Montalcino (Post code: I-53024 Montalcino) is a hill-top town in the Province of Siena in Tuscany, Italy, around 24.8 miles (40km) south of the city of Siena. Montalcino encompasses both the town and a surrounding area extensive enough to make it Siena province’s biggest commune in terms of surface areaMontalcino overlooks the Orcia valley to the east (see Orcia DOC), Siena (to the north, visible on a clear day) and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west.

Population1991 6,026 inhabitants. | 2001 6,021 inhabitants. | 2011 6,043 inhabitants. | 2014 On 01st Jan 2014 Montalcino had 891 foreign citizens. | 2016 5,946 inhabitants.

Montalcino wines: Montalcino produces four main wines all of which are showcased to the press and wine trade at the annual Benvenuto Brunello event (next edition is Benvenuto Brunello 2021). The most famous wine on show, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, is considered one of the world’s most renowned reds. Made from 100% Sangiovese (called ‘Brunello’ locally), it must age two years in oak and four years overall before sale. Another 100% Sangiovese red wine produced only in Montalcino is Rosso di Montalcino DOC (DOC from 1984). Unlike Brunello, this can be sold within the year and no oak ageing is required. The amount of Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino any one producer can make is decided by a quota based on overall Sangiovese vineyard holdings. The Sant’Antimo DOC covers still and sparkling wines made in all three colours from a range of different grape varieties. It is named after the medieval abbey (‘abazzia‘) in Castelnuovo dell’Abate in south-east Montalcino. Montalcino also boasts a small production of Moscadello di Montalcino DOC, a sweet white wine whose history pre-dates Brunello by several hundred years. As Montalcino is within the Province of Siena producers can also bottle their red wines as Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG (but few do).

Wineries in Montalcino number around 250, of which in early 2018 around one fifth were certified organic or Biodynamic, including three of the largest five estates, namely Castelgiocondo, Col d’Orcia, and Camigliano (Banfi and Il Poggione are the exceptions).

Certified Biodynamic: Pian dell’Orino. | Podere Le Ripi. | San Giuseppe (Stella di Campalto).

Certified organic, Biodynamic practicesCol d’Orcia. | Salicutti.

Certified organic: Alejandro Bulgheroni Family Vineyards. | Bolsignano. | Camigliano. | Campi di Fonterenza. | Casa Raia. | Casanova di Neri. | Casato Prime Donne. | Castelgiocondo. | Cava d’Onice. | Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. | Col di Lamo. | Collelceto. | Collemattoni. | Cordella. | Cupano. | Fornacella. | Fornacina. | Franci. | Il Cocco. | Il Paradiso di Frassina. | La Magia. | La Melina. | La Palazzetta. | La Rasina. | La Serena. | Le Chiuse. | Le Macioche Famiglia Cotarella. | Le Ragnaie. | Loacker Corte Pavone. | Piancornello. | Piombaia. | Podere Brizio. | Poggio di Sotto. | Poggio Landi. | Renieri. | San Polino. | San Polo. | Sanlorenzo. | Santa Maria. | Sassodisole. | Tassi. | Tenuta San Giorgio. | Terralsole. | Ventolaio. | Villa i Cipressi.

No certificationAgostina Pieri. | Agricola Centolani, Tenuta Friggiali e Pietranera. | Aisna. | Albatreti. | Altesino. | Armilla. | Azienda Agricola Molinari Carlo di Marisa Colombo. | Baccinetti. | Banfi. | Baricci. | Bellarina. | Belpoggio. | Bottega. | Bucine. | Campogiovanni. | Canalicchio di Sopra (Ripaccioli). | Canalicchio-Franco Pacenti. | Caparzo. | Caprili. | Carpineto. | Casanuova delle Cerbaie. | Casisano. | Casisano Colombaio| Cecchi. | Centolani. | Cerbaia| Collosorbo–Vigna di Capraia. | Corte dei Venti. | Cortonesi–La Mannella. | Castello Romitorio. | Domus Vitae. |Fattoria dei Barbi. | Fattoria del Pino di Jessica Pellegrini. | Gianni Brunelli–Le Chiuse di Sotto. | Il Bosco di Grazia. | Il Forteto del Drago. | Il Marroneto. | Il Palazzone. | Il Paradiso di Manfredi. | Innocenti. | La Fortuna. | La Lecciaia. | La Mannella–see Cortonesi-La Mannella. | La Poderina. | La Torre. | La Velona. | Lazzeretti. | Lisini. | Mastrojanni. | Mocali. | Molino della Suga. | Musico. | NostraVita. | Paradisone-Colli degli Angeli. | Pian delle Querci. | Pian delle Vigne. | Pietroso. | Poggio Antico. | Podere Martoccia. | Podere Paganico. | Podere San Giacomo. | Podere Scopetone. | Ridolfi. | SantaGiulia. | Sesta di Sopra. | Siro Pacenti. | Solaria–Patrizia Cencioni. | Talenti. | Tenuta Buon Tempo. | Tenuta Crocedimezzo. | Tenuta di Famiglia Cecchi (Montalcino). | Tenuta La Fuga. | Tenuta Le Potazzine. | Tenuta Oliveto. | Tenuta San Giorgio. | Tenute Silvio Nardi. | Tornesi. | Uccelliera. | Val di Suga. | Valentiano. | Vasco Sassetti. | Verbena. | Villa ai Tolli. | Villa Le Prata. | Villa Poggio Salvi.

