Tuscany - Montalcino

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The highest expression of Sangiovese is perhaps to be found in the southern Brunello di Montalcino zone around the town of Montalcino near Siena. Brunello is a local strain of Sangiovese, super-concentrated by the warmer climate here, that is solely responsible for this, potentially one of Italy’s greatest wines. South of Chianti and with usefully poor, infertile soils, the almost square Montalcino zone has no trouble ripening the vines’ relatively low charge of grapes in its much milder climate. This produces a sort of essence of Sangiovese, capable of ageing for ever and a day, although there are far too many over-worked examples. In fact Brunello di Montalcino is not released before it is four years old and rarely drunk for pleasure in its first decade.

If Chianti Classico is generally best at between four and eight years, Brunello can evolve for a decade or sometimes two. The lighter (and in many ways more useful) wines of the zone are sold as Rosso di Montalcino. The best producers include Altesino, Argiano, dei Barbi, Biondi-Santi, Caparzo, Soldera's Case Basse, Col d’Orcia, Cerbaiona, Costanti, Lisini, Pacenti, Pieve Santa Restituta, Poggio Antico, Il Poggione, Sesti, Stella di Campalto and Talenti; their wines can be an especially good buy and are drinkable at three to seven years. It is here in Castello Banfi that the US conglomerate Banfi Vintners is heavily invested, responsible for Brunello’s early high profile in the United States. The south-west corner of the zone, at its lowest altitudes, tends to produce the most concentrated wines; the highest vineyards just south of sleepy Montalcino itself produce some of the most refined (though, apart from Soldera's, refined Brunello may be an oxymoron).