Brunello: An Italian Wine Scandal Ferments in Montalcino

In a previous article, we examined Brunello’s 100 plus year history. In Italian wine expressions, that is a relatively short period. Nevertheless, Brunello has established itself as one of the premium wines, not only in Tuscany, but also in the entire world. Brunello di Montalcino has an even more brief history in Italy’s wine regulations. Brunello did not become a DOC until 1966 and has only been a DOCG since 1986.

Brunello’s DOCG regulations require that 100% Sangiovese grapes be used. The wines are then aged for a minimum of 4 years (5 years for the Riserva). Traditionally, Brunello required a minimum of three years ageing in wood barrels. That has now been relaxed to two years ageing in wood. In addition, four months must be in bottle (six for the Riservas). The finished wine cannot be released for sale until January 1st of the year five years from vintage year. For example, the 2003 Brunello’s could not be released until January of 2008. Geographically, there is a strictly identified zone surrounding the town of Montalcino, in which the Sangiovese grapes used to make Brunello must be grown and the wines must be bottled.

So what type of experience should a good Brunello provide? This simple question is controversial at the moment. Traditionally, Brunello, like other Sangiovese wines, is a pale ruby color. The wine is transparent in the glass with lovely perfumed aromas of cherries and floral notes. It has a powerful elegance about it. Once it ages, it obtains notes often referred to as earthy or forest-floor like. I often get a wet black tea component. These characteristics connect ones soul to the earth. They provide a sexy innuendo that entices without being bold.

Traditionally, and there is that word again, it is not an inky purple monster that is so prevalent in wines the world over in today’s marketplace. Yet, there are some Brunellos that are massive brooding wines that offer up aromas of cherry vanilla milk shakes, inky purple colors and mouth coating tannins. They are opaque and shimmering bright in the glass. Why? That is the million-dollar question in Montalcino today.

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For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.