Focus on Rosso di Montalcino

The 2011 vintage in Montalcino has yielded a bevy of pure, precise, varietally accurate Rosso di Montalcino wines in a somewhat richer style than usual.  Overall, these wines are great news not just for all those who love sangiovese, but for any wine lover looking for relatively inexpensive (typically retailing between $15 and $20), medium-to-full-bodied everyday red wines with fruit, perfume and refinement.  In fact, the only possible drawback I can find to the vintage is a certain alcoholic exuberance in many of the wines, but most of the 2011s have enough stuffing to buffer their generous octane levels (in most cases around 14.5%).

In fact, 2011 was a hot vintage; on average, most estates harvested anywhere from two to three weeks earlier than usual.  August was especially tough due to an African heatwave that hit Montalcino and most of Tuscany.  However, nights remained cool (this didn't happen in 2003, for example), allowing for reasonably fresh, nicely delineated but fully ripe wines that exude a slight creamy sweetness.  Mercifully, very few wines betray overripe or cooked aromas or flavors.

Rosso di Montalcino is Brunello's little brother, made from younger vines and aged for a much shorter time in oak (between six months and a year in most cases), though some producers choose to give their rossos extra oak or bottle age and release them a year late (for this reason, I have also reviewed some late-released 2010s in this article).  Clearly, rossos are never as complex or as deep as the best Brunellos.  But when they're well made, they offer juicy, refreshing sangiovese fruit aromas and flavors of redcurrant, sour red cherry, licorice and violet.  They can be some of the best food wines in all of Italy. 

Unfortunately, in the recent past, Rosso di Montalcino was often relegated to an afterthought by many (though not all) producers, who preferred to cash in on Brunello's notoriety and high prices.  In fact, many top producers didn't even produce a Rosso di Montalcino until just a few years ago, an incomprehensible decision to my way of thinking.  However, things have changed since then, and the changes have been all to the good for consumers.  Tougher economic conditions have made the cheaper Rosso di Montalcino a very viable alternative for producers, not to mention consumers, and Rosso is finally being thought of--and made--as an excellent wine in its own right by nearly all of the region's producers.  In some instances, Rosso di Montalcino can be a real baby-Brunello in style and quality, but I think that these atypically large-scaled versions, though easy to love, detract from what Rosso di Montalcino really ought to be.  That is, a fresh, lively, varietally accurate sangiovese wine that is great to drink while your Brunellos mature in the cellar.  But even when they're young and fresh, Rosso di Montalcino wines always show richer, creamier fruit than the sangioveses of Chianti or Montepulciano, for example.

In any case, the encouraging news for all wine lovers is that while in the past only a dozen or so Montalcino producers produced outstanding Rossos year after year, that number seems to have at least tripled in recent vintages.  In fact, I have noticed an upswing in Rosso quality for at least five years now.  The Rossos from the outstanding 2010 vintage are also worth a search (along with 1999 and 2001, this is one of the best Montalcino vintages of the last 20 years), though there is a much bigger quality difference between the Brunellos and Rossos of 2010 than there is in 2011.  (Many producers made as much 2010 Brunello as possible, leaving a smaller quantity of good fruit left for their Rosso bottlings.)  The fact that the Rossos from these two vintages are so good bodes well for the quality of the Brunello wines we'll begin tasting in 2014 and 2015.

There are a couple of observations to make about the 2011 Rosso di Montalcino wines.  First, the quality level is almost uniformly high.  As with the 2008 Brunello di Montalcino and 2007 Riservas (reviewed in IWC 169), I found very few wines marred by green or tough tannins or off-odors.  This was not the case just a few years earlier, but many notoriously underachieving estates have gotten their act together of late.  Second, I found the wines to be accurate to their variety, with textbook aromas of small red fruits, licorice, tea leaf and violet; some wines were more earthy and woodsy than others, but I can't stress enough just how different and better the wines of Montalcino are today than they were before the Brunellopoli scandal broke out.

Last but not least, in 2011 the Rosso di Montalcinos are great wines in their own right:  few will strike you as Brunello-wannabes.  Though you'll run across the occasional baby Brunello that is far more muscular and ageworthy than the rest of the Rosso pack, most of these wines offer lovely acid-tannin-sugar balance, with plenty of floral fruit aromas and flavors.  I happily endorse the 2011 Rosso di Montalcino wines, and all wine lovers looking for easygoing, fruity, creamy-sweet wines with decent freshness and good flexibility at the dinner table should not miss them.

All of the following wines were tasted either at my home during the months of June, July and August of this year or courtesy of the Consortium at their headquarters in Montalcino.
Other wines tasted: 2010 La Colombina Rosso di Montalcino, 2011 La Palazzetta Rosso di Montalcino.