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Bottled up: Want a wine that will grow old gracefully? Look to the Brunello region in Italy
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Bottled up: Want a wine that will grow old gracefully? Look to the Brunello region in Italy

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Literally translating as the “blood of Jove," a reference to the Ancient Roman god, Jupiter, Sangiovese is a popular thin-skinned grape varietal common throughout Tuscany and in productions of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. This wine is one of my favorites and if you haven’t had a sip I’m sure you’ll soon agree.

Located about two hours south of Florence, the southern Tuscany region of Brunello di Montalcino was initially established by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi (name sound familiar? We’ll get to that in a moment) in the 1870s.

Covering an area of about 3,000 acres and about 1,800 feet above sea level, the sloping hills that make up the region’s terrain are also what make its grape growing some of the most spectacular. In this region the primary grapes grown are Sangiovese and primarily red productions created.  Because of its southern positioning, grapes ripen effectively and harness the clay and limestone soils found in the region, and the Monte Amiata to the southeast allow for protection from intense storms and hail which could damage the grapes during cultivation. Great care is taken during production as the southern climate that makes these grapes flavorful and robust also can cause them to be easily sunburnt and harm the flavor profiles in the final wine.

Brunello di Montalcino wines can fetch high prices at wine auctions and that isn’t without unjust cause. Because their acreage covers a relatively small area, a smaller quantity is produced and with Brunello di Montalcino wines, strict aging requirements must be adhered to before they are ready for consumption.

For Brunello wines, Italian wine law dictates that the wines must be aged for two years in oak and a total of five years. For Riserva classified wines, they must be aged for at least two years in oak and a total of six years before they are released for consumption. Aged in traditionally Slavonian oak barrels, this imparts flavors of leather and dried fruits on the already tannic Sangiovese grape allowing the wines to age elegantly in the bottle for many years in cellars and develop astute complexities.  These are some great wines to hold onto for many years before enjoying! I recommend buying at least four bottles of any Brunello you enjoy, this way you can taste the wine as it continues to evolve and you’ll have a very special surprise every five years or so.

Tasting “new” vs. aged Brunello you will most certainly notice the profound differences, much like people. Younger Brunellos pack a punch and are filled with sassy and bold fresh fruit flavors of blackberry, cherry, raspberry, violet and espresso. As the wines continue to age, they develop additional layers of complexity and their harsh tannins begin to ease in your glass to reveal more dried fruits, leather, hazelnut, dried floral, and spice. As these wines continue to age you will also notice the difference in color in your glass, from bright ruby purple hues to that of an orange red color.

Most commonly with Brunello di Montalcino wines, I recommend holding on these for 10-20 years before enjoying or finding a great wine auction with some older vintages on-hand.

Food pairing with Brunello wines is fun and exciting as there are so many nuances within the wine that can be highlighted, complemented or showcased.  Aged Brunello wines will boast earthy, undertones and can pair wonderfully with wild mushrooms, porcini, or morels. Try adding to your favorite savory risotto with milder bleu cheeses like Gorgonzola and you’ll be in love. While it may seem obvious, tomato-based dishes also do a great job complementing the fruit-forward qualities of young Brunello di Montalcino. Look for something like roast leg of lamb finished with rich and savory tomato sauce, garlic, anchovy, and olives or Tuscan-style steak with rosemary and herbs.  Also, with a modest, yet hearty Minestrone and Brunello, can’t go wrong.

In the market from some great Brunello?  Keep your eyes out for the following producers among others:

  • Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino ($200+)
  • Il Poggione ($125)
  • Poggio Antico ($65)
  • Banfi ($60-$70)
  • Silvio Nardi ($130)
  • Fattoria le Pupille ($30)
  • Col D’Orcia ($50)

Note: Price can vary tremendously based on vintage.  Older, better vintages from these producers can double and sometimes triple the price.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.

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