Of Italy’s many tempting wine regions, those devoted to producing its legendary crus are essential stops for oenophiles wanting to sample the marvels of a celebrated DOCG territory at the source. Brunello di Montalcino, which like its powerhouse counterpart in Piedmont, Barolo, has been dubbed the “king of wine” (although they rely on different grapes; the former sangiovese, the latter nebbiolo), is harvested in the flowing hills around the town of Montalcino, south of Siena. It is a part of Tuscany that provides some of the most mesmerizing landscapes in the country.
The pandemic, has, of course, put a hold on enotourism throughout the world, but fans of the wine can plan for a future trip to Montalcino. [Check the latest travel restrictions and requirements with Italy’s Ministero della Salute and the U.S. Embassy in Rome.] See the recommendations below from those in the know—top Brunello vintners* (representing three of the 13 area wineries owned and led by women)—to make the most of your next visit there. Brunello devotees should also note the upcoming Finally Brunello, June 14-20, in New York, a week when they’ll be able to sample a range of vintages at some 40 restaurants highlighting the wine with special tastings, pairings and menus.
Caparzo, founded in the 1960s, is run by Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini who purchased the winery in 1998, with her daughter Alessandra and son Igino Angelini. The Angelinis attribute the uniqueness of their Brunellos (the 2016 vintage earned a 96 score from Wine Spectator) to the fact they own seven vineyards in the four quadrants of the Montalcino DOCG, “covering every type of soil/terroir with different altitudes and exposures. We try to deliver a balanced and consistent product in every vintage, taking the elegance from the north side and the power from the south.”
Besides the wine, why travelers should come here: The Brunello di Montalcino area is part of the Val d’Orcia, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s not only a wine region, but also one of the most beautiful countrysides in the world with rolling, green hills, golden grain fields, San Quirico’s famous circle of cypress tress, renowned medieval hamlets and important abbeys like Monte Oliveto, Sant’Antimo and the famously unfinished San Galgano.
Tuscan experiences special to the Brunello di Montalcino area: Enogastronomy: Montalcino is a town of five excellences: wine, extra virgin olive oil, white truffles, ancient grains and honey, and there are tours, tastings and wonderful eating experiences.
Walking, hiking and biking with great scenery. The Via Francigena pilgrim trail [reaching from England to Puglia] crosses the Brunello di Montalcino area. Montalcino is home to one of the historic Eroica bicycle races with wonderful and challenging gravel-road tracks. The Monte Amiata volcano [dormant] offers some great hikes and bike rides.
Different experiences for every season: the harvest, truffle picking, hunting, and [enjoying] the thermal baths and summer sunflower fields.
Most beautiful villages and towns: There are plenty of choices—beautiful medieval Montalcino with its fortress; the small, incredibly preserved Buonconvento; San Quirico d’Orcia [known for] its gardens, Bagno Vignoni with a thermal pool as town square; Castiglione d’Orcia with its tower; Pienza, city of cheese [renowned for its pecorino] and love [streets have names like Via del Bacio (kiss) and Via dell’Amore (love)]. To the south, there are San Giovanni d’Asso with its truffles and Seggiano, at the foot of Monte Amiata.
Unforgettable drives: The Crete Senesi roads are certainly the most scenographic and iconic.
Recommended restaurants: Tough to pick one! For Tuscan cuisine go to Trattoria Osenna in San Quirico d’Orcia. For an elaborate and modern interpretation of Val d’Orcia food, there’s Drogheria Franci in Montalcino. Also in Montalcino, try San Giorgio for pizza, and Alle Logge di Piazza in the Piazza del Popolo, the town square, for aperitifs or dinner.
Dishes to try: Pinci [Montalcino’s name for pici, a hefty, strand pasta]. There are different versions—cacio and pepe; with ragù di cinghiale (wild boar meat sauce); all’aglione (tomato sauce made with a local type of garlic). Ribollita soup is another great classic. You can never go wrong with cinghiale dolce forte [a stew cooked with wild boar]. Bruschetta with fegatelli [a Tuscan specialty made with pigs livers] are other musts. Definitely sample the pecorino with different seasonings and the local cold cuts. On a platter they’re an everyday, any time of day go-to classic.
Museums not to miss: The Civic and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art offers some unexpected pieces of medieval Tuscan art. In Siena go to the Santa Maria della Scala museum.
Unique shops: If you manage to survive the many and extraordinary wine shops in Montalcino, your next choice would be special fabric stores like Montalcino 564 and Sartoria Principe. In Buonconvento, stop at Pianigiani [known for its handcrafted leather goods].
