Gently rolling hills dominate the landscape of Tuscany, famous for its medieval towns, wine vineyards, striking cathedrals, and the birthplace of renowned artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci. Amongst this beauty and history lies Montalcino, home to one of Italy’s most renowned wines, Brunello Di Montalcino. The village of Montalcino sits high up on a hill with vineyards sloping down into the valley.
Montalcino is a small wine region comprised of 60,000 acres of olive groves, forests, and farmland, of which 3500 acres are devoted to wine vineyards. There are roughly 250 wineries here that produce Brunello di Montalcino.
Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first-ever DOCG designation (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) in 1980, and it is considered one of Italy’s most famous and distinguished wines. DOCG is the highest designation given under the Italian wine law. Brunello di Montalcino is made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape, (named ‘Brunello’ in Montalcino). The skin of the Sangiovese grape is thick and tends to deliver fruit-forward wine with bright acidity and high tannins. Of course, climate, soil, and production play a big part in the wine’s outcome.
The climate in Montalcino is warm and dry, typical Mediterranean weather. Vineyards are planted up to 500 meters in elevation, with north-facing slopes experiencing a cooler microclimate and more winds. In contrast, the southern and western facing slopes are exposed to extreme sunlight and maritime breezes. The vines are planted in various soils such as limestone, clay, schist, volcanic soil, and galestro, which is schistous clay soil commonly found in most of Tuscany’s best vineyards. All of these elements contribute to the difference in quality, complexity, and character of the wine.
Nestled amongst the hills in a setting worthy of a painting sits one of the original estates of Montalcino, Col D’Orcia, with a winemaking history that dates back to the 1700s. The estate’s name translates to “the hill overlooking the Orcia River” due to its position between the undulating hills of the Orcia River and Sant’Angelo in Colle.
The estate was sold to the Cinzano family in 1973. The estate only had a few hectares of vineyards at the time of purchase. Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, who now owns and manages the estate, took over Col D’Orcia in 1992. He increased his father’s plantings from 70 hectares to 150+ hectares today. And 108 of those hectares are dedicated to Sangiovese. In 2010 they began the process of converting their vineyards to organic. By 2013 all wines were certified organic. And today, it is the largest certified organic vineyard in Tuscany and the third-largest owner of Brunello vineyards in Montalcino.
The Count’s mission is to produce quality wines from these hills. He said, “Quality is the result of healthy fruit. We are not just winemakers; we are farmers. We grow grapes and practice biodiversity.” He pays his respect to mother nature and is always searching for excellence. His motivation to become organic was “not to change practices, but change the mindset of people by using a homeopathic and holistic approach; that is the greatest challenge to becoming organic. And the beauty of protecting this special environment is to pass it on to future generations.”
As mentioned above, Brunello di Montalcino is made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape. DOCG Regulations require that Brunello di Montalcino age for a minimum of two years in oak wooden barrels and at least four months in bottle before release. The Riserva wine must age at least six months in bottle and is released a year later onto the market. And, the wine can only be bottled in the location where it is produced.
I had the opportunity to taste the following wines with Count Cinzano. In addition to the five-star vintages of Brunello Di Montalcino, he included a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, another great vintage. All three wines are produced entirely with organically grown grapes farmed on the Col d’Orcia estate and bottled on location.
Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2016
This is a blend of all the Sangiovese vineyards on the estate. The wine is aged three years in 25, 50, and 75 hl. Slavonian and French oak casks and a minimum of one year in bottle before release. (hl is a hectolitre and equal to 100 liters,)
Nose: Floral, herbs, ripe red fruit, berries, and cherry notes.
Palate: Lush red fruit with cherry, plum, spice, herbs, and licorice. Medium tannins with fresh acidity and a long finish.
Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2013
The grapes for this wine are sourced from a single vineyard planted in 1974 comprised of seven hectares called Poggio al Vento, which means “windy hill.” The vines are influenced by the sea winds and the special soils of marl and limestone. This wine is only produced in the best vintages and is the icon of the estate. The Count said that the 2013 vintage was small but exceptional. The wine was aged for three years in 25 and 75hl in Slavonian and French oak barrels and for three years refinement in bottle.
Nose: Beautiful berry notes with spice, earth, and dark chocolate.
Palate: Complex and well-structured with rich fruit, herbs, anise, and edgy tannins. The Count said, “The next ten years will show the softness of tannins.”
Olmaia Cabernet Sauvignon Sant’Antimo DOC 2015
The grapes for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon come from a single vineyard, Olmaia, planted in 2005. The Count’s father originally planted Cabernet Sauvignon in 1984 on the hills of Montalcino, and the first harvest was in 1989. Sadly, his father passed away before the first vintage was produced. The Count remarked, “This wine expresses how special Montalcino is.” The wine is aged for 18 months in new French oak barriques and a small portion in American barrels, then another eight months in bottle.
Nose: Dark fruit, herbs, spice.
Palate: Rich and decadent with blackberries, black cherry, plum, herbs, spice, and chewy tannins (that will soften with aging.) A long and beautiful finish with notes of vanilla lingering.
Count Cinzano said, “These are wines made to serve with food. It is the concept of drinkability and enjoying wines with food.”
Here are some food pairing suggestions for the above wines: Aged cheese, meat dishes, stews, game, tomato-based pasta, grilled veggies, grilled portobello mushrooms, risotto with truffles, and dark chocolate for dessert.
Until next time…
Cheers and Buon appetito!
The feature photo is courtesy of Col d’Orcia.