The Best of Brunello: Tasting the Latest Wines from Montalcino

Anyone who doesn’t fall even just a little bit in love with Tuscany the first time they visit should probably be locked away from the world. There’s something magical about the place that suffuses every bit of the landscape, the food, the people, and the very air.

The first time I visited with (then girlfriend) Ruth we managed to hit it perfectly at the peak of Spring — the hills were green, the poppies in full bloom, little puffy clouds in the sky, 80 degrees… you get the picture. Makes me misty-eyed just thinking about it.

While we were there, we spent an awful lot of time driving around the roads near Siena, Montepulciano, and Montalcino, and an awful lot of time tasting the Sangiovese-based wines of the region.

The most famous of these wines, of course, is Brunello di Montalcino, a wine made from 100% Sangiovese in and around the picturesque little hill town of Montalcino. Ruth became so enamored of these wines while we were there, that she often compares any big red wine to them, and often finds them lacking. “Nope, not as good as Brunello,” she says. We’ve got such an affection for these wines we’ve decided that if we ever get a dog, we’re going to name it Brunello.

Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to return to Tuscany since that first trip. But thankfully, these days, Tuscany can come to you. That is, if you live in New York, LA, or San Francisco. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group representing the appellation, now regularly holds an event they call “Benvenuto Brunello” which gives journalists the opportunity to taste through the recent vintage.

For those who are perhaps less familiar with the wines of this appellation, here’s a 30 second primer. Wines can only be labeled Brunello di Montalcino if they are made from grapes grown in and around the town of Montalcino, and if they are 100% Sangiovese. There was a point last year where this could have changed, as a huge scandal rocked Italy as several producers were busted for blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot into their Brunellos. The wines were banned from importation to the US for a short period of time, producers paid big fines, and the whole Consorzio had a vote to decide whether or not to change the rules of the appellation.

In the end, everyone voted to maintain the standards of the past (including, strangely, the very folks who were busted for violating those standards). Brunello will continue, for now, to be made of only one grape. In addition to the grape variety and locality, Brunello must be aged for no less than two years in oak, and one year in bottle, and cannot be released until 5 years after harvest.

Because that’s a long time to keep a wine around without being able to sell it, winemakers may also produce a Rosso di Montalcino which also must be 100% Sangiovese, but can be sold after just one year of oak aging.

Producers in the region can also make wines from more international grape varieties like Cabernet that used to be known as Super Tuscans before the region won approval for a special designation known as Sant’Antimo IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).

Brunello, like young Bordeaux, is somewhat more difficult to judge in its youth for those not used to tasting them. The wines are tight and tannic, and often don’t show the soft, lush fruit qualities that can emerge after a few years and a little air.

I found the 2004 vintage to be of very good quality. Not quite as high as 2001 or 1999, but an excellent opportunity for those who know what they are doing to make excellent wine. There are a lot of great wines from more modern producers who use new French oak barrels (barriques) as well as those who stick to the old-style, huge Slavonian oak casks, which I am growing even more fond of over time. Increasingly, some producers are making wines in both styles.

Here are my ratings for every wine that was presented at the recent tasting in San Francisco.

1997 Col d’Orcia Brunello. $85. Where to buy?
2003 Il Poggione Brunello. $69. Where to buy?
2004 Poggio Antico Brunello. $64. Where to buy?

2003 Camigliano “Gualto” Brunello Riserva. $90.
2004 Caprili Brunello. $50.
2003 Castel Giacondo Brunello. $55. Where to buy?
2001 Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello. $140.
2005 Col d’Orcia “Olmaia” Sant’Antimo IGT. $65.
2006 Coldisole Rosso di Montalcino. $??. Where to buy?
2004 Coldisole Brunello. $??.
2003 Coldisole Brunello. $54. Where to buy?
2002 Cupano Brunello. $45.
2005 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Rosso di Montalcino. $20.
2004 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Prime Donne Rosso Toscana IGT. $48.
2004 Fattoria Barbi “Del Fiore” Brunello. $110. Where to buy?
2004 Fornacina Brunello. $??.
2003 Il Poggione Brunello Riserva. $125. Where to buy?
2006 La Colombina Rosso di Montalcino. $??. Where to buy?
2004 La Poderina Brunello. $65. Where to buy?
2004 Le Chiuse Brunello. $??.
1998 Palazzone Brunello Riserva. $125. Where to buy?
2003 Poggio Antico Brunello Riserva. $114. Where to buy?
2004 San Polo Brunello. $70.
2004 Tenimienti Angelini Brunello. $60.
2003 Tenimienti Angelini “Vina Spuntali” Brunello. $90.
2003 Tenuta Greppone Mazzi Brunello Riserva. $90. Where to buy?
2001 Tenuta Oliveto Brunello. $92. Where to buy?
2003 Tenuta Oliveto Brunello Riserva. $150.
2004 Tenuta Silvio Nardi “Manachiara” Brunello. $85. Where to buy?
2004 Ucceliera Brunello. $65. Where to buy?

