Wines & VinesFine Wine: All You Need to Know About Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino, a wine made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes, is one of Italy's most famous and expensive red wines.

By Annalisa D’Alessio

Wine connoisseurs around the globe will have no doubt heard of Brunello di Montalcino, Italy’s first and most famous wine to earn the prestigious Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) stamp of quality.

Among Tuscany’s best-known and precious red wines, Brunello is produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino with 100 percent Sangiovese grapes. The grape is known for having thick skin, a trait that gives its wine a bold, fruity flavour with high levels of tannins and acidity.

The first record of the production of this particular wine goes back as far as the 14th century, but it wasn’t until the end of World War II that it developed its iconic reputation. Until recently, the only commercial producer recorded in official documents, Biondi-Santi, had only declared four vintages—1888, 1891, 1952 and 1945—driving up its price, demand and prestige for years to come.  

By the start of the 21st century, the number of producers rose to over 200. While these are mainly small farmers and family-owned estates, nearly 330,000 cases of Brunello di Montalcino are made each year.

What makes this wine so special?

Traditionally, Brunello goes through a maceration period during which colour and flavour are extracted from the grape’s skin.

Strict requirements dictate that Brunello needs to ‘age’ for very specific amounts of time in very specific circumstances. Normale bottlings require five years of ageing after harvest in addition to two years in oak barrels and four months in bottles. Riserva bottlings—the more prestigious kind—on the other hand must age at least six years after harvest with two years in oak barrels and six months in bottles. Winemakers who stray from these guidelines have been known to face convictions and even prison as they cannot legally label their wine as being Brunello.

In terms of investment, Brunello is one among the four ‘Bs’ that oenophiles should be looking out for, with the other three being Barolo, Bordeaux and Burgundy. Although prices for these wines vary—‘younger’ varieties tend to be cheaper—they are still considered a safer investment than other varieties.

Investors looking for their next big find in terms of Brunello, should pay close attention to the following years: 2015, 2012, 2010, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2001, 1997. Due to a perfect ripening season—with temperatures that are neither too hot or cold—these vintages will be worth keeping an eye on for potentially strong assets or—at the very least—a great bottle of red wine.  

Price-wise, consumers will find more affordable bottles in ‘lesser-loved’ vintages. For a decent bottle of Brunello, oenophiles can expect to pay anywhere between £50 and £150, but exceptional bottles have been known to sell for thousands.

See also: Debunking Wine Myths with Wine Expert Anne Jones