Montalcino winegrowers’ Consorzio: See Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Wine producer types

1) Those who have been living in and making wine from the 19th-century (eg. Biondi-Santi until the family sold the majority of the estate in 2016).

2) Those who arrived in the early to mid-20th-century (eg outsiders like Tenute Silvio Nardi in the 1950s).

3) Former (local) sharecroppers from the 1960s onwards, when the Brunello producers’ consortium was founded.

4) Outsiders from other areas of Italy who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s (eg at Altesino, Caparzo).

5) Those who started winegrowing in the late 1990s, the last time during which Montalcino’s land registry permitted more land to be classified for wine-growing eg in Torrenieri.

Vineyard area, production, international markets: 1997 1,203 hectares (2,971 acres) of Brunello producing 3.2 million bottles. | 2017 Montalcino had around 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of vines, of which 2,100 hectares (5,187 acres) of Brunello, 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of Rosso di Montalcino and 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of Sant’Antimo DOC. Total production of 9 million bottles. 70% is exported. The main market is the USA with 30% of volume, Europe (including Switzerland) also with 30%, and Canada with 12%.

Vintages in Montalcino: 2019 vintage. | 2018 vintage. | 2017 vintage. | 2016 vintage. | 2015 vintage. | 2014 vintage. | 2013 vintage. | 2012 vintage. | 2011 vintage. | 2010 vintage. | 2009 vintage. | 2008 vintage. | 2007 vintage. | 2006 vintage. | 2005 vintage. | 2004 vintage. | 2003 vintage. | 2002 vintage. | 2001 vintage. | 2000 vintage. | 1999-1970 vintages. | 1969-1945 vintages.

Origin of the nameThe name “Montalcino” may derive from Mons Lucinus, the mount of Lucina in Latin, after the Roman goddess Lucina (the Greek Juno). A more widely accepted alternative holds that Montalcino derives from Mons Ilcinus or Monte Leccio, leccio being the Italian for holm oak or ilex (ilicis in Latin). The coat of arms of the Municipality of Montalcino features a holm oak atop three mountains. The town’s Civil and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art contains a coat of arms for Montalcino dating from the 14th-century made from onyx which shows the holm oak.

Strategic importance: The mass of hills upon which the town of Montalcino sits (the eastern side being the inhabited part) is both wide and easy to defend and dominates the immediate surrounding area (Guelfo Magrini: 2003, p.20).

First evidence of wine: Montalcino is the centre of what was once Etruria, an ancient italic civilisation whose people, the Etruscans, gave their name to Tuscany (Guelfo Magrini 2003, p.20). Archeological evidence in the form of amphora and pourers designed to filter out the spices used at that time to flavour wine suggests wine was made here by the Etruscans in around the 4th-century BC. From 1000 AD tannin from the local oaks was used to tan leather. Charcoal from the trees fired the kilns for pottery.

Middle Ages–IndependenceBetween the 12th and 16th centuries, Montalcino was a wealthy city state and important republic in its own right. In the 13th century the rival cities of first Siena and then Florence fought for control of Montalcino due to its strategic importance.

