(Continued from “The Vinous Bel Canto” on December 2, 2016)
Tuscany’s indigenous grape variety goes by different names in various places, e.g. Sangiovese in Chianti, Prugnolo Gentile in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Sangiovese Grosso in Brunello di Montalcino Brunello or Nielluccio in Corsica. The most common name, Sangiovese, originates from Latin Sanguis Jovis, literally “the blood of Jove”. This variety was purportedly cultivated by the ancient Etruscans, but the name Sangiovese, notably “pagan”, first appeared in the late 16th century. Indeed, without the humanist movement of the Renaissance, any names suspiciously pagan, such as Sangiovese or The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, could well be construed as heresy.
Highly terroir-expressive, late-ripening and high-yielding, Sangiovese is more often than not part of blends such as Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Brunello di Montalcino, however, is the spiritual home of single-varietal Sangiovese. The local clone, called Sangiovese Grosso, benefits from relatively elevated terrain that offers the perfect balance between diurnal temperature variation and warmth essential for maturity. Situated some 30km south of Siena with the hilltop town of Montalcino as its centre, the climate of Brunello di Montalcino is notably Mediterranean, as it is merely 30km away from the coastline.
Although viticulture and winemaking have existed in Brunello di Montalcino since time immemorial, it was not until after the Risorgimento that Brunello di Montalcino began to produce single-varietal Sangiovese with extended barrel maturation. In older times, field blends were often more popular. Since it attained the DOC and DOCG status in 1966 and 1980 respectively, the number of producers has increased from a dozen to nearly 200 today. Thankfully, most are quality-driven, family-owned smallholdings.
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most extensively aged wines of Italy. By national legislation, Brunello di Montalcino cannot be released until five years after the harvest, or six years for Riserva; at least two years must be spent in oak, plus at least four months in bottle, or six months for Riserva. Rosso di Montalcino is basically declassified Brunello di Montalcino, and it can be released for sale merely 18 months after harvest. The traditionalist style prefers maturation in large Slavonian oak casks, which imparts little oak flavour, hence resulting in more reserved wines. The modern style makes use of French barriques, leading to more approachable wines.
Rich garnet with carmine-maroon rim, the aromatic nose provides blackberry, black cherry, liquorice, bay leaf and balsam. With bounteous acidity and fine tannins, the elegant palate supplies morello cherry, raspberry, cinnamon, tea leaf and wild mushroom. Medium-bodied at 14%, the poised entry persists through a silky mid-palate, leading to a long finish.
Pinzale Brunello di Montalcino 2008
Rich garnet with chestnut-rosso corsa rim, the fragrant nose offers blackberry, red cherry, cinnamon, liquorice and cedarwood. With abundant acidity and rich tannins, the composed palate delivers bilberry, morello cherry, bay leaf, nutmeg and sous bois. Medium-bodied at 14%, the fleshy entry continues through an urbane mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
To be continued…
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages