Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines

Kerin O’Keefe
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Brunello di Montalcino
    Book Description:

    For fans of Italian wine, few names command the level of respect accorded to Brunello di Montalcino. Expert wine writer Kerin O’Keefe has a deep personal knowledge of Tuscany and its extraordinary wine, and her account is both thoroughly researched and readable. Organized as a guided tour through Montalcino’s geography, this essential reference also makes sense of Brunello’s complicated history, from its rapid rise to the negative and positive effects of the 2008 grape-blending scandal dubbed "Brunellogate." O’Keefe also provides in-depth profiles of nearly sixty leading producers of Brunello.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95218-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Of Italy’s twenty regions, none hold more fascination than Tuscany, with its rolling countryside thickly carpeted with vines and olive trees, and with its hilltowns topped with ancient castles and fortresses. Though parts of the region have not been immune to industrialization and development, much of Tuscany’s quintessential landscape looks remarkably the same as it did when its hills and cypress trees were celebrated in numerous fourteenth-and fifteenth-century paintings. The cradle of the Renaissance as well as the birthplace of what has become the Italian language, Tuscany is also Italy’s most internationally renowned wine-producing region, home to some of the...


    • ONE Montalcino
      (pp. 9-18)

      Brunello’s entire production area centers on the expansive commune of Montalcino. This medieval hilltop town, whose name derives from the Italian translation of the Latin Mons Ilcinus (Mount Ilex), the ancient Latin name of the hill on which the town perches, and referring to the ilex or holm oak trees that still populate the surrounding woods, lies roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Siena and just over 40 kilometers (25 miles) as the crow flies from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Montalcino occupies a central position within the Province of Siena, though it is far away from busy roads and immersed...

    • TWO Temperamental Sangiovese: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
      (pp. 19-37)

      The next step to understanding Brunello is to look at Sangiovese, the sole grape allowed in Brunello di Montalcino. Though a grape with attitude—stubborn, temperamental, and difficult to tame—under the right conditions Sangiovese can yield inimitable, world-class wines, making this late-ripening variety one of Italy’s most noble native vines. And although it is the country’s best-documented grape, it is also the most controversial—even after a century and a half of academic studies, including recent DNA profiles, in many ways Sangiovese remains a mystery. There is still no definite word on the grape’s precise origins, and Sangiovese’s dizzying...

    • THREE Birth of a New Wine
      (pp. 38-48)

      Brunello di Montalcino is far younger than its once more eminent neighbors, which have been vaunted for several centuries or even two millennia. For example, Montepulciano was already referred to over two thousand years ago when Livy wrote in hisHistory of Romethat the Gauls had been lured to the area because of Montepulciano’s wines; and eighth-and fourteenth-century documents attest to Montepulciano’s thriving wine industry, producing what we now call Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Chianti also has a long, rich history. The area’s famous wines spurred Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to delimit the Chianti...

    • FOUR Brunello Comes of Age
      (pp. 49-60)

      Information for the late 1950s and early 1960s is scarce and fragmented, but according to local history, between ten and fifteen growers were cultivating Brunello grapes by the close of the 1950s and a few more producers effectively joined ranks with Biondi Santi and Fattoria dei Barbi by eventually making and bottling the wine, including Poggio alle Mura, then owned by the Mastropaolo family, and II Poggione. Brunello’s growing production and fame coincided with Italy’s first serious effort at reining in the nation’s fragmented and hitherto largely uncontrolled wine sector. In 1966, Brunello was among the first tier of elite...

    • FIVE Boom Years and the Loss of Tipicità
      (pp. 61-69)

      By the 1980s and 1990s, when more and more affluent Italians, foreigners, and highly successful wine producers from other parts of Tuscany, such as the Frescobaldis and later the Antinoris, were investing in Montalcino’s golden slopes, parcels and plots of land in the original growing areas around Montalcino had become increasingly difficult to acquire. Many turned their attention to the more southern areas lying between Tavernelle and Sant’Angelo, as well as to the southwest around the hamlet of Camigliano and to Castelnuovo dell’Abate in the far southeast. Seeing the sudden interest in their districts, many local farmers who had never...

    • SIX The Brunellogate Scandal
      (pp. 70-80)

      Under its production code, Brunello is required to be “intense ruby red tending toward garnet” and have “intense and characteristic aromas.” While it can be argued that the production code’s stipulated “characteristic aromas” is somewhat vague, there can be no misinterpreting the clearly defined color, nor should there be: 100 percent Sangiovese swings from ruby red to deep garnet. And as any serious-minded Brunello producer or winemaker anywhere in Italy who works with Sangiovese will tell you, “If it’s inky black, it ain’t Sangiovese.” Clearly as the numbers of suspiciously dark, concentrated, and exotically perfumed Brunellos increased over the years,...

      (pp. 81-92)

      In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, a number of Brunello producers believed that Brunellogate would give the denomination a much-needed wake-up call by forcing Montalcino’s producers to adhere to the rules and focus on Sangiovese. Many pundits felt the investigation happened at just the right time, given fundamental changes that have occurred both in the world wine markets and within the denomination itself during the first decade of the new century. The first few vintages released after the scandal, the 2004 and 2005 that were released in 2009 and 2010, respectively, seemed to confirm this view. At the annual...


