Red Wines of Tuscany – Rosso di Montalcino

George and Gail of Fine Wines of Stockton have devised a rather clever way to teach us about the wines of Tuscany. Over the next couple of months we will taste a variety of red wines from Tuscany (excluding Brunello di Montalcino because it is a bit pricey). After each tasting we will choose our two favorite wines. These favorites will then go to a Tuscan Taste Off.

On Thursday night we tasted six Rosso di Montalcinos. In future tastings we will taste Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti. This will give us an exposure to these three types of Tuscan wines and allow us to see what we like about each kind of wine.

To learn more about Tuscany overall check out our prior post “Tuscany and Its Wines”. You can find a nice map of Tuscany on the Cellar Tours site. For this tasting we will concentrate on Montalcino.

First a bit about Montalcino. Rosso di Montalcino, sometimes referred to as Baby Brunello, gained its DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) ranking in 1983. It is referred to as Baby Brunello because it is produced 100% from the same Sangiovese clones used in Brunello di Montalcino, but does not have the same aging requirements as Brunello. Rosso di Montalcino must spend six months in oak and one year aging before release. Brunello is aged four years or more before release. Wine makers typically split off the best grapes for their Brunello with the rest going to Rosso di Montalcino.

The Brunello variant of Sangiovese Grosso was developed in Montalcino by Ferruccio Bondi-Santi and his predecessors. It was chosen for its smaller berries, higher flesh-to-skin ratio and more flavorful juice. Biondi-Santi was the first to plant a vineyard entirely of the Brunello clone and produced the first aged Brunello in 1888.

The process where by the best grapes are split off to Brunello allows it to be the best it can, and allows the winemaker to get some wine to the market sooner in the form of the Rosso di Montalcino. Additionally, Brunello di Montalcino is a more concentrated tannic wine that typically benefits from aging 10-15 years. Rosso di Montalcino typically exhibits brighter fruit and is ready to drink now or hold for up to 5 years. Rosso is also more affordable than Brunello, like one-third to one-half the price.

Now, on to the wines we tasted Thursday night:

2009 Tenute Silvio NardiSilvio Nardi Rosso di Montalcino imagethe color was garnet with a dark fruit nose, earthy and tart cherry flavors. The tannins were significant, but well integrated. The wine had good acid and a moderately long finish. The group wanted to re-taste this wine before voting, so George gave us all another pour. This wine was the group’s favorite.

2009 Palazzo – garnet color with a slight barnyard nose initially that blew off to smoke. Tart cherries and tobacco flavors were accompanied by grippy tannins and good acidity. The finish was fairly long. Overall fairly complex flavors.

2009 Valdipiatta – darker garnet color with a dark fruit nose. Smoke, tobacco, black pepper and dark fruit flavors combine with good acid and significant tannins to produce a long finish. This wine had a weightier feel in the mouth than the prior two wines.

2010 Il Poggione2010 Il Poggione – garnet color with a minimal nose. Dark fruit flavors with minerality and drying tannins. This wine has a light mouth feel and an understated style, though it is not a simple wine. This was the group’s second favorite wine.

2009 Le Potazzine Gorelli – light garnet color with a minimal nose. Mineral and light fruit flavors with significant tannins and good acid. An austere but elegant wine with a light body.

2009 Le Chiuse – garnet color with cherries on the nose. Flavors of black pepper, nutmeg accompany cherry flavors, good acid and significant tannins to create a relatively long finish. This wine had a lot of flavor and a light mouth feel, always a great combination.

All of these wines were excellent. There was not one clunker in the group. They are moderately priced, ranging from $21 to $36. There was a good range of styles within this group as well, from the leaner Il Poggione and Le Potazzine Gorelli to the more muscular Palazzo and Valdipiatta. There is something for everyone in this group.

So, the 2009 Tenute Silvio Nardi and the 2010 Il Poggione will be the two Montalcino representatives in the Tuscan Taste Off. I can hardly wait.

Next week we will taste Wines for Christmas and New Year Celebrations and the following week will be 2009 Bordeaux. After that we will take a break for the Holidays and resume tasting in January. We will continue with the Tuscany tastings then.