In a recent column, I wrote about the versatility of the sangiovese grape, and focused on the high end Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino from Tenuta Il Greppo in Tuscany. Biondi-Santi is a collector’s wine, selling for high prices. But you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to enjoy this exquisite and highly revered Italian red. Listed below are several Brunellos from my own cellar that I’ve cracked open in recent months as they hit their peak drinking window.
Il Valentiano Brunello Campo di Marzo 2007 – The years have been kind to this middle-tier Brunello, which sold for $24 a bottle when it hit our shores six years ago. When it first tasted it in 2012-13, it was modest in profile but has since opened up nicely.It’s bright, with strawberry and raspberry fragrances on the nose leading into a silky, harmonious palate of sour cherry, anise, strawberry and herbs. The finish is dry and lingering. Producer Azienda Agraria has improved he quality of this wine in more recent vintages, making Il Valentiano a decent buy in the mid-$20 range.
La Velona Brunello 2009 – Here’s a satisfying $34 wine which, by Brunello’s exacting standards, is fine when compared to all the 6,000 known Italian wines on the market. Yet it lacked the focused concentration of sangiovese’s powerful and complex traits. It’s very drinkable yet more subtle than what I expec from a Brunello. The color is deep red and it’s smooth and mildly spicy. La Velona’s 2010 vintage was off the charts, so there’s no reason to shy away from this estate.
La Poderina Brunello 2004, La Poderina 2010 – We drank these bottles on the same night at Filhos Restaurant in Groton, one of the few restaurants where you can bring your own wine. There were four of us – The Wine Goddess (my wife), Wine Butler (Mike Pidgeon) and his wife Judy. The food was absolutely fabulous: veal scallopini, veal marsala, and chicken marsala served with penne. The six-year difference in the wines was easy to distinguish. The 2004 was aging like the finest silk from China, elegantly smooth on the palate and maturing with layers of chocolate, tobacco and smoke to go along with its sour cherry and blackberry flavors. The younger, 2010 from a classic vintage was lavish, plush and delicious, a beautiful wine of bright red cherry and plum that will soften to even more wondrous pleasures over the next decade. The 2004 cost $42; the 2010, $50
Fattoria La Leccaiaia Brunello Riserva 2007 – When something hits my palate so clean, energetic and balanced, it transports me to the rustic land, blue skies and country farms where it was made. They waited nearly six years to release this riserva, and it was loaded with flavors of sour cherry, plums, figs, coffee and licorice, all weaving in and out of the senses. The Wine Goddess supplied a meat lasagna, baked eggplant, and a prosciutto antipasto with this delicious gem that cost $42.
Fattoria La Leccaiaia Brunello 2008 – Prior to the 1980s, Tsucan winemakers used little if no oak to soften Brunello’s overwhelming tannic structure, meaning its would years, if not decades, before the wine settled down for drinking. That’s changed, simply because consumers didn’t want to wait 20-30 years to taste it and winemakers needed to make money. Here’s the estate’s entry-level bottling, which costs $37, and it’s nice and fresh, with raspberry, tart cherry and pepper notes, leading to a dry, soft finish.
Castiglion del Bosco Brunello 2010 – Someone described this as a “feminine” Brunello which equates to a softer, elegant version that can be drunk sooner rather than later. So I found myself loving it even more. The vintage was a classic, aided by perfect growing conditions, and Castiglion del Bosco was true to the form. Sangiovese leaves a dry, dusty coasting in the mouth and the best Brunellos boast of this tender grip. Here, we get dried cherries among the many sensations, which include mint, lavender, wild herbs and wet forest. A lot of finesse. This cost $48 when purchased in 2015.
Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello 2010 – I splurged on this $140 bottle at La Campania restaurant in Waltham, and it was well worth it. A gorgeous wine from start to finish, Antinori featured a dark red cherry color and exuberant cherry flavors that picked up multiple nuances of espresso, tobacco smoke, black licorice and other savory delights. The velvety smooth texture and sweet, mild tannins punctuated a long, tantalizing finish. I dined on Veal Osso Buco while the Wine Goddess supped on a supreme rack of lamb. Divine is a proper word to describe the pairings with the wine.
Il Poggione Brunello 2006 – I’m almost saddened that I drank this wine when its still had about a decade to go in its long-lived development. It’s warm and inviting, succulent and flavorful, and elegantly imbued with the silky softness of the Medici family’s lavish 15th century wardrobe. On reflection, I have no regrets savoring its palate-pleasing beauty. This cost me $76.
Kirkland Signature Brunello di Montalcino – I close with a $23 Costco brand Brunello from the 2012 vintage not as a joke, but as a fair testament to what the Sangiovese grape can be in the proper hands. Now I don’t know who runs the Kirkland production plant in Italy, yet there’s no doubt they know what they’re doing. This is decent, entry-level expression of Brunello, undergoing the same rigid rules as wines turned out by the prestigious Tuscan estates. Kirkland purchases grapes from select Italian growers to produce a limited number of cases for its Costco customers in the states. The result is a bargain, especially for wine lovers who’ve never previously sampled Brunello. Trouble is getting your hands on a case of this wine. Bottles fly off the shelves once the shipment lands, so your best bet is to be sharp-eyed and persistent.