The story of Brunello di Montalcino and Bolgheri wines provide an interesting contrast between Tuscan regions that have achieved their prestige in very different ways — one through the embrace of tradition and a local variety and the other by throwing off tradition and embracing international varieties. The wines are very different, as you would expect. We received these wines as tasting samples.
Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino was originally established as a DOC in 1966 and was among the first to be promoted to DOCG in 1980. Brunello must be 100% Sangiovese and grown in a defined area around the hilltop town of Montalcino south of Siena. Sangiovese grown here is known as brunello, derived from the Italian word for brown. Brunello must age for a minimum 4 years, including 2 years in barrel and 4 months in bottle. Brunello is known for its ageability.
Bolgheri by comparison is the new kid on the block. The DOC was first established for white wines in 1984 and not until 1994 for red and rosé wines. Bolgheri Sassicaia was established as a separate DOC in 2013. You will fine an interesting history of the region on Wine Searcher that details how the DOC came to be recognized for red wines (short version: winemakers don’t like to follow rules and there was this blind tasting. No, not that one).
The region is coastal and lies south of Livorno. Sangiovese is not the star of the show in Bolgheri, it is international varieties that get top billing here. Wines may be comprised of one or more of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot with a maximum 50% Sangiovese or Syrah and/or maximum 30% other allowed red grapes. Rosso wines must be aged for a minimum of 10 months and Superiore wines for a minimum of two years with at least one year in barrel. These wines are known as the super Tuscans.
2018 San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino DOCG— light ruby color that is nearly translucent with generous aromas of red cherries, tobacco and earth. Flavors Include predominantly red cherries along with some blackberries, dusty earth, leather and tobacco in the background. Acidity is notable, but not out of balance. Tannins are a bit grippy in a just-medium body. 93,000 bottles made. 14% abv. $75
This Brunello is finessed and lively with abundant red fruit character. We tasted the 2017 vintage recently, also a lovely Brunello, but with more dark fruit character and 15% abv. I appreciate the vintage variation. 100% Sangiovese Grosso was aged for an average of three years in Slavonian oak casks and 500-liter tonneaux, followed by 12 months in bottle.
2021 Bell’Aja Bolgheri DOC — dark ruby with generous aromas of plums. Flavors of ripe dark plums, blackberries and raspberries are supported by juicy acidity in a medium body. Tannins are drying but supple. 60,000 bottles made. 14.5% abv. $25
This Bolgheri is a drink-now wine that is fresh and balanced. It’s food friendly and easy sipping on its own.
2020 Bell’Aja Bolgheri Superiore DOC — dense ruby with generous aromas of ripe plums, currants and cedar. Dark fruit flavors of plums and blackberries are ripe and layered, but not too ripe, with notes of cocoa. Tannins grippy in a medium body. 8400 bottles made. 14.5% abv. $40
Only 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Merlot in this Bolgheri Superiore, which was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. It is more complex and nuanced than the more straight forward Bolgheri.
San Felice has wine estates in three Tuscan regions.
- The San Felice Chianti Classico estate, located in Castelnuovo Berardenga near Siena, is 1482 acres in size. 15,000 olive trees are planed here and 370 acres are planted to vines.
- The Campogiovanni Brunello estate is located on the southwestern side of Montalcino. A total of 57 acres are planted to vines with 35 acres dedicated to the production of Brunello. Three soil types are present on the estate.
- The Bell’Aja Bolgheri estate is planted to 10 acres of Merlot and 5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyards are adjacent to a forest and are cooled by ocean breezes.
Whether your tastes lean toward Bordeaux blends or Sangiovese, San Felice has a wine to satisfy your taste buds, and one to suit your pocketbook.
Thanks to Platinum Media for organizing our tasting.