A tasting of Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino

I’ve long been a fan of the wine – despite not really drinking that much of it – a bottle here and there, since I’ve lived away from Europe; but it took a reading of a book (during one of Auckland’s endless lockdowns last year) to really rekindle my interest in this majestic red wine.

I can definitely recommend ‘Vanilla Beans and Brodo – Real Life in the Hills of Tuscany’ by Isabella Dusi as a book that gets under the skin of Tuscany. Vaguely in the style of Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ but with a more sober edge to it, it tells an enticing tale of the wines and people of this tiny hilltop town. So much so that Mrs WineFolio and I are planning (again) a trip to Tuscany for 2024.

At $80 a head for the tasting, Caro’s certainly isn’t a cheap way to spend an hour of a dismal winter evening; but filled with dumplings and Mongolian Beef, it’s certainly not a trial to work through eight of the region’s producers wines. Starting at Rosso, then through Brunello, Riserva, and a final ‘single vineyard’ expression of the uniquely Montalcino variant of Sangiovese.

Brunello presentation

The wines were:

  • Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2019
  • Canalicchio di Sopra Rosso di Montalcino 2020
  • Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2017
  • Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2017
  • Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 2017
  • Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ‘Vigna Paganelli’ 2016
  • Lisini Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ‘Ugolaia’ 2016
  • Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino ‘La Casaccia’ 2017

Really I’m here to try the wines made by the family of Primo Pacenti in the tiny hamlet of Canalicchio, but the other two producers offer the opportunity to taste wines from a different sub-region, and much larger estates. I’m struck by how much pricier the wines have become over the last few years, but also a rise in quality I think in the Rosso di Montalcino wines. Time was these were rarely drunk at home – they were wines you could afford to drink in a restaurant, when the Brunello was often out of price range. But you drank Brunello at home.

Rossos have a reputation as easy to drink, bright and approachable wines; with a softness to the texture and, importantly, to the tannins and structure. Brunello stays a long time in barrel – it is required to be only released in the 4th year after harvest. Large format, neutral oak.. but still barrels, and require a decade in bottle to become balanced and enjoyable. So, the Rosso wines are at an entry level to the wines of the region, and offer a delicious introduction. These two are flush with red cherry, plum and spice. You could keep these for a few years and they would improve, but are definitely wines for the short-term.

Brunello glass

The Brunello di Montalcino are a step up. Although many would now argue that a ‘Super Tuscan’ wine is the pinnacle of reds from the area, Brunello still sets a benchmark, and has an important historical flag to wave.

The Il Poggione wines are bigger, with an emphasis on toasty oak and richness; the Canalicchio di Sopra showing more elegance and cool-climate fruit. There’s a shyness on the nose, but a palate that is beautifully poised with cassis, damson and blueberry. A class act. The Lisini sits somewhere in between. Robust and energetic – generous even, but with a smooth texture.

For the two Riservas, it is the Il Poggione again that fronts up as you approach the wines. A surge of smoky and intense aromas – which, interestingly, change gear over the course of the hour spent tasting, and become less blowsy. The ‘Vigna Paganelli’ is sold out, but I could be persuaded to look around for a bottle of that. Possibly a contender for an earlier-drinking Brunello Riserva – a rare thing. The Lisini ‘Ugolaia’ is also a 2016 – a great vintage – and shows a well-defined nutty, rich, spiciness with a long finish.

We finish with a single vineyard expression – less than 4000 bottles were made of ‘La Casaccia’ from Canalicchio di Sopra. With a drive and tension in the palate that stands out even over the excellent Riservas, this is a wine for the Cellar. Full-bodied, sleek and pristine, but with a streak of minerality and elegance in unison, that is only found in the very best from Montalcino. A cool year and a small harvest have perhaps resulted in a wine that will last for a generation.

Brunello bottles

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