An Introduction to Brunello Wine

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

However expansive your wine collection might be, you know there’s always room for new additions. Some collections are broad from the outset, capturing the best flavors of the world, while others are narrow in focus but big on regional pride.

If you’ve been wanting to shake up your collection for a while now, Brunello di Montalcino is one of the best wines for the task.

What Is Brunello Wine?

Brunello di Montalcino, typically shortened to Brunello by most collectors and connoisseurs, is a bold wine from Montalcino, a hilltop town located in the Tuscan hills in the province of Siena – roughly 70 miles from Florence and 30 miles from the city of Siena.

Brunello comes from a distinct variety of Sangiovese grape, dubbed Sangiovese Grosso. It’s known for large, luscious grapes with thick skins, high tannins and acidity.

To earn the Brunello di Montalcino label, the grapes must come from vineyards in and around Montalcino, with the wine having been produced and bottled in the town. The DOCG classification for Brunello, given in 1980, also states that the wine must contain 100 percent Sangiovese Grosso grapes.

This classification also sets rules for aging, with Brunello Normale required to age a minimum of 24 months in barrels and 4 months in bottles; before its release, it must age for 5 years total. Brunello Riserva, limited to the best grapes from the best harvests, must age for a minimum of 24 months in barrels and 6 months in bottles; combined, it must age for 6 years before its release.

Interesting tidbit: According to the Consorzio Del Vino – which is in charge of governing these strict requirements – Brunello di Montalcino is illegal to sell if it doesn’t reside in a Bordelaise bottle.

How did this wine come to be?

Understanding Where Brunello di Montalcino Wine Came From

Throughout much of Tuscany’s winemaking history, most wines were co-fermented and thus had varying flavor profiles. By the mid-1800s, a winemaker named Clemente Santi was experimenting with isolating the grapes around Montalcino, creating a wine with a red-brown color – Brunello. It captured interest in an 1869 agricultural fair in Montepulciano, but it didn’t receive wide recognition until later.

Clemente’s grandson, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, further developed the wine and issued the first release of Brunello di Montalcino in 1888. It had the distinction of rather long aging – 10 years in oak barrels.

Brunello remained a small production until the 1960s, when there were still only 11 producers. But after earning the DOC designation in 1968, Brunello saw a marked increase in producers eager to cultivate this increasingly sought-after wine.

Today, about 200 producers devote their livelihoods to caring for this bold grape; DOCG keeps a tight hold on suitable land, with producers packed into roughly 4,000 vineyard acres surrounding the town of Montalcino.

The Terroir for Brunello di Montalcino

As one of the driest parts of Tuscany, the sun-drenched lands surrounding Montalcino feature a diverse array of soils and microclimates. Sangiovese grapes ripen sooner here than those in surrounding towns, and they’re often planted on both the cooler north-facing and warmer south-facing slopes.

This results in intriguing flavor nuances, which are further enhanced by the elevation. Brunello di Montalcino wine comes from vineyards ranging from 450 feet in elevation to those at 1,950 feet in elevation.

At lower elevations, you’ll see grapes growing in clay-like soils, developing bolder, darker flavors. Higher elevation grapes grow in more gravelly and galestro soils, where red fruit notes take center stage.

What Does the Italian Wine Brunello Taste Like?

Due to the varied habitat and sunny environment – coupled with the lengthy initial aging period – Brunello di Montalcino wines have strong complexity that shifts between earthiness, savory herbs and dark red fruits.

Interestingly, there are noticeable differences in the wine that come from the type of oak cask used for the aging. Traditional methods use a botti, a Slavonian oak barrel that doesn’t transfer much oakiness but allows for stronger earth and cherry notes and richer tannins.

More modern methods use French oak barrels that imbue the wine with oak flavors and softer tannins, along with vanilla, chocolate and sweeter fruits.

Which method is used boils down to producer preference; some producers use one or both styles for the minimum amount of time, and others stretch out the oak barrel aging as long as possible before switching to bottle aging.

As you delve more deeply into the world of Brunello, you’ll discover just how complex in taste this fine wine can be.

What’s the Difference Between Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino?

In two words – a lot. Barolo and Brunello are produced in different parts of Italy from two different grape varieties. As a result, there is far more diversity between these two wines than there is similarity.

Brunello wine comes from Tuscany in and around Montalcino, and it’s produced from the Sangiovese Grosso grape.

Barolo, on the other hand, comes from the Piedmont area of Italy – located in the northwest part of the country. Piedmont is known for cooler temperatures, with the climate more akin to the Bordeaux region of France than Italy’s Montalcino.

Situated in the foothills of the mountainous Alps, Piedmont has reduced rainfall and a significant number of foggy days. The south-facing, sunny slopes are where you’ll find the Nebbiolo grape, from which Barolo wine is made.

The Nebbiolo grape is thin-skinned and small compared to the large and luscious Sangiovese Grosso grape, and it is typically high in acidity and tannins. Whereas Brunello is herbaceous and darkly fruity, Barolo is far more floral and spicy, with red fruits, truffles and chocolate rounding out the flavor profile.

Are There Similarities Between These Wines?

Of course. Both wines are known for their longer aging periods – 3 years for Barola Normale and 5 years for Brunello Normale, and 5 years for Barola Riserva and 6 years for Brunello Riserva.

Traditionally, both wines are aged in Slavonian botti, whereas modern methods sometimes use French oak barrels.

As well as their longer aging prior to release, both wines are exceptional at aging to perfection, making them ideal long-term choices for your own wine cellar.

JJ Buckley Fine Wines – Brunello Recommendations

Read on for our specially curated list, complete with Brunello wine prices, that highlights our favorite Brunello di Montalcino wines. We’re confident you’ll love this fine wine as much as we do.

1. Valdicava

2010 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 'Madonna del Piano', 750mL, $198.94

2012 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $89.94

2012 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 'Madonna del Piano', 750mL, $189.94

2013 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $119.94

2. Soldera

2011 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $475.00

3. Cerbaiona

2013 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $219.94

4. Uccelliera

2013 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $54.94

5. Altesino

2012 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $46.94

2013 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $44.94

6. Biondi Santi

1970 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, 750mL, $395.00

7. Casanova di Neri

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $79.94

2013 Brunello di Montalcino, 1.5L, $109.94

2012 Brunello di Montalcino 'Cerretalto', 750mL, $299.94

2012 Brunello di Montalcino 'Tenuta Nuova', 750mL, $99.94

8. Salvioni

2010 Brunello di Montalcino, 1.5L, $325.00

9. Silvio Nardi

2012 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $35.94

2013 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $54.94

10. Siro Pacenti

2007 Brunello di Montalcino, 750mL, $59.94

We’re thrilled to introduce you to an exquisite wine that’s been capturing the interest of wine collectors for decades and that’s been loved by enthusiasts for generations. If you’d like even more personalized assistance with selecting your next favorite wine, reach out to us at JJ Buckley Fine Wines. We’d be delighted to help.