The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-to-Wine Tuesday: Fuligni 2012 Rosso di Montalcino

Great Sangiovese Grosso for under $27

RD8485-2The last few weeks here at IWM have been a whirlwind thanks to the wave of 2010 Brunello di Montalcino coming in. We’ve been talking about 2010 Brunello for over a year now (as have many wine critics) and the excitement of these releases is palpable. My colleagues and I have had the opportunity to speak with winemakers and taste their 2010s, and it’s truly going to be remarkable vintage. Many are claiming that it’s the best vintage in over two decades, rivaling years like 1990, and will be one for the history books.

With that being said, the 2010 Brunellos are going to be wines to lay down, so if you’re looking for Sangiovese from Montalcino to enjoy now the new 2012 Rosso di Montalcinos are great choices. Often referred to as “Baby Brunellos,” these wines are also 100% Sangiovese Grosso, but they come from younger vines and endure less aging. This results in a wine that is more approachable in its youth, meant to be enjoyed while your Brunellos mature.

My selection today is the 2012 Fuligni Rosso di Montalcino. We just rolled out with the 2010 Brunello made by Fuligni the other day, and it’s one of the staple Brunellos we feature here at IWM. This estate is one of the hidden gems in the Montalcino region. It’s family owned, stylistically straddling the lines between modern and traditional, and its wines have a combination of both drinkability and longevity. 2012 was a tough year in Montalcino, but many of the Rossos have turned out amazingly well, and this wine is no exception.

This ’12 Rosso di Montalcino from Fuligni displays all the telltale characteristics of Sangiovese Grosso (a.k.a. Brunello). On the nose it explodes with dark red berries, kissed with notes of spice and hints of leather. On the palate this wine has great structure, and its perceptible but not overly assertive tannins are backed by good acidity in a medium-bodied frame. This wine is an ideal accompaniment to pizza and pastas and is a perfect choice to open casually on weekends (or weekdays if you’re fancy). It’s so good, no one would blame you for drinking it any night of the week.

A Look at Brunello di Montalcino’s Storied History

A thumbnail history of the “little brown one”

Franco Biondi-Santi's hat and candleholder, which he kept at the ready for trips to his private cellar.

Franco Biondi-Santi’s hat and candleholder, which he kept at the ready for trips to his private cellar.

As we continue to roll out the 2010 Brunello, it seems like a good time to revisit the history of the grape that is responsible for this wine, Sangiovese Grosso.

In the great pantheon of Italian wine, perhaps only Barolo supersedes the importance of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Celebrated for its ageability, structure, cult status and sophisticated palate, Brunello di Montalcino essentially owes its impressive reputation to three things: a clone known as Sangiovese Grosso, the extraordinary microclimate of the region, and the winemaker Clemente Santi. Were any of these factors different, or missing, Brunello most likely would be impossible, and it would be a very sad world indeed.

At 150 years old, Brunello di Montalcino is a relative upstart in the world of Italian wine. In the mid-1800’s, Clemente Santi realized that one strain of grape growing on his estate seemed to withstand both rot and phylloxera. He focused his attention on the grape he called Brunello, or “little brown one,” and in time, this clone would be known as “BBS11.” His son, Feruccio Biondi-Santi, was the first person to bottle and release a single-varietal wine fermented from this grape; a handful of bottles remain from his 1881 inaugural bottling. Arguably, the Biondi-Santi family has had a greater impact on Brunello than any other family has had on any other Italian wine. While the idea that Feruccio “invented” Brunello is more myth than fact–historical evidence dates award-winning Montalcino wines to years well before 1881, there is no disputing that the family established guidelines for the Brunello di Montalcino, shaped those guidelines with an iron fist, and remained the only makers of the appellation until around W.W. II. Moreover, by intentionally keeping production low and pricing the wine high, by choosing to skip vintages they saw as inferior, and by mindfully creating a wine that requires intense aging, the Biondi-Santi family effectively created the Brunello mystique–a magical wine that you have to pay a lot to get and wait to enjoy.

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

Gianfranco Soldera before his very big botti

To understand the singularity of Montalcino, you need to consider that although the town is only 25 miles south of Siena, it is higher, dryer and cooler than the surrounding Tuscan regions–most of Toscana has a yearly rainfall of 35” a year; Montalcino receives about 28”; in 2012, it received none from April until September. The township of Montalcino essentially splits the DOCG area into two broad categories: those vineyards north of the town, and those to the south. Northern vineyards have calcareous clay soil, higher altitudes, a cooler microclimate and they create more aromatic, structured and elegant wines. The vineyards to the south possess a more Mediterranean climate, a lower altitude, and sandier soil; these factors cause grapes to ripen about a week earlier than those in the north and to create fuller, juicier, rounder, more approachable wines.But the other important piece in the Brunello puzzle is the region itself. While it’s indisputable that the Biondi Santi family recognized potential of the Sangiovese Grosso and that they developed the grape into its quintessential expression, neither of those achievements would mean a thing were it not for the extraordinary terroir of Montalcino. Brunello begins around the hilltop town of Montalcino located in the southern central reaches of Toscana, just south of Firenze. Its elevation that ranges between 820 and 2,170 feet means that Montalcino, perhaps more than any other important wine growing area in Toscana, benefits from the Mediterranean breezes that blow across the region.  Moreover, Montalcino has intense climactic diversity; in the region’s approximately 3,000 acres, there are two different major microclimates, five separate climactic zones and 24 unique sub-microclimates.

