Brunello di Montalcino: History, Information, Interesting Facts

Brunello di Montalcino: history, information, interesting facts


Brunello di Montalcino, one of the standard-bearers of the Italian winemaking tradition, was born in Tuscany, in the area of the Municipality of Montalcino, not far from the city of Siena. A place full of charm, boasting a millennial history, able to enchant its visitors thanks to breathtaking views and to a red wine of great structure and elegance, which is not afraid of time. Let’s find out everything there is to know about this specialty, with the help of its producers, gathered in the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello di Montalcino, the ‘king’ of Sangiovese (crt-01; crt-02)


What is Brunello di Montalcino?

Brunello di Montalcino: bottle and grapes (crt-01; crt-02)

Brunello di Montalcino is undoubtedly one of the most representative Italian wines in the world.
It’s a red wine, produced exclusively in the area of the Tuscan village of Montalcino, with a particular variety of the Sangiovese grape, the ‘Sangiovese Grosso’.
It can boast great elegance, structure and balance: characteristics further enhanced by long aging that can last for decades. Over time, this specialty, thanks to its indisputable value and incredible charm, has become a symbol of excellence, considered by many admirers a true work of art.


The History of Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello di Montalcino: Etruscan musicians (img-02)

The history of ‘Brunello di Montalcino’, the famous Italian specialty, is closely linked to the countryside surrounding the village of Montalcino. It is an area famous since the distant past for the quality of its wines: historians claim that it is possible to go back at least to the Etruscan era.
In the Middle Ages, this reputation grew further, also thanks to the large number of travelers who used the nearby Via Francigena to reach the city of Rome.
Brunello di Montalcino: Fortress of Montalcino (cc-01) There is no shortage of interesting historical testimonies such as, for example, the one dating back to 1553, according to which the Marshal of France Blaise de Montluc (*1) and his armigers, engaged in the defense of the fortress of Montalcino (*2), “si arrubinava il volto con il rosso vino” (“had a face red for the wine”).
During, more or less, the same period, the Bolognese scholar Leandro Alberti (*3) defined this territory as “molto nominato per li buoni vini che si cavano da quelli ameni colli” (“well known for the good wines coming from those pleasant hills”). The list of references could go on.
However, it’s important to stress the fact that, although one might think the opposite, at least until the beginning of the 19th century, among all the varieties produced in Montalcino, it was not a red wine the most appreciated but a sweet white, known still today as ‘Moscadello’ (*4).

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Brunello di Montalcino: Sangiovesse Grosso (crt-02) To witness the birth of ‘Brunello’, it was necessary to wait until the second half of the same century, when the first experiments at making pure Sangiovese wine began (*5). In this context, the efforts of Clemente Santi stood out. He was the local pharmacist, a great lover of viticulture, who bet on the characteristics of a particular grapes variety, the ‘Sangiovese Grosso’, in terms of body and aging. In 1869, the ‘vino rosso scelto (brunello)’ (‘selected red wine (brunello)’) (*6) he was so proud of, got his first official recognition: a medal at the Agricultural Exhibition of Montepulciano. This award would be followed by many others, even in France.
Brunello di Montalcino: ancient bottles of Brunello (crt-02) The period between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth century was quite difficult, due to the spread of Filossera and Peronospera in the European continent and the following decimation of the vineyards. It was Ferruccio Biondi Santi, Clemente’s nephew, who once again believed in the vigor and resilience of Sangiovese, persevering, despite all, in what had now become the family tradition. It was thanks to him that the name ‘Brunello di Montalcino’ (with a capital ‘B’), was printed for the first time on the label of a bottle (*7).
Brunello di Montalcino: the marketing of Brunello (crt-01) The outbreak of the two world wars was, inevitably, a considerable impediment to wine production in the continent, although it should be remembered that in 1931, therefore between the conflicts, the ‘Fattoria dei Barbi’ company began to sell its Brunello by mail. Starting from the 1950s, thanks to the tenacity of the producing families, the notoriety of the wine gradually returned to grow, both in Italy and abroad. The official consecration took place in 1980, with the assignment of the DOCG Denomination (*8). In 1999, the famous American magazine Wine Spectator, included Brunello di Montalcino among the 12 most exquisite wines of the twentieth century. In 2006, the same magazine crowned it the best in the world (*9).

