At Cantina del Brunello in Siena We Got Great Advice on Brunello Wines:
On our walk back to Piazza San Domenico, where our coach was waiting, we came across a wine cellar that had a large selection of what looked like quality wines. It was the ‘Brunello’ in name of the shop – Cantina del Brunello – that got Tony interested. As we travelled around Italy and stopped at a number of autogrills, many of these Italian highway food outlets offered gift packs of Brunello di Montalcino at what seemed to be rather attractive prices. Tony was curious as to how good these Brunellos were and what the shop price of this premium Italian red would be in a town like Siena.
Brunello di Montalcino
Wine connoisseurs would know that Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s top red wines, up there in rank with others like Barolo and Barbaresco. Brunello is a DOCG designated wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) made from 100% Sangiovese grapes which are grown on the slopes of Montalcino, a hill town some 40 km south of Siena. In spite of the Italian economy being in such a bad state, the Brunello wine industry appears to be doing fine, with production increasing.
Being a prized wine, Brunello has had its share of scandals. In the 2008 “Brunellopoli” scandal (perhaps it should have been call Brunellogate) several wine producers were found to have the breached the 100% Sangiovese rule and sold Brunello that was made from a blended variety of grapes. In another scandal in 2012, about $13 million worth of Brunello were destroyed in an act of vandalism, believed to have been committed by a disgruntled former employee. That must have been one very angry ex-employee!
Getting Brunello Advice at Cantina del Brunello
We walked into the shop and met Federico Pieri, the very nice owner of the fully stocked Siena enoteca. We went in to ask a very quick question about how much a decent bottle of Brunello di Montalcino would cost and what the good vintages were and ended up staying for a longer chat. Federico was very friendly and kind in sharing his knowledge about Tuscan wines even though we weren’t in the shop to buy wine.
We mentioned to Federico the Brunello prices that we had seen in the autogrills and asked him if these were genuine Brunellos? You read about the mafia getting involved in faking branded goods and food products and was it possible that some of these were not the real Brunellos as had happened in the 2008 Brunellopoli affair.
Federico explained that there were now some 250 independent Brunello producers in Siena and there would be quality differences amongst the mostly small producers. We had no idea that there were that many different vineyards producing wine under the Brunello name. The ones sold in the autogrills would probably be from the lesser known producers, whereas the Brunello Riserva, which is made with grapes from the oldest vines and aged in oak barrels for five years, would naturally fetch higher prices. So if you’re forking out money for a bottle of Brunello, you’d want to find out who the reputable producers are.
If you are staying in Siena and would like to visit some of the cellars where this much sought-after wine is aged and learn more from the producers themselves, you can join a Small-Group Brunello di Montalcino Wine-tasting trip from Siena.
Wine Shopping in Siena
If you’re shopping in Siena for good wines for yourself or if you are buying a good bottle of Brunello as a gift to impress your Italian friends or colleagues, you would be wise to buy from someone like Federico who can advise on the reputable producers and the wines that would fit your wine budget. Apart from being a nice guy, he is a qualified sommelier and among some of the things that his Cantina del Brunello does include organization of tours and wine tastings at business premises, he prepares wine lists for restaurants and he’s also involved in wine tastings with producers.
You can see more of our Siena Shopping photos Here.
For more about Siena, see our Siena Trip Planner Here.
Cantina del Brunello
via della Sapienza 66
Tel: +39 0577.48446
Marco di Peschici says
Good little article. I have stood in that very same enoteca and examined the nice selection. Just a quick note. Brunello is the name of a very special clone of sangiovese, just like i vini nobile di Montepulciano is made from a different clone named prugnolo. Montalcino is somewhat drier and hotter than areas to the north (such as Chianti), so the better winemakers carefully select rich aromatic grapes from the northern slopes that ripen slower and “style” their wine by blending with intense fruit grown on the south-western slopes. I believe (although I’m no expert) that the better wines are made with grapes all from a particular altitude and soil type where the fruit can ripen to the utmost – together. My favorite Brunellos have a classic Slovakian oak background, but also a distinctive round French roundness that I suspect comes from some time in smaller barrels. I seldom buy Brunello in the US because it never tastes like it does in Tuscany. I do buy the occasional rosso di Montalcino that is a blend of Brunello and other grapes (also cheaper). BTW. Not far from Montalcino is the stunning Banfi estate. Even though it is a big industrial operation, their Poggio alle Mura Brunello Reserva brings me to my knees!
Helen Page says
Grazie Marco for your kind words and for sharing your knowledge about Brunello. Anyone who talks about “classic Slovakian oak background …and distinctive French roundness” must be a wine expert and a foodie. We were very interested in tasting Brunellos in Italy as they are outrageously expensive in Sydney. And then again, they may not taste as good as in Tuscany as you’ve indicated.
Thanks too for the tip on the Banfi Estate and their Poggio alle Mura Brunello Reserva. Yet another reason to race back to Tuscany!
Thanks once again for sharing your knowledge and we hope you’ll share more tips here.
You never mentioned the prices, though. Very curious.
Helen Page says
As there are 80 different producers of Brunello di Montalcino, there is a range of prices depending on the producers and vintage. For an idea of current prices, have a look at Federico’s website: