The fascinating history of Brunello

The fascinating history of Brunello

Jun 27, 2022


Ilaria Rosa

Brunelllo di Montalcino is the exceptional standard-bearer of the Italian winemaking tradition; a ruby red wine that is produced in the village of the same name, a fraction of the municipality of Sirmione in the province of Siena, in the Tuscany region. The first local winemakers thought that the type of native grape used for its production was called Brunello, but after years of controlled studies, in 1879 the Provincial Ampelographic Commission discovered that it was actually a Sangiovese. This discovery changed the designation to "wine produced in purity from 100% Sangiovese grapes".

The exclusive production area of "Sangiovese grosso" is located about 40km south of Siena in a splendid hilly setting with the Ombrone, Asso, and Orcia rivers, which almost delimit that vast area which measures approximately 250km squared. This area in the center of the Val d'Orcia is 40 km from the sea and 100km from the Apennines, and is mainly influenced by a Mediterranean climate which, through frequent ventilation and a generally dry climate, avoids freezing and frost, guaranteeing the best conditions for the plants. for the health status.

Historians claim that the ancient town of Montalcino was already famous in the Etruscan era for the production of its quality wine; and already in the Middle Ages the date of the beginning of the harvest was regulated by the municipal statutes. The first wine produced locally by the winemakers was a sweet white called moscadello, already known even in ancient Roman times. Its fame grew exponentially thanks to the Via Franchigena, an important and ancient pilgrimage route, a connection that started from Canterbury (France), passed through Rome and reached Puglia where travelers waited for the large ships that sailed towards the Holy Land.

Soon the inhabitants of Montalcino realized that it was not only pilgrims who passed through their territory but also Popes, Cardinals, illustrious travelers, nobles, Emperors and Regnants, who by stopping in the taverns began to particularly like the local wine, developing a flourishing business. The flows of passage were composed of characters of all kinds and social classes: merchants, vagabonds, soldiers, adventurers and writers, who crossing the Val D'Orcia found themselves skirting the large vineyards and olive groves, a landscape described as "a small paradise on Earth “. Moscadello became an appreciated and refined wine, and made its appearance in all the most important courts of Europe, in particular that of England for the Royal table. However, towards the second half of the nineteenth century, this wine will gradually be replaced by Brunello, a new great wine produced in purity from Sangiovese grapes and with many years of aging. The experimenter of its production was Clemente Santi, a renowned pharmacist expert in natural sciences who presented his creations in Florence: two bottles of a pure red wine from 1852. In 1869 at the Montepulciano fair, Santi won two silver medals with two bottles of his "chosen red wine of 1865" (Brunello), and in a short time many local families followed his example and began the production of that "special wine".

In 1885 Ferruccio, Clemente Santi's nephew, inherited the family estate “Il Greppo“; this is also due to his great passion for oenology and viticulture which increased from year to year in the long collaboration with his grandfather. Ferruccio challenged every economic and traditional principle of the time that required to consume the wine produced as soon as possible, and among the Sangiovese he selected an austere grape and used it to start the production of a new severe and dry wine, the first "Brunello di Montalcino “.

Ferruccio's son, Tancredi Biondi Santi, was included in the American magazine "Wine Spectator", and with a 1955 reserve he was included in the list of the 12 Best Wines of the Twentieth Century in the world. Tancredi gave a new impetus to production by introducing the practice of topping up the reserves with wine from the same vintage; the first time happened in 1927 for the reserves of 1888 and 1891. Another great leader of the "Il Greppo" winery was Franco Biondi Santi, son of Tancredi, who managed the company very well for 43 years. Its last major production was the 2012 vintage, the harvest began on 10 August, the vinification took place at a controlled temperature with racking at 15 days and aged for 36 months in Slavonian oak barrels. Biondi Santi is today a company with majority shares, owned by a French group that has in any case kept Franco's son Jacopo and his son Tancredi seventh generation of a large family at the helm of production.

In Montalcino, after the huge worldwide success, countless wineries were born in which almost all the best winemakers worked, and many companies have made themselves known for the good quality of their products. Some of these wineries are: Col D'Orcia Estate, the Palazzetta, the Serena, Pian delle Vigne Antinori, Pieve Santa Restituta Gaja, Pieri Agostina, Le Potazzine, Fattoria dei Barbi, and Castello Banfi. Brunello di Montalcino is one of the longest-lived wines in the world, it can be put on the market only after 5 years from the harvest (6 years if it is a reserve), 2 of which are aged in wooden barrels, and at least 4 months in bottle.

Sangiovese grosso has special characteristics, and if produced in the best vintages, in the best colors it is kept in perfect environmental conditions, it can age up to 50 years, improving year by year. The operations from vinification to bottling, in Bordeaux-type bottles of dark glass, must be done exclusively in the production area, and the corks must be exclusively in one-piece cork. This wine of great value, complexity and tradition, should be served at a temperature between 18 ° - 20 ° in a large and pot-bellied glass. It is always recommended to open the bottle an hour before tasting to allow its harmonious bouquet to express itself at its best; many recommend the use of the decanter.

Its color is a clear ruby red, tending to garnet with aging, with an iridescent and generous profile. The nose is elegant and intense, with hints of black cherries, ripe fruit, vanilla and cocoa, which with aging becomes more intense with hints of geranium, leather and spices. The sip is dry, warm and clean, with a persistent, robust but harmonious taste, its tannins reserve a pleasant freshness, reminiscent of ripe fruit and berries.

This splendid wine with a penetrating aroma, good structure and pleasantly tannic, goes perfectly with feathered and furred game, with red meats in general also accompanied by truffles or mushrooms, and finds excellent pairing with aged cheeses. Brunello di Montalcino is a wine of great longevity, a casket of taste and elegance, its success today is under the eyes of the whole world as the excellence of Italian winemaking, and is considered by many admirers a real "work of 'art". According to Coldiretti ranking based on Infoscan Census data for the year ended January 2022, released on the occasion of Vinitaly, Brunello di Montalcino is firmly among the 10 best-selling Italian wines in Italy.

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