Sampling the Vino
Brunello di Montalcino exudes the smell of mossy, damp earth and musky berries. It tastes of dark, sweet fruits and dry vanilla. It's also the backbone of Montalcino's economy. As the deep ruby liquid mellows to garnet, the wine takes on its characteristic complex and slightly tannic aspect. Brunello is one of Italy's mightiest reds, a brawny wine that can tackle the rarest bistecca alla fiorentina. It's also the perfect accompaniment to game, pungent mushroom sauces, and aged cheeses.
Although Montalcino has produced wine for centuries, its flagship Brunello is a recent development, born out of late-19th-century sangiovese experiments to concentrate the grapes through strict cultivation methods. Most Brunellos are drinkable after about 4 to 5 years in the bottle, and the complex ones are best after 10 years or so (few last beyond 30 years). Staff members at Montalcino's wine consortium Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it; tel. 0577-848246), Piazza Cavour 8, can provide info on local wines and steer you to vineyards that are open to the public.
In town, the best informal introduction to the deep-red liquid is some time spent at the Enoteca La Fortezza (tel. 0577-849-211; www.enotecalafortezza.it), inside the fortress. The stone-and-brick vaults are filled with excellent wines and grappa, as well as prosciutto, salami, pecorino cheese, and Montalcino's famous honey. The staff is adept at helping you and the wine get better acquainted, and a tasting of three Brunellos costs €14. The enoteca is open the same hours as the fortress.
Poggio Antico (www.poggioantico.com; tel. 0577/84804; daily 10am–7pm), 4.5km (3 mi) south of Montalcino off SP14 toward Grosetto, (right-hand road at the fork) gives free, informative tours in English that provide an excellent introduction to Brunello and other wines of the region. Tastings begin at €2 a glass. Its Brunellos, especially the riserva, are consistently voted among the top 100 wines in the world by oenological magazines -- and this boutique winery often holds the number-one spot among Brunellos. Their sangiovese-cabernet "Supertuscan" Madre is elegant and velvety. Cantina visits are free but must be reserved at least a day in advance (more in summer). The direct-sales store is open daily to drop-ins from 10am to 7pm; you can also taste there. (Prices range from 2€ for a Rosso di Montalcino to 25€ for all six of the estate's superlative wines.) Reserve guided tours and tastings online.
Banfi (tel. 0577-877-505; https://castellobanfiilborgo.com/en) above Sant'Angelo Scalo, 10km (6 1/4 miles) south of Montalcino, is part of an American-owned exporting empire, an enormous ultramodern vineyard with a massive cantine. It's a little corporate, certainly, but there's no arguing with the outstanding quality of the wines: The riserva in particular is precisely balanced. Banfi also runs a small museum on the history of glass and wine in its medieval castle. The huge enoteca (wine cellar) sells books, ceramics, packaged local foods, and all the Banfi wines. This is also where you go for tastings. The enoteca and museum are open daily from 10am to 8pm. Call ahead for an appointment (best at least a week in advance) for a guided tour of the cellars. They also run eatery La Taverna, where you can pair Montalcinese cooking with multiple wine tastings (for example, 3 courses with 3 wines at 80€ per person). The estate also operates a luxury boutique hotel called Il Borgo (tel. 0577-877-700; https://castellobanfiilborgo.com/en/hotel-il-borgo), open March through October.
Fattoria dei Barbi (tel. 0577-841-111), 5km (3 miles) south of town on the road to Castelnuovo, makes a mean Brunello di Montalcino riserva, Vigna del Fiore. The cantina also sells Moscadello and vin santo and is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 1:30pm and 2:30 to 5:30pm, weekends from 11 to 1:30 and 2 to 5:30pm.
Smaller wineries tend to offer a more personalized service, and also require booking in advance. Among our favorite Brunello producers happy to receive visitors is Sesta di Sopra (tel. 0577-835-698), just west of Castelnuovo dell'Abate.
If you're merely looking for a decent wine to drink on the terrace at your agriturismo, you'll find a great selection in every price bracket at roadside bottle-shop Bruno Dalmazio, Via Traversa dei Monti 214 (tel. 0577-849-019). It's just outside the center beside the road to San Quirico.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.