Italian wine production is much like its history and tradition: dynamic, rich and... complicated. Despite this sometimes intimidating complexity (in terms of wine laws, in particular) every time I pick up a bottle from the Tuscan region I am transported to clarity. Tuscan wines are a consistent articulation of what I appreciate most about good wine; they are a liquid language, translating a uniquely local art, history and culture. The wines are fulfillingly layered with flavor, quenching your thirst for what it is you really seek: pure pleasure. Brunello di Montalcino is one Italian wine Americans have sought with great gusto. Something like 1 in 3 bottles comes to the US. So many of you might already know that Brunello isn't a grape, and it isn't a region. In fact, it is just the name for these marvelously bright and fruity, yet rich and broodingly elegant wines made from the Sangiovese Grosso grape clone. This clone is specific to Montalcino, a village about 70 miles southwest of Florence, in the Tuscan wine region; the wine's name translates simply as Brunello of Montalcino. By law the wines are aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak and 4 months in bottle before they are released. They are serious wines; like the great Bordeaux's and Burgundy's of France, age works in its favor, delivering its greatest gifts only after a decade... or more.
With great wines (and particularly those that are aged for some time) often comes some expense. It's a real challenge to find good Brunello for under $25-30. Enter Rosso di Montalcino! This is a wine alternative to Brunello. It is also made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, but is made from younger vines and is only aged for a minimum of 6 months in oak and only held 1 year total before release. It is a more approachable style for consumers that allows Brunello producers some cash flow, while they wait for their Brunello's to age. And it costs consumers 1/3 - 1/2 the price of a Brunello. This is a little something we like to call a "Win-Win"! I'm all for them.
I had the pleasure of tasting the 2002 Marchesi Cattaneo Rosso di Montalcino last fall, but just recently sought it out as one of my winter warmer wines. Minestrone soup was on the menu and I wanted something food-friendly that would warm me up and offer a fun escape from my day. The Marchesi was a no-brainer. My friend came over and we popped the cork. And boy, did it deliver! It had an enticing and telling nose, delivering sweet black cherry and raspberry fruit, a dash of dried herbs, a bouquet of violets and a welcome touch of chocolate. Lush... mouthwatering... goodness! I couldn't have been happier - or more fulfilled on a cold night in Beantown.
Which Rosso di Montalcino warms your heart these days?