When it comes to prestigious Italian wines, few can compete with dense red wines from the Piedmont. But often forgotten is the wine from Montalcino. It is here where the sangiovese grosso grape of Brunello di Montalcino is a big step up from the sangiovese of the much-simpler chianti.
Anyone who has had a decade-old Brunello knows from taste that the wine is delicious when the initial bright fruit character mellows.
Several producers just outside of the hilltop town of Montalcino are making wines that don’t require years of aging. That is what we found in three Brunello di montalcinos we recently tasted from Tenuta Col d’Orcia.
Now operated by Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, the property dates to the 14th century. But the winemaking has changed a lot through the centuries. Cinzano recently introduced organic and biodynamic farming to the 370 acres of vineyards. The mineral zeolite was added to the soil to retain water and nutrients. Water is becoming scarcer in European wine regions and only recently has irrigation been allowed in this region. Cinzano said he has dug lakes and wells to augment natural rain water.
One thing that has not changed is the use of large barrels, which Cinzano called “the magic formula” for brunello. Wine aged in large barrels gets some oxygen to allow it to evolve more slowly and enhance color and flavors.
We loved the 2017 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($64) for its abundant black cherry flavors and enticing hints of spice and easy tannins. Produced every year since the 1970s, this wine has an approachable New World style.
The 2016 Col d’Orcia “Nastagio” Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($90) is one of two single-vineyard brunellos. More complex, it has layers of red fruit, riper tannins and a long, dense finish. It was our favorite.
The 2015 Col d’Orcia “Poggio al Vento” Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($173) is only made in great vintages. Cinzano said he realized some time ago there was something special about this vineyard that was best bottled without the influence of other vineyards. Fossils and stones mix with sandy soil to bring a mineral note and intense tannins. It is aged for three years in large Slovonian and Allier oak barrels and then bottled for three years before release.
Brunello di Montalcino is enjoying a string of five great vintages. Now is the time to enjoy them.
Argentine malbecs represent some of the best wine values in the world. Here are a few we recently enjoyed:
Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Reserva 2020 ($20). Expressive, fresh black fruit and violet aromas followed by delicious blackberry and plum flavors. A very good buy. The vineyards here are among the highest in elevation in Argentina — one is higher than 5,300 feet.
Domaine Bousquet Malbec Reserve 2021 ($17). Merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon are blended into this layered and delicious malbec. Red cherry and strawberry notes with a hint of spice and an earthy feel.
Bodegas Bianci L10 Malbec 2021 ($17). This producer is consistent in making good malbec with depth and character. Generous flowery aromas with strawberry and raspberry flavors and an underlying minerality. For a few bucks more, the L10 Premium Malbec ($30) is more complex.
Coen Uco Valley Classic Malbec 2019 ($25). Forward blackberry and plum flavors with hints of cocoa and mint. Very easy-going.
Bianchi L10 Malbec Mendoza 2021 ($25-28). A partnership of Bianchi and the much celebrated and world cup champion Lionel Messi. This is an impressive malbec with big bold and rich flavors with notes of cherries and plum. The perfect match with big bold meat dishes.
South African pinot noir
Pinot noir lovers know to turn to one of three main growing areas to source their wine. Burgundy is recognized as the ancestral home of this wonderful grape. California followed with pinot noir finding welcoming growing areas in its cooler climates. More recently Oregon pinot noir has gained a following among pinotphiles. In addition to these three areas, New Zealand is making a credible move with some tasty pinot noir.
Apart from the above areas other wine-producing counties also put out a smattering of pinot noir that only occasionally rise to consumer’s attention. So, we were intrigued to taste a pair of pinot noirs from South Africa of all places. These wines originated in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley on South Africa’s most southern coast bordering the South Atlantic Ocean and just 2,400 miles from Antarctica. Formerly known as Walker Bay, this area features cool temperatures and windy conditions that appear to offer a hospitable climate for pinot noir and chardonnay. However, just 20 wineries produce wine in this region.
We were very impressed with the quality of their wines, which also included one chardonnay. Although a sampling of just three wines in a region that has only produced wine since 1975 is not definitive nor comprehensive, we will be looking out for more examples of Hamel-en Aarde wine offerings.
We recommend all three although they may be difficult to find because of low-production volume.
Storm Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge South Africa 2021 ($42). This reminded us of a well-made white burgundy from the Macon region of France. No apparent oak but a nice smoothness from light aging in new and used French oak.
Hamilton Russel Vineyards Pinot Noir Hemel-en-Aarde Valley South Africa 2021 ($55-65). Hamilton Russel is the original winery in this region. Bright ripe cherry fruit with a touch of sour cherry. A very light touch of oak and a style that echoes some high-end California pinot noir.
Bosman Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley South Africa ($25-30). This pinot noir projects a distinctive burgundian style. Gamey pinot noir notes with a hint of earth and a wee whiff of smoke. Excellent value.
Chateau De Rouanne Vinsobres 2019 ($35). We haven’t tasted many wines from the Rhone Valley appellation of Vinsobres, so we were pleased to sample this one. Crafted from 50% grenache, 40% syrah and 10% mourvedre, this wine is bold and offers abundant cherry and berry fruit notes and a streak of minerality along with agreeable soft tannins. A perfect partner with big bold winter meals.
Matthews Claret Columbia Valley 2020 ($30-35). A Bordeaux inspired red wine featuring all of the traditional Red Bordeaux varietals. Notes of cherry, cassis and mocha blend to form a classic wine. Pair with winter red meat dishes.
Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly, syndicated wine column since 1985. See their blog at moreaboutwine.com. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.