By Marco Giovanetti
If I can think of one Italian wine that stirs the passion in me, that would be Brunello di Montalcino.
Brunello di Montalcino in Italy has the reputation of being the king of all wines, but not the type that generally speaking is beyond financial reach. This noble Tuscan wine oozes sophistication, and if you are novice about wine, drinking a glass of this will be somewhat of an intensive course for you.
Italians absolutely are crazy about Brunello di Montalcino. And it’s not all based on fame. Brunello has earned its credentials as one of the greatest wines to come out of Tuscany, if not out of Italy and beyond.
Un vino in purezza, in that it is the only D.O.C.G. in Tuscany that requires 100% Sangiovese; nothing else is permitted into these wines. In addition, it must be the ‘Brunello’ clone of Sangiovese, also known as Sangiovese Grosso. Compared to the Sangiovese vines in other Tuscan wines, Brunello is peculiar for having larger size berries and thicker skins. Why is this important? It is these two qualities which give the wines of Montalcino, the Brunello’s and the Rosso’s, the darker flavor profiles and also the firm tannin structure, an important factor accounting for the aging capacity of the Brunello wines.
Another difference for the wines of Montalcino is location. South of Chianti Classico and West of Montepulciano, the city boast a privilegedexposure in climate. They get more warmth than the other two wines, but also because the city is closer to the sea, Montalcino also enjoys more of the coastal influence as well. Put simply, it’s an excellent combination for the vines.
The Brunello region can be divided roughly into two sections. In the north, the soil composition is rocky marl (locally called Galestro), yielding lighter, and structured wines with firm and austere tannins. In the south, there is much more clay in the soil and the wines are gentler: fruit-forward with riper tannins and very aromatic in their youth. Usually, winemakers assemble from the two sub-zones to create complexity, approachability and long aging in the wines.
Winemaking styles differ greatly between producers, however each one wants to create a Brunello with balanced power, structure and elegance, more possible in this region than surrounding regions. Advances in technology have helped Montalcino more than most regions- analysis of soil types, variety mutation and berry composition (tannin structure, acidity levels etc) have done in 20 years what took Burgundy 200.
Fattoria La Gerla
Not long ago, I had a chance to meet Alberto Passeri, general director and partner of Fattoria La Gerla in Montalcino. I consider La Gerla one of the best domaines crafting beautiful terroir driven Brunellos. La Gerla wines will be soon be available for the first time in Quebec. The invitation was a courtesy of its importer Authentic Vins et Spiritueux.
I have always had a soft spot for the Brunellos of La Gerla. They are notorious for their finesse and elegance. I learnt about the estate while on a wine vacation trip to Montalcino in 2011. While dining at Il Grifo restaurant, I had a bottle of their Brunello di Montalcino 2006 with pasta al forno con porcini e crema tartufata and it was a just fireworks in my palate!!
The history of La Gerla is linked to the family of Biondi Santi, the quissentential classical Brunello producer in Montalcino. In 1976 the late Milanese businessman Sergio Rossi bought the property in 1975 from Tedina Biondi-Santi, the daughter of Tancredi Biondi-Santi, who had inherited the property after her father’s passing. At that time, it was called the Podere Colombaio Santi which included an ancient farmhouse and 6.5 hectare of vineyards. Mr. Rossi had already several years of experience by running the Altesino-Caparzo estate. After the purchase, he renamed the property La Gerla and set about restoring the estate and replanting the vines using selection massale. His first vintage was 1976, making La Gerla one of the first 35 bottlers of Brunello di Montalcino; these days, there are more than 200.
Today, La Gerla consists of 11.5 hectares, spread between the original 6.5 hectare vineyard in Canalicchio (Montalcino) and an additional 5 hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, where Mr. Rossi was one of the pioneers in planting Sangiovese. The estate, now run by vineyard manager/director Alberto Passeri and Sergio’s wife Donatella Monforte, makes five wines, all made entirely from Sangiovese Grosso, the only grape planted on the property.
For more information on how to acquire these wines, please contact Pascal Brouillard at Authentic Vins et Spiritueux ( 514-242-7097).
Poggio gli Angeli Toscana IGT 2015 ( Private Import, $33.50-case of 12)
Made from 15 year young vines in Castelnuovo, in the Brunello zone but not classified as such. This wine spends 4 months in Slavonian botti and 2 months in bottle.
Enticing bouquet of violets complemented by black plums and tobacco. On the mouth, it is vibrant and quite perfumed. Flavors reminiscent of roasted herbs and red wild berries. Long with fine tannins.
Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2016 ( Private Import, $41.25-case of 6)
Born from the same vineyards as the Brunello is aged for 1 year: 10 months in Slavonian oak casks and 2 months in bottle.
Warm and inviting nose recalling cherry jam with hints of red plum laced with tamed leather. On the palate, juicy acidity with fine grained tannins. Long and racy it will be at its prime in the next 7 years.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013. SAQ # 13906952, $73.50. Expected arrival in December
The La Gerla Brunello is a blend of both the Canalicchio and Castelnuovo vineyards; the average age of the vines is 25 years old.
The grapes are destemmed but kept whole-berry, and are kept cool for 7-8 days before spontaneous fermentation, which lasts up to 15 days. The wine is then transferred to large 50-100hl casks and is aged for three years, racked twice a year, then bottled. It is then aged for an additional year before release.
Beautiful nose redolent of cedar, bay leave, provencal herbs and perfumed blackberries. Harmonious and very long with firm and chewy tannins. Complex finale bringing to mind Szechuan pepper. Drinking well now but will continue to improve in the next 10-15 years.
Riserva degli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva 2012. ( Private Import, $154.25, case of 6)
This single-vineyard cru is La Gerla soul wine. Made in the best vintages, this comes entirely from a one-hectare parcel of old vines (25-30 years old) from the original Biondi-Santi site, located between 270 and 320 meters above sea level. This hillside vineyard occupies a pristine position at the estate and consistently prime grapes. The wine is aged for 4 years in 50 -100hl Slavonian oak casks and an additional year in bottle before being released.
Fantastic nose bringing to mind cedar, graphite and tuscan tobacco complemented by violet and cassis jam. On the mouth, quite polished with a sappy acidity and retronasal aromas bringing to mind complex animal nuances. This Brunello is for the long haul ( 20 years or more in the cellar)
Vigna gli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2001 ( Not available in Quebec, for tasting purposes only)
Delicate evolved nose. Roasted prunes with delightful animal nuances reminiscent of jerky beef, black truffles and wet autumn leaves. On the palate, quite silky with mature tannins. Very complex finale recalling diverse spicy flavors of cinnamon, cocoa and cardamom.