Have you ever read about or quaffed a famous wine and wondered how it was made? The terrain where the grapes were grown, the hands of the winemaker, or the transformation the wine has undergone from harvest to dinner table?
These were just a few of the questions piquing our curiosity about the great wines of Tuscany during our recent visit there. So we paid a visit to several wineries to get a feel for the land, the people, and the craft behind the great wine traditions of this region. Open the panorama below for a clue on how Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy's most prestigious wines, is made. You'll find two important components: a charismatic winemaker, and large Slavonian oak barrels.
360-Degree Panorama: Learning about Brunello di Montalcino at Capanna Winery
Slavonian oak? Don't you mean French or American oak? Isn't that how all great wines are aged — in small barrels, retired every few years to ensure quality?
Well no, apparently.
Before our recent visits to wineries in the Montalcino, Montepulciano and Maremma areas of Tuscany, this is what we assumed.
When we first heard “Slavonian,” we figured there was a language hiccup and everyone we'd spoken to meant Slovenian oak. What we hadn't realized: Slavonia is a region in Croatia that produces a subtle oak more suitable to the temperament of the Sangiovese grapes that go into the great Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulcino wines.
In the panorama, you'll notice that the barrels are huge. They are sometimes used for as long as seventy years (compared to the three to five years peak lifespan you'll hear about French and American oak barrels). Perhaps most importantly, the flavor imparted by the Slavonian oak barrels is much subtler than their smaller French and American counterparts.
As for the personality behind this wine, check out Benito Cencioni, the winemaker at Capanna. When we pulled up late Friday afternoon in the pouring rain, he greeted us and escorted Audrey inside with the help of an oversized umbrella (Dan? He was on his own!). Anyhow, Benito has been making wine since 1957 and Brunello di Montalcino since 1970; his children continue with the wine making tradition today.
Capanna's 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is worth a stop. And, although the area is not particularly known for its white wines, the Moscadello di Montalcino, a dessert wine, is surprisingly tasty.
So, next time you open a bottle of Brunello (or any wine, for that matter), imagine its back-story. We know we will.