There’s Something About Montalcino: The Micro-Terroir Debate

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To subdivide or not to subdivide…that is the question!

Wine-o’s who love a serious red wine probably already know about Tuscany’s precious red gem of Brunello di Montalcino.  But what do you know about the region’s micro-terroirs?  These seemingly small differences can make quite a big difference and are currently causing quite a debate.

Brunello di Montalcino is a wine made in the designated wine region Montalcino inTuscany.   Its wines are made of 100% the black grape variety Sangiovese (“Brunello” is one of Sangiovese’s many other recognized names and is actually a specific clone) and the wines must be aged in oak for at least 4 years (5 years for bottles labeled Riserva) before bottling and release.  The result is a complex, full-bodied and bold red wine, with all the best berry flavours and spicy aromas Sangiovese can offer with the addition of some earthiness (e.g. forest floor, leather) from ageing.

The current discussion is not to make any changes to Brunello wines.  Rather it’s to redraw the maps of the region due to the large number of micro-terriors (~20) inside the area.  Micro-terroir, or micro-climates are the differences within a region in terms of altitude, soil composition, sunlight, and temperatures.  Because the most subtle differences in any of these factors (sun, soil, altitude, etc) can create a lot of variation in the resulting wines made even from the same grape variety, even if they’re right next door to each other, some wine-makers of the Montalcino region are calling for some officially designated “sub-zones” within the region.  The idea is that consumers will be better able to find the bottle of Brunello they like most, knowing that wines in Sub-Zone 1 of Montalcino tend to be ones with characteristics they prefer versus the neighboring Zone 2 or Zone 3 wines.

Though this might sound complicated at first glance, it’s actually not unheard of that regions are subdivided due to the high level of climatic variation within.  Further, proponents of sub-zones suggest that redrawing of the area’s maps will also make the region easier to navigate for visitors.  This would be beneficial to some producers who feel they miss out on business simply due to visitors in the area getting lost.

Producers against the suggestion argue that even within a sub-zone there can be variation.  In fact this is why some producers in the region make their Brunello wines by blending wines from multiple areas within Montalcino  – blending from multiple zones ensures consistency and balance (a common practice in wine-making).  They claim that because of this, redrawing maps and designating these sub-zones will not necessarily provide a clearer picture on wines of the area and is therefore a pointless endeavor.

What do you think?  Do you think that micro-terroir are cause for creating sub-zones within regions? Or do you think it’s just splitting hairs and might not really be as helpful as people would like?

For a look at just how varied terroir can be, even within ONE region, look at this map made by the Brunello Wine Consortium:

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Aubrie Talarico

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One Response to There’s Something About Montalcino: The Micro-Terroir Debate

  1. Pingback: Italian Wine Quiz: #1 | Veni Vidi Vino – Italian Wine and Wine Culture

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