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95-point Rosso di Montalcino - Sept 19

For many, Rosso(s) di Montalcino (henceforth "Rosso(s)") is an odd or unknown category. Our view is that it shouldn't be.

Rosso's bigger, famed, revered, highly-collected and pricier brother, Brunello di Montalcino, tends to set Tuscan customers' hearts racing rather more. And we understand that: top Brunello is indeed truly wonderful ... but very seldom less than £40 a bottle (and often much, much more). Its little sister, Rosso - on test here - is typically a £15-25 buy.

There are good reasons for that: principally ones of ageing. By law, Brunello must see two years of oak cask ageing, and cannot be released until at least 4 years old. Rosso, however, needs legally only to be aged for 10 months, need not see any oak at all and can be released barely a year from vintage.

But those bare facts hide much:

  • Many Rossos are made far, far more exactingly than those minimum standards dictate (the poll-topper here being one such). Vintages (see below) and producers are crucial here; as Decanter say, "more than anything, the most important thing is the producer... it comes down to how attentive they are, both in the vineyard and the winery".
  • Rosso stands, oddly we feel, in the shadow of Brunello, in a way that 'standard' Chianti Classico CC does not (that is, compared with its older Riserva and Gran Selezione brothers). Few doubt the quality of CC, although one could argue it a lesser (and less natively Tuscan?) wine than Rosso: the former need only be 80% Sangiovese whereas Rosso must be 100%. Since most of the better CCs tend to be 90%+ Sangiovese, you can see our point. Indeed, it's worth contrasting a good CC (we recommend this one as your test/control) and a good Rosso; typically. the extra Tuscan "bite" is to be found in the Rosso.

Rolling together the above, Decanter summarise it well: Rossos are "a more accessible, earlier-drinking version of Sangiovese, less expensive and potentially very good value". And, as one judge tellingly writes, "Some of them are as good as many Brunellos, yet offer wine lovers access to some of the best winemakers and estates without paying the high premiums of Brunello".

To the review: almost 100 Rossos went on test, and only one emerged as 95 points+/Outstanding: it was clear that the judges needed some impressing to clear this barrier (there were 21 Highly Recommendeds).

We mentioned vintage above: two vintages were principally on show - 2016 and 2017. Although the 2017s fared well, the top wines were 2016s. That make good sense, what with Decanter summarising that 2016 Rosso vintage thus:

All of which takes us to that top wine - Podere Brizio's Dievole 2016. It hails from the centre of the Montalcino zone, high up and  arguably on the most propitious soils. It exceeds minimum standards by some considerable margin - 12 months in large, used, untoasted French oak vessels - thereby striking a careful balance of fruit purity (heavy toasting or new oak would mask this in a wine meant for earlier drinkling) but with some oak input and development for complexity. The three panel judges were most complimentary, noting (respectively):

  • "precise nose, superb and floral ... elegant and delicate ... balanced, harmonious and long ... a class act";
  • "extremely well-balanced wine... very classic"; and
  • "sweet black cherry aromas, almost toffee-like sweetness... rich, ripe and complete ... juicy, mouthwatering acidity...  really appealing, yet serious too". 

... or more fully...

We (very) seldom miss a chance to taste these toppers ourselves, and enjoyed just that this week.

Overall, we wouldn't diverge much from Decanter's words. Compared with some Rossos we sell, eg the Talenti, this is certainly a Rosso of elegance, class and balance rather than one of unmitigated power, fullness and richness. It measures very well against a good Chianti Classico, smacks of cherries (of all sorts and shades), has acidity and tannins towards the upper end of what you may expect (both done very well) and is definitely a food wine (at present, it probably has a touch too much 'rasp' for most as a glass-on-its-own ... but then (as with CC), it is is hardly intended as such. It is not, let's be clear, as 'big' as a typical Brunello. It's also noticable that Decanter (who tend to be very conservative on such matters) see it ageing well to at least 2025 ... and that's almost a Brunello horizon for a supposedly-earlier-drinking Tuscan.

It's yours - as much as you can carry and/or store - for £17.95. We have 120 bottles to supply within 10 days; beyond that, there'll be a wait until the first week in September.