Suggested lodging: We have a hotel north of Siena, Borgo Scopeto Relais, immersed in the vineyards and located in a restored medieval hamlet with the best view of Siena. For those looking for country houses to rent closer to Montalcino, we have La Casa, which is in the center of our vineyard on the Montosoli hill [a prime spot in Montalcino territory].
Originally owned by the legendary Biondi Santi family, pioneers in the development of Brunello di Monalcino, Le Chiuse today is helmed by a descendant, Simonetta Valiani, who runs the estate with her husband Nicolò Magnelli and their son Lorenzo. “We try to make a Brunello that can be distinguished by its quality in a classic and traditional style,” says Valiani, who cites the “2006 vintage for its character, 2010 for its power, 2013 for its classicism, 2016 for its dynamism, and 2019 for its fullness.” Wine Enthusiast gave the 2013 and 2016 vintages a 100 rating.
Besides the wine, why travelers should come here: This area contains all the beauty that can be found in Italy. It’s a paradise for those who love art, culture, nature and, above all, good food.
Tuscan experiences special to the Brunello di Montalcino area: It is possible to visit cellars, castles, medieval villages and appreciate our biodiversity.[The area’s richness] can also be found at the table. Many products have been produced for generations and are enhanced by local dishes.
Most beautiful villages and towns: Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, Bagno Vignoni, Pienza.
Unforgettable drives: The Via Francigena. For most stretches you can journey both on foot and by car.
Recommended restaurants: Il Giardino Ristorante in Montalcino for the quality of the food. Podere Casale in Pienza for the primary produce and the beauty of the landscape.
Dishes to try: Pici—they are a thick, handmade spaghetti. In spring and summer I like to pair a glass of Brunello with a cut of manzo [beef] called groppa, which is cooked at a low temperature. [And any time] a seasoned pecorino from the area.
Museum not to miss: The Brunello Museum in Montalcino.
Unique shop: My favorite is Montalcino 564, a store that sells textiles among other things.
Suggested lodging: One of the many agritourism/farmhouses in the area. We also have apartments in [a historic] residence immersed in our vineyards.
A decade ago, American-born Natalie Oliveros began investing in La Fiorita, founded in 1992 by Roberto Cipresso, a noted Italian winemaker, and became owner of the estate several years later. With business partner Louis Camilleri, former CEO of Ferrari, Oliveros expanded the property so that it now spans four vineyards over nine hectares and includes a smart new cantina. Oliveros says her most emotional vintage was 2014, one that was “extremely complicated due to the rain, but we were able to pull a wine that had very little flaws.” Indeed, Wine Enthusiast gave it a 93/100 rating. Since taking over La Fiorita, Oliveros debuted a new Brunello, Fiore di NO, and a rosé, called Ninfalia. La Fiorita’s 2015 Brunello earned a 95 score from wine critic James Suckling.
Besides the wine, why visitors should come here: Montalcino is magical no matter the season—the 360° views; [the chance to] to touch history by putting your hands on the wall of the Sant’Antimo Abbey; the sound of the Orcia river flowing; the smell of the ginestra; and the illumination of your taste buds sipping glasses of Rosso or Brunello.
Most beautiful villages and towns: Pienza is a must [about a 30-minute drive from Montalcino]. You can stop at the Cappella della Madonna di Vitaleta along the way. Sant’Angelo in Colle is also a nice ride from Montalcino.
Unforgettable roads: Adventuring along the Strade Bianche is part of the Tuscan experience. [Strade Bianche are the back roads made of gravel threading through the areas’s countryside and vineyards that are popular with cyclists.]
Recommended restaurants and dishes to try: Il Grappolo Blu in Montalcino, as Luciano makes great food, and Il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle, where the bistecca alla Fiorentina is simply delicious. Needless to say, both of them have a great selection of Brunellos, many different labels and even more vintages. When in Montalcino book a window table at Alle Logge—it is a great addition to the experience. I order the pinci al cinghiale for lunch with my Rosso 2019.
A selection of variously aged pecorinos pairs well with Brunello, as do such spring and summer dishes like tagliatelle with asparagus, grilled Chianina, panzanella and crostini neri —a must have. [The crostini are made with toasted or grilled bread topped with a spread typically made with chicken livers and anchovies.]
Unique shops: The artisanal stores with great craftsmanship in Montalcino.
Recommended lodging: Hotel Il Giglio. It’s right in town, so very handy, and has a fantastic restaurant attached. Mario is a great host.
*Caparzo, Le Chiuse and La Fiorita will participate in Finally Brunello in New York. Cellar visits can be arranged by contacting each winery directly. For more information about Brunello di Montalcino, go to Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino.