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Episode #213: Wines of Southern Tuscany – Brunello di Montalcino and Beyond

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We uncork the story of Brunello di Montalcino wine and the revered Tuscan wine region, in the Val d’Orcia, where it is produced. Each bottle of wine holds not just a vintage, but a sip of the captivating history and dedication of the wine producers. As well as tasting this deservedly famous and coveted red wine, this area is an enchanting place to visit, with epic vistas over miles of vineyards and medieval villages perched on hilltops and with its rich cultural heritage that dates back centuries.

Show notes

The next in our series on Italian wine with Untold Italy’s Olivia Windsor and her partner Andrea Mitti Rua from Italian Wine Tales, we continue our focus on individual wine regions. Liv is an Australian who’s been living in Italy for 5 years and hosts our Untold Italy Tours all over Italy. She is an Italian food and wine expert and both she and her soon-to-be husband Andrea, who is from Piedmont are currently studying to be qualified sommeliers in Italy. Italian Wine Tales is a great resource on Italian wine and for wine tour or winery recommendations. Sign up for the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here. Their previous episodes introduced us to some sparkling wines (episode 179), white wines (episode 189) and reds (episode 196). Their first episode on the wine regions was Barolo in episode 206 and in this episode, we head south to the Val d’Orcia in Southern Tuscany to talk about another famous red – Brunello di Montalcino.

DISCOVER: Untold Italy’s unique small group Southern Tuscany Wine & Wellness Tour in the beautiful Val d`Orcia.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Australian Liv and her soon-to-be husband Italian Andrea recently started Italian Wine Tales together – an online resource to learn more about Italian wine in a fun and approachable way. Liv also leads many of the Untold Italy Tours, one of which goes to this Montalcino wine region
  • Everything is very regional in Italy. Everything comes from fairly small pockets of land. In this case, it’s in a small part of the larger region of Tuscany
  • Val D’Orcia is in the Southern part of Tuscany, about 2 hours south of Florence. It’s just 16 kilometers squared
  • The Montalcino area is not very big at all, but there are 250 wine producers just in this area because it’s very, very rich in wine and history
  • It’s close to Siena, so if you’re staying there, it is great for a day trip
  • It’s full of beautiful villages to visit. There is, of course, Montalcino. There is also the famous Montepulciano
  • A beautiful town, a favorite in the region of Katy and Liv, is Pienza. It is a stunning town with beautiful views. The difference between Val d’Orcia and Chianti is that Val d’Orcia has open vistas and a lot of the classic Tuscan roads with Cyprus’s roads
  • These are the iconic views of Tuscany – in the film Gladiator, there’s a scene where they are walking along the road with the cypress trees. You know that you’re in Tuscany when you’re in that area. Chianti is much more rolling hills and Val d’Orcia is a very different landscape of big, wide open spaces

The wine

  • Brunello di Montalcino is based on Sangiovese grape. Differently to Chianti, a Brunello di Montalcino is 100% Sangiovese, whereas Chianti has to be 80%, and it can have a few other grapes mixed in there
  • Brunello is a much more important wine, meaning it has a greater aging time. It requires 50 months spent aging, of which two years are spent aging in a barrique (a type of wooden barrel). This is different to Chianti which is a ready-to-drink wine. You can age Chianti too, but it’s not required to have it aged as long as a Brunello
  • It’s a big, bold wine. As it is a European wine, it is not as bold as a Shiraz if you are an Australian wine drinker, but there is definitely some tannin
  • Right now people would be drinking the 2019/2020 vintages. The pre-COVID vintage – so if you want to have a taste of life pre-COVID, drink Brunello!
  • Brunello is a lot more expensive than a Chianti Classical, because of how long it takes to produce the wine. The producers wait 5 years before they get their return on their investment
  • It’s such a tiny area and a lot of producers but it is a labor-intensive product. There are some big producers like Antinori, but a lot of them are small family producers that make quite a small quantity of Brunello
  • It’s definitely a foody wine and in terms of the flavors you have tobacco, leather, musk, red berries
  • It is intense, there are some tannins, but because it’s been aged for a while, they’re nice and rounded out and a little silky. It’s not  hitting you in the face with the tannin
  • The wine is called Brunello because the word Bruno in Italian means dark and the color of the Sangiovese grape in that area grows with a particularly dark tone. So it is called the Bruno, the Brunello, the dark of Montalcino
  • It’s mostly red wine-dominated area. If you are a white wine drinker, there are other regions that Andrea and Liv can recommend that you would probably prefer, as this area is all about the red

What food would you pair the wine with?

