The Italian wine region of Montalcino

Have you ever wanted to go to sip Italian wine in Tuscany? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of the Italian wine region of Montalcino:

In South Central Tuscany lies the great hilltop town and wine region of Montalcino. It is located about 40 kilometers south of the city of Siena and rises up to almost 1,900 feet. This virtually sphere-shaped region is just over 90 square miles and is one of the regions that accounts for Italy’s fine wine reputation.


Montalcino’s some 5,000 residents owe its superior viticulture history to Ferruccion Biondi-Santi for the initial quality plantings of the sangiovese grape. In the 1800’s, Biondi-Santi isolated a clone (sub variety) of sangiovese grape that was planted in Chianti. This clone was slightly larger clone called grosso, which was later called Brunello. He realized that the Brunello clone was more resistant to vineyard problems and produced an excellent wine in the soils and climate of Montalcino. At that time in Maltalcino the wines were immediately drinkable and simple. He started to make serious age worthy wines that were revered. The 1888 Biondi- Santi has been a wine of mythical proportions, there are still supposedly a few bottles still in existence at the winery. Today Montalcino is generally considered the finest area in Italy to produce high-quality sangiovese!


Italian Wine Law

Italian wine law has a hierarchy that starts, in theory, with the highest quality DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) with finally Vino da tavola or table wine.  The wine laws are in place to control the origins, grape varietals, production methods, style and protect the names, among other things for Italian wine. Montalcino has one DOCG- Brunello Di Montalcino and 3 DOC- Rosso Di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo  and Moscadello Di Montalcino. All the wines of Montalcino have basically the same geographic boundaries as Brunello.

Brunello Di Montalcino

Brunello Di Montalcino’s importance was confirmed by making it the first DOCG of Italy in 1980. There are approximately 200 growers that make around 500,000 cases of wine a year. The wine must be made with 100% Brunello (sangiovese grosso). The wine must be aged 5 years total and a minimum of 2 years in wood. A Brunello may be labeled Riserva if it is aged a total of 6 years, one of the longest ageing requirements in Italy. Many Brunello producers make a Rosso Di Montalcino utilizing it as an outlet for young or newly planted vineyards or lots that aren’t as age worthy, hence improving the quality of Brunello. Rosso Di Montalcino has shorter ageing requirement of one year versus Brunello’s 4 years but, is still made from 100% Brunello (Sangiovese grosso). Rosso Di Motelcino it is considered a “Baby” Brunello and is a less expensive alternative to the very expensive Brunello. In addition it is an interesting reference point or comparison to Brunello. The DOC of Rosso Di Montalcino was made in 1983 and has aided in facilitating the high quality of the Brunello through producer’s declassification of Brunello to Rosso Di Montalcino.

Sant’Antimo DOC was formed in 1996 and named for a beautiful twelve century Benedictine Abbey of the area. A number of Brunello producers were experimenting with cabernet sauvignon and other the non-indigenous grape varieties, the wine couldn’t be called Brunello Di Montelcino, so this area was created to bring these nontraditional wines of Montalcino into the wine law hierarchy and therefore did not have to be labeled as simple vino da tavola. These wine may include the so called “Super Tuscans”, Cabernet sauvignon blends, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. Castello Banfi’s Sant Antimo are good example of this DOC and the wines can be found in the U.S.

Moscadello Di Motalcino

Moscadello Di Motalcino is the sweet wine of Montalcino. Made from at least 85% Moscato Bianco and up to 15% of other local white varietals the wine may be still or slightly sparkling which is what Italians call frizzante. Either way this is a light, sweet wine meant to be consumed young and fresh. Castello Banfi has helped revitalize this wine after it was nearly instinct in the 1970’s.  La Podeirina and Caprilli also make fine Moscadello Di Montalcino.