Italy: Tuscany: Brunello
What is Brunello di Montalcino?
Montalcino, one of Italy's premier wine towns, produces one of Italy's most expensive wines: Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is famous for its austerity and extraordinary aging potential, but in recent years vinification techniques have lightened up and todays Brunellos are more notable for their rich, ripe, and generally attractive qualities. The Biondi-Santi family originally put the region on the map with their consistent efforts dating from 1842, when Brunello was first noted as a distinct subspecies of Sangiovese in the family vineyards in Greppo, southeast of Montalcino. Much of the reputation of these powerful wines is built upon the extraordinary cellaring ability demonstrated by Biondi-Santi's wines over the ages.
Vineyards are typically located on reasonably steep slopes ranging up to 1500 feet, giving Brunello slow ripening conditions essential for its sturdy character. Extended wood aging used to be an essential part of the wines character, with three and a half years being obligatory, but regulations have softened in response to criticism about inflexibility. This allows vintners to lessen the time in wood in response to weaker vintages, which keeps the wine from drying out prematurely. It has also served to diversify styles, which now range from arch-traditionalists such as Biondi-Santi to barrique-wielding modernists such as La Poderina or Val di Suga. Nonetheless, across a gamut of styles, the best producers of Brunello consistently produce some of Italys finest wines, and Brunello is widely recognized as one of the worlds greats.
Within the same geographical boundaries as the DOCG region exists a declassified DOC called Rosso di Montalcino. These wines can be made from the same fruit as that used for Brunello di Montalcino, but in practice are often from younger vines and always vinified and aged in a manner that allows them to be consumed in youth.
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