For decades, Brunello di Montalcino has stood as one of the absolute best Italian red wines, standing ably alongside its Tuscan companion, Chianti, and offering drinkers the opportunity to experience the best that the entire region has to offer.
Pairing with a wide range of foods, most famously the white truffles produced in the same region, there are many vintages of Brunello di Montalcino that have received high praise from a number of different sources.
However, achieving perfection is something that very few wines manage to achieve. Producers work long and hard to achieve the level of quality that consumers demand from the Italian wine industry, and all are working towards achieving perfection, even if that goal seems out of reach.
However, according to the Enthusiast Magazine, perfection has been achieved by a Brunello di Montalcino. The Reserve 2010 vintage, created by Biondi, now stands in rarefied air as being one of the absolute best wines created in the history of the entire industry. To commemorate this memorable occasion, and the remarkable achievement of the team at Biondi, we have decided to take a look at the history of Brunello di Montalcino and examine why it has become one of the most acclaimed types of wine to emerge from the Italian wine industry.
The Early Days
Though it is often seen as a wine that really came to prominence towards the beginning of the 19th century, Brunello di Montalcino, or at least the Brunello grape, has actually been used in Italian winemaking for much longer than that. Records of a red wine carrying the name being produced in the Montalcino region have been found from as far back as the 14th century, when it was a red wine of some repute, though it was still generally popular on a more local level and hadn’t really reached a high level of acclaim throughout the divided regions that made up Italy at the time.
However, it was a contributor to the red wine culture emerging from Tuscany and it finally achieved the recognition that it deserved in the early 19th century. The Marchese Cosimo Ridolfi, who later became the Prime Minister of Tuscany, was one of the first public figures to highlight the Montalcino region as being a creator of superb red wines, which is when the name Brunello started to achieve wide domestic acclaim.
This reputation was further enhanced due to an agriculture fair a couple of decades later, which named Brunello as its best wine. However, the Brunello that received such acclaim during this period was not actually the Brunello we know today.
The Introduction of Brunello di Montalcino
It was not until 1888 that Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, who was a former soldier, unleashed upon Italy his Brunello di Montalcino, which stood apart from all of the other Brunellos of the era because he aged the wine for over ten years inside large wooden barrels. Those who were paying attention at the beginning of the article may recognize the Biondi name as being the one attached to the perfect wine we mentioned earlier, and it is this family, perhaps more than any other, that has been responsible for the continued ascent of Brunello di Montalcino in the years that followed.
Biondi-Santi’s Brunello di Montalcino quickly developed a reputation as the rarest wine in the entire country, with the company only releasing four vintages between the wines unveiling in 1888 and the end of World War II in 1945. This exclusivity has played a large part in the legend surrounding the wine, however, as is always the case with Brunello di Montalcino, it was the quality of the wine that really shone through.
However, over time, the high prices attracted by the wine, coupled with the reputation that it had developed, led to other producers trying their hand at emulating Biondi-Santi’s success. By the end of the 1960s, eleven producers were making a wine that had previously been restricted to one company, resulting in the Montalcino region being granted the DOC status.
The number of producers of Brunello di Montalcino has rocketed up in the years that followed. Once 1970 had rolled around, there are 25 producers, and today there are now over 200. While it would be natural to assume that this expansion in production would naturally have an effect on the quality of the wine, the opposite has ended up happening. New producers brought different ideas, with the end result bring that the Brunello di Montalcino region became the first to achieve the DOCG classification, highlighting once again the quality that the wine has become known for.
Though still highly-valued, Brunello di Montalcino is no longer the rarity that it once was. Today, over 330,000 cases of the wine are produced every single year. However, those produced by the originators still command higher prices than most other commercially available red wines produced in Italy and Brunello di Montalcino still maintains a reputation that is envied by practically all other red wines throughout the world.
So where does that leave us in the future. While there are now over 200 producers of Brunello di Montalcino, most of these are fairly small operations and the wines produced by each are generally limited, allowing the wine to maintain its high level of prestige.
Contributing to this may be the continued trend in the Chinese market towards Italian red wines. There are few as desirable as Brunello di Montalcino to emanate from the country, so increased demand from other markets has the potential to create two effects. The first would be an increase in production to a scale that would likely lower the quality of the wines.
However, we don’t really see this as being something that is likely to happen. What is more likely, is that the supply will stay at a similar level to what it is now, with demand continuing to increase. As such, the wine’s reputation as one of the most exclusive and expensive to emerge from Italy will be maintained, plus its quality will not falter.