaller barriques. Traditional style Brunello di Montalcino has a intense garnet colour (an orange tinted red) with earthy aromas along with leather and tobacco. In the mouth it has a good acidic backbone and important tannins. Modern Brunellos have a deep ruby colour with intense aromas of fruit and sweet spice, they tend to be softer and less austere.
Other wines from Montalcino include Rosso di Montalcino DOC, again made with 100% sangiovese grosso but aged for less time, Sant’Antimo DOC, a very flexible denomination that allows for several types of wine including red and white wines and Moscadello di Montalcino DOC, a sweet wine made with moscato grapes. The Brunello DOCG area overlaps with a part of Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG, however, most producers will not release any wines under this denomination thanks to the higher price commanded by Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.