Maturing Brunello di Montalcino
All wines from all over the world require a certain time in bottle to reach their sensory peak. That peak may be incredibly soon and just after bottling, like with Beaujolais Nouveau for instance. Holding onto a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau for years will do nothing to increase the enjoyment of the wine in the bottle as the wines should be drunk immediately. Some wines however, spend years maturing in barrel and then need another ten years in bottle before reaching their finest expression, one such wine is Brunello di Montalcino.
As with everything in life (and in wine) there isn't a one size fits all appellation/drinking window pocket book where you can be sure that if you hold on to a wine for exactly X years it will be at its absolute best, for even within one appellation, and in this case Brunello di Montalcino, there are different amounts of time you should mature different wines from this region. Wines from the same producer from the same plot may require different time in bottle depending on the vintage; its a minefield, but one that can be navigated with the right strategies and today we will teach you those strategies.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how long to age Brunello di Montalcino, lets just catch up on the full story of Brunello including geography, history, winemaking and more.
Introduction to Brunello di Montalcino
In the heart of Tuscany, Italy, lies the picturesque town of Montalcino, renowned for its exquisite vineyards and the production of one of Italy's most celebrated wines—Brunello di Montalcino. With a rich history dating back centuries, this captivating wine has captured the hearts of wine enthusiasts around the world. Join us on a journey through time as we explore the fascinating origins, development, and enduring legacy of Brunello di Montalcino.
The story of Brunello di Montalcino can be traced back to the times of the Etruscans, an ancient civilization that inhabited the region around Montalcino as early as the 9th century BC. They recognised the region's favorable climate and soil conditions, which proved ideal for viticulture. However, it wasn't until the 14th century that the modern viticultural history of Montalcino began to take shape.
Birth of Brunello
The 19th century marked a turning point for the development of Brunello di Montalcino. A local farmer and scholar named Clemente Santi dedicated himself to experimenting with Sangiovese grapes, the primary grape variety in the region. Through careful selection and clonal development, Santi succeeded in creating a wine that showcased the exceptional quality and unique characteristics of the Sangiovese grape.
The first recorded vintage of Brunello di Montalcino was produced in 1888 by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, the grandson of Clemente Santi. This vintage would go on to redefine the perception of Italian wines on the international stage.
Denomination of Origin
Brunello di Montalcino's reputation continued to grow, and in 1966, it became the first Italian wine to be awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status. This recognition affirmed the distinctiveness and exceptional quality of the wine, further cementing its place among the finest wines of Italy.
Rise to International Prominence
During the latter half of the 20th century, Brunello di Montalcino gained international acclaim for its elegance, complexity, and age-worthiness. Wine critics and enthusiasts alike were captivated by the wine's ability to age gracefully while retaining its vibrant fruit flavours and distinctive terroir-driven characteristics.
In 1980, Brunello di Montalcino achieved the highest level of wine classification in Italy, receiving Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. This recognition placed Brunello di Montalcino on par with other esteemed Italian wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco.
Modern Era and Quality Assurance
The turn of the 21st century brought a renewed focus on quality assurance and viticultural practices in Montalcino. Winemakers embraced modern techniques while respecting the region's traditional winemaking heritage. Stringent regulations were put in place to ensure that Brunello di Montalcino maintains its reputation as a premium wine.
The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, established in 1967, plays a crucial role in safeguarding the authenticity and quality of Brunello wines. They enforce strict regulations regarding grape cultivation, winemaking processes, aging requirements, and labeling. This commitment to quality has helped Brunello di Montalcino retain its status as one of the world's most prestigious wines.
The Present and Future
Today, Brunello di Montalcino continues to captivate wine enthusiasts worldwide. The wine is typically characterised by its intense ruby red colour, complex aromas of dark fruits, spices, and earthy undertones, and a full-bodied, well-structured palate.
Now you know a little more about Brunello, lets look at why we would to mature it at all?
The Sensory Cycle of Brunello
In its early years, Brunello di Montalcino exudes a vibrant and youthful character. Within the first few years of release, the wine displays an intense ruby colour with a slight garnet hue. On the nose, it showcases lively aromas of ripe red cherries, berries, and plums, often accompanied by floral notes of violets and roses. The palate delights with a fresh, fruit-forward profile, vibrant acidity, and well-integrated tannins that lend structure to the wine.
As Brunello di Montalcino ages, it embarks on a journey of complexity, gradually revealing the nuances and intricacies that make it so revered. Around the 5 to 10-year mark, the wine's colour deepens, transitioning into a captivating garnet shade, hinting at the depth within. The aromatic profile expands, offering an enchanting bouquet of dried fruits, leather, tobacco, and earthy undertones. These secondary and tertiary aromas mingle with the remaining fruit notes, creating a symphony of scents.
