Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The "big boys" of Tuscany

Friday, I posted about Tuscany, concentrating on Chianti; today's post is going to be about the big-name DOCG's in Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and their "little" DOC counterparts, Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano.

Again, as in the rest of Tuscany, the story here is all about Sangiovese. In the Brunello and Vino Nobile, the wine must be 100% Sangiovese -- to the point that, last year, there was a scandal involving a number of producers blending some Merlot into their wine (including Banfi, who are one of the biggest Brunello producers). People went to jail for it.

Yep, Italian wine is serious business!

Other requirements for Brunello include extended aging at the winery (release is 50 months after harvest; the "latest vintage" can be 5 years old), a very long maceration period -- the juice remains in contact with the skins of the grapes to add tannin and complexity to the wine. Brunello also sees a lot of time -- 3 years! -- in oak; admittedly, it's generally in large barrels, but some producers use small ones (which impart more flavor to the wine). It's rich, agable wine; even 5 years after harvest, the wine might still need a couple of years in the cellar to peak!

Anyhow, the other day, I had the opportunity to have some wine with several producers from Italy, including Maximo Sassetti, owner of Vasco Sassetti (who's label is pictured here). Between my very fractured Italian, and his only-slightly-better English, the wine had to talk for itself (although, I did get the impression that he was extremely happy with how his 2004's will be; I think he said it was "a year as good as 1997," which was a phenominal year for Brunell0). So, his 2003:

Clear garnet in the glass. Nose shows a ton of power, some expected cherry, but a bit of dark-roasted coffee and some meaty, bacon-like notes. Powerful flavors, cherry, blackberry, some plum, over cedary tannins, quite firm. Really, really tasty. A bit tannic, even now, but that will settle with time or decanting. Probably best between 2011 and 2017 or so. 91 points.

Similar wine is made about 25 miles away, in Montepulciano, where they call the Sangiovese "Prugnolo Gentile." Their wines are just a bit lighter than Brunello, seeing "only" 2 years in oak (3 years for a reserve), with a shorter maceration period, but still producing top-flight, rich wines with high ageability.

The one thing that holds most people back from Brunello is the cost -- Brunello starts about $30, and goes rather quickly up into "how much do you want to spend?" For Vino Nobile, the cost of admission is a bit lower -- around $20 or so. Still, either way, this is not cheap plonk. Knowing this, both regions also have a DOC "little brother" wine; their Rossos.

In the case of the Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano, the wines are made from younger vines (which produce less-intensely-flavored wine), using less time in oak and a shorter maceration. There's less "oomph" to the wine, more straightforward cherry and some plummy notes, just a bit of earthiness. These are what you drink while you're waiting for your Brunello and Vino Nobile to mature. Why? Because they're $15 to $30 -- the price of an expensive bottle of Chianti!

Given the complexity of what I've laid out, it would seem that Montalcino and Montepulciano are a minefield of difficult wine, but not really; even in a mediocre or outright "bad" year (like, say, 2002 for Montalcino), the wine is still pretty good (and often much less expensive than in a good year), and although different producers have some different styles to their wine... Brunello and Vino Nobile are all DOCG, so there's got to be a base level of quality and consistant regional style. So you can be confident in the wine, and that's really a good value!

So, next time you're cooking a roast of beef with an herb rub... skip the Cabernet Sauvignon, and consider Tuscany for your wine!

Photo from Ego-vino.de.

No comments:

Post a Comment