Fuligni’s Legacy in Brunello di Montalcino
Today, Brunello di Montalcino is known by every Italian wine lover, and by most anyone who’s ever enjoyed one of the world’s great red wines. Many consider this to be Italy’s finest wine – red or white – and its image is almost universally positive, especially given its staying power, as examples from the best vintages are in excellent shape more than 20 years after the vintage.
Yet in reality, Brunello di Montalcino has only earned its popularity over the past 15-20 years, thanks largely to an explosion of new estates, all looking to take advantage of the name Brunello. Back in the 1960s, there were only a handful of producers – less than a dozen – in Montalcino making Brunello. While it was recognized as a highly distinctive wine back then, its reputation was nothing like it is today.
So to understand the true history of Brunello di Montalcino, let’s look at a local estate that dates back to 1923. The Fuligni Estate, located on the eastern side of the Montalcino production zone, is managed today by Maria Flora Fuligni and her nephew Roberto Guerrini Fuligni; of the 100 hectares (247 acres) at the estate, 10 hectares (almost 50 acres) are planted to vines.
We spoke with Roberto about a number of topics, not only about the Fuligni style of Brunello, but also about his recollections of this wine when he was growing up at the estate.
What does Brunello di Montalcino mean to the area producers as well as him? “For us older producers in Montalcino, our whole lives are about this product, which distinguishes our territory, our culture, and our personal tastes,” Fuligni remarks. “We grew up with this type of wine in mind, elegant in its structure, fresh with pure acidity and long-lasting.”
Fuligni is a traditional producer, yet, there have been some changes along the way, as they now mature their Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello (a classic and a riserva) in large casks known as grandi botti (30-45 hectoliters) as well as mid-size barrels (tonneaux, 5 – 7.5 hectoliters). Climate change has also altered conditions here, as Fuligni comments. “Right now, I think global warming has given way to excellent ripening for Sangiovese, something that in the past was harder to come by. Even though we use newer oak than what we used in the Sixties and Seventies, I think we are really careful to respect the natural elegance of our wines, staying away from excessive oaky aromas, which shouldn’t overpower the natural fruitiness.”
To that end, Fuligni has been extremely successful, as his wines have been praised by critics around the globe for not only their focus on fruit, and away from strong wood notes, but also for their finesse. Brunello di Montalcino may be a long-lived, full-bodied wine, but the finest versions display admirable harmony as well as a great deal of charm, even in lesser years. Certainly, the newly released 2015, from a vintage every producer in Montalcino is enthusiastic about – some declaring it the finest in the last 20 years – displays most, if not all of the qualities Fuligni is looking for when crafting his Brunello.
“You know, as I’m older and have a lot of experience,” says Fuligni, “each vintage seems to have its own personality, though still highlighting the ultimate typicity of Sangiovese. The 2015 vintage was excellent right out the gate in terms of its technical analysis and the purity of the wine as a whole. The 2015 growing season favored the Brunello of that year, bringing the grapes to peak ripeness. Perhaps its notes of citrus, rose and cherry take me back to 2006, but remember these are just a few characteristics of Brunello 2015’s whole personality.”
More great news is in store for Brunello lovers, as 2016 is another special vintage, as Fuligni notes. “We are also waiting on 2016, which is likewise the expression of an excellent vintage, but it has a ‘different beauty,’ possibly more classic.” So at this stage, does Fuilgni favor the 2015 or 2016? “Each vintage is different, they’re like our children.”
As with any successful wine producer, Fuligni knows that he cannot rest on past glories; change is a constant if he is to continually craft notable wines. “You know there is no limit on improving agriculture,” he comments. “Any progress might have been suggested by the previous year and by every one before, with the contribution of modern and good agriculture. The very high level that Brunello has reached today commends tradition and typicity. These are things our customers look for, despite the infinite differences in seasons.”
While Brunello di Montalcino is the signature wine of this territory, it’s important to remember Rosso di Montalcino, produced entirely from Sangiovese, just as with Brunello, is an important wine for Fuligni and area producers. It stands to reason, as it is produced in large quantities and is, therefore, more easily available. Add in the factor of its immediate drinkability and you have a wine with great appeal, as Fuligni well understands. “What makes Rosso di Montalcino so appealing is clear: it’s an introduction to Sangiovese for its clients, with its gobs of red berries. It’s extremely food flexible, bursting with youth.
“You have to be careful not to aggravate this wine with unfortunate quantities of oak; however, we believe a short period in oak can make Rosso di Montalcino more refined. At the end of the day, considering the high quality of grapes we use (coming from independent and registered Sangiovese vineyards, and have for years now), I think Rosso di Montalcino offers great value for the money.”
Comments are closed