Spotlight on Rosso
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | OCTOBER 03, 2019
Rosso di Montalcino sometimes gets overlooked in the rush to
focus solely on Brunello. That’s a shame, as the best Rossos offer pedigreed
expressions of Sangiovese from this magical hillside town and its surrounding
vineyards. At the same time, styles and overall quality are variable, which
makes navigating Rosso a bit of a minefield. Here’s everything you need to
Rosso di Montalcino – An Overview
Making sense of Rosso di Montalcino requires a bit of work,
as the wines run a wide gamut of styles, from simple, easygoing reds meant for
near-term drinking to far more serious wines than can approach, or even
surpass, Brunello in terms of quality.
Starting from the most building block concepts, Rosso di Montalcino
is 100% Sangiovese that can be made either from vineyards that are specifically
designated for the production of Rosso, or wine from Brunello-designated
vineyards that is declassified down to Rosso, an approach many estates take
with younger-vine fruit and/or casks that aren’t considered to be of the
highest quality. In first-rate vintages, estates have a natural financial
incentive to bottle as much Brunello (and Brunello Riserva) as possible,
whereas in less favorable vintages, Rosso can be a good outlet that allows
producers to bottle only their best lots as Brunello while generating quicker
Unlike Brunello, the regulations that govern production of
Rosso give producers quite a bit of leeway, especially with regards to aging,
which is one of the key reasons the styles of wines are so wide-ranging. During
my tastings of Rossos for this article, I tasted everything from
straightforward, vinous Rossos made to offer immediate pleasure, to more
structured, powerful wines, and even one 2018 that was already in bottle.
To complicate matters further, a number of estates have
started to offer two Rossos – usually a simple, fruity version and a more
structured, powerful bottling. Both carry the same designation: ‘Rosso di
Montalcino.’ How can a consumer tell the difference between these wines, other
than by price? The answer is there is no easy way. Moreover, where estates make
two Rossos, the ‘important’ wine is usually more concentrated and saddled with
greater oak influence, neither of which necessarily makes for a better or more
I generally am not in favor of denominations introducing new
categories – Italian wine is complicated enough as it is. But it does seem to
me that if producers in Montalcino want to go down the path of offering two
styles of Rosso, perhaps the simpler versions should be ‘Rosso di Montalcino’
while the more structured bottlings should be ‘Rosso di Montalcino Superiore’
with some additional quality guidelines to ensure wines live up to top billing.
Some of the most compelling and delicious Rossos I tasted
What’s in a Name?
Rosso di Montalcino benefits greatly from its association with
the ‘Montalcino’ brand, which makes the wines easy to sell as ‘baby Brunello.’
But that is a double-edged sword, because, while the natural link to Brunello
can be (and should be positive), that presupposes that Rossos are good wines.
What happens when they aren’t? What happens when Rossos are thin, diluted, or
worst of all, technically flawed? Well, at that point the very obvious risk is
that the entire Montalcino appellation is tainted by low quality wines. In
Piedmont, this is not an issue with Langhe Nebbiolo because there is no linkage
with Barolo or Barbaresco. Of course, that creates a different set of
challenges. But in Montalcino, Rosso has to be good, and it really should be
more than just good because the reputation of each estate and entire region is
at stake with every single bottle. I tasted too many Rossos that were washed
out and lacking in any real depth or pedigree. I also saw a few wines with
technical flaws. In 2019, in a global wine market, there is just no room for
My tastings focused on the 2017, 2016 and 2015 vintages.
Because of the factors I highlight above, the most important being the wide
stylistic variation in the wines, release schedules are also quite different
from estate to estate. Two thousand seventeen will be remembered as a very hot
and dry year. The 2017 Rossos are decidedly racy, exuberant wines. The best
2017s are delicious, but there is no way of getting around the naturally
flamboyant style of the year. In 2016, the long, balanced growing season yielded
wines much more aromatically expressive and nuanced. If this vintage has a
slight shortcoming it is that some Rossos lack just a bit of depth. I suspect
most of the best juice will be bottled as Brunello. And then we get to 2015,
which has the best balance of the three, for Rosso, with a terrific combination
of richness and depth from the warm weather that year, along with a good deal
The Salvioni farmhouse, Montalcino
Producers To Look For – The Best Of The Best
This is a short list of most consistently outstanding
producers of Rosso di Montalcino. Unfortunately, none of these wines are particularly inexpensive. In the $20-25 price range, quite frankly, Chianti
Classico often delivers better value.
Biondi Santi - Tenuta Il Greppo – A beautiful Rosso that captures
the classically austere style Biondi Santi is famous for.
Canalicchio di Sopra - Ripaccioli – A gorgeous expression of
Sangiovese from the northern part of town.
Capanna – An estate that has been on a roll of late with
Costanti – I prefer the straight Rosso over the newer Vermiglio
Cupano – A rich, luscious Rosso that expresses the essence
of the house style.
Le Chiuse di Sotto - Gianni Brunelli – A serious, pedigreed
Rosso and a superb expression of Sangiovese from Montalcino.
Fuligni – One of Montalcino’s benchmark Rossos.
Lisini – A powerful expression of Sangiovese from the
southern part of the appellation.
Pian dell’Orino – A deep, intense Rosso full of character
Le Potazzine – The epitome of translucence and finesse in
Salvioni – Bottled from one, sometimes two, casks of
declassified Brunello juice, and only in some vintages.
Siro Pacenti – One of the most consistently outstanding
Rossos. The rich, sumptuous style is classic Giancarlo Pacenti.
You Might Also Enjoy
2016 Chianti Classico – A Modern Day Benchmark, Antonio Galloni, September 2019
Chianti Classico 2015 & 2016: In the Right Place at the Right Time, Antonio Galloni, February 2019
Rocca di Montegrossi: Chianti Classico Vigneto San Marcellino 1995–2013, Antonio Galloni, August 2018
Tuscany New Releases: Maremma, Montepulciano & More, Antonio Galloni, April 2018
Chianti Classico: The Stellar 2015s and Surprising 2014s, Antonio Galloni, January 2018