*1: Blaise de Montluc, Marshal of France, also known as Biagio di Monluc (more information);
*2: Fortress considered at the time almost impregnable;
*3: Leandro Alberti, historian, theologian and philosopher originally from the city of Bologna (more information);
*4: It’s a Muscat wine, marketed still today, produced in the province of Siena and particularly in the Municipality of Montalcino;
*5: ‘In purezza’, ie monovarietal: 100% Sangiovese;
*6: It was the first time that the name ‘Brunello’ appeared in an official document;
*7: These bottles belonged the first vintage of Biondi Santi: vintage 1888;
*8: Brunello di Montalcino is one of the first two Italian DOCGs;
*9: Brunello di Montalcino ‘Tenuta Nuova’, vintage 2001.

Brunello di Montalcino: paesaggio campagne di Montalcino (crt-01)


The vineyards, the grapes and a great wine.

Brunello di Montalcino: the vineyards and the grapes of Brunello di Montalcino (crt-01

‘Brunello’ comes from the Sangiovese vineyards growing on the slopes of the Montalcino hill. Their exposition (*1) has a great influence on the characteristics of the grapes and, consequently, on those of the wine. No less important, from this point of view, is the nature of the soil which, depending on the zone, can change both in terms of composition and structure. Decisive is the human contribution, consisting in defined oenological techniques.
All this to make it clear how much the product of a particular plot may differ from that of another. It follows that the Brunello di Montalcino of each company expresses highly distinctive traits, a sort of ‘trademark’.

*1: Exposition is of fundamental importance with regard to factors such as, for example, insolation and ventilation;

Brunello di Montalcino: the vineyards of Brunello (crt-01)


How is made Brunello di Montalcino?

The vinification process (and subsequent aging) of Brunello di Montalcino does not differ much from that of any other red wine (‘vinification in red’), except for a few details. Here follow a brief explanation of the various steps (click here for the printable version):

Click here for the list.

Brunello di Montalcino: the harvest (crt-02)

1) Brunello di Montalcino is produced using only Sangiovese grapes. The harvest is carried out strictly by hand and generally takes place at the end of September;

2) The bunches of grapes are de-stemmed (the berries are separated from the stalk) using a de-stemmer. After a thorough selection, the grapes are gently pressed to get the must.

Brunello di Montalcino: the fermentation (cc-02)

3) The must is poured into large stainless steel containers and is left inside of them for a few days at a controlled temperature of about 7° C, thus allowing the cryomaceration to take place (*1);

4) After the cryomaceration, thanks to selected yeasts, the fermentation begins: this leads to a progressive transformation of the sugar into alcohol. During this phase, ‘pumping overs’ (*2) and ‘breaking ups’ (*3) are usually performed;

5) During the fermentation takes place also the maceration. Thanks to this process (among other things), the skins and the grapeseeds release the tannins that characterize Brunello so much;

6) The racking phase follows: using a ‘soft’ press, the solid part of the must is gently separated from the liquid one (the wine);

Brunello di Montalcino: the aging in barrels (crt-01)

7) A new fermentation is started (always in steel containers), the ‘malolactic’ fermentation: using a particular type of bacteria, the malic acid present in the wine is transformed into lactic acid;

8) The ‘aging’ period begins: the wine is placed in oak barrels where it will remain for at least two years. The following refinement in the bottle must last instead at least four months (or six in the case of the ‘Riserva’);

It’s important to stress the fact that Brunello di Montalcino cannot be marketed before at least five years since the harvest. In the case of ‘Riserva’ wine, at least six are required.

*1: ‘Cryomaceration’, also known as ‘cold maceration’, leads to the extraction of a greater quantity of substances from the solid part of the grape: this improves the organoleptic characteristics of the wine;
*2: The ‘pumping over’ is a cellar technique that consists in extracting a part of the must from the lower part of the stainless steel silos in which it is fermenting, pumping it to the top, where the pomace (the solid part) floats. This technique is used to accelerate the extraction of tannin, color and aromas from grape skins;
*3: The ‘breaking ups’ consist of mechanically breaking the layer of pomace (‘cap’) that forms in the upper part of the must during fermentation, re-immersing the fragments in the must itself. This technique leads to greater aeration and acceleration of alcoholic fermentation;

Brunello di Montalcino: how is made? (crt-02)


The organoleptic characteristics.

Here follows a shortlist of the main organoleptic characteristics of Brunello di Montalcino (these clearly are just generic references):
Color: ruby red, tending to garnet with aging;
On the nose: intense and elegant. It has hints of wild berries, ripe red fruit, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, leather, and spices;
In the mouth: dry and warm. Structured, robust, harmonious, and persistent. It has notes of berries, ripe red fruit, coffee, and vanilla. The freshness (acidity) and tannins tend to soften with aging;

Brunello di Montalcino: the organoleptic characteristics of Brunello (crt-01)

WebFoodCulture: the most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.

The most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.


How to serve Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello di Montalcino: the glass and the serving temperature.