With extended aging, the flavours of Brunello di Montalcino continue to evolve, enchanting the palate with a harmonious blend of diverse elements. The initial fruitiness gives way to flavours of dried cherries, tomato leaf, plums, and figs, which are complemented by hints of spice, balsamic, and herbs. The wine's tannins, once firm and assertive, gradually soften, becoming velvety and integrated, further enhancing the wine's texture and mouthfeel. The long, lingering finish leaves a delightful memory of the wine's complexity and depth.
Around the 15-year mark and beyond, Brunello di Montalcino reaches its peak, showcasing the pinnacle of elegance, balance, and refinement. The wine's colour deepens further, transitioning into a captivating brick red or mahogany hue, hinting at its age and maturity. The aromatic profile becomes incredibly complex, with notes of dried flowers, tobacco, leather, forest floor, and subtle hints of truffle. On the palate, the wine's flavours have fully integrated, seamlessly blending with a velvety texture, polished tannins, and a captivating finesse that can only come from years of careful aging.
Brunello di Montalcino's remarkable aging potential allows it to be enjoyed throughout different stages of its development. Whether sipped in its youthful exuberance or savored in its glorious maturity, each phase offers a unique and captivating experience. Collectors and enthusiasts are rewarded with a wine that tells a story of time and place, reflecting the exceptional terroir and the skilled craftsmanship that went into its creation.
Maturing Brunello di Montalcino
The sensory cycle of Brunello should have illustrated just why it is worth letting Barolo mature, but how long should you mature the wine?
The length of time you should mature a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino to drink during its peak and optimum drinking window will depend on how the wine was produced in the first place. As a rule of thumb, Riserva Brunellos from top end producers in the best vintages are going to require the longest time in bottle and non Riserva wines, from poor vintages and unknown producers are likely going to need the least amount of time in bottle to reach their peak.
This is because wines with good acidity and tannins, who have spent more time in cask, need more time in bottle to integrate to reach their peak. This is why understanding the whole journey of your wine, the vintage, the altitude of the vines, the production methods and the vinification techniques that may be unique to that producer can all give hints as to the optimum time to open the bottle. What factors are important to know when working out the drinking window of a Brunello di Montalcino?
The journey of Brunello di Montalcino begins in the vineyard, where careful cultivation techniques are employed to ensure the highest quality grapes. The region's hilly landscape, with its varied elevations and microclimates, provides an ideal setting for Sangiovese grapes to thrive. Vineyards are typically positioned at altitudes between 150 and 500 meters, allowing for optimal sun exposure and temperature variations.
Grapes are meticulously hand-harvested at their peak ripeness, usually in late September or early October. This manual selection ensures that only the finest grapes, free from imperfections, are chosen for vinification.
Upon reaching the winery, the selected grapes are destemmed and gently crushed to release their juice, skins, and seeds. The process of maceration follows, during which the grape juice remains in contact with the skins to extract colour, tannins, and flavour compounds. This period can last from two to four weeks, depending on the desired characteristics of the final wine.
Following maceration, the fermentation process begins with the addition of select yeast strains. Fermentation typically takes place in temperature-controlled stainless steel or wooden fermentation vats, allowing winemakers to regulate the temperature and ensure optimal extraction and preservation of aromas.
Aging and Maturation
One of the hallmarks of Brunello di Montalcino is its extensive aging process. Italian wine regulations mandate that Brunello di Montalcino must be aged for a minimum of five years before release, with at least two of those years spent in oak barrels.
The wine is first aged in traditional large Slovenian oak casks, known as botti, which vary in size from 10 to 30 hectoliters. These barrels impart subtle oak flavours and allow the wine to slowly develop and mature. After the initial aging period, Brunello di Montalcino undergoes further refinement in smaller oak barrels, often French oak barriques, which intensify the wine's complexity.
Final Stages and Bottling
Once the aging process is complete, the wine is assessed by the winemaker. If the wine meets the strict quality standards, it is then prepared for bottling. Brunello di Montalcino is traditionally bottled in the distinctive Bordeaux-shaped bottles and sealed with a cork closure to ensure the ideal aging potential.
After bottling, the wine is given a further period of rest in the cellar to harmonise and integrate its flavours. Finally, Brunello di Montalcino is ready to be enjoyed, either immediately or after additional years of bottle age and it's here that you need to make a decision on how long to age your particular bottle.
