Posts tagged ‘italian wine’

Great Reds of Toscana – Brunello di Montalcino

 

View of the town of Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

View of the town of Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most famous red wines produced anywhere in the world. Made entirely from Sangiovese – known as Brunello in the Montalcino area – Brunello is one of the longest-lived red wines of Italy, with most bottlings drinking well fro 12-15 years, while the finest examples from the best estates in the top vintages lasting as long as 25-30 years.

 

Brunello di Montalcino – and the lighter, more approachable Rosso di Montalcino – are the only Tuscan reds that are regulated as being produced solely with Sangiovese. A Brunello must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, though the size of the barrel is not mentioned. This gives winemakers freedom; some use the traditional botti grandi, large casks that hold anywhere between 2000 to 6000 liters, while other producers prefer barriques, small barrels that hold 225 liters (other still, prefer tonneau, 500-liter casks).

This means a wide variety of styles of Brunello, with the traditional wines aged in large casks offering flavors of red cherry, currant , cinnamon and cedar, while the more modern bottlings focus on black cherry, vanilla and spice. Traditional producers include Biondi-Santi, Il Poggione and Talenti, while the modern producers include Fanti, Valdicava and Donatella Cinelli Colombini.

As this is a famous red that can age for decades, prices are not inexpensive. Expect to pay between $60-$80 for most current bottlings of Brunello. The price is fair when you consider that a Brunello di Montalcino cannnot be released in the market place until the fifth year after the harvest; thus the 2004 bottlings are now being released in 2009.

The Consorzio of Brunello producers rates each vintage on its quality, from one star (poor) to five stars (exceptional). 2004 is a five-star vintage; others include 1997, 1995 and 1990. The 2007 vintage has also been rated five stars; these wines however will not be released until 2012.

Given the fame of this wine, many new estates have been established over the past 10-15 years. In the 1970s, there were fewer than 40; today the number exceeds 140. Many are quite small, owning only 2-3 acres of vineyards and producing less than 5000 bottles of Brunello per vintage. 

 

Andrea Cortonesi, owner/winemaker, Uccelliera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Andrea Cortonesi, owner/winemaker, Uccelliera (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Given the number of producers making Brunello today, here is a short list of some of the finest:

  • Biondi-Santi
  • Il Poggione
  • Le Chiuse
  • Sesta di Sopra
  • Talenti
  • Il Palazzone
  • Uccelliera
  • Valdicava
  • Caprili
  • Casanuova delle Cerbaie
  • Argiano
  • Caparzo
  • Fuligni

 

A scandal

In 2008, investigations into an alleged scandal looked into the question of whether certain producers have or had been introducing varieties other than Sangiovese into the wine. Some members of the media have said this has been going on for years and point to the softer acidity of the wines as well as deeper color. As Sangiovese has lively acidity for a red variety and the color is generally garnet, these critics point to the deep ruby red color as well as soft acidity that a grape such as Merlot or possibly Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon was added to certain wines.

To date, a few dozen producers have been investigated and a few estates declassified their Brunellos in 2003, a sign to some that that particular wine was not 100% Sangiovese. Yet nothing has really been proven.

It seems safe to say that while this may be happening, it is not the practice of the majority. It seems also safe to say that what makes Brunello di Montalcino so distinct is its requirement of 100% Sangiovese. It seems unlikely that there will be any changes to this law anytime soon. In my opinion, there certainly does not need ot be any change regarding Brunello as a wine made purely from Sangiovese.

 

As for a Rosso di Montalcino, there are no requirements for wood aging; the wine can be released as soon as one year after the vintage. A few producers also make a Reserva bottling of Brunello di Montalcino; these wines cannot be released in the market before the sixth year following the vintage.

 

Read more about some of the best producers of Brunello di Montalcino at my website

 

BUYING GUIDE TO TUSCAN WINES

I have just put together a collection of my reviews of the latest wines from Tuscany. These reviews can be found in a special Tuscan issue of my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines; this is a 30-page pdf document. This issue contains reviews of 50 different Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, as well as reviews of wines from six different estates in Bolgheri (including three vintages of Sassicaia), as well as 40 new bottlings of Chianti Classico, a dozen examples of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and even a couple newly released bottlings of Vin Santo.

The price for this special issue is only $10 US. I will email the issue to you upon payment (either check or Paypal), so if you are interested, please email me and I will reply with payment instructions. This is a must for a Tuscan wine lover!

June 29, 2009 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

Great Reds of Toscana – Chianti

 

Vineyard in Panzano in the Chianti Classico zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Vineyard in Panzano in the Chianti Classico zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Everyone loves Tuscany it seems, so it follows that everyone loves Chianti. It is arguably the most-loved red wine in the world, if you think about it. Bordeaux  and Burgundy may be more famous and regal, but the price of many examples of those wines keep them from being appreciated by so many people. Thus Chianti, historically a moderately priced wine, is seen in many more markets across the globe, giving more consumers the chance to embace this lovely Tuscan red.