The method of serving wine is generally considered very important: in the case of a product of great value and complexity such as Brunello di Montalcino, it’s fundamental. It must, in fact, allow the harmonious bouquet of the specialty to express at its best.
It will therefore be necessary to open the bottle at least an hour before tasting: many experts advise against the use of the decanter because it could cause too fast oxygenation.
The temperature must be 18°/20°. The glass is large, round, such as to allow the Brunello to breathe and spread its aromas.

Brunello di Montalcino, the first Italian DOCG. Brunello di Montalcino, the first Italian DOCG.


Brunello di Montalcino, the first Italian DOCG.

Since its birth, a product of great value and tradition such as Brunello di Montalcino needed a form of legal protection to defend its peculiar characteristics from the many imitation attempts. For this reason, in 1966 it was assigned the Controlled Designation of Origin (DOC), which was followed, in 1980, by the attribution of the first Italian Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG) (together with the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano).

Brunello di Montalcino: the product specification and the Consortium (crt-01) Brunello di Montalcino: the product specification and the Consortium (crt-01)


The product specification and the Consortium.

TThe assignment of the Controlled Designation of Origin (DOC) to Brunello di Montalcino, which took place in 1967, coincided with the drafting of the product specification (‘Disciplinare’). This contains the rules for the production of the wine and its requirements. The assignment also led to the foundation of the Consortium, the association of producers which, among its main tasks (*1), has that of supervising compliance with the specification. The document is available at this address.


The best vintages of Brunello di Montalcino.

Brunello di Montalcino: the best vintages (crt-02)

Some vintages of Brunello di Montancino, thanks to particularly favorable climatic conditions, reach peaks of particular excellence.
Since 1945, every January, a special Tasting Commission assigns a vote to the wine produced during the last harvest. This rating is expressed in stars, from one (insufficient) to five (exceptional).
The vintages that, up to now, have achieved the coveted ‘fifth star’ are, in order: 1945, 1955, 1964, 1970, 1975, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016 in 2019 and 2020.

Brunello di Montalcino: one hundred years and still going strong! (crt-02) Brunello di Montalcino: one hundred years and still going strong! (crt-02)


Brunello, one hundred years and still going strong!

Two of the elements that most characterize Brunello di Montalcino, that is to say, acidity and tannins, contribute to granting it a very long life. Years and years of aging, far from ruining this great wine, enhance and soften its taste. Suffice it to say that, in 1994, Franco Biondi Santi organized, in the presence of numerous experts (sommeliers, oenologists, and journalists), a vertical tasting that included the famous first vintage: the 1888 vintage. Well, after more than a century in a cellar, the bottle turned out to be more than enjoyable.

Brunello di Montalcino: the price of Brunello (crt-02, img-03) Brunello di Montalcino: the price of Brunello (crt-02, img-03)


The price of Brunello di Montalcino.

Although it’s possible to buy bottles of Brunello di Montalcino at affordable prices, some can reach extremely high prices. To explain this difference, it’s necessary to remember that the most valuable ones are the result of a maniacal selection of the grapes, of great care and decades of aging: factors of fundamental importance to let the wine express itself at its best. That said, it should not surprise that some bottles, produced by certain companies in particular vintages, can easily exceed the cost of $ 50,000 !

Brunello di Montalcino: Ferruccio Biondi Santi, Garibaldi and Brunello (img-04) Brunello di Montalcino: Ferruccio Biondi Santi, Garibaldi and Brunello (img-04)


Ferruccio Biondi Santi, Garibaldi and Brunello.

Perhaps not everyone knows that Ferruccio Biondi Santi, undoubtedly one of the most important characters in the history of Brunello di Montalcino, fought (and won) under the command of Giuseppe Garibaldi in the battle of Bezecca (1866). A curiosity adding further charm to the one which, in 1932, was declared by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture the inventor of the famous wine (“… a recent creation by Dr. Ferruccio Biondi Santi from Montalcino.”).

Brunello di Montalcino: the name of Montalcino (crt-01) Brunello di Montalcino: the name of Montalcino (crt-01)


The name of Montalcino.

The name of the town of Montalcino comes from the composition of two Latin words: some scholars hypothesize that these are ‘mons’ (monte – mount) and Lucinus (from ‘Lucina’, another name of the Roman goddess Juno). Others argue that these words could be ‘mons’ and ‘ilcinus’ (holm oak). This second theory seems to be the most probable, considering that even today, the coat of arms of the Municipality of Montalcino depicts a holm oak. A curiosity: the inhabitants of the town are called ‘Ilcinesi’.


The Colombini, the Fattoria dei Barbi and the Brunello.