2007 Camigliano Rosso di Montalcino. $22
2004 Camigliano Brunello. $55
2004 Caparzo Brunello. $55
2006 Caprili Rosso di Montalcino. $20
2006 Col d’Orcia Banditiela Rosso di Montalcino. $??
2004 Col d’Orcia “Nearco” Sant’Antimo IGT. $80
2005 Cupano Rosso di Montalcino. $15
2004 Cupano Brunello. $45
2003 Cupano Brunello. $45
2004 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello. $42
2003 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Riserva. $52
2004 Fattoria Barbi Brunello. $60
2004 Il Poggione Brunello. $90
2004 La Colombina Brunello. $??
2003 La Colombina Brunello Riserva. $??
2003 La Togata dei Togai Brunello Riserva. $??
2007 Pinino Rosso di Montalcino. $35
2004 Pinino Brunello. $70
2004 Pinino “Clan Destino” Brunello. $80
2004 Poggio Antico “Altero” Brunello. $77
2004 S. Lucia Brunello. $50
2005 San Polo “Mezzopane” Sant’Antimo IGT. $35
2001 Solaria “123” Brunello. $130
2006 Tenimienti Angelini “Val de Suga” Rosso di Montalcino. $25
2005 Tenuta Oliveto “Il Roccolo” Rosso di Montalcino. $32
2004 Tenuta Oliveto Brunello. $92
2004 Tenuta Silvio Nardi Brunello. $65
2005 Tornesi “Banducce” Rosso di Montalcino. $28
2003 Tornesi Brunello. $75
2003 Tornesi Brunello Riserva. $89
2007 Ucceliera Rosso di Montalcino. $28
2007 Villa I Ciprese Rosso di Montalcino. $??

2006 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino. $19
2003 Caprili Brunello. $50
2004 Castel Giacondo Brunello. $55
2005 Castello Banfi Belnero Sant’Antimo IGT. $39
2004 Castello Banfi Brunello. $60
2004 Col d’Orcia Brunello. $62
2001 Coldisole Brunello Riserva. $??
2007 Fattoria Barbi Rosso di Montalcino. $25
2003 Fattoria Barbi Brunello Riserva. $110
2004 Fuligni Brunello. $59
2004 Il Palazzone Brunello. $42
2006 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino. $26
2004 La Lecciaia “Manapetra” Brunello. $60
2006 La Poderina Rosso di Montalcino. $37
2006 Lazzeretti Rosso di Montalcino. $??
2007 Le Chiuse Rosso di Montalcino. $??
2004 Lucce Della Vite Brunello. $90
2006 Pinino “Clan Destino” Rosso di Montalcino. $40
2007 Poggio Antico Rosso di Montalcino. $32
2006 S. Lucia Rosso di Montalcino. $16
2005 San Polo Rosso di Montalcino. $25
2006 Solaria Rosso di Montalcino. $30
2004 Solaria Brunello. $85
2007 Tenuta di Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino. $18
2004 Tenuta di Collosorbo Brunello. $50
2007 Tenuta Silvio Nardi Rosso di Montalcino. $25
2006 Tornesi Rosso di Montalcino. $28
2004 Villa I Ciprese Brunello. $??

2006 Belpoggio Rosso di Montalcino. $22
2003 Belpoggio Brunello. $45
2004 Belpoggio Brunello. $50
2005 Camigliano Sant’Antimo IGT. $39
2007 Casanova delle Cerbaie Rosso di Montalcino. $24
2006 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino. $25
2006 Castello Romitorio Rosso di Montalcino. $20
2005 Castello Romitorio Sant’Antimo IGT. $55
2003 Coldisole Brunello Riserva. $??
2005 Cupano “Ombrone” Sant’Antimo IGT. $45
2004 La Lecciaia Brunello. $50
2003 La Lecciaia Brunello Riserva. $60
2005 La Lecciaia Sant’Antimo IGT. $??
2003 La Togata Brunello. $??
2004 Lazzeretti Brunello. $??
2004 Le Ragnaie Brunello. $50
2006 Tenuta di Collosorbo Sant’Antimo IGT. $20
2004 Tenuta Greppone Mazzi Brunello. $60
2004 Tornesi Brunello. $75
2007 Verbena Rosso di Montalcino. $40
2004 Verbena Brunello. $65
2004 Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello. $50

2004 Castello Romitorio Brunello. $60
2006 Col d’Orcia Rosso di Montalcino. $28
2007 La Lecciaia Rosso di Montalcino. $??
2005 Tenuta Oliveto Rosso Toscana IGT. $28

2004 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello. $66
2005 Casanova delle Cerbaie Sant’Antimo IGT. $35
2004 Casanova delle Cerbaie Brunello. $50
2004 Cont Costanti Brunello. $59
2006 La Togata Rosso di Montalcino. $??
2006 Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino. $18

2007 Canalicchio di Sopra Rosso di Montalcino. $35
2006 La Togata “Barengo” Sant’Antimo. $??