When thinking about Montalcino everyone’s mind goes immediately to Brunello, of course. But forgiving the Rosso would be a huge mistake.
First of all we have to make a distinction, between two types of Rosso di Montalcino. For many (bigger) producers Rosso di Montalcino means the “second wine”, so usually the best grapes go in the process to make Brunello and what remains is for the Rosso. Also usually these grapes are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks and bottled few months after the harvest, in order to have a lighter expression of Sangiovese, young and “easy-drinking”. The disciplinary of Rosso di Montalcino says that bottles can be released in the market after September 1st, of the year after the harvest. Considering that for Brunello the exit is after other 4years, often the Rosso was a wine sold pretty young in order to make some cash flow.
Well you, we, have to know that there are many other producers for whom the Rosso is not at all a simple, young and fresh Sangiovese that goes faster in the market and at a lower price. There are many producers for whom the Rosso has always been like a business card, a way to be introduced in the market with an amazing quality wine, which could be released a little bit before the Brunello but not necessarily super young. A wine that allows many of them making a very good first impression when, for example, tasting wines from them for the first time. So Rosso di Montalcino for many wine makers means opportunity. Opportunity to exit in the market before the 5 years that are in the disciplinary for Brunello, opportunity to present a wine not cheap but with an entry level price always set according to the quality of this wine and the rest of the line, opportunity to be known in the market and make a good first impression that will make sommeliers or final customers to buy not only the Rosso but the Brunello too.
After this introduction, I would like to share with you some of my favorites Rosso di Montalcino wines here below, hoping that my selection will give you some inspiration for next time you are going to buy a wine from Montalcino.
(Please not the order is from the oldest vintage to the most recent)
I still remember that fabulous day, mid July, visiting Cupano and meeting Lionel, the owner (together with his wife Ornella) for the first time. We chatted a lot, talking about Montalcino, about wine and about life in general. Than he opened this bottle of Rosso di Montalcino 2002 and I could hardly believe that was such an old Rosso. This wine is a statement of how the Rosso, when made in a certain way, can stand the passing of time. Why? Because expressing in long-lived wines is a characteristic of Sangiovese when grown and aged in a very respectful way and with a sort of mastery. Andrea (Lionel’s right-hand man) knows that and recently brought a bottle of Rosso 2002 to a tasting, which just reconfirmed my first impressions. In Cupano they have a lot of right skills to make incredible Rosso and Brunello from a more modern style, they use barriques and small oak barrels, which is not very common in Montalcino.
When we think about the history of Brunello we always think about Biondi Santi of course. And we were talking just now about vocated areas of Montalcino. You may not know that not all Biondi Santi vineyards were around the Greppo farm originally. They used to have a small parcel of vineyard, where they used to make their Riserva Biondi Santi. This vineyard in front of Montosoli from where Biondi Santi used to make the Riserva is from Simonetta Valiani which decided since 1993 to bottle her wine (together with her husband and her son, Lorenzo) under the label of Le Chiuse, while until that moment the vineyards were rented to her uncle, Franco Biondi Santi. I have always enjoyed the Brunello and the Riserva from Le Chiuse but tasting the Rosso 2013 was really an unforgettable experience.
Organic winery, in the east area of Montalcino, near Castelnuovo dell’Abbate, their work is pretty fascinating and results are always great. The make absolutely great wines in total harmony and respect with nature. You can read in their website ( short but essential, we can say ) why they are organic and why they come up with this philosophy since the beginning. Their vines indeed never seen herbicides, pesticides or instecticides and are treated with natural infusions and biodynamic preparations. The soil from where the Rosso is made is a very reach and diverse soil, from calcareous clay, easy weathering marl, blue-grey lime from Pliocene and Alberese are just part of the composition. Here is the story of how a Rosso di Montalcino can be interpreted in a totally different way. As I told you in the introduction many Rosso come from the grapes that are not selected for the Brunello or make just a small aging in stainless still tanks ( a passage in wood is mandatory only for Brunello and Riserva, not for the Rosso ) but here you have a completely different story. Grapes are selected manually, same as for the Brunello and come from some of the best vineyards, same as for the Brunello, after 10 days of maceration the wine is aged for 28 months in 25hl oak barrels and no artificial yeast are involved in the wine making process. The wine is a 2016 and did exit in the market in october 2019, so far longer than what requested in the disciplinary. The outcome for me is a very special wine.