Among the families who have contributed most to make Brunello di Montalcino the product of excellence that we all know today, it’s important to mention, in addition to the Biondi Santi, the Colombini, owners of the ‘Fattoria dei Barbi’ company. One of its members, Giovanni Colombini (born in 1906), promoted the marketing of this great wine in Italy and abroad, also using mail-order sales, an activity he pioneered in the early 1930s. He was also the first to understand the importance of ‘wine tourism’, allowing people to visit his cellar.

Brunello di Montalcino: from the vineyard to the cellar (crt-01; crt-02)


Montalcino: the stuff of fairytales.

Brunello di Montalcino, one of the most known and appreciated wines in the world, was born in Tuscany, about forty kilometers from the city of Siena, on an isolated hill in the Val D’Orcia: the Montalcino hill.
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A place of great charm, which can boast unique, almost fairytale-like views, not surprisingly recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (2004). The production area, corresponding to the historic borders of the municipality, is bordered by three rivers: the Asso, the Orcia and the Ombrone.



Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino & Biondi-Santi (crt-01; crt-02)

This article is the result of the collaboration between WebFoodCulture, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, and Biondi-Santi, one of the historic producers of the famous wine.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti e il Brunello di Montalcino (img-01)

(Filippo Tommaso Marinetti)

Brunello di Montalcino: how is made? Printable schema.


Brunello di Montalcino: how is made? Printable document.

Click here to view (and, eventually, download) a printable document showing the steps necessary to produce Brunello di Montalcino.


Brunello di Montalcino in video.

Here follows a fascinating video showing the beauty of the countryside and the vineyards of Montalcino, the birthplace of Brunello wine.

WebFoodCulture: only the most typical and traditional food & wine.


Brunello di Montalcino: Giacomo Puccini (img-05; img-06)


Music by Puccini for Brunello.

The best musical accompaniment to an article dedicated to Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscan wine par excellence, are probably some arias by Giacomo Puccini, one of the most famous Italian composers, also of Tuscan origin.

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full songs.


Before Brunello, the Moscadello.

Long before Brunello achieved its great international reputation, another wine from Montalcino was very famous: the ‘Moscadello’. A sweet, white muscat wine, with golden reflections, already appreciated during the Renaissance and marketed still today.


Vintage 1888.

Brunello di Montalcino is a wine that, thanks to its peculiar characteristics, can face the passing of the years without fear, refining its elegance with aging.
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This premise is necessary to fully understand the charm of the two bottles of Brunello, vintage 1888 (*1), which are still jealously preserved in the ‘Storica’, the cellar of Biondi-Santi Riserva products (*2).

*1: Historic first vintage of Biondi-Santi;
*2: The cellar holds bottles belonging to all vintages of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Biondi-Santi.

Il vino per il Culatello.


Brunello di Montalcino: the pairings.

Brunello di Montalcino is a wine of great structure, elegance, and balance, that goes best with equally structured dishes.

Brunello di Montalcino: gli abbinamenti.

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Its tannin and acidity, also when softened by long aging, are perfect to accompany succulent foods (such as grilled or braised meat) or fatty (such as aged cheese). It’s also a good match with pasta, dressed with full-bodied sauces, and risotto, with mushrooms or truffles.

Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, consortium logo (crt-01)


Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino: contacts.

Address: Via Boldrini, 10, 53024 Montalcino (Siena) – ITALY
Website: Click here.
Mail: Click here.
Tel.: +39 0577 848246
FAX: +39 0577 849425

Brunello di Montalcino: Biondi-Santi company logo (crt-02)


Biondi-Santi: contacts.

Indirizzo: Villa Greppo, 183, 53024 Montalcino (Siena) – ITALY
Tel.: +39 0577 848023
FAX: +39 0577 849396


Click here.

The images bearing the logo ‘webfoodculture’ are copyrighted.

The following images are public domain:

img-01 (*) – Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, E. Sommariva, 1013 (Wikipedia Link)
img-02 (*) – Etruscan musician, 475 BCE (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (**) – US $ 500 banknote (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – Giuseppe Garibaldi, 1861 (Wikipedia Link)
img-05 (*) – Giacomo Puccini, 1908 (Wikipedia Link)
img-06 (*) – Cover of Tosca’s libretto, 1899 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art}

The following images are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported:

cc-01 – Fortress of Montalcino, image owner: Type17 (Wikipedia Link)
cc-02 – Fermentating must, image owner: Agne27 (Wikipedia Link)

Images published courtesy of:

crt-01 – Images published courtesy of Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino;
crt-02 – Images published courtesy of Biondi-Santi S.p.a.;

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.