On our last day in Tuscany, eight of us headed to Montalcino in two cars for the day. Mark and I had been invited by Laura Gray at Il Palazzone for a tour of the vineyard and a tasting of their Brunello, ... And we were told to bring friends.
Brunello di Montalcino, if you aren't familiar with it, is an Italian red wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino located about 70 miles south of Florence. Brunello, roughly translated as "small dark one" in the local dialect, is made solely from hand-picked Sangiovese grapes and then aged in oak barrels. Most producers separate their production between a normale and riserva bottling, releasing the normale bottles four years after harvest and the riserva anther year after that. In 1980, the Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation and today is one of Italy's best-known and most expensive wines.
So, off we went to get there for our 11:00 tour, arriving pretty much on time. Il Palazzone isn't far at all from the "villa" we rented in Montalcino in 1998 (a converted monastery called I Cappuccini) - a trip with many of the same folks who were here in Tuscany with us this year. Memories of that earlier trip flowed freely in our car; it was a magical time.
Laura greeted us, let us stretch, and offered us water before taking us on a tour of the property. The tour included a walk through the vineyards, olive groves, past the pool, into a boschetto (we sampled warm and sticky figs fresh off the tree), and up to the new wine cellar, which is nearing completion!
Il Palazzone has a program called Club 100 through which one can sponsor an olive tree and get their wonderful olive oil delivered to one's doorstep! For information, click here to contact Laura and she will be able to help you.
We returned to the tasting room where we sampled the 1995 and 2005 Brunellos from the estate, starting with the 2005. It was truly a lovely wine - I wish I had taken notes that day - great fruit, with a very bright and clear finish. My taste buds started asking for a good steak!
|Laura Gray coating each glass with some Brunello to prepare them for the tasting.|
We moved on to the 1995, and the difference that came with an extra 10 years in the bottle was pretty stunning. The wonderful flavor of the 2005 was there but the intensity was three times that of its younger sibling. It was dark and mysterious; visions of mushrooms and complex herb combinations came to mind. What a treat to taste these two wines side by each, so close in physical proximity yet so far from one another in taste.
As we got ready to leave Il Palazzone, we purchased several bottles for dinner later that evening - a mixed grill of homemade sausage, pork and chicken. What a treat! Our many thanks to Laura Gray - and to owners Richard and Laura Parsons - for their generous hospitality and a wonder-filled tour! Please do check out Il Palazzone online and, when in Tuscany, visit their new tasting room (contact them first to check on dates and times) and at least make sure you try some of their Brunello; the prices are extremely reasonable and the flavor is incomparable. Also, Laura Gray writes a great blog to help us keep up on seasonal happenings in Montalcino!
It has been many years since I have had a Brunello di Montalcino, and it reminded me of a braised beef recipe that calls for Brunello, although I often will use its poor cousin for the recipe - Rosso di Montalcino - saving the Brunello for drinking with the meal!
Here is the Brasato di Manzo recipe; it is the perfect dish to make on a chilly autumn day - it warms the kitchen and the aromas are heavenly. Enjoy this with your prized bottle of Brunello. In the case of Brunello, it is the food that accompanies the wine, not the other way around! Happy tasting!
Brasato di Manzo
1 3-pound boneless beef chuck roast, well marbled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
2 6-inch sprigs rosemary
4 fresh bay leaves
1-2 tablespoons peppercorns
1 bottle Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup brandy
Early in the morning, place the meat, vegetables, rosemary, bay leaves and peppercorns in a large ceramic or glass container. Add the bottle of wine, cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate.
About 2 hours before serving preheat oven to 300°F, remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry. Set aside. Strain the marinade, reserving both the wine and vegetables. Place the wine in a saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce by half - about 10 minutes - and remove from the heat.
Generously salt and pepper the meat. Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven large enough to hold the meat. Sear on all sides - about 12 minutes. Add the brandy and ignite. (For safety, I turn off the heat when using a gas stove to avoid getting burned.) When flames subside, add the reserved vegetables and pour the reduced marinade over top.
Bring to a boil, then cover and place in the preheated oven. Braise for 2 hours hours. Remove the meat from the pan and tent to keep warm.
Remove the rosemary sprigs and bay leaves and discard. Using a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from cooking liquid and puree in a food processor. Return the puree to the cooking liquid and mix well. Slice the meat thinly and serve with the sauce on the side.