I had recently the chance to meet Riccardo, owner of Le Ragnaie, during a visit at their winery. Happy that just few days after tasting his wine, which was one of the best of that dinner, I could be able to listen the story of this wine from his creator. As many of you may know 2014 was a very bad vintage in Montalcino (and not only here), so when Riccardo saw the grapes, coming from the harvest to the cellar, he had to take the strong decision of not making any Brunello that year, only Rosso. Production that year was very poor and the grapes were not in their perfect shape. Well he changed a little his mind while tasting the wine in the big oak barrels after some months, but still he was convinced to do only Rosso that vintage. They have a small parcel of vineyard in a very particular area of Montalcino, not far from the village itself, which is called Petroso and from where he decided to make a Rosso di Montalcino cru (with the name of the vineyard shown in the label). The idea of creating official subzones of Montalcino is always a great debate between the producers and the Consorzio. For sure I can tell that some vineyards, some areas, react always in such great ways, also from a less fortunate vintage like the 2014. This Rosso is the living proof and I am pretty sure it could have been a fantastic Brunello.
AMORE E MAGIA, Podere le Ripi 2015 (up to 2015, after this vintage their Rosso is called Sogni e Follia).
This bottle is actually a “limited edition” of only 3.000 bottles to celebrate the upgrade of Amore e Magia from Rosso di Montalcino to Brunello di Montalcino. The story of the Rosso from Podere le Ripi can be seen as an emblem of what I was trying to explain about smaller producers betting on their Rosso a lot. Indeed the Rosso from Le Ripi has always been aged almost like a Brunello, with a very similar vinification process in the cellar too, so big oak barrels and no stainless steel. Their Rosso has always been considered one of the best in Montalcino for its great elegance and depth at the same time. The transition of Amore e Magia from Rosso to Brunello seems very natural process than. Since 2015 we find on the market the Sogni e Follia Rosso di Montalcino, new label but same concept, the Rosso is a more enjoyable Sangiovese that can be drunk few years after the vintage but still with the great complexity of a great Sangiovese from Montalcino.
Small, family-run winery of 10 hectares at 380/450 meters above the sea level, direction south-east, Fuligni is often a wine with a great longevity and an interesting texture. Sometimes the Rosso is more enjoyable than the Brunello just because is a wine that can be appreciated also younger while I personally found the Brunello best suited for a long aging. The Rosso, the same as the Brunello is aged in big oak barrels, and released the year after the harvest as per disciplinary rules ( remember that Rosso di Montalcino is a DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata while Brunello is a DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita ). The result in the wine is a very savoury, elegant, fruity and fresh wine with a great potential, that can be drunk now or in 10/15 years.
Speaking again about areas of Montalcino, Baricci is for sure in one area which is considered generally one of the most vocated for Brunello: Montosoli. Montosoli is like a hill on the hill, a natural terrace, where very few producers have their vineyards and which is very reach in soil components. Baricci family is one of this (historical winery) and I don’t remember a vintage where their wine was not on the top of the new released Rosso and Brunello. Moreover the 2016 it’s probably one of the most incredible vintages of the last years.
Well 2017 was a pretty hot vintage in many parts of Italy. The wine making of Conti Costanti is quiet traditional, the Rosso stays for 12 months in french oak tonneau and other 6 months in bottle. Being their positioning on the top of the small hill, pretty close to the village, they do not suffer as much from hotter vintages as other parts of Montalcino. This is one fo the caractheristics of Montalcino, having many different expositions and micro-climates it may change a lot the results of a vintage from one area to the other. The climate closer to the village is fresher and very windy, it can better stand warm vintages like the 2017.
Tommaso is a very good friend, a young and smart guy who changed his entire life to come to Montalcino and to recover the family winery. He started making this huge process of improving the quality of the work in the vineyards and in the cellar around the 2014 and each year is a great surprise. The area of where they are located his north Montalcino, the road that connects it with the village of Buonconvento. Here the micro-climate is different again, bit cooler than the south yes, but also pretty humid so it prefers drier vintages. This Rosso 2018 was very balanced, extremely pleasant and enjoyable as you would expect a traditional Rosso di Montalcino.
Castello Romitorio is the place where art and wine meet and create beautiful things. Filippo is now taking the legacy from his father, the Italian artist Sandro Chia, who founded, together with his friend Franco Martini, this winery in Montalcino, keeping this incredible relationship between art&wine. The difference here between the Rosso and the Brunello is in the age of the vines, the younger vines are used to make the Rosso while the older vines are selected for the Brunello. The wine is aged for 10 months in oak barrels, a percentage of smaller tonneau and bigger barrels is mixed. The wines, especially this Rosso, are the translation of a strong passion and devotion for the territory of Montalcino. The Rosso di Montalcino combines a young soul, with fruity and herbaceous notes typical from Sangiovese, with a more vigorous and dynamic expression in the mouth. A unique style which I found very interesting.