Brunello di Montalcino Riserva: Excellence in a Bottle
Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is a version of the regular “vintage”, sharing a name but differing primarily in the ageing.
Which grape variety is used to produce Brunello di Montalcino?
The grape variety used is Sangiovese Grosso, known as “Brunello” only here in Montalcino. For the production of this special wine, generally the best grapes in the various vineyards are chosen, or, in some cases, grapes from one specific vineyard (sometimes from the oldest vineyards, other times from those with the best qualities in terms of exposure or altitude).
What are the qualities of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva?
The Brunello di Montalcino Riserva can be released on the market starting on January 1st of the sixth year after the harvest. In addition to being produced and aged within the municipality of Montalcino (it cannot leave the confines of Montalcino until it has received the DOCG seal), it must age for at least two years in barrels and six months in the bottle.
Usually, the Riserva is the most emblematic wine of the estate, produced in limited quantity and only in excellent and exceptional vintages. Typically, it is a more complex wine with better ageing potential compared to Brunello.
When did Brunello di Montalcino Riserva start to be produced?
The first time we can ascertain that Riserva was produced is in the year 1888. It was the Biondi Santi winery that produced it. The next year Brunello di Montalcino Riserva was produced by Biondi Santi was in 1891.
How long can a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva age?
Generally, Riserva gives its best after about 10-15 years from the harvest, but can easily age for 25-30 years. Or even a lot longer.
In 1988 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Brunello di Montalcino, Franco Biondi Santi decided to open one of the four bottles of Riserva 1888 that were at the Greppo estate for a truly special wine tasting. To everyone’s amazement, the wine was still intact and completely pristine. Basically, it was still alive!
Another of the four bottles was given by Franco Biondi Santi to then President of the Italian Republic, Francesco Cossiga. The remaining two bottles are still at the Biondi Santi winery.
What are the best vintages?
Top vintages when most wineries produced Riserva include 2016, 2015, 2012, 2010, 2007, 2006, 2004, 1997, 1995, and 1990. Other Riserva vintages produced by some but not all wineries include 2008, 2001, 1999, 1998, and 1993.
How much does a bottle of Brunello Riserva cost?
Precisely because of the limited production and the sublime quality, the Brunello Riserva costs more than Brunello. On the shelves, the average price runs between €60 and €130 per bottle, with some getting up to as much as €500 per bottle.
We remember back in 1990, a time when were still managing the “La Casa del Vino” wineshop in Siena, we had a bottle of Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1888 on consignment. At the time, the price was 20 million lire, which is more or less the equivalent of €10,000 back then. The value of that bottle today is immeasurable and priceless. (For the record, that bottle was never sold.)
What can it be paired with?
Since it is a full-bodied wine, Riserva is perfect for all the delicious dishes served in Montalcino and Tuscany, like wild boar, chicken cacciatore, roast lamb and chicken, and is a special touch at the end of the meal with very aged pecorino cheese.
How to enjoy it
Store the bottles in a cool dark cellar at 16°-18°C (60°-65°F) and open about three hours before drinking in order to let the wine breathe. Once the bottle is open, it should be finished within two days.