    • EIGHT Montalcino
      (pp. 95-170)

      Directly to the north and south of Montalcino lies what is Brunello’s original growing area, where the wine was first created and where, in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, nearly all of the denomination’s first pioneers chose vineyard sites. Today the majority of Brunello’s 250 growers and bottling estates—almost without exception decidedly small-scale, family-run wineries—are clustered in this hilly terrain spreading outside the town gates. For many years the land around the town was the only Brunello-producing area. Unsurprisingly, this subzone is home to many of the oldest and...

    • NINE Bosco and Torrenieri
      (pp. 171-185)

      Although both these areas are in the far north of the growing zone, they have markedly different growing conditions between them and accordingly I have broken the far northern territory into two sections.

      I would like to note that the name I have given this subzone is unofficial.Bosco, which means woods, seemed appropriate not only because of the area’s dense woodland but also becauseboscois part of the name of the area’s two wineries.

      According to Dr. Alessandro Benvenuti, the Siena-based geologist who prepared the Consorzio’s lithological map of Montalcino, in strictly geological terms soil deposits in most...

    • TEN Tavernelle
      (pp. 186-195)

      According to several of Montalcino’s old-timers, including Abbadia Ardenga’s Mario Ciacci, who in the 1970s often accompanied Bruno Ciatti and Giulio Gambelli as they traveled the denomination to inspect Montalcino’s burgeoning wineries on behalf of the Consorzio, select areas near Tavernelle, particularly the area known as Santa Restituta, have long been known for their great potential for Sangiovese. Once again vineyard altitudes play a crucial role. Averaging between 300 and 350 meters (984 and 1,148 feet) above sea level, fresh nocturnal breezes cool down hot daytime temperatures during the growing season, generating aromas and complexity. The vineyards are also elevated...

    • ELEVEN Camigliano
      (pp. 196-204)

      Heading west from Tavernelle, one descends toward the Camigliano subzone. At first the descent is gradual, then sharper the further southwest one travels toward the ancient hamlet of Camigliano itself and beyond, down to the railroad tracks and the rail station on Antinori’s Pian delle Vigne property, where altitudes reach to only about 130 meters (426 feet). With the exception of Sant’Angelo Scalo, parts of the Camigliano zone have some of the lowest registered Brunello vines in the denomination. According to the Consorzio’s consulting geologist, Alessandro Benvenuti, soil in and around Camigliano is made up of marine deposits from the...

    • TWELVE Sant’Angelo
      (pp. 205-231)

      Differences between Sant’Angelo and the original growing areas around Montalcino, in terms of winery profiles, climatic conditions, soil, Brunello styles, and aging potential, can only be described as extreme. While almost exclusively small wineries populate the sometimes-vertiginous slopes in the rest of the denomination, Sant’Angelo, in the denomination’s far southsouthwest, is dominated instead by large-scale operations such as Il Poggione, Argiano, Col d’Orcia, and the industrial-sized Banfi. Although a sprinkling of small wineries and vineyards hug the hillsides climbing toward the hamlet of Sant’Angelo in Colle as well as the middle altitudes, the bulk of production originates from extensive tracts...

    • THIRTEEN Castelnuovo dell’Abate
      (pp. 232-254)

      About 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of town along the crest of the hill coming down from Montalcino one arrives at the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, one of the most picturesque and, in terms of Brunello production, one of the most exciting of Montalcino’s subzones. Centered around the twelfth-century Abbey of Sant’Antimo, this subzone is defined by multifaceted growing conditions that create Brunellos with rich fruit, penetrating mineral, and gripping complexity. The best vineyards face south, southeast, and west, and those near the delightful Castello di Velona that face Mount Amiata have average altitudes of 200 to 450 meters (650...


      (pp. 257-266)

      While Montalcino is synonymous with Brunello, the commune’s growing area is also home to three other denominations: Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Moscadello di Montalcino DOC, and Sant’Antimo DOC. Besides these three Montalcino-only denominations, some producers also make wine under the Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG and the loosely controlled IGT Toscana.

      After Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, which can be one of the best values in the Italian wine world, is the most important wine in terms of volume, with between 4 and 5 million bottles produced annually. Besides consumer demand for a more everyday alternative to Montalcino’s flagship wine that still...

    • FIFTEEN Brunello, Rosso, and Food Pairing
      (pp. 267-274)

      Brunello, like Italian wines in general, is a food-friendly wine, but unlike most other full-bodied, age-worthy red wines, Brunello is surprisingly flexible with what it can be paired with. Barolo, for example, needs the heady aromas and flavors of truffle and porcini mushrooms or rich beef dishes, while Brunello, which also pairs wonderfully with such big, rich dishes, also makes an exquisite companion to lighter fare—everything from gnocchi with four-cheese sauce, to white meats, to (believe it or not) some fish dishes. Here, however, I do have to put in a disclaimer: densely concentrated and wood-driven wines—whether they...

  9. APPENDIX A. Vintage Guide to Brunello
    (pp. 275-277)
  10. APPENDIX B. Brunello at a Glance
    (pp. 278-282)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 283-286)
    (pp. 287-288)
    (pp. 289-292)
    (pp. 293-296)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 297-299)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)