I made it to Montalcino back in 2018. While I didn’t visit this producer, it didn’t take long for me to understand why the wines made here are so special and so important in the world of Italian wine and beyond. Brunello di Montalcino is Italy’s highest DOCG classification and many believe it to be the highest-quality expression of Sangiovese on earth.
Here, the Sangiovese grape has thicker skins, which leads to intense tannin structure, bold fruit characteristics, and very high acid. High acidity in wine equals aging potential, and as such Brunello is best consumed a decade or more after bottling. Young Brunello can be searing on the palate with such intense structure the drinker may find their palate overwhelmed. With time, the components soften together to reveal more dried, oxidative characteristics. Decanting becomes quite important here as the wine has been locked away under cork for so long and must be invited with patience to open up into its full potential for tasting, and more importantly, enjoyment.
2004 is considered a great vintage to seek out and drink now in 2021, which is why I opted to crack it after cellaring at home for a few years. When drinking older wines, I like to think about where I was in my life the year the grapes were grown. In 2004, I was a 16-year-old junior in high school living abroad in Brazil. Oh, how time flies! While this is the only 2004 Brunello that I have tasted, I found this interesting article from Antonio Galloni of Vinous on the vintage. What struck me is that he notes being disappointed by wines from the most famous producers of the region, while being pleasantly surprised by the releases from lesser-known estates. He also notes that ’04 Brunello from the southern part of the zone showed better than those from Montalcino proper. Considering he’s tasted far more than I, I’ll have to take his word for it. Overall, the ’04 vintage is considered far superior to the ’02 and ’03 harvests.
The Sassetti family has farmed some of Montalcino’s finest vineyards for over a century. Livio Sassetti worked the region through the late ‘70s before purchasing the famous Podere Pertimali vineyard, a site revered for high-quality Sangiovese where soils have a clay sublayer with a sandy topsoil layer. In 1967, Sassetti was a co-founder of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, which was the same year the DOC(G) system was written into law.
One year after the vineyard acquisition, Livio built a terracotta wall in the cellar to help preserve the older vintages produced by the family. Now, that cellar houses nearly 1,000 bottles with examples dating back to 1915. Livio has evolved the winemaking and vineyard management processes over the years while staying true to the quality standards and traditions of the family’s history.
Today, Livio’s son Lorenzo Sassetti manages the estate as the fourth-generation family member and an esteemed winemaker. As his father did before him, Lorenzo proudly maintains the family’s high-level of quality. The wines he produces are expressive of their unique terroirs and traditional style. These powerful wines are intense and aromatic, yet approachable and delicious when drunk under the right circumstances with consideration of proper cellaring.
This bottling is a wine for collectors. A benchmark of the family’s approach to making great Brunello, the Sassetti ‘Pertimali’ Brunello di Montalcino is incredibly luscious and intense with a sure need for oxygen before tasting. I decanted this slowly using my favorite vessel from Mixologist World. Loads of red fruit soar out of the glass with rustic dry floral and mushroom notes. Tannins are soft and integrated from the years in bottle and the mindful aeration.
The wine is made of 100% Sangiovese Grosso from vines planted between 1988 and 2001. The juice was fermented in stainless steel after a maceration of 10-12 days before being aged 36 months in Slavonian oak.
Average Price: $149
Overall, I find Brunello to be a fascinating category. Such true expression of terroir and an unequaled power propel the wines above so many others. These are not the wines of daily enjoyment. However, for a lover of viticulture, tasting them is simply a requirement for gaining a deeper understanding of the magical world of fine wine.