Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso

Pouring Brunello

Very soon you’re likely to start seeing the 2008 Brunello di Montalcino wines hitting the wine shops after they made their debut at Benvenuto Brunello in Montaclino, Italy in late February.

One of the Three Greatest Wines in the World

Kevin Zraly, one of the world’s foremost wine educators, names 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 can agree Brunellos, or at least the ones I have tasted, have fantastic character and beauty. And, to top it all off, so many of them are also great values.

I was fortunate enough to be among the first to preview the 2008 Brunellos in late January, when the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino chose to share their wines first in the US with wine writers, beverage directors and sommeliers here in Houston.

Just before the preview, I spoke with Zraly about Brunellos and Rossos and then attended a seminar and tasting of several Brunellos, led by him. Zraly is also the author of the book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, which has sold more than 3 million copies since the first edition was released. This guy knows his stuff! Chatting with him first and then attending his seminar really set the stage for me to understand and enjoy the wines I was about to experience.

There were nearly 40 producers in the appellation represented that day, and I took my time visiting nearly each and every one 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 day of delicious learning!

Brunello wine glasses

What is Brunello?

Brunello wines are all made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, a red, zesty little grape that can also be seductive and silky in Brunello di Montalcino, an appellation within Tuscany, which is 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 then required to be aged a minimum of 4 months in the bottle, making the wine ready to drink when you buy it. Or, you can still age it longer if you like. In the seminar we explored some Brunellos that were released several years ago, meaning they have been aging longer in the bottle than the current vintage, and several had a richness I particularly enjoyed.

Brunello Riserva is aged a bit longer at a minimum of 3 years in oak and 6 months in the bottle. Brunello Riserva is also ready to drink when you buy it or it can also be aged longer.

What is Rosso?

Rosso wines are typically made from the very 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 so are 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 extremely reasonable and easy on the budget, especially for what you get.

You can expect to pay $15-$18 (retail) for an outstanding Rosso. Zraly suggests you can get an excellent Brunello for no more than $50. I’ve found many Brunellos between those two prices that my husband and I have enjoyed.

Food and Wine Pairing

So what should you eat when enjoying Brunello de Montalcino? Zraly suggests lean beef or lamb. With the Rosso he suggests a bit lighter far 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 with it, 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


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