 

The name Chianti has been around since the year 1100, when it was first used to describe a wide area in Tuscany’s central zone. The Etruscans who began viticulture along the region’s west coast, soon spread their efforts north and east, planting Sangiovese near the town of Siena, Pisa and Arezzo. It was in 1085 that the Ricasoli family began to produce wine at Castello di Brolio in Gaiole, one of Tuscany’s most famous estates.

Given the success of Chianti wine, farmers outside the center of Tuscany, wanting to cash in on the popularity of this name, started to produce Chianti throughout the region. Eventually the heart of the Chianti territory- the hills between Florence to the north and Siena to the south – became known as Chianti Classico, and today there are seven sub-zones that use the name Chianti with a geographical suffix, such as Chianti Colli Fiorentini (“the hills of Florence”) and Chianti Colli Senesi (“the hills of Siena). 

The DOCG regulations are slightly different for Chianti Classico as compared with the other Chianti zones; basically the minimum amount of Sangiovese in Chianti Classico is 80%, as compared with 75% for the other zones. In the past, only local varieties, such as Canaiolo or Mammolo for red or Trebbiano or Malvasia for white were allowed in a Chianti blend, but the regulations were changed in the 1980s. Several producers, most notably Antinori and Le Pergole Torte, started to add Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to the blend, leaving out traditional varieites. At first, these wines such as Tignanello, had to be called vino da tavola (table wines), as they did not conform to the Chianti regulations. But with the success of these wines and the more common use of international variteties from other area producers, the laws were changed. White varieties were banned from the Chianti blend a few years ago and today, Chianti can be made with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvgnon, Syrah or other varieties; it can also be 100% Sangiovese. (A Riserva bottling of Chianti must be aged longer than a normale bottling; in the case of Chianti Classico Riserva, the wine must be aged for a minimum period of two years and three months in wood.)

Top estates of Chianti today include:

CHIANTI CLASSICO

  • Castello di Brolio (Barone Ricasoli)
  • Castello di Cacchiano
  • Castello di Bossi
  • Badia a Coltibuono
  • Castello di Volpaia
  • Castello Monsanto
  • Castellare di Castellina
  • San Felice
  • Felsina
  • Fontodi
  • Bibbiano
  • Le Miccine
  • Rocca di Montegrossi
  • Ruffino

CHIANTI COLLI FIORENTINI

  • Castello di Poppiano
  • Castelvecchio
  • Lanciola

CHIANTI RUFINA

  • Frescobaldi
  • Selvapiana
  • San Michele a Torri

 

Alessandro Cellai, winemaker at Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico (Photo©Tom Hyland)

Alessandro Cellai, winemaker at Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico (Photo©Tom Hyland)

 

 

 

TODAY’S WINES

Chianti was traditionally a rustic red; while that adjective can cover a lot of flaws, rustic really was an apt decriptor for old-style Chiantis. Made from Sangiovese, which is high in acidity with moderate tannins, these wines were aged in large casks, giving them a cedary quality. Usually displaying notes of brown herbs, dried cherry and tomato as the wines aged, these were simple, charming wines meant for food; even today, the traditional style of Chianti (such as the excellent wines from Badia a Coltibuono) works beautifully with any number of foods such as veal, pork or pastas with tomato-based sauces.

However, modern methods both in the vineyards and in the cellar have changed the style of many Chiantis (as of course have the blending laws). The wines today are deeper on color, while many are oakier, especially the ones aged in French barriques. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between today’s Chiantis and the older botlings is the fact that today, yields are much lower. Left to its own, Sangiovese can be uncontrollable, often getting 12 tons to the acre. This means a lot of wine, but wine that is thin and too acidic. Yields are often cut to 4-5 tons per acre these days (sometimes lower) and the wines are much fuller and riper with excellent Sangiovese fruit character.

While the style of wines can be argued, there is no question that today’s Chiantis are better quality offerings. Here are thoughts on this subject from Francesco Ricasoli, owner of Castello di Brolio; “The wines of today are without discussion much better wines from the ones of the past. Chianti Classico today is tracking its way for the future with innovation but still keeping its roots with Sangiovese and preserving its own style that makes it unique worldwide. It cannot be “duplicated” elsewhere in the world.”

Whatever your preference for Chianti – traditional style versus modern style – the best bottlings do present the charm of Sangiovese, with its lively acidity and fresh red cherry fruit in a nicely balanced wine that everyone loves.

June 22, 2009 at 5:58 pm 1 comment

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