The third in Stefano’s series of posts on the “Ten Days that Shook the World” of Brunello di Montalcino: The Birth of Rosso di Montalcino.
By 1984, Brunello di Montalcino had already been a DOCG for four years. There was continuous growth in pricing of the wines and millions of bottles were being sold in all the major markets of the world. It wouldn’t be long before Wine Spectator would include two of Brunello’s historic houses among the “top 100 wines of the world” at the first New York Wine Experience festival. With this accolade, two Brunellos were elevated to the same level of legendary wines like Petrus, Lafit, and Latour. It was Brunello’s official consecration on the world stage.
This recognition was well deserved. Brunello was already considered “the Great Wine of Italy” in every corner of the world, a rival worthy of standing side-by-side with the legendary wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
It was a true “made in Italy” icon. But its success story had shaky foundations. Very shaky.
Montalcino produced just one type of wine. It was different from any other and very expensive. This, in and of itself, was risky. But it was even more so when you consider that the entire economy of the area relied exclusively on the production of Brunello. If the market had turned against the wine, it would have been ruinous. And the memories of the desperation of the 1960s were still fresh in people’s minds.
And so the president of the Brunello consortium Enzo Tiezza and the mayor of Montalcino Mario Bindi came up with an idea: Rosso di Montalcino. It was the first “DOC spin-off” the world had ever seen, a wine that was created by de-classifying a part of the Brunello production. It was a brilliant innovation. A second high-quality wine had been born but with a more approachable price. And the wine could be released into the market just one year after harvest.
The money generated by sales helped to pay winery operating costs and estates now had the luxury of waiting to sell their Brunello at the best prices. The result? Prices continued to climb for two decades. Finally, we weren’t bound solely to the luxury market. We had two products and it wouldn’t be log before nearly every producer added a Tuscan vino da tavola as well.
Montalcino now had three different wines to rely on, each different from the next in terms of quality and pricing. It was the true squaring of the circle: A recipe for stability and growth. This nearly perfect mechanism would be thrust into crisis with — let’s just say it like this — a liberalization of permitted grape varieties in Montalcino that could have been better planned. But I’ll tell you that story in a future post.
Stefano Cinelli Colombini
Post scriptum: These brief “history lessons” regarding the legend of Brunello are intended to underline a point of fact: After every crisis, Montalcino rises up again and continues to grow. Why? Because Montalcino isn’t just an appellation. It’s a way of life that is shared by people who choose to live here, whether they were born here or have come here. This is the reason why Baricci, Banfi, Soldera, Biondi Santi, Frescobaldi, Cencioni, Schwarz, Colombini, and so many others are (or have become) Montalcino. And this is a unique phenomenon that could only happen here.