help me choose a Brunello!
My husband and I are beginning wine enthusiasts. After a trip to Italy a few years ago, he particularly regretted not buying Brunello di Montalcino to bring home. So, I want to get him a really lovely bottle for a birthday gift, along with some good quality wine glasses. (Hopefully I can get this combination for $200-250?)
I have no idea where to start... how about some suggestions for a wine and glasses. Descriptions are more than welcome!
Last December, my DH and I spent a delightful afternoon in the tasting room at Castello Banfi, and brought home two bottles of their Brunello. Yum! So smooth, it's like sipping satin. You probably can't go wrong with ANY Brunello!
First, let me qualify my comments by saying I still consider myself more of a beginning wine enthusiast than an expert (though most of my friends would say I've drunk enough that I ought to know a thing or two by now!)
As for glasses, I do know that Riedel is generally regarded as the "classic." The Vinum series have different shapes intended to enhance the qualities of different varietals, and there is a "brunello" glass - a pair probably runs around $50. That'll help you figure out your wine budget, which gives you lots of room. Even if you're generous and decide to share the wine with a couple of friends, $100 - $150 is plenty to get a good Brunello.
I also don't profess to be a Brunello expert but can walk you through my basic methodology (other much smarter people than me may be able to recommend specific bottles to hunt for):
(1) first, focus on vintage - particularly with a more finicky wine like Brunello. You're in luck, 2001 is the current release for Brunello and is pretty universally regarded as a great year. 1997 - 2001 have all been pretty solid if you're able to find back vintages, with 97 - 99 -01 generally held in higher regard than 98 00.
(2) look for reliable producers - a couple I've had that have been very good are Piccolomini and Ucceliera, but there are lots of others out there that have made great wines in the past several vintages - Altesino, Castello Banfi, Poderina, Sassetti, Siro Pacenti ...
(3) Most wineries produce both a "regular" bottling and also a "riserva" or other special designation. With your budget you ought to have your choice.
Ditto all the above and especially focusing on the vintages. Never forget that Brunello is sangiovese which really needs fruit layers to reach it's zenith, otherwise it can be quite harsh... The year makes most of the difference.
Also, in general decanting really helps this wine.... Lastly you can find great bottles in the $60 - 90 range... If you have a large wine store near you ask when they have their inventory clearances and you can often find them at great bargains. There's a particular chain that I won't mention for selfish reasons that has a fantastic clearance twice a year and the bargains they put on great Italian bottles is frankly amazing, so look for them!
Brunello (meaning “brownish”), Prugnolo Gentile and Morellino are all local names for the Sangiovese Grosso grape. Brunello in Montalcino, Prugnolo Gentile in Montepulciano, and Morellino in the Maremma.
Sangiovese has many different clones and strains, and adapts easily to a given environment. The Sangiovese Grosso descriptor was initially used to differentiate
the Sangiovese of Montalcino, Montelpulciano and the Maremma from that grown
in the Chianti sub-regions (Sangiovese “Piccolo”).
Now, the terms grosso and piccolo are falling out of favor, and Castello Banfi, who has led the charge on research on the clonal and genetic differences of Sangiovese, officially says that they grow “Sangiovese for Brunello."
One further thought - given the budget you've suggested you're working with, and your self-description as "beginning wine enthusiasts," consider the possibility of getting 2 bottles and doing a comparison. There are a variety of approaches you could take (if you can find the appropriate wines) -
- 2 wines from the same producer, different vintages
- 2 wines from different producers in same vintage
- a regular bottling and a riserva from the same producer, same vintage
The opportunity to compare and contrast this way is to me one of the best ways to learn about wine (and to get a better sense of what you like in a wine).
For drinking right now, 1997 Siro Pacenti.
My favorite wine glasses are the Schott-Zweisel Tritan Divas. For Brunello you could actually use the smaller Cab/Merlot glasses they make, but I would get the larger ones that have like a 24oz capacity... something like that. You'll get muh more good use out of them.
Or you could get 2 great 2001. If that then the Siro Pacenti and maybe the Sasseti (Pertimali)
Other producers I like are Uccelliera and Ciacci Piccolomini.
There are almost 200 producers of Brunello according to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. Many variables on style of production as well. Some go for a more modern style using smaller oak barriques and picking slightly riper fruit going for a more lush and good out of the bottle style. Siro Pacenti is one of those with this approach. Then there are others more concerned with structure and potential longevity and in their minds doing thing traditionally accomplishes that better. Larger barrels, earlier picking, higher acidity levels are examples of this perspective. Lisini might go in this category.
Having said all this here is a list of some that I've tried and liked:
Val di Cava
Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona
Casanova di Neri
Livio Sassetti Pertimali
Val di Suga
As far as glasses I find the pricey sommelier-type of glasses to be over the top. They are large and not very functional when it comes to a normal dinner setting. Riedel is the best known and their Vinum series at about $15-$20 a stem are very good. The Schott Zwiesel glasses are a little bit tougher and I like the Fortissimo series. They are between $10-$15 per stem.
Good luck! Oh, and the 2001 vintage for Brunello is excellent so any choice is going to be pretty good depending on the style.
Feel free to ask any specific questions. I probably wrote too much...