First, Montalcino had to defend itself militarily against Siena until the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, in which Siena defeated Florence. This meant Montalcino came under Siena’s aegis. The battle was so bloody that the Arbia river was said to have run red, hence Sienese tease people from Montalcino (Montalcinesi or Ilcinesi) for being ‘becca morti‘ or grave diggers. A hard, small, oblong-shaped local biscuit is called ‘ossi morti’ or dead bones. For the next 300 years Montalcino had to defend itself against the might of Florence and was considered an impenetrable stronghold, protected by walls and by its great fortress (la fortezza), built in 1361

Montalcino is especially proud of its resistance during several sieges to which it was subjected between 1526 and 1559. It fought the French army that Pope Clement VIII sent against it in 1526, and then the troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1553. In 1553 Florence besieged Montalcino, with Spanish help. Montalcino’s commander Marshal Blaise de Montluc ‘reddened his face with robust vermilion wine’ in order to appear less pale and food-deprived (whether this wine was a Sangiovese is not known).

Having been defeated in 1555, the Republic of Siena was driven away by the Medici and a government was set up in Montalcino, where for four years the city’s exiles lived. The siege was called off after the Spanish general saw a vision of the Madonna, hence she became patron saint of the town.

In 1559 Florence seized Montalcino and the inhabitants of Montalcino handed the keys of the city to the representatives of Cosimo de’ Medici. The town had been the last to survive as an independent municipality in Italy. The Treaty of Chateau Cambresis sanctioned peace between France and Spain, and gave Siena, Montalcino and their lands to the Dukedom of Tuscany (The Grand Duchy under the Medici). The Dukedom was subsequently absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy, and marked the beginning of Montalcino’s modern history. This meant there was no longer any need for the town to defend itself. The leather shoes and terracotta that had made the town wealthy were abandoned in favour of agriculture, including wine.

The Middles ages–winemaking: In the Middle Ages, municipal edicts established the time of year when grapes were to be harvested. Leandro Alberti (1550-1631) from Bologna stated Montalcino was ‘much mentioned for the good wines that are reaped from those homely hills.’ On his visit to Montalcino in 1676-1677 the Grand Duke’s auditor, Bartolomeo Gherardini noted the production of 6050 somas of wine, which he describes as a ‘lively wine, though not abundant.’ In 1744 Charles Thompson wrote that ‘Montalcino is not particularly famous, except for the goodness of its wines.’

19th century : Modern Brunello born: The birth of Brunello of Montalcino dates to the 19th century, when a handful of local farmers began making a red wine from grapes of a vine traditionally cultivated in the surrounding lands and known as ‘Brunello’ or ‘Brunellino’. Around the mid-1800’s this is identified as Sangiovese, a red wine grape capable of producing wines capable of ageing. The first documented mention of ‘Brunello’ occured when Clemente Santi won a prize at a local fair for his 1865 ‘vino rosso scelto (brunello)’. This was the first example in Italy of a single varietal prestige wine.

The region then suffered from oidium and downy mildew, with the white Moscadello vines worst hit it seems. Sangiovese seemed to fare better. Clemente Santi’s grandson Ferruccio, who had improved the selection of Sangiovese made by his grandfather from the 1850s, bottled his first wine from it in 1888 and Brunello di Montalcino came into being. ‘It was Ferruccio who, precisely because of the preserving properties of those unalleviated hard tannins of the Sangiovese Grosso clone he called Brunello, conceived of Brunello (the wine) as a vino da invecchiamento, a wine for long ageing, backing his judgement by laying down substantial quantities of the still extant 1888 and 1891,’ writes Nicolas Belfrage (2003, p.112).

20th century: At the start of the C20th Montalcino was a rich community at an important crossroads linking the Maremma, Rome and Arezzo. By 1920 there were 2,000 hectares of vines, and wine was starting to take its place amongst agricultural crops. The vineyard area in 1930 was the biggest it would be for fifty years. The 1930s were tough here due to phylloxera. During the Second World War local cellars were drunk dry. The region did have three good post-war harvests in 1945 (great), 1946 (very good), and 1947 (great).

1950s: From the 1950s Montalcino families like the Colombini from Fattoria dei Barbi, the Lisini, the Franceschi at Il Poggione, Costanti Lovatelli, Mastropaolo and the Nardi of Casale del Bosco and Castiglion del Bosco began bottling Brunello.

1960s: In the 1960s a by-pass was built, meaning traffic no longer passed through Montalcino, leaving it as something of a backwater. When DOC arrived in 1966 ‘there were 13 bottlers and 76 hectares (187ha) of registered vines,’ says O’Keefe (reference). In 1967 the Consorzio for the Montalcino region’s wines was founded. The arrival of the DOC and the end of the mezzadria or sharecropping system meant winegrowing started to become more specialised (monocultural).

