The 2021 debut of the 2016 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany proved to be a bright spot for the Italian wine industry in what has been, thus far, an otherwise dismal year marked by continued global shutdowns and restrictions resulting directly from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. A long summer marked by hot, sun-drenched days, and cool nights – optimal weather conditions for cultivating Brunello – helped to make for an outstanding 2016 harvest. Brunello di Montalcino is made from Sangiovese grapes. Sangiovese is an indigenous Italian red varietal that is used extensively in Italian wine production. Rosso di Montepulciano from Maremma is made from Sangiovese. Sangiovese is also blended with other varietals. For instance, Sangiovese is blended with the international grape Cabernet Sauvignon to create Chianti and Chianti Classico, two well-known Italian wines.
Fermentation in stainless steel helps to preserve the grape’s natural acidity and freshness. It also enhances the fruit-driven and floral aromas, as well as the rich red and dark berry, cherry, and preserved fruit notes that are characteristic of Sangiovese. Oak barrel, followed by bottle aging, adds structure and complexity. Firm, well-rounded tannins develop, as do aromas of scented wood, tobacco, and earth, as well as notes of fragrant spices, vanilla, and roasted nuts. The expression of these characteristics are also influenced by the location of the vineyard – vineyards situated at higher elevations tend to produce grapes with greater freshness and acidity – grapes grown on North-facing vineyards tend to ripen later, and those facing the South and the West are usually full of concentrated fruit flavors, thanks to continuous sun exposure and cooling breezes. The type of oak barrel used for the aging process also helps to shape these characteristics. Aging in large, neutral oak barrels usually produce wines with greater tannic character and sharper acidity, (a traditional method that some consider the classic expression of Sangiovese), that continue to soften with time, while aging in smaller oak barrels tends to result in smoother textured and less tannic wines that peak more quickly.
Brunello di Montalcino is often considered to be one of Italy’s most prestigious red wines. The grape first gained international recognition around the mid nineteenth century when a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino dating back to the 1840s was opened decades later to universal acclaim. In 1966, Brunello di Montalcino was granted D.O.C. (Denomination of Controlled Origin) status. This helped propel it to greater fame. In 1967, the Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino, consisting of a group of the area’s top producers, was formed to preserve the distinguished reputation of Brunello di Montalcino. One of the aims of the Consorzio is to ensure that producers of Brunello di Montalcino adhere to the strict rules of governance surrounding their cultivation, harvest, and production that make them worthy of the D.O.C. and since 1980, the D.O.C.G (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed) status Brunello di Montalcino has achieved. Both the D.O.C. and the D.O.C.G. designations are given only to wines that stand up to the benchmark of quality set forth by the Consorzio, and in accordance with the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.
Several benchmarks govern the production of Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. within the 2100 hectares of Montalcino wine making territory. These include verifying that Brunello di Montalcino bearing D.OC. and D.O.C.G. designations must be able to trace their provenance to Montalcino. The amount of grapes that can be grown on each of the 2100 hectares is limited to eight tons. This low yield helps to guarantee the quality of the grapes being cultivated. Vines are also kept short and well-spaced, to ensure the grapes are well-ventilated, while getting plenty of sun.
Brunello di Montalcino cannot be introduced to the market until at least January 1st. of the fifth year after the grapes used to produce it were harvested. During this time, it must have undergone a minimum of two years of oak barrel, and four months of bottle aging. Brunello released below these minimum aging requirements are classified as Rosso di Montalcino.
Riserva wines must undergo a minimum of six months of bottle aging and can only be released on or after January 1st. of the sixth year after its grapes are harvested.
Brunello di Montalcino is usually aged in Slavonian or French oak barrels. Some producers opt to utilize a combination of the two to derive the benefits afforded from both barrel aging methods.
The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, in cooperation with Gruppo Italiano, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering public awareness of Italian food and beverages, debuted a number of their fine 2016 vintages and 2015 vintage riservas at Il Gattopardo restaurant in New York City. A masterclass on these vintages was also held at The Leopard at Café des Artistes on the Upper West Side. Seasoned restaurateur, President of Gruppo Italiano, and proprietor of Il Gattopardo restaurant, Gianfranco Sorrentino, was at the helm at both events to introduce the producers, and craft, alongside Chef Vito Gnazzo, a menu of food pairings that highlighted the flavors and characteristics that are unique to Brunello di Montalcino.
Some of the 2016 Brunello di Montalcino Brunello producers featured at the tasting and masterclass included:
- Donatella Cinelli Columbini
- Cortonesi La Mannella
- Casanuova delle Cerbaie
- Il Valentiano
- Elia Palazzesi Collelceto
The following wineries debuted their 2015 Riservas:
On May 18, 2021, Il Gattopardo Restaurant will create a four-course lunch pairing for these and other standout 2016 Brunello di Montallcino at a private lunch attended by members of the Wine Media Guild.