($27, Terlato Wines International):
What is Rosso di Montalcino anyway? It's usually explained as a readier-to-drink version of Brunello di Montalcino. But Brunello is (classically speaking) a wine that requires more age than almost any other wine in the world; a younger version of an eternal wine is not a throwaway everyday red. Rosso's identity is further confused by the fact that producers take different approaches to the wine, using the fruit of young vines in some cases, or selecting out wines that are not appropriate for Brunello--within the legal parameters dictating that the wine be entirely Sangiovese from the Montalcino area.
These thoughts went through my head as I sampled a half dozen Rosso di Montalcinos from the 2005 vintage. My overall impression was of high-quality, terroir-driven wines, at reasonable prices--most of them being in the $25 to $35 range. But the wines differed in style, some of them being more evidently influenced by new oak barrels, which gave a sleekness and polish that is not typical of Montalcino's wines. Depending on your taste, you might like a wine better for that, or less.
My favorite was the 2005 Il Poggione. It is a classic product of Montalcino in the fact that it is a fairly full-bodied, chewy, powerful red wine, more expressive in structure than in flavor. It has flavors of ripe--but still fresh--dark fruit, but those flavors almost take a back seat to the wine's high (but not too high) alcohol, prominent acidity and gritty tannin.
One aspect of the wine that I see as a Montalcino signature is the way the tannin hits you. Many wines today exist in two separate time zones, the initial soft and fruity fore-palate expression followed by a firm rear-palate expression born of oak tannin. A classic Brunello di Montalcino to me expresses its tannin almost from the moment the wine enters your mouth. You can sense it all across your tongue, not just in the rear. It pulls no punches. 'I am a wine of substance,' it says.
I hope that such a description does not make the 2005 Il Poggione Rosso seem impenetrable or harsh. In fact, this wine has the softness of high alcohol, and even a certain silkiness of texture. And those ripe, dark fruit flavors do balance the tannin nicely, even if they are understated. On the nose and ever so slightly in the mouth are notes of vanilla, suggesting some new oak aging. In fact the wine was aged in French oak, but only 25% of that was in barriques, while the majority of the wine aged in larger barrels of about 800 to 1300 gallons in size. But the wine's taste is guided by terroir more than by the oak.
Considering its artful blending of tradition, terroir and modern winemaking, the Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2005 represents excellent quality--and for only $27. Bravo!