The 2010 Brunellos are hitting the shelves of your favorite wine shop as you read this.
And while times are tight and many people don’t agree with spending a little extra money on a bottle of wine, for those of you who enjoy drinking it and are looking to make a sound investment decision in the wine world, all I can say is back up the truck and think Isabella Rossellini.
What is a Brunello di Montalcino?
It’s a red wine made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes that are strictly grown in Montalcino.
Now Sangiovese is the grape of Tuscany, but like all things, location matters. Montalcino is a Tuscan city on a big hill so the land is very different than, say, in Siena, also in Tuscany, but 20 miles south and flatter.
So that makes the grapes very different. The Sangiovese grapes from Montalcino are browner, hence the name Brunello, which sort of translates to "little brown one."
And they also have thicker skins, which means they have more tannins, says Gary Fisch, owner of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in New Jersey. (I recently got to talk to Gary recently about the 2010 Brunellos…you can listen here.)
Tannins are the stuff in wine that makes the middle of your tongue and the front part of your mouth feel dry, but you need them because they give the wine structure and help it age. The tannins will soften and that dry feeling will go away after the wine has been in the bottle for a few years. Hence the need for patience in the wine world.
Now to be a Brunello, the Italians have all these funky rules. The wine must be aged for at least four years (five for it to be a Riserva). Two of those years must be spent in oak, and the wine must be bottled at least four months prior to commercial release. Yada yada yada.
Well if it passes all those tests, the neck of the bottle will have a wrapper on it that says DOCG, which stands for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita,” aka A+.
The result is a big red wine that’s going to go great with your steak. Yum.
But the Italians from Montalcino clearly had no intention of putting wine in a barrel for all that time and then being left with nothing to drink, says Chad Watkins, wine educator at Gary’s Wines. So they created the Rosso di Montalcino.
They use the same Sangiovese grapes from Montalcino – just not the best ones or the oldest ones -- and the rules for this wine are less stringent: it only has to age six months in oak and one year in total before being released.
So not only do they quickly have something to drink, but the Brunello producers can generate some cash flow while Rosso’s big brother gets to age. Genius.
Rossos are easy fruit-forward drinking wines. So pour one tonight.
But then why buy Big Brother Brunello now?
Because it is the Isabella Rosselini of wines – it will age so gracefully.
“The magical 2010 vintage is a gift from mother nature. We had ideal weather conditions over a long growing season and as a result, the grapes ripened perfectly, giving us rich, opulent Brunello wines that truly capture the purity and beauty of Sangiovese,” says Cristina Mariani-May, co-CEO of Banfi Vintners.
Even better, there’s tons of great bottles out there. It was such a star-kissed growing season, it was hard to screw it up.
And it’s really going to be even more fabulous in 10 years.
Now, buyer beware: “The market for 2010 Brunello di Montalcino has already reached a frenzy the likes of which I don't think I have ever seen,” warns says Antonio Galloni, founder of Vinous Media.
Much of that is because 2009 was a bit disappointing, so Brunello lovers are busting at the seams. So just be cautious of the pricing.
So what should you buy?
I asked Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator’s senior editor and tasting director, for a few of his picks:
1. Altesino, particularly its single-vineyard Montosoli,
2. Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Progetto Prime Donne (the only winery in Italy with an all-female staff )
3. Gaja, Pieve Santa Restituta, Sugarlille
But talk to the people at your favorite wine shop and find a few you like.
Then the put them away, store them properly and don’t look them!
Seriously – for about 10 years. And the good news is these wines will continue to develop for another 10 years after that, says Sanderson.
Must I again remind you of Isabella.