If you're looking for a knockout Italian wine, you can't do much better than Brunello.

By Brian Freedman
Updated May 27, 2020
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Terlato Wines / Tenuta Luce / Frescobaldi Toscana / Le Chiuse / Castiglion del Bosco

Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most revered wines, and arguably represents the apex of what the Sangiovese grape is capable of. While consumers and critics often seem eternally destined to debate the relative merits of a more traditional style versus a more modern one, it’s impossible to argue that today's Brunellos represent a seriously delicious selection of wines, no matter how they’re made.

This is a particularly special time for one of the most revered of them all: Biondi Santi. The legendary producer, whose wines are discussed with the same sense of reverence as other icons like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive, recently released its 2012 Riserva, the last wine that Franco Biondi Santi had a hand in producing.

I visited the property last summer and again this past autumn, and each time, I had the distinct impression of a producer that has managed to strike a balance between respect for the past—they were the first to actually use the term “Brunello di Montalcino,” back in the 1865 vintage—and excitement for the future. That tension and confidence is clear in every sip of their 2012.

All of the nine wines below—listed alphabetically—represent an important part of the story that Brunello di Montalcino has to tell. Whether more modern in style or classic, from a great vintage like 2015 or a more challenging one like 2014, they all offer their own unique sense of pleasure and depth and, at the risk of peddling in wine-speak clichés, lessons about the land itself. Any one of these would make an excellent addition to a collection, and bring a sense of joy to these challenging times.

Courtesy of Biondi-Santi

2015 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino ($75)

This channels the aromas of the Montalcino countryside impeccably, with balsamic notes shot through with wild rosemary and thyme and lifted by a core of cherries and plums. The palate is pure silk, with excellent acidity structuring a wine of lovely concentration and energy, with plenty of cherries and wild flowers, as well as a hint of bakers chocolate and a memorable kiss of mint on the finish. Excellent now and will age well for another decade-plus.

2012 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($654)

Brilliantly delineated aromas of cherries, lavender, rose petals, tar, star anise, and licorice are joined by peppermint after some time in the glass, and set the stage for a wine of magnificent structure whose nervy acidity punctuates flavors that run the gamut from cherries, wild strawberries, and grilled apricots to forest floor, tobacco, and beef bouillon. The long finish lingers with sweet, sappy tannins that carry a beam of orange oil and haunting minerality. Tancredi Biondi Santi says that this can age “for a beautiful and long time.” My guess is that this will still be going strong in another half-century.

2015 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino White Label ($75)

Magnificently floral nose, with violets and lilacs lifting delicate notes of cherries, Satsuma citrus, and sweet spice. On the palate, this is seriously structured, with a solid center of red and black cherries, mountain berries, scrubby dried herbs, tobacco, and sandalwood that finishes with toasted fennel, caraway seeds, and coffee. Fantastic juxtaposition of energy and concentration: This is great now, but will live a long life in the cellar, too.

2015 Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino ($70)

Brings a smile to my face with its balsamic notes of the Tuscan countryside, the touches of cedar and tobacco balanced by red cherry and pomegranate. This is a silky, concentrated, and expressive wine with flavors of spiced cherries, violets, plums, a dash of orange oils, and tea tones that linger through the finish.

2015 Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino ($50)

Gobs of cedar and forest aromatics, with mint, rosemary, fennel seeds, star anise, and plums turning to a palate that’s both juicy and concentrated, fabulously structured with brooding flavors of licorice root, black plums, and figs, as well as toasty spice, dried flowers, and a hint of porcini. The finish is beautifully structured, and this wine is great now yet promises another 20 years, easily.

2014 GAJA Pieve Santa Restitute Brunello di Montalcino ($90)

Dark, brooding, and very subtle, this simmers with scorched earth, fresh-dug porcini, and stone-fruit pit alongside white peppercorns, and with air emerges a wonderfully lifted hit of allspice and star anise. The concentrated palate reveals serious pull and structure, with black cherries, purple plums, blood orange and flamed peel, carpaccio, smoldering cigar tobacco, and, on the finish, a lingering note of blue fruits. This is one for the cellar that I’d lay down for a few more years and then savor for the next few decades.

2014 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino ($80)

Aromas of forest floor and underbrush are perked up by mixed cherries that precede a palate of haunting elegance, in which earthier notes find a counterpart in more dried-floral notes, with the finish quietly resolving in cranberries, red cherries, and zippy minerality. There is a juiciness and generosity here that is hard not to love.

2013 Ruffino Grepponi Mazzi Brunello di Montalcino ($55)

Earthy and starting to turn secondary, this is marked by a razor’s edge balance between flamed orange peel and star anise, and plummier notes alongside Amarena cherries, cardamom pods, licorice root, dried porcini, minerality, and plums. Loads of leather and tobacco, too. This feels like it’s about to emerge from its evolutionary chrysalis into something really special. Hold until 2022 and then drink for the next 20 years or so.

2015 Tenuta Luce Brunello di Montalcino ($125)

Quietly sophisticated and deeply appealing, with smoldering cedar, camphor, black-cherry, mint-flecked dark chocolate, and black and oolong tea turning to a palate of equally complex character, with impeccably structured tannins and acidity carrying along a propulsive pull of black cherries and pits, purple plums, cigar tobacco, sandalwood (especially on the finish), charred mint and sage, and a hint of porcini and dried violets. Stunning. Drink now, or hold for 25 years.