By TOM MARQUARDT and PATRICK DARR
Brunello di montalcino, a DOCG-designated red wine made in the Tuscan hilltop town of Montalcino, is a hot commodity in contemporary red wine drinking circles. The name translates to “little dark/brown one” and refers to the grape’s color.
Made from 100 percent sangiovese — the most planted red varietal in Italy — this area has exploded in the past 70 years. In 1945 the revered and famed Biondi-Santi was the only recorded producer of brunello di montalcino. Today more than 200 producers farm 3,000 acres and make more than 300,000 cases per year.
We recently met with 31-year-old Tommaso Cortonesi, winemaker for La Mannella, producers of rosso di montalcino and brunello di montalcino. Tommaso quickly dispelled the notion that brunello di montalcino is planted uniformly with the special clone of sangiovese called sangiovese grosso. Tommaso said the only requirement for rosso di montalcino or brunello di montalcino is that grower’s plant sangiovese. In fact, in their 20 acres of vineyards La Mannella utilizes three different sangiovese clones and two different rootstocks to match varying soil types and micro conditions.
Cortonesi told us that all of the approved Brunello di Montalcino DOCG land is fully planted, which is why vineyards fetch exceedingly high prices. Just recently 7.5 acres of a well-situated Brunello di Montalcino vineyard sold for more than $4 million. The expensive cost of vineyards and extended aging requirements easily account for the premium prices that consumers must pay for these wines. Almost all Brunello di Montalcino costs in excess of $50 per 750ml bottle and in some cases more than $200.
We were impressed with La Mannella’s various bottlings beginning with the La Mannella Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2013 ($30). Rosso di Montalcino is a designation that because of several factors — age of the vines, overall quality of the grapes, or amount of aging — doesn’t make the cut for Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.
The rosso di montalcino exhibited bright ripe cherry fruit with some spice notes, and is made from some of La Mannella’s youngest vineyards. This wine can be an inexpensive way to get a sense of the interest and excitement for the wine-growing region around Montalcino.
The La Mannella Brunello di Montalcino ($72) 2010 is the currently available vintage because 5 years of aging are required. Sourcing grapes from vineyards to the north of Montalcino, this wine was riper and richer than the “rosso” and had a bit more tannin.
Both of these wines are ready to drink now, although a one-hour decant would open up the brunello di montalcino.
The La Mannella Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 was sublime and elegant after aging for 4 years in 3,000-liter French oak barrels. The price tag of $250 will prohibit most consumers from tasting this very good wine. If you are one of the lucky owners, give it a few years to show its best.
A single vineyard La Mannella Brunello di Montalcino “I Poggiarelli” 2010 ($95) demonstrated the benefit of using the 25-year-old vines from this family owned vineyard. Very bright, linear cherry flavors, and long in the mouth pair with a very smooth silky tannin package. Very, very good!
- R. Cohn North Coast Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($22). Very effusive in fruit, this serious and complex cabernet is chock full of dark berry fruit and firm tannins with hints of olives and licorice.
- La Crema Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014 ($30). Now in its third vintage, the Oregon version of La Crema’s pinot noir program is a stunning wine. Generous aromas with fruit-forward, ripe plum and blackberry flavors and a soft texture. Incredibly delicious.
- Harken Chardonnay 2015 ($15). The producer wants to harken back to days when rich buttery and oaky chardonnays were actually enjoyed. If you are among them, this wine is for you.
- Leese-Fitch Firehouse Red Wine 2014 ($12). Can the price of this wine be right? Those of who looking for a bargain – and who isn’t? – will be thrilled by the fruit-forward profile, rich texture and healthy tannins. It is a motley blend of petite sirah (33 percent), syrah, merlot, zinfandel, barbera, mourvedre and tempranillo. It’s fruity enough to serve as an aperitif, but would easily do well with grilled chicken or sausage, tomato-based pasta and hamburgers. Leese-Fitch is on fire with its lineup of inexpensive wines, often found in restaurants.
- FEL Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 ($28). Delicate but still flavorful, this burgundy-like chardonnay has citrus and apple aromas followed by grapefruit and melon flavors. Very good wine to pair with seafood.
- Lohr Estates Cuvee POM 2013 ($50). Based on merlot, this blend uses malbec, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc to make a rich and complex wine. Plenty of plum and blackberry flavors with a dash of blueberry pie and chocolate.
- Hacienda De Arinzano DOP Pago De Arinzano 2011 ($30). This is a terrific Spanish red wine with bright cherry and strawberry flavors with a hint of oak and spice. The acidity in this wine make it perfect paired with food.
- Clayhouse Malbec Red Cedar Vineyard Paso Robles 2013 ($15). This is an amazing value for $15. Rich raspberry nose and flavors. Good structure with delicious spicy notes and oak frame.