Montalcino: time to get in the zone

Forget blending scandals and infighting over the make-up of Rosso – the biggest issue facing Brunello di Montalcino is the creation of subzones. Kerin O’Keefe argues that consumers need better guidance around what is a vast region of hugely variable styles – and quality.

If Brunello di Montalcino’s 2008 grape blending scandal proved anything, it was that the region’s native Sangiovese excels only in certain areas of the vast growing zone. Why else would producers be tempted to adulterate it with other varieties?

It is surely no coincidence that since the scandal, which was effectively swept under the rug in 2009, there has been an attempt to change Brunello’s rigid production code to allow other grapes, as well as two efforts to modify Rosso di Montalcino – reportedly launched by some of the denomination’s largest firms. The efforts failed.

Now a number of producers are arguing that, rather than allowing other grapes to bolster wines hailing from inferior vineyards, it is instead time to recognise quality by creating official subzones. Summertime temperatures can vary by up to 7°C between Montalcino’s northern and southern extremes, and a dizzying array of altitudes range from just above sea level to more than 500m. Montalcino also boasts one of the most complex and diverse soil profiles in Italy, and all of these factors have a marked effect on the performance of the temperamental Sangiovese. Despite such obvious differences, or perhaps because of them, the powers that be in Montalcino continue to ignore pleas from a growing number of parties to officially acknowledge Montalcino’s varied subzones.

Read the article: Montalcino: time to get in the zone

A Rosso by any other name

Rosso di Montalcino used to be a light, simple quaffer, not a rich powerhouse like its big brother, Brunello. So why are so many Rossos now being made in this stronger style, asks Kerin O’Keefe.

Monstrous tannins, alcohol levels reaching 14.5% and made exclusively with 100% Sangiovese? Only one wine should fit this description: Brunello di Montalcino.
But Rosso di Montalcino, often called Brunello’s fratellino (baby brother), and created as the denomination’s second wine to be consumed young, often shares many of the qualities once reserved for the hilltop town’s most illustrious bottling. While sibling rivalry is nothing new in the Italian wine world, it is perhaps the first time the term applies to two wines made with the same grape from the same denomination. So why are so many Rossos now powerhouses, with
almost Brunello-like structures?

Read the article: A Rosso by any other name

Brunello’s Moment of Truth

While the notion of terroir has been both celebrated and ridiculed in some of the world’s greatest wine-producing areas, one of Italy’s most illustrious denominations has instead chosen to ignore it—until now.  Kerin O’Keefe discovers Montalcino’s unofficial subzones.

Majestic. Elegant. Powerful. Long-lived. Expensive. Rare. All these adjectives have been applied to Brunello di Montalcino by the world’s leading wine authorities, from Cyril Ray to Burton Anderson, but may soon be supplemented by another much less positive—overflowing. Due to massive overplanting, Brunello production is now on the brink of exploding, which has pushed the long-neglected question of Brunello’s tipicità to the forefront, as Montalcino winemakers search for ways to protect Brunello’s identity and prestige from the perils posed by a saturated market. As areas previously considered unsuitable for winemaking are cultivated, many producers feel the time has come to recognize officially Montalcino’s greatly varied subzones and to curb vinification techniques that render a more international style.

Read the article:  “Brunello’s Moment of Truth” (PDF). The World of Fine Wine (2006, 11): 74–80.