1970s: In the 1970s there was both a steady influx of new arrivals (eg. CaparzoLa Magia, Sesti), and a trend for local grape growers to convert to estate winemaking. This brought the building of new wineries and an influx of winemaking consultants.

1978: The American Mariani brothers created what is now the Banfi winery, advised by Attilio Scienza.

1980 DOCG: In 1980 Brunello became the first Italian wine to obtain DOCG status. This fixed tighter standards and reduced yields to 80 quintals (56hl/ha). Over the next decade substantial investments were made by the likes of Banfi, Agricola Centolani’s Tenuta Friggiali, SAI Agricola’s La Poderina, the Marchesi family’s Val di Suga, the Frescobaldi family at Castelgiocondo, and San Felice at Campogiovanni.

1984 Rosso di Montalcino DOC: In 1984 the Rosso di Montalcino DOC was created.

1990s Influx of new blood: In the 1990s there was a second influx of new arrivals (eg Milanese) from areas such as business, law and medicine, which led to the creation or renewal of wineries like Altesino, Argiano, Caparzo and. Established estates such as Conti Costanti, Fuligni and Siro Pacenti had to raise their game when a younger generation took over. This changed Montalcino from being the poor neighbour to the richest commune in the province of Siena.

1997 Vineyard area enlargement: The vineyard area was extended from 1997 when a European Union funding initiative (decree 950) aimed at encouraging those under 40 to become farmers coincided with an extension to the plantable vineyard area in Montalcino. This saw new plantings in both traditional wine-growing areas in Montalcino such as Castelnuovo dell’Abate and Sant’Angelo in Colle, as well as in less traditional ones like Torrenieri

Montalcino Terroir

The wines of Montalcino (Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Moscadello di Montacino DOC and Sant’Antimo DOC) all come 100% from grapes grown within the boundary of the commune of Montalcino.

Shape of the region: The Montalcino production zone is like a four-sided square each of whose sides measure roughly 9.3 miles (15 km) for a combined surface area of what was 94 square miles (243 square km) until Montalcino merged administratively with the neighbouring township of San Giovanni d’Asso to the east which added another 25.5 square miles (66 square km). However, the boundary for the Montalcino region’s wines did not change, meaning wines from San Giovanni d’Asso cannot be labelled as Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo, or Moscadello.

Surrounding communes (9): Asciano (SI), Buonconvento (SI), Castel del Piano (GR), Castiglione d’Orcia (SI), Cinigiano (GR), Civitella Paganico (GR), Murlo (SI), Pienza (SI), Trequanda (SI). The formerly independent and neighbouring commune of San Quirico d’Orcia (SI) has now been subsumed into the commune of Montalcino.

Size: Overall, the surface area of land allowed the Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo or Moscadello denominations is 11 times bigger than that of Pauillac (25.5 square miles or 66 square km) in Bordeaux.

The north-western area is mainly forest, hence it has become known as as ‘Bosco’ or wood. The north-eastern area around the hamlet of Torrenieri is mostly clay, so crops like wheat, and forage dominate. The vineyards of Montalcino are really concentrated in the north around the town, in the center, and in the southern part.

Topography: The Montalcino region rises from 71 metres (232 feet) to 567 metres (1,860 feet). The topography consists of high hills (70% of the area), mountain (1%), low, fertile plains (29%) and narrow valleys leading to the rivers mentioned above (Magrini 2003, p.21). The upper limit above which vines were not permitted for Brunello has been scrapped due to warming temperatures (see Climate, below).

Four-sided pyramid: Fabian Schwarz of La Magia describes the town of Montalcino as being like ‘a pyramid, with a square base of four sides—four parts in Montalcino. There is the northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. The two main climatic zones in Montalcino are the north area, which obviously is a little bit cooler, and the south which is a little bit warmer. Montalcino is strongly influenced by the Tyrrhenian sea, which is just 25 miles (40 kilometres) away to the west. The sea is especially influential on the western side of Montalcino.’ 

Mount Amiata: Mount Amiata, or Monte Amiata is an extinct volcano to the south of Montalcino. It is the highest peak in Tuscany at 1,738 metres (5,702 feet), and Italy’s second highest volcano (after Etna). Dominating the territory of Montalcino, Amiata protects vineyards in the southeastern part (Castelnuovo dell’Abate) from winds that come from the plains. It is also a buffer against hot sirocco winds coming from the south (Magrini: 2003, p.23), and catalyzes bad weather, drawing hail and the heaviest rains.