  • Brunello di Montalcino is not a wine that you’re going to have for aperitivo. It is too heavy for that
  • A classic pairing is Chinguale – the wild boar, which is a typical Tuscan countryside dish and other gamey meats also work well
  • The famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the beef steak goes really well with the wien
  • Polenta with cheese is another good pairing
  • Liv and Andrea were debating whether it would work well with Ribolitta, the Tuscan vegetable soup. Liv thinks not, Andrea disagrees – it will have to be tested out!
  • Generally, these big, wintry, hardy dishes work well as they need something to cut through them. Find more about hearty Tuscan winter food in episode 209

How much does Brunello di Montalcino cost?

  • If you’re buying it in a restaurant, it’s always going to be more expensive than a wine shop so you’re looking at a restaurant, it’s likely going to be at least €100
  • If you buy directly from the producer, it can go down significantly and would start around €50
  • If you want to get one of the best years or something even older, then of course, the price goes up
  • As with most wines in Italy, they always have the Reserva version, which is the best of the best grapes, the one that’s been aged for longer. That’s going to be significantly more expensive than just your average Brunello di Montalcino. The Reserva version will have an extra price tag but it is extra deliciousness
  • The guests on our Untold Italy Wine and Wellness tour get lucky as they get to taste the Brunello, including the Reserva. If you’re going to have it, you do it properly!

The vineyards

  • The landscape of the Val d’Orcia and the Montalcino wine area is really beautiful. It is a really condensed, small area so you can actually visit quite a few wineries if you’re going to be based there because they’re all next to each other
  • There are rolling hills but in a different way to Chianti. Chianti is more like winding roads (if you get carsick, just keep that in mind) whereas Val d’Orcia is more spread out with open vistas
  • It’s a 16 km zone. It depends on what season you go, but the Val d’Orcia is often thought of as being really golden, especially in the fall season, which is when we have the tour in 2024. It’s almost sun-kissed. After they do all the harvesting and it then has a different look, but still golden and beautiful
  • If you’re visiting in the springtime, you’ve got all the leaves coming out, and it’s really green, so a totally different look
  • When Katy was headed to the region with her husband to meet a friend for lunch in Monticello,  as they were driving along the road she kept asking him to stop so she could jump out to take photos, as it was all so beautiful
  • There are so many perfect shots of those pine trees and the roads just meandering through the valley
  • When people think of Tuscan hues, they tend to think of that burnt orange and the muted tones which is exactly what you’re going to get here

Other things to do and see in the Montalcino area

  • There are a lot of hilltop villages that are worth visiting in this area
  • Pienza is quite a popular one to visit now and it is well worth it. It was a town built to be the ideal city by one of the popes. If you love cheese, it’s heaven – it literally smells like pecorino. Learn more in episode 199
  • The town of Montalcino is a must-visit. It’s a tiny, medieval hilltop town. Montepulciano is only half an hour away from Montalcino. They also make wine there. It’s not as an important wine, but you’re in the area, so you’ve got to compare and contrast – particularly because you can’t always have such a big, heavy wine with every dish. There’s a time and a place for every wine. We visit Montepulciano on our Val d’Orcia Wine and Wellness tour
  • There are lots of other little towns. Monticello is a particularly cute little town
  • A place you must see is the Sant’Antimo Abbey, near Montalcino, which is stunning. Andrea and Liv really recommend a visit there
  • You can spend hours driving around, taking in the lovely landscape and popping into these little towns
  • There are also the thermal baths. You’ve got these elegant thermal bath towns
  • You go and you just relax in these beautiful properties. One is a very luxurious hotel where you can enjoy the thermal baths, and others are more rustic, but there are lots of elegant options. It’s the perfect thing to do in fall, especially, but also in the springtime when it’s still a little bit crisp and you just soak in the waters. It is really good for you too, with a lot of health benefits. Then you go and have your wine!
  • You can hire a bike to explore the area and there are lots of hikes around. It’s really a place where you can settle in for a few days

