Italian wine enthusiast and salesman for Republic National Distributing Company Antonio Molesini will host a tasting of the wines of Montalcino at Swirl Wine Bar & Market (3143 Ponce de Leon St., 504-304-0635; www.swirlnola.com) at 6 p.m. Aug. 29. Molesini originally hails from Cortona in Tuscany. He spoke with Gambit about Italian wines.
G: How did Brunello di Montalcino become so sought-after?
Molesini: Montalcino is one of the most characteristic medieval villages in Tuscany. Originally, it was just a few families producing in the 1950s — about 15 to 20 families — and now you have more than 250 producers.
We, as a company, represent more than 400 Italian wine labels. Montalcino is one of my favorite (wine regions) and it is one of the best. When I arrived (in New Orleans in 1993), the Brunello wines were very limited, but today I see a much larger (interest), in part because people travel much more. A lot more tourists have visited Italy, Tuscany and Montalcino. Because of this, there are more exported wines from those regions.
In general, you have three styles of the wine. Rosso di Montalcino is the youngest and the freshest. Then you have the Brunello (di Montalcino), where the wines have to be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of four years. The last type is the riserva, which is produced only from the top vintage and is aged at least five years. Recently, a lot of other wineries in the area are blending different grapes, but they can't be used to produce a Brunello. Brunello (wines) are only made with sangiovese grapes. ... It's always from the one variety of grape, and only from that specific region.
G: What do they taste like and what would you serve them with?
M: Rosso di Montalcino is the youngest, and in Italy we call it our everyday wine. It's softer and younger with a red cherry flavor that is aged for a short time. It's the kind of wine that you can enjoy with meat, cheese, anything [with] tomatoes, like an appetizer. At the same time, it's not made to be kept for a long time.
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the best wines in Italy. After four years (aging), you're looking at a much richer wine, with a lot of oak flavor and structure. It's dryer and at the same time (has) much more developed flavor. You'll find some plum (notes), a hint of tobacco or chocolate flavor. It's a wine that will go better with meat, a truffle risotto, or something made with porcini mushrooms, and it also goes well with aged cheese, like a Parmigiano. Personally, I enjoy it after dinner with some dark chocolate. This wine can be stored. It gets better with age. The current vintage is 2012, and it's outstanding. If you have a chance to pick, you go down the lines and pick a 2009 or 2005. These Brunellos are collector's items.
The riserva is the cherry on the cake. It has similar characteristics to the Brunello but is a lot more rich, has more body and a lot more finesse. It also has a longer shelf life. A riserva Brunello you can easily store for 30-35 years. I had the opportunity to have one when I went to Col d'Orcia, where the owner opened a bottle from the 1970s, and the wine drank very nice. In color, it looked a little more brick brown — you wouldn't expect it to be ruby red — and on the nose there were beautiful raisin aromas, dried cherry, and on the palate, a softness.
G: What local restaurants have Brunello wines on their lists?
M: The Italian Barrel, Avo, Andrea's Restaurant in Metairie, Marcello's (Restaurant & Wine Bar) on St. Charles Avenue, Impastato's (Restaurant) and Del Porto (Ristorante).