Brunello di Montalcino by Kerin O’Keefe

Published by Sally on July 7, 2012

Title of book: Brunello di Montalcino – understanding and appreciating one of Italy’s greatest wines
Author: Kerin O’Keefe
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 2012
ISBN 978 0 520 26564-6
Pages: 299
Price: £27.95

 It’s not too often a single (small) appellation merits an entire book all to itself.  After the Brunello-gate scandal of 2008, where earlier vintages were found to be illegally blended with grape varieties other than the sangiovese from which this wine must be 100% made, Brunello di Montalcino probably needs a book all to itself to help restore its reputation. As a long-standing italo-phile and Italy resident, but not a native Italian, O’Keefe’s commentary has an attractive independence of voice.

Brunello di Montalcino, along with its baby brother Rosso di Montalcino, is the only appellation to insist on 100% sangiovese. Straying from this rule tarnished the reputation of this most individual and hitherto revered appellation.

A central chapter on sangiovese sets part of the scene. Unmoderated by other grape varieties, sangiovese needs well-suited conditions for it to perform its excellent best. And whilst mining into the diversity of style, geography and tradition in a region of about 100 square miles, O’Keefe says “although sangiovese excels in select parts of Montalcino, it does not perform as well throughout the whole denomination thanks to the dramatic differences within the large growing area.”

O’Keefe hones in on the scientific controversy around sangiovese that means even sophisticated DNA profiling has not managed to conclusively identify the variety’s parentage.

Then taking the natural, pale ruby-red to garnet trademark colour of anthocyanin-limited sangiovese as her cue – “Brunello’s natural colour is like that of a precious gemstone, with a dazzling, light-reflecting brilliance, while many of those purple, stagnant and imprenetrable wines instead look like tawdry costume jewellery when compared to the vivid ruby-garnet beauty of sangiovese” – O’Keefe launches into the Brunello scandal.

The gradual darkening of colour in vintages from the late 1990s led to the predictably-monikered, by the international press, scandal of Brunellogate, which O’Keefe addresses with candour. Blending sangiovese with adjacent vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah (which belong to a different appellation) was long suspected, she says, before the whole thing blew up in 2008. The known details of the saga are related with as much information as possible, given Italy’s privacy laws. The chapter is a good read, consolidating interviews O’Keefe undertook in 2008 with various producers, as the story unfolded and blew up, especially in the USA.  The case, she says, is “considered closed as of October 2010.”

After detailing all the political shenanigans, and bringing the reader up to date with the post-Brunellogate era, O’Keefe introduces the need for sub-zones in the Brunello appellation, before detailing producer profiles in the remainder of the book.

Confusingly the maps for north and south Montalcino are printed where the other should be, but this aside, the profiles provide the facts of each listed property and give a feel for the people, their philosophy and their place in shaping Brunello di Montalcino.

O’Keefe goes on to warn readers away from recently planted zones within the appellation that don’t have the heritage of the long-favoured growing zones, and warns against ‘immediate’ new world styles that, she says, don’t have the ageing capacity of the heartland production area and methods.

She has an easy, absorbing writing style that’s packed with information without being dry and witless. This is a very good read for the enthusiast and a useful one for the wine student.


2 Responses to “Brunello di Montalcino by Kerin O’Keefe”

  1. Kathy Rogers Says:

    How can I contact the author Kerin O’Keefe?

  2. Sally Says:

    Hi Kathy – try via the publisher of her book.

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