Drinking and Pairing Brunello di Montalcino with FoodWhile Chianti is centuries old and surely Tuscany's best known red wine, Brunello di Montalcino is a relatively new invention. It holds the distinction of being Tuscany's most prestigious, expensive, cellar-able, and therefore collectable red wine. The hilltop town of Montalcino is located in southern Tuscany and has always grown Sangiovese, the same grape used in Chianti and Vino Nobile. But whereas those wines are blends with Sangiovese as the base of their blends, Brunello di Montalcino must be made from 100% Sangiovese. In 1870, Clemente Biondi-Santi of the now legendary Biondi-Santi estate isolated a clone of Sangiovese that had smaller, more rot-resistant berries, and named it "Brunello," meaning little brown one. The resulting wine was one with more color, tannin, and a greater depth of flavor. Also, unlike Chianti of the day, Brunello di Montalcino improved with age. Despite the success of Biondi-Santi, there were surprisingly few wine estates in Montalcino until Banfi (the American firm that made their fortune selling Riunite Lambrusco) began buying property in Montalcino in 1978. Banfi has done much to popularize the wine in the United States. Today, Montalcino boasts several excellent producers, although not all of them agree on what "style" Brunello di Montalcino should be made in. Traditionally, Brunello di Montalcino was aged for an extended period in large wooden casks known as botti, emphasizing the wine's dryness and tannins, but the modern preference is for very ripe wines, aging for a shorter time in French barriques (small Bordeaux barrels).
Brunello di Montalcino is, for some, the ultimate wine for grilled steak, and Tuscany's beef is indeed the finest in Italy. Marinated and grilled portabello mushrooms over polenta is another excellent partner, and the wine is considered classic with stewed cinghiale or rabbit ragù over pappardelle.