Knowing what you do about the producer, the vinification techniques and the vintage you should be able to make an estimate as to when the wine will reach its peak based on that information plus your previous experience in drinking Brunello.
One way to improve your drinking window assessment skills is to buy wine in cases. It's likely, if you have a good Brunello from a top producer in a great vintage that you should not be opening that bottle when they arrive at your door. Rather, buy a case, wait 5-6 years and then try a bottle. If the bottle is still tannic and dense and lacking any tertiary characteristics, then wait another 4-5 years to open the next bottle. However, perhaps you like your Brunello young, in which case, drink the lot!
Failing all that, look for a review by a wine critic on the bottle in hand, they frequently report on drinking windows and look for their most recent reviews as a bottle that was once thought to last decades, may have evolved quicker than originally predicted.
So you're convinced maturing Brunello is a good idea and you know what to look for when deciding when to pop the cork, but what do you need to mature Brunello well? It's not enough to buy a case and leave it next to the radiator in direct sunlight for the next ten years (please don't do that!).... you need a wine fridge or a cellar because there are lots of ways our wine might spoil over the next ten years without one.
Best Wine Fridges for Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino is bottled in Bordeaux style wine bottles. That's incredibly handy if you have a wine fridge or are buying a wine fridge as all wine fridge capacities are measured in Bordeaux bottles and they are the optimum shape for stacking and making the most of the space in your freestanding wine fridge. This means that literally any wine fridge on the market will be able to store Brunello di Montalcino efficiently in the space, however not all of them can 'mature' it.
For those wishing to mature Brunello di Montalcino you'll need a wine storage cabinet. Wine cabinets reproduce the ideal environments, like an underground cellar, for wine to mature. Many come with solid doors to reproduce the darkness, for wines age faster when exposed to UV light, and those with glass doors and UV protected. They have carbon filters to combat bad odours spoiling the wines through the corks. They will have anti-vibration technology so the sediment is undisturbed and finally, they are temperature and humidity controlled to stop premature ageing or the corks drying out; oxidation. Some of the best wine cabinets on the market are from Liebherr whose new GrandCru range offer superb protection for your maturing Brunello di Montalcino.
Best Brunello di Montalcino Producers
If you're looking to mature Brunello di Montalcino then you probably have bottles from some of the producers below already tucked away. If you're looking for recommendations then check out the best producers below;
No discussion of Brunello di Montalcino would be complete without mentioning Biondi-Santi, the historic estate credited with the creation of Brunello di Montalcino. Founded in the late 19th century, Biondi-Santi has maintained the tradition of crafting wines of exceptional quality. Their long aging process in large oak casks allows their wines to develop incredible complexity and the ability to age gracefully for decades. Biondi-Santi's Brunello di Montalcino is a benchmark for the region and continues to inspire generations of winemakers.
Casanova di Neri
Casanova di Neri has risen to prominence as one of the top producers in Brunello di Montalcino. Guided by the meticulous winemaking philosophy of Giacomo Neri, the estate produces powerful yet elegant wines. Casanova di Neri's commitment to sustainable practices and vineyard management ensures the production of grapes of exceptional quality. Their flagship wine, the Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova, is a testament to their pursuit of excellence, with its harmonious balance of fruit, structure, and finesse.
Valdicava is another esteemed producer that has gained recognition for its exceptional Brunello di Montalcino wines. The estate, under the guidance of owner Vincenzo Abbruzzese, adheres to traditional winemaking methods and employs organic farming practices. Valdicava's Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano exemplifies their commitment to excellence, displaying intense aromatics, complexity, and a remarkable aging potential. Each vintage reflects the unique terroir and showcases the estate's unwavering dedication to quality.
Il Poggione, a historic winery established in the late 19th century, has been instrumental in shaping the reputation of Brunello di Montalcino. Their wines exhibit a perfect balance between tradition and innovation. Il Poggione's Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli is a standout, displaying remarkable structure, depth, and a vibrant expression of Sangiovese. With their vast vineyard holdings and attention to detail, Il Poggione consistently delivers wines that captivate wine lovers worldwide.
Argiano, located in the southwestern part of Montalcino, is celebrated for its refined and elegant Brunello di Montalcino wines. The estate combines traditional winemaking techniques with modern advancements to produce wines that embody the essence of the region. Argiano's commitment to sustainability is evident in their vineyard management practices, which prioritise biodiversity and respect for the environment. Their Brunello di Montalcino offers a seamless integration of fruit, structure, and complexity, making it a testament to their dedication to quality.
So there you go, you know what Brunello di Montalcino is, where it is, its history, the factors that impact its ability to mature, how to mature it and which bottles to buy. You're all set.