Climate: Magrini (2003, p.24-25) describes Montalcino’s climate as typically Mediterranean, with rainfall concentrated mainly in the spring and autumn, averaging 690-700mm (27.1-27.5 inches) annually. Months with the highest levels of rainfall are May, October and November. In winter snow above 40 metres (131 feet) is not infrequent (Magrini, ibid). The climate is mild, with over 160 sunny days annually.

Hillside areas rarely experience freezing, late frost, or fog (although see the Canalicchio area). The variations in aspect and topography provides constant airflow which reduces the risk of vine diseases. The vineyards to the north west are cooler, those to the south (Camigliano, Tavernelle, Sant’Angelo, Castelnuovo dell’Abate) are more influenced by the warm winds blowing across the Maremma from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Overall, Montalcino is warmer and drier than the Chianti Classico region to the north which gets little direct moderating influence from the Tyrrhenian. This is reflected in Montalcino’s flora (see below), particularly the presence of mastic and Indian fig, and partly explains why unlike Chianti Classico DOCG or Vino Nobile, Brunello di Montalcino can and must be 100 per cent Sangiovese (‘Sangiovese in purezza’). 

Climate changeNotes taken by the Biondi-Santi family at their Il Greppo estate from 1976 show that rainfall has decreased by 30 percent, while the average temperature has risen 1ºC (1.8ºF), according to Franco Biondi-Santi (Kerin O’Keefe 2006 11, p.77). The rule stating that vines had to be grown below 600 metres (1,968 feet) was intended to avoid unripe Brunellos from cool, high altitude sites, but in the wake of climate change the maximum altitude limit for Brunello was dropped in 2015 (see Le Ragnaie.) 

A meeting at Col d’Orcia in early 2019 (‘Comitato Montalcino Bio’) with various speakers we heard issues included: later frosts, increased hydric stress, hormonal stress due to less water in spring (‘spring fever’), greater risk of odium, less risk of downy mildew (peronospora), greater risk of grape berry moths, the changing effect solar radiation was having on vines leaves, Sangiovese was notlonger being planted in California, Quercetin, Sangiovese with high pH means less nitrogen for the yeast, higher sugars, increases anthocyanins, less astringency, Sangiovese grapes more likely to shrivel (‘appasimento’), stomata close, lace of water, soil with higher humus levels (to hold nutrients and moisture.

Geology & Soil: Jan Erbach of Pian dell’Orino says ‘Montalcino’s underlying geology is complex because it was formed by the Sardinian and Corsican geological micro-plates (the latter part of the African plate) drifting north-east into what is now mainland Europe, which of course has its own geological plate. This collision created the Appennines which came out of the sea 140 million years ago and are still rising. The African plate went under the Eurasian plate and created the Alps. The Montalcino zone’s topography and soils have several very varied influences too. The soils may have come from volcanic activity (Mount Amiata which left a sea of clay in Montalcino), from warm seas full of life which produce nutrient-rich soils, or from colder and life-poor ones which produce heavier soils with fewer nutrients [eg. galestro]. I have four different soil types in one of my smallest vineyards – bright clay, dark clay, dark stones, and light sand – and I am not alone. If I farm this vineyard as one homogeneous whole I’ll make a mish-mash of a wine with only moderate qualitative potential. However, by planting different Sangiovese clones on different rootstocks in each of the different soils, and then pruning, tending and picking the different sub-parcels of vines in subtly different ways, I can make maybe three really good top-priced wines and one really good lesser-priced wine. If every wine-grower in Montalcino had access to more information about what exactly their vine roots are digging into they’d be able to make better-informed choices when matching rootstocks and Sangiovese clones to certain soils, be they galestro or alberese or Pliocene clays. This would at least give each vine a much better, more qualitatively productive foundation, or foothold, in the Montalcino terroir.’

Kerin O’Keefe (11 2006 p.76) says in ‘Montalcino was formed in different geological eras. Younger soils, comprising alluvial deposits from the Quaternary Epoch and clay from marine deposits during the Pliocene Epoch, dominate in the southern lowlands, while further uphill the terrain is mainly clay enriched with calcareous fossil material (Miocene-Oligocene). In the upper part of the territory, the soil is moderately stony, mixed with sand and rich in lime. The well-draining soil here is very old (Cretaceous-Eocene-Jurassic) and can restrain the youthful exuberance of productive grapevines…a prudent clause in the original [1966] production code did specify that vineyards had to be “on land of Eocene origin,” which effectively limited Brunello production to the higher altitudes and most suitable soils. This was later revised, however, to include land up to the Pliocene period, clearing the way for cultivation throughout the entire denomination.’

