The Rich History of Montalcino Wine: Uncovering Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino, a renowned DOCG red wine made from the Sangiovese grape, has a rich history and an international reputation. This wine, made exclusively from grapes grown within Montalcino region in southern Tuscany, has captivated the palates of wine enthusiasts around the world. This article explores the geographical characteristics, origins, and properties of Brunello di Montalcino and how it rose to prominence.
Geographical Characteristics of Montalcino
Montalcino is sandwiched between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Apennines Mountains. This unique position creates a Mediterranean climate with slight continental influences. TheMontalcino’s proximity to the coast ensures there is plenty of wind, which helps prevent mildew growth on the vines. This region is considered the warmest and driest region in Tuscany, and their grapes are often the first Tuscan grapes to ripen.
Generally, Montalcino possesses rockier and less fertile soiled compared to other famous Tuscan wine regions. The soil type changes depending on the vineyard, but the most common types found are sandstone, limestone, alberese, marl, and a mix of sandy and clay-filled soil.
Montalcino’s Turbulent History
Montalcino has anything but a peaceful history. Historical accounts and records show that Montalcino spent the Middle Ages involved in battles between its wealthy neighbors, Sienna and Florence. The town of Montalcino sits on a hill, making it an ideal defensive position. For this reason, Sienna and Florence fought to control Montalcino. Throughout this time walls and fortresses were constructed in the town to protect it from its many attackers. The town withstood siege after siege throughout the 16th century. In 1555, while under siege from Florence and their Spanish allies, the town was spared after a Spanish general reportedly saw a vision of Madonna and decided to withdraw. However, Montalcino could not withstand forever and in 1559 they surrendered to Florence. Eventually Montalcino became part of the Dukedom of Tuscany.
The History of Montalcino’s Wine
Wine has been made in Montalcino since ancient times. Throughout history Montalcino has been praised for their wine, especially in the Middle Ages. Various accounts from this time period describe the wine as high quality and delicious. But through most of history Montalcino wasn’t known for the rich, red Brunello wine they are famous for today. Rather, it was known for producing a high quality sweet, white wine called Moscadello. This was the dominate wine in the region until the mid 19th century. At this point a man named Clemente Santi began experiments that would eventually transform the wine industry in Montalcino. He began making powerful, age-worthy red wines from 100% Brunello grapes. It is now known that Brunello is actually a distinct clone of the Sangiovese grape varietal unique to Montalcino. Ferruccio Biondi, Clemente Santi’s grandson continued his grandfather’s work with Brunello and started the Biondi-Santi winery. The work of these two eventually created the now-famous, Brunello di Montalcino.
Did You Know: Through most of history Montalcino wasn’t known for the rich, red Brunello wine they are famous for today. Rather, it was known for producing a high quality sweet, white wine called Moscadello.
The Rise of Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino gained worldwide recognition in the mid 20th century. This was in part due to the efforts of the original Brunello winery: Biondi-Santi, as well as the Italian wine giant: Banfi. In the 1970’s Banfi purchased a large amount of land in Montalcino with the hopes of producing the region’s original famous wine, Moscadello. At the time Banfi was having success selling their sweet Lambrusco to the United States and were looking for a similar style wine to sell to the American public. Luckily for Brunello, Banfi’s Moscadello venture was a failure. Banfi then pivoted their strategy and replanted their Montalcino vineyards with Brunello. Brunello ended up being a hit in the United States, and Brunello di Montalcino has been an internationally famous wine ever since.
Characteristics of Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is considered the richest, fullest bodied, often most tannic version of Sangiovese. It is known for aging well, and is generally aged longer than the other Sangiovese wines produced by its neighbors. In fact, in order to sell a wine under the name Brunello di Montalcino the wine must have at least two years of oak aging. Although many producers chose to age their wine even longer both in oak barrels and in bottles.
It’s an excellent pairing for richer, heavier dishes such as wild game, red meats, and even richer mushroom and truffle dishes. To fully appreciate its complex and harmonious aromas, Brunello di Montalcino should be served at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).
Did You Know: Brunello di Montalcino is considered the richest, fullest bodied, often most tannic version of Sangiovese.
The Legacy of Montalcino’s Wine
Brunello di Montalcino has earned its place as one of the world’s most respected and sought-after wines, thanks to its unique geographical characteristics, rich history, and stringent production requirements. The wine’s ability to age gracefully, combined with its robust flavor profile, has made it a favorite among wine connoisseurs and collectors.
Montalcino wine enjoys international acclaim and is considered a benchmark for quality and excellence in the wine industry. As a testament to the region’s rich winemaking heritage, Brunello di Montalcino serves as a shining example of Tuscany’s ability to produce world-class wines that stand the test of time.
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On this Day
1555 – A Spanish general decided to withdraw his troops from a siege on the town of Montalcino after seeing a vision of the Madonna.
1559 – The town of Montalcino surrendered to Florence after decades of sieges and wars.
Mid 1900’s – Brunello di Montalcino became known internationally.
Want to learn more? Try out these books!
For Reference and Further Study:
Kerin O’Keefe Brunello di Montalcino. Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines University of California Press 2012 ISBN 0-520-26564-5
Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines Hardcover – Illustrated, Kerin O’Keefe, April 18, 2012
Lonely Planet Tuscany Road Trips 2 (Travel Guide) Paperback, Duncan Garwood, Virginia Maxwell, and Nicola Williams– July 21, 2020
Decoding Italian Wine: A Beginner’s Guide to Enjoying the Grapes, Regions, Practices and Culture of the “Land of Wine” Paperback, Andrew Cullen and Ryan Anthony McNally – December 3, 2014