Here's a wine that proudly opens a new chapter for Montalcino's celebrated Rosso. The Biondi-Santi 2017 Rosso di Montalcino opens to immediately recognized Sangiovese character, presented in a soft, delicate and nuanced manner. The wine pours from its distinctive yellow-labeled bottle to a beautifully mild garnet color with dark sepia accents. As it takes on oxygen in the glass, the wine reveals a slow progression of wild berry, rose, tar, spice and tilled earth. There are faint traces of caramel, candied orange and wild mountain herb. The 2017 growing season delivered ample heat and drought, but the new winemaking team at Il Greppo has taken on these challenges with grace and expertise. On the close, this Rosso shows its characteristic acidity and just enough structure to promise good aging potential.
This spotlight focuses on two new releases from Biondi-Santi: the 2017 Rosso di Montalcino and the 2015 Brunello di Montalcino. The upcoming 2013 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva will be released later this year, and I will publish a review of that wine as soon as I have the opportunity to taste it. Of these two samples, it’s worth spending an extra word on the beautiful 2017 Rosso di Montalcino. Rosso is an entry-level category of wine in Montalcino, made with 100% Sangiovese like its big brother Brunello, which has been the subject of much debate and attention in recent years. There is an acute awareness on the part of both the trade and the consumer that the enormous growth potential of Rosso di Montalcino remains untapped. Because Rosso commands a lower price point than Brunello (a wine that sells well), there has been an unwillingness to invest vineyard acreage or infrastructure for Rosso di Montalcino. Why focus on Rosso in a Brunello market? As a result, Montalcino is an anomaly in the world of wine because it has an inverted quality pyramid.
The classic wine region elsewhere is built upon on a large base of lower-priced wines at the bottom, and a pointed tip where a much smaller number of expensive fine wines live at the top. In Montalcino, cellar-worthy Brunello is the expensive wine at the top produced in ample volume, but the upside-down pyramid tapers down at the bottom to capture the sidelined Rosso. For example, in a year like 2018, the appellation produced eight million bottles of Brunello di Montalcino and 4.5 million bottles of Rosso di Montalcino for a turnover of 160 million euros, and 70% of the wine was sold in export markets, according to the Consorzio del Vino di Montalcino. The denomination has policies in place to limit the growth of Brunello to eight to nine million bottles, depending on the vintage. However, there is ample room for growth, says the Consorzio, for Rosso di Montalcino. If Rosso di Montalcino is to build momentum, it is critical that the iconic brands of the appellation get behind the wine. This is the context I believe we need to consider when presenting a wine like the Biondi-Santi 2017 Rosso di Montalcino. “We strongly believe in Rosso di Montalcino,” Biondi-Santi CEO Giampiero Bertolini tells me over a Zoom call. “Rosso is the entry ticket to Montalcino. This wine is key to bringing in new interest and new generations of wine lovers.” The Biondi-Santi estate has a long-standing Rosso di Montalcino program. But it also sometimes produced a special bottling recognized by a red banner on the label called Rosso di Montalcino Fascia Rosso in the most difficult vintages such as 1989, 1992, 2002 and 2014. In those years, fruit destined to Brunello was downgraded to the red banner selection. It was determined that the Fascia Rosso was causing confusion in the marketplace and the wine was discontinued. “We don’t want our Rosso to be seen as a declassified wine,” says Bertolini. “Instead, we want to draw a clear identity for our Rosso.”
The identity of the 2017 Rosso di Montalcino reviewed here is closely linked to that of the estate’s technical director, Federico Radi, who joined the estate that same year. “The 2017 growing season was hot and the vines were stressed. Yields were reduced by 30% to 40% in some areas,” says Radi. “Areas with heavy clay soils and younger vines suffered the most, but we were able to maintain freshness in the 2017 Rosso thanks to the advanced age of the vines in our best sites with cooler Galestro soils.” Biondi-Santi embarked on an ambitious project to map its vineyard holdings and better understand the soil characteristics of each parcel. The team is also slowly replanting less-productive vines. I wrote about these initiatives in my article that was published last year in the June 202 Week 1 issue. I also wrote about some recent changes at the estate in an article called “Updates from Montalcino’s Tenuta Biondi Santi” published on Wine Journal, which is free to read (no subscription required). The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino reviewed here will also be released in magnum for the first time in the estate history. Brunello was not made in 2014, nor was a Riserva produced that year. Each year, the estate selects a back vintage from the library to re-release to the market. The 1983 Riserva was selected for this purpose, and I was lucky enough to taste that beautiful wine a couple of years ago. That review was published in July 2019.