Brunello, which hails from one of the four original controlled designations of origin in Italy, must be composed entirely of sangiovese and spend two years in wooden barrels. When it finally hits the shelves, the prices are usually more than $50. These wines can age and require years to fully mature. It is an investment of both time and money.
However, if patience is not your virtue, you can get a taste of Brunello by trying a Rosso di Montalcino from a very good Brunello producer. Rosso di Montalcino must also be made from sangiovese within the confines of the town and its permitted surrounding areas.
Since it only has to be aged for one year, with at least six months in oak, it is ready for drinking earlier. Younger vines are often used, with the older selections going into Brunello. However, in poor vintages, some producers will forgo a Brunello bottling and put all of the best fruit into their Rosso. On the other hand, years with high yields may result in Rosso bottlings receiving prized fruit. Here are three selections from top Brunello producers to seek out.
Campi di Fonterenza, Pettirosso, 2011: Though Campi di Fonterenza is technically not a Rosso di Montalcino, I’m going to let this one slide because it is just too good not to share. Founded by two sisters, Francesca and Margarita Padovani, this organic and biodynamic winery is one of the region’s best producers hands down, on par with the names that have ruled Montalcino for decades. It was aged in stainless-steel tanks for 18 months, giving it a real purity of red fruits and minerality. Suggested retail: $25
Azienda Lisini Rosso di Montalcino, 2011: The Lisini family is one of the most respected in Montalcino, having been among the early founders of the Brunello Consortium in 1963. An old-school producer, Azienda Lisini’s wines have always been made traditionally, with hand-harvested grapes and extended maceration. The same vineyards are used in all its wines with the best fruit going into the Brunellos. Fermented in cement vats and aged in Slovenian oak for six months, Lisini’s Rosso has body and flesh but at the same time is light, supple and juicy. Suggested retail: $30
Castello di Argiano Sesti Rosso di Montalcino, 2010: Not to be confused with Cantina Argiano, this is a small estate that, while not biodynamic, has been incorporating moon cycles into its viticulture regimen for decades. Aged in oak for 16 months, this really is a baby Brunello, with brooding cherry fruit, dried herbs and mushrooms. Suggested retail: $39
Some of these wines can be found at Bay Area retailers Biondivino and Solano Cellars.
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com.