Erik Neilson on November 25, 2016 0 Comments It’s often said that there are some things in life worth waiting for, and few clichés are felt so thoroughly by wine lovers. The vast majority of wines on the market today are produced with the intention that they should be drank fresh, but this is not the case for certain styles and grapes. Take Brunello di Montalcino, for example, often abbreviated simply as “Brunello”. Produced from 100% Sangiovese — a grape that is both modern and classic at the very same time — Brunello requires a fair bit of patience to be enjoyed at its fullest. This is understandably a true challenge for many, considering how wonderful Brunello wine can be. If you’ve never tasted Brunello before but are interested in this classic, historic wine, there are a lot of starting points to consider. First, it helps to gain an understanding of how this exceptional wine came into fruition in the first place. A Brief History of Brunello di Montalcino While it’s difficult to say exactly when Brunello di Montalcino first came about, there are records of the wine’s existence dating back to the 14th century. It wasn’t until the 1850s when Brunello began to gain the attention it deserved, when many connoisseurs began to laud the wines of Montalcino as being on par with or better than those wines produced in Tuscany. The task of producing a wine made with 100% Sangiovese grapes that could be aged for long periods of time was taken on by Montalcino farmer Clemente Santi around this time, eventually leading to the first modern version of Brunello di Montalcino, released in 1888 after having been aged in oak barrels for 10 years. Brunello di Montalcino soon began to build a reputation for itself as being one of Italy’s most sought-after and rarest wines. These wines not only came along with a great deal of prestige, but their prices were high to the point of putting them out of reach of most casual wine drinkers. Thus, they became the focus of collectors largely up until the region gained Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1968. With DOC status under its belt, Montalcino saw a major influx of new wineries looking to jump on the Brunello bandwagon. The turn of the 21st century saw the number of wineries producing Brunello di Montalcino climbing upwards to 200, with over 330,000 cases of the wine being produced each year. Brunello continues to be one of the world’s most luxurious wines, but it’s far more accessible today than it was 100 years ago. Why Sangiovese? There are plenty of unique and interesting grapes being grown in Italy, but Sangiovese often finds itself in the spotlight. This is especially true when it comes to Brunello di Montalcino, which — by law — must be produced utilizing only Sangiovese grapes. There are plenty of reasons for this, chief among them being that Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape in the region, and that the clones grown in Montalcino have adapted greatly to the terroir and soil characteristic of the area. Due to Montalcino’s climate and altitude, Sangiovese is able to ripen more fully than practically any other area, including Tuscany. As a result, the body and tannin structure of Sangiovese wine produced in Montalcino can differ greatly from the Chianti produced in Tuscany. Flavor Profile It’s easy to assume for those who are used to drinking other Sangiovese wines produced in Italy that Brunello will be more of the same, but that is almost never the case. Great Brunello can contain worlds of flavors, many of which are so deep that they’re difficult to pick out. The texture of Brunello tends to be quite fleshy and leathery, with smooth tannins that bring to mind Pinot Noir from Bordeaux. Carrying with it a high level of acidity, Brunello opens up with flavors of blackberries, chocolate, dark fruits, cherry and even leathery characteristics. This being said, what you end up with in your glass will depend heavily upon the overall age of the wine. When Brunello is young, it tends to be very assertive. Its acidity at an early age can make food pairings quite difficult, and drinking it on its own is often considered to be a less than ideal experience. The sharpness of Brunello can be tamed, however, resulting in the wine that most people who have tasted Brunello di Montalcino are familiar with. Ideally, Brunello should sit on oak for a minimum of two years, and in most cases, it will do better with closer to five years of oak-aging on it. From there, the wine will continue to develop within the bottle for at least the next 25 years. Many true believers in Brunello say that allowing the wine to age for a minimum of ten years in the bottle is necessary to unleash its true characteristics, and some will prescribe an even longer aging period. 3 Must-Try Bottles of Brunello Wine Brunello can be expensive, and the required aging makes it less than an ideal option for casual wine drinkers. If you stock your cellar with even just one bottle of Brunello to enjoy later in life, however, you’ll thank yourself once the day finally comes to open it! Here are a few of the best examples to buy now: Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2001 Dark as the night itself, Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2001 is nearly black in color and features intense aromas of licorice, berries and bitter chocolate. Velvety and rich, this wine features a finish you won’t soon forget and is ready to drink now. Soldera Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 Look no further than Gianfranco Soldera for classic Brunello that truly accentuates the characteristics of the Sangiovese grape. With unique flavor characteristics that bring to mind Balsamic vinegar and mossy forest floor, Soldera Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 is a breathtaking example of Brunello that is not to be missed. Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino Madonna Delle Grazie 2010 2010 was a banner year for Sangiovese, and Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino Madonna Delle Grazie 2010 is the bottle to buy for when it comes time to finally try the vintage down the road. Floral, with sweet berries, licorice and tobacco, Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino Madonna Delle Grazie 2010 features firm tannins that will ensure a long and healthy life in the bottle. Brunello di Montalcino may require some waiting around, but it’s one of the finest wines the world has to offer.