Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! Italy is known for producing some of the best wine in the world and it has an ancient history in the cultivation and production of some truly legendary classics. One of the most highly regarded wines from the Tuscan region is the wine and area known as Brunello di Montalcino. What is Brunello and what makes it special?

In Tuscany, the name Brunello is synonymous with the highly-prized grape Sangiovese. You’ll recognize that name from the Chianti region, but the difference here is that Brunello di Montalcino must contain 100% Sangiovese grapes (Chianti only requires a minimum of 80%). By focusing on one varietal, generations of families have taken the time to master the growth, production and cask management of the Sangiovese grape and the result is the fantastic wine known as Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese/Brunello of Montalcino). Speaking of generations of winemakers, the family that started Fattoria dei Barbi founded the winery in 1790 and still owns it to this day!

Brunello is known for its tart, cherry flavor and beautiful nose of forest scents mingled with delicate spice and sometimes nutty or animal notes. The vineyards that grow the grapes surround the fortified village of Montalcino and are often located very close to forests, citrus trees and olive groves. Due to its location near these forests, seas and rivers, Brunello di Montalcino beautifully displays the terroir of the region in every sniff and sip. Earthy, forest flavors and vibrant red fruits are quickly apparent and the wine has that zippy acidity commonly found in Sangiovese.

The structure of this famous wine comes the thick skins of the Sangiovese grape which needs long, hot days to ripen properly and develop those high tannins which are full of antioxidants. Since this region has a Mediterranean climate and is located near the edge of the sea and river, it has a high diurnal range which means that days are hot and nights are cool. This difference in daytime to night-time temperature creates grapes that are ripe and full yet balanced with appropriate levels of acidity.

What really makes Brunello wonderful is its aging potential. These types of wines take very well to oak barrels such as French barriques (adding warm, rich spice or the Croatian botte (adds an intensely rich spice) and extra time in the bottle softens the tannins and allows complex tertiary flavors like mushroom, nuts and leather spice to develop. One of the requirements of this DOCG is that the wine must be 5 years old before it can be sold: at least 2 in oak and the rest in the bottle. The Fattoria dei Barbi brand has produced some incredible vintages which can still age to this day including the 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2010, 2012, 2015 and the 2016 Riserva vintage which won the #2 spot on Wine Spectator’s wines of the year list. The off-vintages (like the 2012 I tasted) are still extremely high in quality but they sometimes lack the aging potential or rich concentration of their esteemed peers as seen in my tasting notes.

No matter which year you come across, Brunello is a fantastic pairing choice for many types of foods due to its vibrant character and racy acidity. This wine can definitely stand up to a steak and works well with salamis, cheeses, pasta courses or a high-quality Cuban cigar like the Montecristo #2. Since prices for Cuban cigars has recently skyrocketed, I tend to purchase new-world cigars from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Honduras. The quality has gotten very good and the prices are affordable. The Magno Maduro cigar is a handmade, dark cigar from Nicaragua and even though it’s considered a budget cigar, several months in my humidor transformed the flavors and refined the quality. The creamy, full flavor of the cigar was an excellent contrast to the sharpness of the wine. I buy most of my cigars from CigarChief which is located in Ontario.

At $75, the Barbi Brunello is still considered an entry-level bottle but even from that first tentative sniff, you know you’re in for something special. It made my heart jump as I immediately smelled fresh forest and red fruits like I was in the vineyards in Tuscany. One can dream! Here are my wine and cigar picks of the week!

Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2012: (DOCG Brunello di Montalcino, Italy). Dry red, medium garnet color with heavy fading (brick/orange color) at the edges. The nose is medium-intense with earthy forest scents, aromas of bright, cooked sour cherry and strawberry, barnyard (sweet manure), cloves, freshly dug white mushroom, wax crayon, floral violets and hints of leather. After the complex nose, the palate seems simple at first but each sip reveals subtle complexities and depth of flavor. To the taste, this Italian red is focused on sour cherry and strawberry notes with an earthy, chocolatey component and a long finish of smooth forest earth, soft licorice, pepper and cloves. Tannins can be felt on the mouth and teeth but time in the bottle has softened them up nicely. Medium-plus acidity gives a lift to the bright red fruits and makes this a great option for many types of food pairings. Medium-plus body with medium concentration. The wine seems to lack a bit of punch at first but the wine builds on the palate as you sip. It reminds me of an adventure which starts slow and has many exciting dips and bends to discover. Pencil shavings, hints of leather and licorice linger while the tannins leave a satisfying coating (almost waxy) on the inside of the cheeks. This wine pairs beautifully with the Magno Maduro cigar in Rothschild size (4.5” X 50 ring gauge). The only thing that keeps this wine from being “Outstanding” is the lack of developing flavors. This wine is drinking well now but could use a bit more concentration and intensity of flavors. Very good! $75, 14.5% ABV

Magno Maduro Rothschild: (Esteli, Nicaragua). This Nicaraguan maduro has a dark wrapper (almost black) with a beautiful scent of cocoa, chocolate, earth and barnyard funk. The cigar lights easily after toasting and smoke from the foot of the cigar is abundant. The texture of the smoke is smooth, creamy and full-bodied with an array of earthy/chocolatey flavors as well as light pepper spice. There is hardly any bitterness to be found and the smoke tastes sweet on the retrohale. As the cigar is smoked, it leaves a fine white ash which is easily knocked off every inch or so. Great value for such a tasty, well-fermented cigar. It pairs well with all types of beverages like whiskey, rum, beer, wine or coffee. Very good! $5/Cigar

Cheers and thanks for reading!