For those of you who frequent foodandwineblog.com, it’s no secret that my most beloved wine region in the world surrounds the the small hillside town in central Tuscany of Montalcino. Built around a 14th century fortress, Montalcino provides breathtaking vistas in every direction, abundance of culture and history, and of course outstanding food and wine. Its most prized wine (and my favorite in the world), Brunello di Montalcino, is made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso and provides layers of earthy cherry, dark fruits, foresty-character, and great structure and acidity that rewards long-term cellaring.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down for a long lunch with the managing director from Altesino, Guido Orzalesi. Altesino is of course one of my favorite producers of Brunello that is well represented in my personal cellar. As we enjoyed a great meal at Sotto Sopra, we discussed the history of the wines of Montalcino, winemaking philosophies, and daily life in the town. I didn’t bother bringing up “Brunello-gate” or whatever it’s being called these days (the confiscation of a handful of Bruenllo producers to investigate “fraud”- read more here) as that has all but passed and I didn’t want to beat on a dead horse. That said, I did ask his feelings on the proposed idea to change the rules in Montalcino to allow other varietals in Brunello, as well as his position on the proposed “sub-zones” in Montalcino. Guido mentioned that the idea to allow other varietals in Brunello went to vote recently and was overwhelmingly rejected (he did comment that it helped that the vote was public as some who may have swayed the other way may have been a bit embarrassed to defy tradition).
The second question regarding subzones stems from the debate from producers such as Biondi Santi (the original Brunello producer) who contests that wines in different areas around Montalcino (North vs. South, near town vs. outlying vineyards, etc) are so different, that by designating sub-regions consumers would have more information about the style of particular wines (think of the Crus of Burgundy or designations in Barolo).
Guido mentioned that he is for this change, although he is unsure how it would work (how many zones, how large, etc). I did joke that of course he’d be for it considering Altesino is in the North-east, a prime vineyard location! A quick laugh and he agreed that does help, but he is more concerned with giving the consumer more information about the wines as a service to them.
When all was said and done, the wines, lunch and company were all great. Altesino remains one of my favorite producers of Brunello- always rich, elegant, and well balanced. I highly recommend seeking out their wines and deciding for yourself just how great they are. I’m sure you wont’ be disappointed.
At this lunch, we tasted four wines from Altesino, two of which are now on the new list at Sotto Sopra. The 2007 Rosso di Altesino has all the characteristics of a great Rosso di Montalcino with just a step up of complexity and finesse. The 2003 Altesino Brunello is one of my favorites of the 2003 vintage, which was a hot, early ripening vintage especially in the south of Montalcino. Being in the Northern area of Montalcino gave the grapes a bit longer on the vine which defintely helped to keep this wines acidity and ripeness in check. As the 2004′s roll into stores, it might not be a bad idea to grab up a couple 2003′s to enjoy while waiting for the ’04′s to come around!
2007 Rosso di Altesino: Sangiovese/Cabernet/Merlot (roughly 80/10/10)- Very fresh sangiovese character, gorgeous nose of sour cherry, bright fruit, touch of earthiness with wood (not oaky). Soft on the palate with a bit of acidity near the finish- great with food. My rating: 90 pts, VGV
2005 Rosso di Montalcino: Sour cherry, candied raspberry, a bit tart, light ttannins, medium finish. Straightforward Rosso- My rating: 87 pts, OKV
2004 Palazzo Altesi: Montosoli vineyard (better fruit, younger wood), French oak Barrique- basically an IGT that is a declassified ROsso. Undergoes carbonic maceration. More rich fruit, bigger mouthfeel while still a touch rustic (in a good way). Good length on the finish. My rating: 89 pts, GV
2003 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino: 3 1/2 years in large Slovanien oak, younger wood again used here. Very ripe, dusty fruits on the nose with sour cherry, dark raspberry, a bit of earth and a petroly component. On the palate the wine shows well for its youth with big fruits, medium tannins, good acidity on the tail end and complexity on the finish. Good value for the ’03 vintage of Brunello. My rating: 90-91 pts