A Peek at the 2016 Brunello di Montalcino with Col d’Orcia

For more than 25 years, Benvenuto Brunello has brought journalists from around the world to taste the newest vintage of Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello di Montalcino is a wine beloved by wine lovers around the world. It is a symbol of Italian excellence. Hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, Benvenuto Brunello is one of the most anticipated previews of Italian wines of the year.

In February 2020, 200 producers showcased the highly touted 2015 vintage. That was just as the Covid pandemic began to spread. One year later, in 2021,  we are unable to travel to Italy for Benvento Brunello. While I might not be able to travel to Montalcino, Col d’Orcia in Montalcino traveled to me. Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of Col d’Orcia, shared a first taste of his new 2016 Brunello di Montalcino release, together with two other top wines from his estate, over a virtual tasting.

Col d’Orcia, which means the hill overlooking the Orcia River, is located on the outskirts of the medieval hilltop village of Montalcino in Tuscany’s Siena province. The estate’s winemaking history began in the 1700s. The estate was purchased by the Cinzano family in 1973 and today they are the third largest owner of Brunello vineyards in Montalcino.

Col d’Orcia is a champion of biodiversity. Located in a natural park, which is also a UNESCO site, the Cinzano family feels a duty to protect this special environment. The entire estate includes vineyards, gardens, olive groves, tobacco and wheat fields, and 50 percent of the land is still natural woodland filled with Mediterranean shrub. Col d’Orcia has always been conscientious of the environment and in 1990 they began the research and development of cover crops with the University of Florence. In 1995,  they started using natural fertilizers, such as vine pruning and manure. In 2010, they transformed the winery to organic and today Col d’Orcia is the largest certified organic wine producing farm in Tuscany.

The Col d’Orcia logo represents the connection of the winery to land. The image is of three hills, representing that they are farmers, not winemakers. The hand is pointing to the star, representing Col d’Orcia’s search for excellence.

Col d’Orcia has 144 hectares of vineyards, 100 of which are planted with Sangiovese for “Brunello” e “Rosso di Montalcino”.

The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino is pure Sangiovese that is hand harvested. The grapes underwent 18-20 days temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The wine was then aged for three years in 25, 50, and 75 hectoliter Slavonian and Allier oak casks. The wine spent an addition year in bottle before release.

2016 is said to be a fantastic, 5-start vintage. The Col d’Orcia 2016 Brunello di Montalcino is a great example! On the nose, the wine has red cherry, rosemary, sage, and cedar notes. While a little tight, the wine is fresh yet complex. It is full-bodied with fine tannins.

We also enjoyed the 2013 Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG ($150). 2013 was also a stellar vintage. The Sangiovese is from the single vineyard Poggio al Vento, which means “windy hill”, is grown in sandy soil with a lot of limestone. The grapes were handpicked and fermented in stainless steel for 25 days, followed by malolactic fermentation in concrete. The wine was then aged for three years in 25 and 75 hectoliter Slavonian and Allier oak barrels, followed by three years in the bottle. The nose of the wine is very perfumed with notes of raspberry, sweet baking spices, cinnamon, and florals. On the palate, the wine is bright and fresh with high acidity. With 10 years of age on it, the wine is more elegant, compared to the more structured 2016.

The third wine of the tasting was the 2015 Olmaia Sant’Antimo Cabernet DOC. Olma is an elm tree and olmaia is the wood of the elm tree. The Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the Olmaia vineyard that was planted in 2005 and sits 350 meters above sea level. The grapes are handpicked and fermented for 20 days in stainless steel. The wine is then aged for 18 months in new French oak barriques, as well as a small amount of American barrels, followed by 8 months in bottle. Aromas of blackberries, herbs, spices, and black pepper, the wine is ripe but not over-ripe. It is a rich and sexy wine.

Traveling to Italy would have been my preference but enjoying these three wines in the comfort of my own home, I let myself dream of Italy with each sip I took.