by Fred McMillin
for December 20, 1999


Italy's Greatest Wine??


Hefty, flamboyant, powerful, mouth-filling...
words of the critics describing what is perhaps Italy's best wine, Brunello Di Montalcino. Brunello is the name of the grape and Montalcino is the name of the town and its surrounding district where the grapes grow. Is it an ancient variety, or a new kid on the block? Let's see.

Montalicino Milestones (mohn-tahl-SHEE-noh)

Brunello Di Montalcino 700 B.C.—The Etruscans make wine in the area around Florence.

200 B.C. -The Romans become the winemakers in the region.

814 A.D.—This is the date of the oldest known written reference to "Monte Lucini," which becomes "Montalcino." About this time a monestary is built south of the town, which still stands today. It is near the village of "Sant' Angelo in Colle." Nearby vineyards produced wine for the monks, and today they produce the grapes for our Wine of the Day.

1842—Canon Vincenzo Chiarini gives high praise to a grape of the area with a brownish cast. He calls it Brunello ("little brown one").

1865—Clemente Santi wins a prize at a Montalcino fair with his Brunello.

1888—Clemente's grandson, Ferruccio Biondi Santi, produces the first bottles of Brunello Di Montalcino. It is made from a superior clone of Sangiovese (Chianti's grape), selected and nurtured by Ferruccio.

1960—The wine world still has not caught on. There are but 157 acres of this variety.

1990—The wine world has caught on. There are 2,700 acres of the vine, and plantings continue.

Wine of the Day

By now it should be clear that if you are interested in wine, you must try at least one bottle of what I would call the world's youngest noble wine...
1994 Brunello Di Montalcino (from the Montalcino district)
Producer—Col D'Orcia, an important source of Brunello. The Slow Food Guide finds the wines "intense...with careful vinification and perfect wood aging." Orcia is the name of the local river and its vine-covered valley, a little south of the town of Montalcino.
Food Affinities—Beef, game, smoked fish and fowl, robust Italian fare.
Importer—Frederick Wildman
Contact—Odila Galer-Noel or Amy Mironov, NYC, (212) 355-0700, FAX (212) 355-4719
Price Range—$37


The description of Montalcino in Burton Anderson's excellent Wine Atlas of Italy may explain why the wine world was so tardy in recognizing the stature of Brunello: "Tuscany's premier wine town has a defiant air about it, an aloofness born of distance and distrust that has kept it splendidly isolated from the mainstream. It first gained prominence as a fortress where the inhabitants held out against the Florentines until a treaty was signed with the Medici." We wine drinkers surely are glad that defiant aloofness is gone!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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