Updated: Apr 27
One of the beautiful grapes of the Sierra Foothills is Sangiovese. Let’s take a deeper look at Sangiovese’s most ideal Old World representation, Brunello di Montalcino. This 100% Sangiovese wine from Tuscany ages with mind-blowing complexity. All vineyards are located near the town of Montalcino, a labyrinth of a city plucked straight out of the 16th century.
To me, Brunello was an enigma. I always felt like an outsider, like Brunello-loving was a club, and I didn’t know the secret handshake. I recognized the complexity, but I wasn’t sure I enjoyed the austerity and disjointed flavors. Then I started drinking aged versions, and I had my “oh wow” moment. There is no drastic transformation here. Brunello aging is all about softening and melding as the discordance of youth turns into a syncopated harmony.
A lot is going on here in the bottle, which means there is a lot that can go wrong. Processing, vintage, and storage conditions must be perfect for the components to age in tune. Also, the aromatic transformations are hard to describe. On the one hand, the Primaries are full of bright red fruit and fresh florals that first transform into dried cherries and ripe strawberries and then into sweet cranberries and figs along with sweet perfumes. On the other hand, there is also earthiness that is present from the beginning. The herbal, tomato, and balsamic notes are almost like Primary aromas. There is also funky Italian-ness 🤌🤌 and varying degrees of volatile acidity, though modern versions are more and more clean, depressingly.
The real magic happens as the Tertiaries of Degradation develop and heighten, and unthinkably good things happen late in the game (as Frances Mayes says describing a different kind of maturation under the Tuscan sun). The earth and funk, which can be off-putting in the young wine, turn into perfect accompaniments for the drying fruit and dried and secondary flavors… a sweet and savory blend of symphonic complexity.
The taste curves are tricky because Brunello tastes are very subjective, but a few things are clear. Even Aged Wine Dabblers need a little more age on this one than typical. With the early complexity, the Aged Wine Lover’s adolescence dip is a little less pronounced. And the Old Soul window is very long once it arrives.
Here's how the different vintages are drinking in 2023: