Filippo Magnani marvels at Montalcino and its marvellously mature wines, and salivates at the local expression of the Sangiovese grape variety.
The village of Montalcino, assisted by the outstanding organization of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, hosted ‘Benvenuto Brunello’, dedicated to the new vintages of this famous wine, from 11th to 21st November. The 2022 edition gathered an important cross-section of wine writers, journalists, bloggers and members of the trade from around the world to present Rosso di Montalcino 2021, Brunello 2018 and Brunello Riserva 2017. In all, it featured 137 wineries and 300 ready-to-taste labels, set to be released on the market from January 2023.
For the first time, on 17th November, ‘Brunello Day’ made its debut simultaneously in the cities of London, New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto. The last three days of the event in Montalcino were open to the public, providing a unique opportunity for wine lovers to enjoy themselves in this increasingly innovative and prestigious region, and furthermore to get a chance to meet its brilliant producers.
A unique terroir channelling the pure expression of Sangiovese
The growing zone of Brunello corresponds to the area around the municipality of Montalcino, a picturesque village located just 40km south of Siena, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and historical sites. The Montalcino region comprises 3,500 hectares of vineyards registered under the DOC and DOCG designations. It takes the shape of a square, around the town, and it’s really interesting to go through the mesoclimatic differences in such a small area.
Montalcino is a relatively dry area that encompasses a multitude of combinations of mesoclimates and soils. In general terms, the grapes grown in the cooler northern areas of the DOCG tend to ripen more slowly. These vineyard sites are located at fairly high elevations on hills (but never over 600 metres) and they are planted in gravelly Galestro soil. On the southern side, the grapes grow in quite another environment, where the soils are richer, like clay, and the sunlight is more intense, sea breezes blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the wines are more powerful. In addition, there’s the presence in the south of Mount Amiata (1,740m), which exerts an important influence by shielding the vineyards from strong atmospheric phenomena and providing breezes that help to keep the climate dry and the vines healthy.
Sangiovese Grosso, the fingerprint of Brunello
Brunello di Montalcino is a 100% Sangiovese-based wine that needs long periods of ageing before reaching its peak, but once reached, it represents a true champion of balance, complexity, and maturity. Sangiovese is the only grape permitted in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Rosso DOC. It is a very sensitive indigenous grape and one of the highest quality varieties to require careful attention, both in the vineyard and winery.
Sangiovese is a variety that exudes fragrant notes of cherry and plum, hints of spice and an extraordinary texture. The natural tannic structure and high acidity levels of Sangiovese are the main factors in its longevity. It performs differently in each site and changes depending on its environment. The terroir combined with the passing of time has always given elegant wines with perfectly balanced and rich aromas. Brunello di Montalcino never fails to surprise. It’s an example of a wine that brings impressive quality year after year and every vintage reveals a different profile of the beauty of the Sangiovese variety, revealing a different nuance of its character each time.
A successful wine story
The road that leads Montalcino to be the phenomenon that it is today is fraught with difficulty, resilience, and ultimately speaks of a success that has no equal in Italian wine. Many players, local producers, important winemakers and wine families from other regions and even international investors all produce Brunello from the same grape, under the same strict rules and with the same quality objectives. The shared path and consistency of nature at its best is perhaps the greatest strength and energy of the ascent, and subsequent permanence of Brunello di Montalcino among the wines that can be defined as legendary. The echo of success, in the last 50 years, is continually expanding and there is no oenophile that doesn’t proudly display Brunello wines on their precious wine shelf.
Today, the popularity of Brunello di Montalcino continues to surge on world markets, thanks to its sharply rising average price, a good hold on volumes, and further growth in strategic markets – witnessing a boom in demand over the last two years. The results are noted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, in the release of data recorded by the new price observatory on sales over the first nine months of the year. According to the sample of wineries, accounting for 28% of designation sales, the growth trend in September registers +21.5% in terms of value, with a leap in average prices of Vintage and Riserva products – now close to €27 per bottle ex-cellar (+14%, with peaks of over 24% in the USA) – well beyond the inflationary push. Also, on the rise, surprisingly for a not very rich last vintage (2017), are the volumes, up by 6%. The projection over the 12 months of 2022, according to the consortium, should bring a total value of Brunello sales close to €250 million. Numbers for Rosso di Montalcino are also up, with rises in both value (+20%) and volume (+9%).
In Italy, it is known by two out of three consumers, surpassing the fame of even the nearby Super Tuscans. This is according to data collected by Wine Intelligence, which analysed the strength and recognizability of the 46 main Italian appellations. Domestic demand is buoyant, confirmed as strongly rising and now representing about one-third of the entire market, thanks to growth in volumes of over 17%, with values at +31%. Overall, in the first nine months of this year, nearly 7 million bottles of Brunello di Montalcino were sold between the Vintage, Vigna (i.e., single-vineyard) and Riserva categories, the latter being the protagonist of a very strong increase over the same period in 2021.
Montalcino, a dream wine travel destination in Tuscany
Montalcino was a very important stop on Via Francigena, a road that ran from Britain to Rome and, therefore, it welcomed and hosted important men of power, such as nobles, politicians and popes. The great wines of Montalcino were crafted to satisfy the illustrious visitors who were traveling to reach the Eternal City, and that’s why the hamlet has always displayed superior quality winemaking for centuries.
Montalcino today is internationally affirmed as an authentic, high-end wine destination. Visiting Montalcino is not just about tasting. It has to do with the history of its people, and it helps you to understand why wine is so integrated into the culture of its inhabitants, who from generation to generation continue to pass on their passion and know-how. The town welcomes many visitors and hospitality has become just as important as the attention to its wine. Accordingly, visitors are housed in ancient buildings, modern B&Bs, luxurious accommodation within the wine estates and impeccable hotels.
The cellars are open to all visitors and the experiences to be enjoyed are numerous. It is possible for visitors to choose the itinerary that best suits their own needs, and each chosen path knows how to leave its mark. The rolling hills of Montalcino are also the setting for two important sporting events, whereby professional, competitive, and amateur cyclists and walkers can take up the challenge or try their hand at routes of different levels of intensity and difficulty: the Brunello Crossing (for walkers) and L’Eroica (for cyclists), for example.