We Should Talk About Brunello

Brunello di Montalcino is often thought of as one of the most exquisite red wines in Italy. But what makes it so unique and why should you care about it? After all, it’s made from the Sangiovese grape, which is used in a handful of other Italian red wines, so what makes it different?

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is the world-renowned appellation of Montalcino – a beautiful medieval town in the province of Siena, nestled in the Tuscan countryside. The area is about 2 hours south of Florence.

Why is it named Brunello, if it’s made of Sangiovese? Well, one of the earliest known records of “Brunello” was a red wine that was made in the Montalcino region in the early 14th Century. The grape was called “Brunello” locally as a derivative of Bruno (the Italian word for brown) and was thought to be an individual grape variety. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that it was proven that Brunello was in fact a slightly plumper clone of the Sangiovese grape! All that time, and it turned out that Montalcino was making Sangiovese, just like the Chianti region was.

It wasn’t until 1980 that it was granted a DOCG status. Specifying that producers must use 100% Sangiovese in order to call the wine Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. That differs from Chianti, which allows a blend of up to 20% of other grapes.

That’s not to say that one is better than the other, but there’s less room for error with Brunello, as you’re really relying on the quality of that Sangiovese and the terroir to be excellent. This is one of the reasons why vintage is talked about so much when it comes to Brunello; because if the grapes have a great growing year, you’re going to get an exceptional quality. If it’s a less than ideal growing season, the wine may have different characteristics. With other Sangiovese based wines like Super Tuscans or Chianti Classico, the winemaker can blend in a small percentage of other grapes to make the wine have a different result, but with Brunello it’s largely about the expertise of the wine growers to ensure quality is fantastic.

Because Brunello is made a few hours south of Tuscany, it’s generally a slightly warmer climate and a slightly different soil makeup, giving the Sangiovese extra power and ripeness. The tannins are often a bit more pronounced, giving Brunello a sometimes longer aging period. The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino from Carpineto is a fantastic example of care and attention to detail in the quality of the grapes. This vintage have notes of juicy cherry, ripe raspberry, roasted nuts, and hints of vanilla and tobacco. The 2016 vintage is wonderful to enjoy now, but could age beautifully and be enjoyed 15 years from now.