The Brunello wine region is a small sub-section of the greater wine producing region of Italy called Tuscany. The appellation is actually the area surrounding the town of Montalcino, which is a bit over 120 km southwest of the city of Florence. The full name of the wine is Brunello di Montalcino.
The Brunello part of the name comes from one of the names for the primary grape grown there. Brunello is roughly translated as "nice dark one" or "small dark one". This is referring to the small, almost black fruit. The more official name for this grape variety is Sangiovese Grosso and it is a clone of the Sangiovese grape that is grown elsewhere throughout Tuscany, most notably and famously in Chianti.
Many feel that Sangiovese reaches its greatest heights here in Brunello wine, often exceeding the color, body and complexity of other Tuscan Sangiovese-based wines. For that reason, the wines have become immensely popular and can be quite expensive.
To officially be called Brunello di Montalcino the wines here must be made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, although some other grapes may be grown in the region and bottled under different names. This appellation is clearly the most famous and sought after of the wines produced from this region. These wines are all red and are aged a long period of time before release.
The Brunello wines must be aged in oak for an extended period of time followed by further bottle aging prior to release. The Riserva wines are aged even longer.
The most common other appellation you may encounter from the region is Rosso di Montalcino which is also 100% Sangiovese grown from the same region. However, it is allowed to be released sooner, with less oak and bottle aging than the Brunello. These are generally produced from grapes from younger vines or lesser vineyards. However, the best can be a good, less expensive alternative that drinks like a "baby Brunello".
How Do They Taste?
Because of the better ripening and the darker, smaller berries produced here, the best Brunello tends to be darker and richer than those of Chianti and other nearby Sangiovese regions in Tuscany. In addition to their dark, rich fruit, they tend to have a leathery, fleshy aroma and texture. When young, these wines can be quite austere despite their long aging prior to release. The best often benefit from additional extended cellaring to allow them to integrate and open up, revealing all their velvety complexity.
Unfortunately, this age-worthy complexity comes at a price. The best Brunello wines are now quite expensive. However, the best wines from the best producers, if properly cellared, can be amongst the best wines in the world.
The Rosso di Montalcino wines are much more affordable and tend to drink well younger. While they will never have the depth and complexity of the best Brunello, they can be lovely wines that give you a sense for the style of the region. Even these can often age and improve for a number of years in bottle.
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