Brunello de Mantalcino

vinesleuthBy Amy Gross

This month you’re likely to start seeing the 2008 Brunello di Mantalcino wines hitting the wine shops after they made their debut at Benvenuto Brunello in Montaclino, Italy in late February. I was fortunate enough to be among the first to preview these delicious wines in late January, when the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino chose to share their wines first with wine writers, beverage directors and sommeliers here in Houston a full three days before our counterparts in New York City had their preview. It’s great to be in Houston, isn’t it?

Just before the preview, I was able to speak with Kevin Zraly about Brunellos and Rossos and then attend a seminar and tasting of several Brunellos. Zraly is one of the world’s  leading wine educators and author of the book Windows on the World: Complete Wine Course, which has sold more than three million copies since the first edition was released.

After the interview and seminar, I was set loose to experience the wines of nearly 40 producers in the appellation, and what an experience it was! I relished tasting each and every producer, beginning with their Rosso, moving up to their 2008 Brunello and then moving on to their Riserva or 2007 vintage. Tasting those wines back-to-back helped me to really appreciate and begin to understand the differences between wines at different levels made by the same producers, but also the nuances between different styles used in making wines by the different producers. It was definitely a delicious day!

Zraly named Brunello as one of the three greatest wines in the entire world, and, although I still have a lot to experience before I could ever come close to making such a statement, I agree that these wines had delicious character and beauty. And, to top it all off, so many of them were also great values.

What is Brunello? 

Brunello wines are made from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes all a red, zesty little grape that can also be seductive and silky in Brunello di Montalcino, an appellation within Tuscany, which is just north of Rome.

Brunello wine must be aged in oak for a minimum of two years, which, according to Zraly’s book, makes a fruitier, more accessible wine. Some producers age in smaller French barique to impart more oak flavor, whereas others age in larger oak casks. After that process, the wine is required to be aged a minimum of four months in the bottle. Brunello Riserva is aged a minimum of three years in oak and six months in the bottle.

What about Rosso? 

Rosso wines are typically made from the same or at least very similar Sangiovese grapes that go into Brunello, making Rosso a great budget-friendly place to start your Brunello education. They are grown in the same place; they just didn’t make the cut for the first label and are not required to be aged as long and are thus called Rosso.

A wonderful thing about Rosso, though, is that it might be second-label grapes, but when you are drinking second-label grapes for what Zraly calls one of the best wines in the world, you know they still must be delicious.  And, they are.

Budget-friendly and world class

Aside from being extremely food friendly, easy to pronounce, aromatic and extremely flavorful, another great thing about Brunello wines is their price. They are easy on the budget, especially for what you get. You can expect to pay 15-18 dollars retail for an outstanding Rosso. Zraly suggests you can get an excellent Brunello for no more than $50. My husband and I have enjoyed many Brunellos between those two prices.

What should you eat when enjoying Brunello de Montalcino?

Zraly suggests lean beef or lamb. With the Rosso he suggests a bit lighter fare such as poultry, risotto, mushrooms or veal. I’d add pizza to both of those lists, perhaps a heavier, meatier pizza for the Brunello and a lighter one for the Rosso. But, then again, we like to keep things casual at our house.

Whatever you choose to eat it with, now is the time to head out and try these new Brunellos. If you’re feeling adventurous, pick up a Rosso and a Brunello from the same producer and compare them yourself.

A few of my favorite producers from the preview include:

• Barbi
• Camigliano
• Collosorbo
• Costello Banfi
• Pian Delle Vigne
• Ridolfi

After you’ve given some a try, visit me at or email and let me know what you think. Cheers!