Soil pH: Enzo Tiezzi told me on 09th April 2015 that ‘Montalcino has generally alkaline (‘sub-acido’) soils. This is what gives the Sangiovese wines their ‘salinità or savoury-salty aspect’.

Watercourses: The original region (minus San Quirico d’Orcia) comprising the commune of Montalcino is bordered by four watercourses of which the two most important are the Orcia and the Ombrone. The largest is the (shallow) Ombrone to the north-west (whose source is near Castelnuovo Berardenga in the Chianti Classico region). The Ombrone meets the Arbia, which flows north but soon turns east, creating the wide, low Arbia valley (Val d’Arbia). This was crossed in Roman times by the Cassian road (Via Cassia) and the Francigena, a route created in late medieval times by religious pilgrims. The two roads follow the valley and meet in Torrenieri before continuing towards Rome (Magrini 2003, p.21). The Orcia river lies to the south, and meets and feeds the Ombrone in the south-west of the Montalcino region from where the Ombrone flows west and south-west towards Grosseto and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the western Mediterranean, 25 miles (40km) from Montalcino as the crow flies.

Viticulture

Average vineyard holding: According to Kerin O’Keefe (2012, p.247) sixty-six per cent of Brunello estates possess 5 hectares (12 acres) or less, with 22% having less than one hectare (2.47 acres).

Vine density: From 2016 the proposed minimum vine density at replanting was raised from 3,000 vines per hectare (1,214 vines per acre) to 4,000 vines per hectare (1,620 vines per acre).

Yields: Yields are set at 8 tonnes per hectare (3.24 tonnes per acre) maximum for Brunello. Vineyards registered for Brunello may also produce Rosso, but not the other way around; and the Brunello vineyard can only yield the production maxima for Brunello even if the wine is destined for Rosso. Single vineyard wines (‘Vigna’, ‘Vigneto’) were reduced to 7 tonnes per hectare (2.83 tonnes per acre) for Brunello and 8 tonnes per hectare (3.24 tonnes per acre) for Rosso from 2016. 

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’ 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.

Named vineyards, sites, places, hamlets, localities, and sub-zones: | Abbazia di Abbadia Ardenga. | Albatreti (località). | Altesi (località). | Altesino (località). | Argiano (località). | Bassomondo (località). | Bellaria (località). | Bosco. | Camigliano (località). | Campogiovanni (località). | Canalicchio (località). | Canneta (località). | Capanna (località). | Caparzo (località). | Casaccia (località). | Casale del Bosco (località). | Casanova Lisini (località). | Casanuova delle Cerbaie (località). | Casato (località). | Casella (località). | Casella dell’Amastrone. | Casisano (località). | Castelgiocondo. | Castello Altesi (località). | Castello di Romitorio. | Castelnuovo dell’Abate. | Castiglione dei Boschi. | Castiglione del Bosco (località). | Cerbaia (località). | Cerbaia–La Rasa. | Citille di Sotto (località). | Collemattoni (località). | Colombaio di Montosoli (località). | Corte Pavone (località). | Cottimelli. | Fornacella (località). | Greppone (località). | Il Greppo. | La Casa. | La Casina di Mocali (località). | La Croce (località). | La Fornace (località). | La Mannella (località). | La Palazzo (località). | La Pescaia (località). | La Poderina (località). | La Poverina. | La Rasina (località). | La Velona (località). | Le Gode (località). | Le Prata (località). | Le Presi (località). | Le Ragnaie (località). | Le Ripi (località). | Madonna delle Grazie (località). | Mercatali (località). | Mocali (località). | Molinello (località). | Molino della Suga (località). | Montosoli. | Oliveto (località). | Osservanza (località). | Paradiso (località). | Pascena (località). | Passo del Lume Spento. | Pelagrilli (località). | Pian delle Querci (località). | Pian delle Vigne (località). | Pian di Conte. | Piancornello (località). | Piombaia (località). | Pisana–Collelceto. | Podere Bellaria (località). | Podere Bellavista (località). | Podere Belvedere (località). | Podere Brizio (località). | Podere Centine (località). | Podere La Fortuna (località). | Podere Martoccia (località). | Podere Palazzo (località). | Podere San Polo di Podernovi (località). | Podere Scarnacuoia (località). | Podere Scopone (località). | Poderino (località). | Podernovi (località). | Poggio Salvi (località). | Podernovone (località). | Podernuovo. | Poderuccio (località). | Poggio alle Mura. | Poggio Antico (località). | Poggio Civitella. | Poggio di Sotto (località). | Poggio Salvi (località). | Pullera (località). | Quercecchio (località). | Renieri (località). | Rogarelli (località). | Romitorio (località). | SanCarlo (località). | San Giacomo di Collodi (località). | San Giorgio (località). | San Polino (località). | Santa Giulia (località). | Santa Restituta (località). | Sant’Angelo in Colle (località). | Sant’Angelo Scalo. | Sasso al Vento (località). | Sesta (località). | Sesta di Sopra (località). | Soccorso (località). | Spuntali. | Tavernelle (località). | Torrenieri. | Uccelliera (località). | Val di Cava (località). | Vallafrico (località). | Ventolaio (località). | Verbena (località). | Villa i Cipressi (località). | Viti San Carlo (località).