Valdicava's organic vines

Valdicava’s organic vines

Minimum ageing requirements in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG tend to run longer than other zones in Italy.  The Brunello normale is an annual production with a requisite aging period of 4 years (this involves a combination of minimum 2 years in barrel and at least four months in bottle). Even though the total minimum ageing requirement is less than four years, producers abiding by Brunello DOCG cannot release wines until 48 months after the vintage year. Riserva denotes a bottle that is crafted exclusively in vintages that are deemed of high quality, derived from the producer’s best grapes, and aged for a minimum of five years (a combination of minimum three years in barrel and at least six months in bottle); the same rule regarding release date applies to productions of both riserva and normale.However, because of the extreme popularity of Brunello, the uniformly high price the wine garners, the multiple microclimates and the varying quality of the wine, some winemakers (including Franco Biondi-Santi) are arguing the need for the DOC to separate the DOCG zone into five smaller sub-zones. Statistics illustrate the argument for stronger regulation; in 1960 there were only eleven bottlers of Brunello and 157 acres planted, but by 2004 those numbers had exploded to 175 bottlers and almost 6,300 acres. This blow up has also led to Brunellopoli, a 2008 scandal wherein the DOC has investigated several producers for reportedly adding unapproved grapes to soften the often formidable Brunello for early drinking.

Brunello di Montalcino varies by producer and microclimate, but in general it is medium to full-bodied, with a heady aroma of black fruits that are echoed on the palate. Many people also note black spices like licorice, a whiff of bitter orange and a slight earthy quality. Alcohol percentages range between 12.5-13.5%. Brunello is made to be aged. In general, it is best starting at about ten years after vintage, but recent vintages, especially the benchmark vintage of 2007, have been amazingly approachable.

Expert Picks: Ada Nada and…Ada Nada!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiJanuary 2015 was by far the busiest month for me professionally since I joined IWM and my personal life might just have equaled its pace. When last weekend arrived, I just wanted to kick back, have a friend or two over, and enjoy some wine. But whenever I do this, I always like to make the experience a little educational both for my friends and for myself. With that in mind, I took a look to the Ada Nada estate in Barbaresco, which has been under the ownership of the Nada family for almost 100 years (96 to be exact), to pick out a pair of single-vineyard Barbarecos. You can drink these two wines now, or you can hold onto them and drink them years down the road, and seeing that these wines are well under $50 a bottle, you’re going to want to.

Ada Nada Barbaresco Cichin 2009 $44.99

The hillside vineyards of Ada Nada all maintain their own micro-climates. Because of this variety, there are distinct differences from grapes procured practically alongside one another. The Cichin (my Italian colleague told me to say “chicken” like a tourist) is the more austere of these two wines, and it exhibits wonderful structure. It needed to be open an hour or so before pouring, but it was truly splendid. Drink now and for the next ten years.

Ada Nada Barbaresco Elisa 2009 $47.55

Ada Nada also produces the Elisa on this ten-hectare estate. Far more gracious in style, the Elisa is elegant as it passes over the palate, but there is no shortage of round fruit and spice. Both wines are superb examples of Nebbiolo from this tiny region, but the Elisa is ready to go now. Drink now and for the next ten years.

Expert Picks: Begali and Castello della Sala

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiIt has been my experience that dessert wines get the short end of the stick. I have no idea where the pre-conceived notion that dessert wines were somehow inferior to table reds and whites, or where the idea that they were less desirable came from, but I do know these ideas need to go away. It seems to me that people have no problem ordering a hefty slice of cheesecake or dollops of chocolate mousse to cap off a meal when, really, it would be just as satisfying for their palate if they were to select a sweet vino! Here are two of my favorites.

Begali Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2010 500ml $49.50

This red dessert wine hails from the north, in Veneto. A blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara (famous for their use in the region’s other great wine, Amarone), this is a powerful wine that stains your taste buds. Molasses, espresso, spice and dried cherries and berries appear on a velvety palate and show you why Recioto is the perfect way to end a meal. Drink now and for ten years.

Castello della Sala Muffato delle Sala 2008 750ml $54.99

This dessert wine comes from our friends at Antinori and their incredible Umbrian estate. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto, Traminer and Riesling, this wine’s flavors are rich, the nose entrancing, and the palate seems to go on for days; you could even venture to call this the “Sauternes of Italy.” Drink now and for ten years.

Inside IWM, December 8-11, 2014: Wines that Gleam, Shine and Sparkle

A look back at the week that was

IMG_20140926_120556The holidays fast approach, and we’re in a festive mood. On Tuesday, Crystal gave a shout out to sparkling wines in general and to Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne, in specific. She writes about a lovely artisanal bottle from Barone Pizzini. On Wednesday, Francesco gave us a crash course in Champagne, with his basic approach: Champagne 101. And on Thursday, Camacho Vidal transported us to Cinque Terre, where he wrote of wines that gleam with the full beauty of the sea.

Our Experts are feeling the glimmer of the holidays too. Will Di Nunzio picked a pair of telling Italian wines, one from Raffaele Palma on the Amalfi Coast and Aldo Conterno’s collector classic Barolo Granbussia Riserva. Francesco was motivated by his love of Italian terroir to select two value beauties, Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico and Graci Etna Rosso. David Gwo loves Valdicava with a single-minded passion, opting for a Rosso and a Brunello di Montalcino from this extraordinary producer. And Robin Kelley O’Connor couldn’t deny the shine of white Burgundy, selecting two iconic bottles.

Here’s hoping your holiday season is in full swing, with everything shiny and bright!

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