Article - Italy - 12. April 2021

Why Brunello Di Montalcino Is More Popular Than Ever?

Brunello di Montalcino, together with Bolgheri and Barolo, form the triangle that has generated international interest in Italian wine in recent years.

Montalcino is probably the most famous village in the world, known primarily for its popular wines, but in these years, its fame is reaching new heights. Both more producers and far more vineyards are seeing the daylight, but last but not least, the quality is stable and outstanding as never before. A truly wonderful collection of vintages is produced year after year. The critics have also followed up with more wines above 95 points than ever before. We are undoubtedly witnessing the beginning of a whole new era, in which rising demand will drive up prices once again in the coming years.

The Montalcino Area

In the central part of Italy, towards the west coast, lies Tuscany, possibly the most famous wine region in Italy. This is also where you come across the village of Montalcino. The area where the grapes for Brunello di Montalcino are grown is pretty much a square as it is bordered on all sides by rivers. The municipality of Montalcino covers a full 24,000 hectares, but just over 15% is currently covered with vineyards. Montalcino is located in a small area 40 km. from the Mediterranean Sea and 100 km. from the Apennine mountain range. The area, like the rest of Tuscany, is dominated by hills, and the vineyards here are located at varying altitudes from 120 to 650 meters above sea level with good exposure to the sun.

The soil in this area varies quite a lot due to different geological compositions. In general, it can be said that the lower areas have more loose soil and further up the slopes, there are more stones and limestones in the soil. It is a classic Mediterranean climate that dominates the area, where most of the rain falls in spring and autumn, but the growing season itself is quite dry for the vines. On average, 700 mm. of rain fall per year, which is perfect for the vines, enough but not too much.

Wine Has Been Grown In Montalcino For More Than 2000 Years

The name Montalcino is said to originate from Mount Lucina or Mount Lecci with the three oaks that are also represented on the municipal emblem - no one knows for sure. The town of Montalcino, like so many places in Tuscany, has been at war several times over the last many centuries. The wars have mainly raged around the town, mainly due to Montalcino’s advantageous position on a hilltop and surrounding walls, making it difficult to occupy from all sides. When Cosimi de Medici took over the town in 1559, it was actually the last independent town in Italy.

Archaeologically, there is clear evidence that wine has been grown here for more than 2000 years, going back to the Etruscans. Early amphoras have been found in the area for transporting wine. The combination of the hills, the distance from the sea, and the good soil were seen by many civilizations as a good place to grow grapes.

Clemente Santi Produced The First Real Brunello In 1865

The wine from Montalcino has always had a good reputation, but mainly in the local area. The founder of Brunello was Clemente Santi, who isolated the Brunello clone as a bigger and better clone of the well-known Sangiovese grape. Clemente Santi realized the potential of the grape and introduced both barrel aging and vinification techniques that were different from his neighbors. His 1865 vintage was the first to be recognized as a true Brunello from the town of Montalcino when it won a medal in a major agricultural competition. For many years after that, Montalcino continued to live a very reserved life without receiving much international attention.

In 1945, Biondi-Santi was still the only registered producer in the area, with four official vintages: 1865, 1891, 1925, and 1945. However, the relatively high prices at which the wines were sold, quickly gave others the idea of producing Brunello. In 1960, there were 11 producers, and by 1970, the number had more than doubled. In 1966, Italy introduced its first wine regulations, here Brunello di Montalcino was placed in the higher level called DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, and in 1980, when Italy introduced a higher category called DOCG, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantia, Montalcino was given DOCG status. In 1980, only seven areas were allowed to carry the DOCG on their labels; in the meantime, there are just over 60 areas today.

From 1980, when 53 producers were registered, success began, and by the turn of the millennium, more than 200 producers were registered. Today, in 2021, there are 201 wineries, and the quality has never been higher. Of the 24,000 hectares available, 2,100 are planted with Sangiovese for the production of Brunello di Montalcino and another 1,400 hectares with grapes for smaller wines as well as for white wine. So, the growth potential is enormous on paper, but it is not possible to grow grapes everywhere, so we will probably see a stagnation of plantings in the near future.

This will also help to increase interest and demand for the producers who have good vineyards today.

The Rulebook Of Brunello Di Montalcino

With the latest change, the rules are now that a Brunello di Montalcino must age for a minimum of two years on the barrel and may only be sold on the 1st of January the fifth year after harvest. A wine labeled "Riserva" must age one year longer before release, but not necessarily on barrel. Many of the best producers pick their best drops and bottle them later than their regular Brunello. In general, a riserva has greater aging potential.

A more accessible version is also produced, such as Rosso di Montalcino, which can be sold from the 1st of September the following year after the harvest, without the need for barrel aging. This is often made from grapes from the younger vines. This is a wine that is suitable for consumption as soon as it is released but without great storage potential.

Traditionally, Brunello has always required long-term aging before release. In the past, there was much longer aging in wooden barrels, which made the wines even more complicated.

Soldera-brunello-di-montalcino Soldera is one of the well-known and ever-popular Brunellos

The Best Producers Of Brunello Di Montalcino

The ranking of manufacturers is constantly up for discussion. There are the old classics, a few of which have changed owners over time, and then there are the new top producers. The greatest name in history is, of course, Biondi-Santi, which still produces some of the best and most aging exceptional wines in the area. But there is also an 'old school' producer like Soldera among the fine company - a producer where the next generation has successfully taken over. Il Marroneto, with its Madonna delle Grazie, has also been at the top with great finesse for a couple of decades. Il Poggione is one of the big landowners in Montalcino and has managed to be at the top in terms of pure quality for several decades. Poggio di Sotto is also one of the notable top producers that have managed to maintain its position at the top of Brunello despite a change of ownership.

The Future Of Brunello Di Montalcino

The future offers a greater interest for origin by the international wine consumer, whether the area is officially divided or not.

It is possible to define sub-regions in Brunello di Montalcino, as we know it from Burgundy. There is no clear guideline on how to do this or whether to keep the boundaries as they are today. Geologically, there are four valleys that could well be divided and named. There is simply just no historical evidence that the style of each valley is so different from each other that a subdivision would make sense.

At the moment, it is definitely the style of the winemaker that shines through, rather than the soil in a particular area. The same is the case when we see individual vineyards highlighted on the label, which will be more of a personal expression by the producer that the wine from that particular vineyard is different from his other wines. After a few decades, we can better judge which vineyards that actually have more value than others.

The producers and styles we see today will be more clearly defined in the years to come. This will help to underline the great quality that Biondi Santi has already established with his 1865 vintage. However, Brunello di Montalcino has established itself in the front seat of the Italian wine bandwagon, and as a wine lover, you can look forward to great taste experiences and a steadily increasing demand for many years to come.

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