Brunello di Montalcino – the great 2010 vintage

About ten years ago my partner, Jan and I, were on a week-long Italian cooking course that included visits to wineries sponsored by Berry Bros. & Rudd, the famous wine merchants at No.3 St. James’s Street London. Started in 1698 the company is still family owned, has two Royal Warrants and is London’s oldest wine merchant. The visits were to the Colli Senesi, the hills around Siena which are the southern-most and largest sub-zone of the Chianti wine producing area covering central Tuscany. At the time much talk was of the recent development of ‘Super Tuscans’ which are Chianti red wine using no more than 70% of the grape Sangiovese and were outside the DOC regulations for Chianti wine. For me I had fond memories of the old squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket called a fiasco or flask which were often of variable quality during the ‘70s, over forty years ago.

Always keen to learn more about my favourite tipple, I took up Pasqualino’s offer to accompany him to Montalcino as a ‘fellow restaurateur’ to a trade-only release of the latest 2010 vintage of Brunello. As well working in prestigious restaurants Pasqualino has worked as a Head Sommelier on luxury cruise ships for over twenty years. An extremely likeable and generous man Pasqualino fulfilled his dream by establishing and managing his own ‘Osteria Pasqualino Gubitosa - Mondovino’ in Via del Moro in Lucca specialising in Tuscan and Sicilian cuisine. Always better to book a table, his osteria in one Lucca’s hidden gems for good food and wine.

With typical generosity, Pasquale had invitations for four other mutual good friends including olive oil producer Renzo Baldaccini and Trine and Jone who run ‘2Italia’ an apartment agency in Lucca. In two cars the six of us set out early to drive to Montalcino in the province of Siena taking around two hours, stopping for caffé etc along the way.

Brunello derives its name from the diminutive of Bruno which in Italy is both a man’s name and also means brown. It is the name given historically to the local grape variety grown around the town. The grape is in fact Sangiovese but the name has continued and represents the wine produced here from 100% Sangiovese. Although Brunello has been produced in the area since the early 14th century, it was in 1980 that it was awarded the first DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). In the mid-19th century a local farmer Clemente Santi developed vines that allowed wine to be aged for a considerable period of time. It was his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi who in 1888 released a ‘modern’ wine Brunello di Montalcino that had been aged in large oak barrels for more than ten years. After WWII the Biondi-Santi firm were the only commercial producers of Brunello making it one of Italy’s rarest and most expensive wines. In the 1960s there were eleven producers of Brunello and the wine gained DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1968. Successive decades saw the number of producers double and at the present time there are around two hundred mostly small producers with a third of production around 120,000 cases sold to the USA alone.

Rosso di Montalcino is also made from 100% Sangiovese but is ready to be released after one year of ageing and less expensive. Needless to say Pasqualino was a mine of information recommending not only the best wines but the ones he thought would prove best commercial value for his osteria back in Lucca. We helped him load up his car with more Brunello to add to his already comprehensive stock. Montalcino is a charming picture postcard hill-top town in a beautiful landscape and worth a visit, even for non-wine drinkers, with typical narrow streets, wonderful churches, museums and stunning views at every turn.