Brunello di Montalcino is certainly the hottest thing going for Italian wines right now, but its baby brother Rosso di Montalcino is one of the most overlooked value wines in Tuscany. I just got back from Montalcino, a quaint hill town I've been visiting since 1982 and for past 15+ years, two times a year. During that period the quality level for Rosso di Montalcino has risen dramatically and is far greater quality than your average Chianti—much more consistently a bang for your buck proposition. Unlike Chianti, these wines are all 100% Sangiovese and their more southerly geographic position allows for more depth of flavors and richness. The flavors are purer and the fruit more potent. The legendary Tuscan city on the hill is surrounded by the castle walls of la fortezza—medieval era stones that surround the populace once known for its top quality leather goods and tanneries around the 13th century. In later years, as the leather trade went into an economic decline, Montalcino's importance stemmed from its location on the road between Rome and France, becoming an important stop along the way for merchants and travelers. It wasn't until the 1900s, however, that Montalcino would become a powerhouse in the wine trade, growing from a mere eleven producers in the 1960s to more than two hundred today.
Instead of animal hides, today it's all about sangiovese vineyards—lush plantings of that fleshy, dark-fruited grape. While Brunello gets most of the attention, it's the Rosso wines that are grabbing our attention as of late. What's exciting is the fact that these tremendous values are coming from a great vintage in Montalcino from some of our favorite producers. The depth and refinement of the Brunello trickles down to this set without a doubt. Some of the classiest and most detailed wines you'll find for under $25 in our stores, Rosso di Montalcino is sometimes called "Baby Brunello," but in recent years the quality defies the moniker. These wines not only have current drinkability, but also can age in your cellar for a decade easily. They're perfect for BBQ meats off the grill or your favorite pasta!
To start, check out the 2013 Baricci for $19.99, a wine full of violets and sweet earthy notes. This wine absolutely blew me away when I tasted it in Tuscany last year. Another favorite is the 2013 Sesta di Sopra for $19.99, which like the Baricci, is a K&L direct import. This wine is so complete, with such depth of flavor, so much fruit and such perfect balance; it is stunningly good for the price and remarkably drinkable now, although I'll be aging a six-pack myself for another few years. If twenty bucks is still too high, try the 2013 La Lecciaia for $14.99. The nose is full of sweet cherry aromatics coupled with bits of leather and spice. On the palate the wine shows good body, and is supple and savory. The wine finishes with a bit of tannic grip and then relaxes and lengthens, showing more elegance. Or, if those choices still don't do it for you, you can join me in Montalcino for some Cinghiale!
-Greg St. Clair