If you’ve been collecting fine wine for any period of time, you know that choosing the perfect wines to add to your portfolio isn’t the hard part of collecting—it’s figuring out the right time to open (or sell) those wines.
Take the bottles of Brunello di Montalcino in your collection, for example. You may have a few that are ready to be enjoyed now or that will be peaking soon, especially if you’ve been holding them for a while. This detailed guide to Brunello aging will help you decide the optimal time to drink or sell your wine and point you to the recent vintages with the most aging potential.
Brunello Aging: A Step-by-Step Guide
Brunello di Montalcino is an Italian wine made in southern Tuscany from Brunello grapes (a local variety of Sangiovese). It’s known for being rich, full-bodied, and high in alcohol, but balanced with acidity. This is why Brunello aging is crucial for collectors. These wines are bold, so they need time to soften and mature. When given this time, the wines become multilayered, with an incredible depth of flavor unlike any other wine in the world.
How long does Brunello age, exactly? The highest-quality Brunello (called Riserva) typically ages for 25 years or more, but some of the best vintages have been known to age for a century.
One of the biggest mistakes collectors make is opening their Brunello too early. To prevent this, follow the step-by-step guide to Brunello aging below.
|Steps for Brunello Aging|
|1. Know Exactly How Long the Bottle Has Already Aged|
|2. Store the Wine Safely|
|3. Track Tasting Notes|
- Know Exactly How Long the Bottle Has Already Aged
The finest Brunello di Montalcino (like Gaja, Biondi Santi, and Valdicava) must be aged for five years prior to being brought to market. Additionally, during these initial years of aging, Brunellos must spend at least two years in oak and a minimum of four months in the bottle.
This means that even relatively young vintages that were made available recently have already spent quality time in the cellar. Technically, you can drink these vintages now. However, it’s unlikely you would want to do this. The assertive tannins and equally strong acidity of these wines—provided by 100-percent Sangiovese—could benefit from additional cellaring to further soften and integrate them with the wine’s other elements to make Brunello truly accessible for the drinker.
So, to get the most from Brunello aging, it’s generally a good idea to wait a minimum of ten years after the vintage is released before you consider if it’s worth drinking or selling.
- Store the Wine Safely
Unless you have a very old Brunello vintage (one made in the 1990s or earlier), you’ll probably want to give it more time. Aging Brunello is no different from aging other fine red wines.
This means storing wine in a dark, temperature-controlled environment that stays at a consistent 55 degrees. Any variation can cause the wine’s flavor development to either shut down (in cooler temperatures) or speed up (in warmer conditions). Consistency is especially important when you store a wine for more than ten years, which is why most collectors opt for professional storage.
Humidity should also be high enough to prevent the cork from drying out. A humidity level of 68 degrees is ideal.
You should also take steps to limit vibrations or movement of the bottles, as this can disrupt the sediment.
- Track Tasting Notes
Once your Brunello is safely in storage, you should have a general idea of its progress in the bottle, based on how long it’s been stored.
- Five Years: Within the first five years of release, Brunello is still young, and the primary fruit flavors with the secondary oak maturation flavors are dominant. The tannins will further soften over time and the flavors will develop into tertiary flavors as they age.
- Seven to Nine Years: The deeply rich fruit-forward flavors are starting to bloom more fully. Some younger vintages have drinking windows beginning before their tenth anniversary for this reason. But, as a good rule of thumb, it’s at ten years or more that you can expect your Brunello to begin to truly come into its own.
- Ten to 15 Years: Notes of ripe strawberry, black cherry, and aged balsamic often found in a Brunello will intensify and start to mature. However, the more earthy flavors of dried herbs, tobacco, coffee, and leather may need more time to develop. Opening a bottle during this time won’t yield an unpleasant experience by any stretch, but it may not be the best experience you can have—yet.
- 15 to 25+ years: Most Brunello wines hit their stride by this point. The complexity of sweet and savory layers increases and becomes more refined as the tannins and acidity move into a soft, but flavorfully present, focus. Though some Brunello wines reach their peak before the age of 25, many others are worth waiting for even longer if you have the patience.
Following these steps is a simple way to keep track of your Brunello aging process. However, if you want a more precise recommendation, or you’re looking for a new age-worthy wine to add to your collection, it helps to look at individual vintage guides too.
When To Drink or Sell the Top Brunello Vintages
Since the common wisdom is that Brunello should be cellared for at least ten to 25 years, it’s easy to assume that all vintages come of age at the same pace. That’s not true across the board.
For example, 2010 produced ideal weather conditions that nurtured Brunello’s Sangiovese grapes so lovingly that you may want to hold that vintage until 2035. Likewise, the 2016 Brunello di Montalcino showed all the signs of a higher aging potential. On the other hand, 2014—a year with a challenging climate—produced wine that was more approachable in its youth, and in most cases is drinking well now.
Below you’ll find a list of relatively recent Brunello vintages and advice on whether you should continue holding them or consider opening them.
|Vintages To Hold|
|2019 (many labels have not been released yet, but when they are, you should hold them)|
|2018 (like 2019, many labels have not yet been released)|
Additionally, you should commit to storing any vintages from 2020 through 2022 for at least five years after they arrive in your cellar or storage warehouse. That means they won’t be ready for a second look until 2025 to 2035, at minimum.
|Vintages To Drink or Sell|
Yet, Brunello aging also varies by producer. For example, while many 2006 Brunellos are ready to drink now, some, like Biondi-Santi, won’t reach their peak until closer to 2035. This is why it’s important to cross-check this information with professional tasting notes for your specific bottles. This will give you the best sense of how the wine is developing.
How To Protect Your Wine While It Ages
Preserving the quality of Brunello requires precise and constant levels of temperature and humidity. Even one imperfect setting has the potential to damage your wine. This is why it’s so important to protect your bottles early–ideally as soon as you buy them.
Modern home cellars are an option, but they take a great deal of work to maintain, and temperatures or humidity tend to fluctuate more, especially if you have guests in and out of your cellar.
This is why most collectors use professional storage services for Brunello aging. Brunello is one of those wines that needs to be aged for many decades, so the less inconsistency there is in the storage environment, the more gracefully it will mature. Using professional wine storage also protects and insures your wine against fire, theft, and earthquakes.
Another benefit of professional storage is you’ll be less tempted to open a bottle prematurely. It’s all too easy to pop down to the cellar during a special celebration and uncork a fine bottle of 2016 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino before it’s had the chance to reach its peak. With professional storage, your wine is safely tucked away until you’re committed to drinking or selling it, and it will then be safely shipped to your door, or placed for sale on the marketplace.
When a wine is capable of aging for nearly 100 years, protecting it is vitally important. Whether you plan on drinking a well-aged bottle for your 40th-anniversary dinner, or you want to pass down a few special wines to your children or grandchildren, Brunello is truly a wine for the ages.
Storing your wine professionally is the best method for Brunello aging. Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.