Biodiversity: The commune of Montalcino comprises 24,000 hectares (59,000 acres) of land. Of this, 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) or 15% of Montalcino’s surface is vineyard, whilst around 50% is wild and given to forest (holm oak, chestnut), Mediterranean marshes, and native grassland. More of the commune is given to woodland (see immediately below) now than in the 1800s when 50% of Montalcino’s surface area was cultivated. The thickest woodland is found on Montalcino’s western side. Apart from holm and other species of oak, other types of trees include sweet chestnut and manna or flowering ash, arbutus or strawberry tree (‘corbezzolo‘), mastic tree or lentisc, and in lower areas bramble rose, broom, myrtle and juniper, and flora used to low levels of rainfall. Also found: Iris (‘giaggiolo’) or Iris x germanica, Prickly Pear (‘ficodindia’ or ‘ficio d’India) or Opuntia ficus-indica, wild or dog rose (‘rosa selvatica’, ‘rosa canina’) or Rosa canina (Magrini 2003, p.27).

Fauna: Hedgehogs, badgers, porcupines, beech martens, weasels, foxes, and grey wolves. Birds include owls, owlets, barn owls, tawny owls, and buzzards (looking for rabbits, hares, frogs, field mice, pheasant and partridge. Other birds include the harrier eagle, hen harrier, windhover, nuthatch, falcon, green woodpecker, imperial crow, wryneck, and sparrow. The thrush (‘tordo’) is emblematic of Montalcino, which celebrates a festival in its honour, but the bird has almost disappeared due to over hunting (exacerbated by the fact the thrush is a solitary bird). Starlings have suffered less, because they organise into flocks complete with a guard roster. Wild boar and roebuck are also prevalent despite being hunted.

Non-wine crops in Montalcino: Guelfo Magrini (2003, p.23) says the main non-wine crops are ones which are sowable (‘seminativo’), pastures and other crops (orchards, mainly plums, especially in the Ombrone valley) with 36% of Montalcino’s cultivatable area, plus olives (8%), and wine (11%), of which 55% is enrolled in the Brunello registry.

Town gates: Porta al Cassero. | Porta al Cornio. | Porta Burelli (Murelli). | Porta Castellana. | Porta Cerbara (Cervara). | Porta Gattoli.

Tourist Office: L’Ufficio Turistico Comunale, Il Museo di Sant’Agostino, Via Ricasoli, 31 | Tel+39 0577 846014.

Where to eat

Why not?: Superlative iced creams and iced yoghurt.

Boccon DiVino: Località Colombaio Tozzi, 201 | boccondivinomontalcino.it | Tel+39 0577 848233 | Outdoor seating on a terrace with a view over the Orcia Valley. The name means “a sip of wine”. Mario Foriani and his wife Vanna and daughters Marina and Alessandra. Try re-working of traditional dishes like ‘peposo’ (braised or ‘brastao’ beef with pepper), ‘carrabaccia’ (an onion soup, with a slice of pecorino cheese and toasted bread, olive oil and some herbs); and scottiglia di cinghiale (stewed wild boar, small pieces of meat on the bone, with tomato sauce, oil etc); or new ones like tortellini with saffron and truffles.