Recommended Wineries/Enoteca

  • Antinori is one of the larger wineries, producing around three million bottles a year, including Brunello
  • Then there are lots of smaller producers, which are mainly focused on Brunello, and still produce significant numbers – around 33,000 bottles, like Le Chiuse, or Poggio di Sotto, which is another producer, producing 120,000 bottles a year
  • Antinori is the most famous in Tuscany. They also produce the Chianti Classico, so you can try that while you’re there, as well as the Brunello, as well as Super Tuscans. You can tick everything off by going to that winery
  • It has an architecturally stunning canteen and cellar
  • When you take the highway in Tuscany, you go past it regularly. It’s a nice one to visit, but obviously, keep in mind, it is a big winery so you’re not going to meet the whole family, it is on a bigger scale
  • If you wanted to try some wineries that are closer to Montalcino itself and really specialize in the Brunello wine Le Chiuse is a biodynamic winery and Poggio di Sotto is another great organic winery
  • Just remember that in Italy, you can’t just show up to a winery, you have to book online in advance
  • A recommendation, for more for historical reasons, is the Biondi Santi family winery. The Biondi Santi family is the family that actually created Brunello as we know it today. They’ve been doing this since 1888, so they know what they’re doing
  • The other thing that people may be used to, in Australia and the US for instance, is that you can have lunch at a winery too but it’s not always that way in Italy. For a lot of these smaller wineries, their focus is not on the hospitality side of things. Their focus is on making wine
  • If you did want to go to a winery where you can have a really nice lunch, Tornesi right outside of Montalcino is a nice visit. You can do your tasting and have lunch there
  • When planning how many wineries you could expect to do in a day here, it would be an absolute maximum of 3. Italians wouldn’t visit 3 in a day unless they were maybe working in the wine industry. In Australia, it would be such a normal thing to see 3 wineries in a day on a winery excursion, but 3 would be the maximum in Italy and more commonly 1 or 2. As Italian Andrea puts it – you don’t want to push it!
  • TOP TASTING TIP – make sure you eat in between. This is a big wine, so you need to have some food in your stomach when tasting it
  • Another big producer there is called Castiglion del Bosco, which is a famous and quite fancy winery. Katy has not been to their estate in Val d’Orcia, but she has been to their wine-tasting room in Florence, which is an incredible experience. If you’re not going to make it down to the Val d’Orcia, look up that wine room in Florence because you will get an exceptional experience there. They really know about hospitality and how to welcome guests and make them feel special

Why go?

  • There’s so much to do in the region – wineries, cheese, gorgeous little towns, thermal springs
  • Chianti where many head to in Tuscany, is beautiful, but if you’re looking for something that is a little more, not off the beaten track, but it’s a little bit less known and touristy than Chianti, it is a great choice and a little more varied in the activities that you can do
  • They also produce olive oil, of course – it’s Tuscany
  • If you like the Fiat 500s, that is a typical exciting activity that you can do in the Val d’Orcia – go on a vintage Fiat 500 tour with a driver through those iconic landscapes. That’s a special activity to do. It is something people sometimes do for their weddings
  • If you feel like you want to do something grand – it doesn’t get much more spectacular than drinking Brunello while journeying in the back of a vintage Fiat 500 in Tuscany

Getting around

  • Like many of these wine regions, you do need a car to get around this area. If you don’t have a car and are perhaps based in one of the small towns, it’s recommended to have a driver – someone taking you around the wineries and in the region
  • You pretty much need to forget public transport there. You can get to Siena with a bus, but that’s about it
  • At the moment there’s a rise in something called wine resorts – where you can stay at a gorgeous winery and they’ve got various experiences on site. That can make things a lot easier for people as often if you’re on vacation, driving in a foreign country is probably not the most relaxing thing
  • Another alternative is to go on a tour. You can come with us on the Untold Italy Tuscany Wine and Wellness tour where we visit all the different wine regions in the Val d’Orcia, or you can do a day tour from your Tuscan base. Both options mean you don’t have to worry about the driving

Other wines from the area

Rosso di Montalcino

  • Rosso di Montalcino is an easier wine in comparison to Brunello
  • The main difference is in the aging. Brunello di Montalcino needs to be aged for a long time, while Rosso di Montalcino can be found on the market just one year after the harvest. So it’s lighter and it’s also less expensive
  • If you visit the wineries that Liv and Andrea recommend here, you will find it there and it is easier to drink and more affordable
  • Don’t think that just because it’s not as expensive or as aged, it’s not good. This wine has similar characteristics to the Brunello, but it’s an easier drink and delicious
  • The color is a much brighter red compared to the Brunello, which is darker. The taste notes are blackberry and sour cherry. Because it’s less aged, you can expect the tannins, so the taste can be a bit more intense, but not too much like a New World Shiraz

