For all of the beautiful and various wines that Italy produces, there's a bit of a West Side Story drama to two of their most revered wines: Barolo and Brunello. Allegiances fall to whatever region you are from and folklore says the two areas will always spar over who makes a better wine. My palate happens to be nonpartisan, so when Benvenuto Brunello, an event comprised of seminars and tastings of this superstar wine came to NYC the other week, I was anxious to expand my Piedmont-trained palate.
Brunello is made from the Sangiovese grape, and only Sangiovese; blends are not allowed in this single-varietal powerhouse. You want a blend? Go talk to Super Tuscan, he'll tell you a thing or two.
Brunellos reside in the Montalcino territory within Tuscany, a tiny district where only 15% of the land is comprised of vineyards. The small production is one of the major factors in the premium reputation of these wines.
Although small in size, microclimates can be found within the district and the variables are detectable in the wines. The northern part of the region is cooler and produces elegant, perfume-y wines, rather feminine Brunellos. In contrast, the southern part of the territory is warmer, creating wine with more density and power. To my Piedmont-leaning palate, I equated the North with Barbarescos and the South with Barolos.
Brunellos are aged for a minimum of 5 years, so this tasting was a showcase of the 2009 vintage. What was the verdict?
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Collosorbo - approx. $50
On both the nose and palate, this wine spoke of cranberry, dark cherry, cinnamon, cumin and other baking spices, along with some herbaceous rosemary and parley. It had a decent amount of acid and moderate tannins, giving it structure, but it wasn't as bold as other Brunellos.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Il Poggione - approx $85
This one was a little deeper in color than the preceding wine, but it again showcased dark cherry and baking spaces. However, this smelled a little more ripe and lush in the fruit and even the weight felt heavier on the palate than number one.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - La Togata - $N/A
Ripe fruits? Check. Baking spices? Check. However, this wine bloomed with violet and floral notes, an aromatic that balanced well with the edible notes. On the palate, a bit of smoked paprika came through, and the sensation was plush and rich on the tongue. The tannins and acid were higher than in any of the previous wines, giving it a heft and structure that didn't seem fully realized in the others.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Ridolfi - approx $36
This plot, in the north northeast of Montalcino, was a clear example of the differences brought on by climate. The fruit was a bit more tart on the nose and the baking spices seemed to diminish. Instead, the purple florals came through again, but this wine felt leaner than any of the others before it, almost shy and delicate.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Solaria - approx $75
One of my favorites tasted, this wine from the southeastern zone was the most intense in color than anything else in the lineup. It was a sweeter bing cherry and blackberry that came through this time and the florals were completely absent; in their place was a whole rack of sweet spices. On the tongue, there was a bit of mocha, which hadn't been seen in anything else. Again, it was high in acid and plush, but the tannins were very well integrated and almost soft.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Talenti - approx $50
This one was relatively savory and sweet n' spicy tones rang throughout the glass, only to be tempered by tarter fruits. What was most noticeable, were the very prominent tannins, which marched around my teeth and gums with short, staccato steps, trampling everything in their path.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Uccelliera - approx $55
The last one of the bunch was the only one that really showcased any wood. A few cedar notes stood out in the fruit-spice medley I had come to expect. However, the fruit was more noticeable on the palate and the texture was again plush and soft in the mouth.