Caffè Bar Alle Logge di Piazza: Owner: Simone Muggianu and family. List of cocktails and aperitifs. Daily wine tasting. Reading area by an open hearth plus small library of books on the local area, its wine, food and history. Wine shop with tasting room. Outdoor seating. Contact: Caffè Bar Alle Logge di Piazza Piazza del Popolo, 1. Tel+39 0577.846186. Closed Wednesdays. Open 07.00-01.00 hours. Hot food throughout the day.

Grappolo Blu: Scale di Via Moglio, 1 | +39 0577.847150 or www.grappoloblu.it. | Like an old hostelry or inn. 350 wines on the wine list. Owners are Maria Pia (cook) and her husband Luciano (front of house). Ravioli with sheep’s cheese, crostini, pinci pasta with garlic and rabbit with Brunello.

Il Giglio: Hotel with restaurant. Very good multi-course wine tasting dinners, relaxed ambience, super knowledgeable staff, and a varied menu (not the same-old same-old Tuscan repertoire). Well stocked list of Brunellos for those wanting to do a vertical tasting.

Il Marrucheto: Via della Stazione, 7 – Sant’Angelo ScaIo. Good seafood and pizza’s. Popular with locals. Tel+39 0577 808000

Il Pelo nell’Uova: Loc Sprugano, San Giovanni d’Asso (SI). www.ristoranteilpelonelluovo.it. Home style cooking, focus on locally sourced, and home grown produce from the estate’s own allotment and garden. 

Petto’s Pizza: Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1. In the centre of Montalcino. Take away pizza by the slice. Naples-style pizza (thin crust, puffed-up dough). Soft drinks. Seats while waiting. No tables or chairs.

Poggio Antico: Restaurant of the Poggio Antico wine estate. | Tel+39 0577 849200.

Wine shops

Enoteca Grotta di Brunello: Costa di Piazza Garibaldi, 3. Tel+39 0577.848095. Old wine cellar. Room dedicated to Brunello grappa. Honey, pasta, oil and jam. Contact Giancarlo Luciani.

Enoteca La Fortezza di Montalcino: Piazzale Fortezza. | Tel+39 0577.829211. www.enotecalafortezza.it. Open summer 9am-8pm. Restaurant inside the former guardroom of the Montalcino fortress. Cold meats, cheeses, olive oils and honey (strawberry, acacia and chestnut), plus Brunello to taste by the glass (but not riservas it seems). Can taste and nibble.

Enoteca Les Barriques: Guido and Marco Martini’s wine shop is in Montalcino’s main street. Food served too. Wine served by the glass. Wine stored in the insides of old ‘botti’. Contact: Enoteca Les Barriques, via Bellaria, 10 (0577.848414).

Enoteca Pierangioli: Piazza del Popolo, 16. In the centre of Montalcino, near the clock tower of the old City Hall. Founded by Sergio Pierangioli, this was one of the first wine shops in Montalcino to open. Local wines plus olive oil, pasta, honey, jam, dried mushrooms and aromatic herbs. His two sons now run it. One son, Alessandro, runs a wine tour business, with Giovanni Paris, owner of Montalcino Wine Tours. They cover Montalcino, Chianti, Montepulciano and Bolgheri. Contact: Enoteca Pierangioloi, Piazza del Popolo, 16. Tel+39 0577.849113. Sergio Pierangioli. Lots of Brunello plus olive oil, pasta, honey, jam, dried mushrooms and aromatic herbs.

Vini Lazzeretti: Via Ricasoli, 14. This belongs to the Lazzeretti family whose winery is just north of the town (see here). Tel+39 0577.848475 | www.vinilazzeretti.it.

Where to stay

Hotel Il Giglio: Traditional. Tel+39 0577 848167 | www.gigliohotel.com. See also above for its restaurant.

Hotel Vecchia Oliviera, Porta Cerbaia, Via Landi, 1 | Tel+39 0577 846028. | vecchiaoliviera.com. In the historic centre, panoramic, hilly. Closed 26 Nov. – 26 Dec. Bar. Parking. Swimming pool with hydromassage. A former olive mill or ‘ frantoio’.

Bibliography

Guelfo Magrini (2003) ‘Brunello di Montalcino’ by Guelfo Magrini (Morganti Editori, 2003), English edition.

Kerin O’Keefe (2012) ‘Brunello di Montalcino’ by Kerin O’Keefe (University of California Press, 2012).

Kerin O’Keefe (2006 11) ‘Brunello’s moment of truth’ by Kerin O’Keefe, World of Fine Wine 11 2006.