Montalcino: Zoning One ongoing debate in Montalcino revolves around zoning. Single varietal (100% Sangiovese), single village (Montalcino) wines such as Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino lend themselves to being benchmarked like Burgundy, according to which ‘zone’ or geographical area or ‘terroir’ the grapes come from, eg. a ‘Torrenieri‘ Brunello versus a ‘Tavernelle‘ or ‘Sant’Angelo in Colle or Sant’Angelo Scalo‘ Brunello. 

Unlike Burgundy, whose two most famous wines from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are subject to a qualitative classification based on sites (Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages and generic Burgundy), currently Brunello is always a Villages wine: Brunello from the town of (‘di’) Montalcino. Some Brunello producers would like to to label wines with the name of the particular sub-zone it originates from. They argue that this will benefit the region in the long run because it will encourage wine-growers to understand better their individual terroirs (soils, mesoclimate, drainage, ripening profile) given that there are clearly substantial differences between the various sub-zones. Apart from the soil, great differences also exist in terms of altitude and climatic conditions. The northern side of Montalcino is said to produce lighter, more perfumed Sangiovese compared to southern Montalcino whose wines are said to have more more power. But vineyard altitudes can vary by 400 metres (1,321 feet), creating significant temperature differences between day and night in certain areas. Rainfall is not the same in the different sub-zones, nor is the speed at which water evaporates from the soil or from the vine leaves, particularly in dry vintages.

One proposal would be to include also include the ‘Vigna’ or Single Vineyard wines, and ‘Toponimi’. A toponimo is an historically recognized physical location on the map, referring to a farm house, castle, abbey, etc and surrounding land, whose names are now indicated road signs in yellow letters on a brown background. Toponomi are mentioned generically in Montalcino. A detailed mapping of all the vineyards of the Municipality of Montalcino would increase the recognition of Montalcino’s many and different “terroirs” and could help show how varied and interesting the territory is. The more generalist status quo lumps together areas within which are substantial differences, and focus more on soil and ignore the effects of altitude, for example.

An official quality rating along the Burgundy model is a non-starter politically, as it risks leaving behind those considered to be on ‘lesser’ soils or sites. And Montalcino producers often blend Sangiovese from different sub-zones. In this case such wines would continue to be labelled as they are now, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Anyway the perception of quality is often decided by the pricing of the wines in the market, not what is or is not written on the label.

Possible criteria for zones: Altitude. Aspect. Average temperature. Precipitation. Slope. Soil composition. Sunshine hours.