Rosso Nobile di Montepulciano

  • Rosso Nobile di Montepulciano is another red wine made in Montepulciano, a town half an hour away from Montalcino
  • It is not as full-bodied wine as the Brunello. It’s not as important in terms of the strength of the wine and the awards. Though it is less prestigious it’s still definitely worth trying. There’s a wine for every occasion

Why visit Tuscany

  • If you want to discover a hidden Tuscany, away from the tourist trail, where you get to meet local wine-makers, visit beautiful hilltop towns, taste the region’s amazing dishes and experience traditions, architecture and artisans – then consider our Untold Italy tours of Tuscany, many led by Olivia and includes the new Wine and Wellness Tours in the Val d’Orcia
  • If you are one of the lucky tour guests on our Southern Tuscany trip, exploring Brunello and other wines with a side of spa relaxation, you can also take advantage of Liv’s expertise to help you order wines to send back home. Liv is in charge of choosing the wineries that we visit and the wine that we drink on our tours. She’s very particular about where the tours go and what wine is drunk. When Katy is out and about in Australia and is looking for a wine, she will often message Liv and say, “Here’s the wine list – please can you choose one for me?” Liv loves doing it as she is so passionate about wine, so the tour guests on any of our Untold Italy tours with Liv are lucky to get her choosing their delicious Italian wine choices
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More on Italian wine from Andrea and Liv

The fantastic website that Andrea and Liv have created is www.italianwinetales.com. You can also follow them on Instagram for some more inspiration @italianwinetales, or join their new Facebook group ItalianWineLovers. You can connect with Liv on @livguine, or meet her in person on an Untold Italy Tour.

SUBSCRIBE: To the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

DISCOVER: More on Untold Italy’s small group tours of Tuscany, including their unique Southern Tuscany Wine & Wellness Tour.

About our guests – Olivia Windsor and Andrea Mitti Rua

Olivia, an Australian who moved to Italy in May 2019, and Andrea, an Italian from Piemonte, Northern Italy are based in Rome and have recently launched the Italian wine site Italian Wine Tales, where you’ll find not only the best wines to try, but also information on all the Italian wine regions, the best wine tours and wine clubs you can join. Follow them for Italian wine inspiration on Instagram @italianwinetales, join their Facebook group Italian Wine Lovers or sign up for the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

Olivia writes a blog called Livguine, named after her love for pasta and her nickname Liv.  She has explored the country south to north, working in agriturismi and organic wineries before settling in Turin, Piedmont for a time after meeting a local Piemontese Andrea. They are both now based in Rome and Olivia hosts various Untold Italy Tours throughout the year in Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany Capri and Puglia.

You can find Liv and Andrea on these channels:

Untold Italy Tours

Join Liv on one of the many Untold Italy Tours she hosts around Italy. Untold Italy Tours helps you discover your authentic Italy and discover the Italian places, faces, stories, and tastes whose memories linger for years to come.

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Places mentioned in the show

  • Montalcino – the town in the province of Siena, known for its Brunello wine
  • Val d’Orcia – an area of Tuscany which extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata
  • Montepulciano –  a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, famous for its wines
  • Monticello – pretty Tuscan town
  • Abbey of Sant Antimo – a former Benedictine monastery located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate
  • Castiglion del Bosco wine lounge – wine lounge in Florence in an incredible frescoed room on Palazzo Capponi

Recommended wine/wine makers

  • Antinori – wine producer with a winery you can visit to try a variety of wines including Brunello
  • Le Chiuse – biodynamic winery on the north side of Montalcino – one of Montalcino’s first organic wineries
  • Poggio di Sotto – organic winery on the South East side of Montalcino
  • Biondi Santi – historically important winery
  • Tornesi – winery for Brunello where you can also arrange a lunch
  • Castiglion del Bosco – grand winery estate

Food & Drink

  • Bistecca alla Fiorentina – beef steak dish, made with the meat of the Chianina cow
  • ribolitta – a hearty Tuscan bread and vegetable soup, including locally grown cavolo nero (black kale)
  • Rosso di Montalcino – another, more accessible wine from the region

Resources

  • Gladiator – famous movie where a former Roman General wants vengeance against the emperor who murdered his family and made him a slave

Resources from Untold Italy

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