Montalcino on a Tuscan hilltop

Montalcino – Home of the famous Brunello
Wine triumphs over tourist attractions

Montalcino, Tuscany/Italy (2017) – There is no doubt, Val d'Orcia is a jewel of its own
and understands very well to attract visitors from all over the world. But it's not all about the countryside in this Tuscan region, towns like Montepulciano, Pienza or San Quirico do their part
in making Tuscany such a desired place to be and to go to. One of the hilltop towns of Val d'Orcia, mind you, is a little bit more famous than the others: Montalcino. The people of this town have dedicated their existence to grapes and wine making for generations with great success. Their red wines are not only well known but belong to the best of what Italy has to offer. One of their wines in particular is worldwide famous, the Brunello di Montalcino, one of the highest regarded and exclusive red wines. No wonder the lovely medieval town showcases their reason for wealth and fame in the streets of Montalcino wherever you go. The town is full of wine stores and wine bars trying to sell as much as possible of their fabulous red wine. And it might work, since they seem to attract more attention from visitors than the beautiful town and the ancient castle together.
"The blood of Jupiter" brought the town wealth and fame
Montalcino commits 3000 hectares of the land to vineyards, half of it dedicated to Brunello. Brunello, which means so much as "little dark one" is made by law with 100 percent Sangionvese grapes only. The red grape which has its name from the Latin "Sanguis Jovis", meaning "The blood of Jupiter", is considered Italian's finest grape. Montalcino has a long history in producing fine wines, dating back to the 15th century. Before you can drink a Brunello it has to age for a minimum of five years after harvesting the grapes. Two of those five years the wine has to stay in an oak barrel, the more exclusive version of it, a "Riserva", needs even 6 years in a barrel. The wine making laws are though when it comes to Brunello. Every wine from Montalcino will be a fine wine, but not everyone will be a Brunello at the end. Buying a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino can be costly. There are of course different qualities to consider which obviously determine the price, but as an average price for a decent Brunello expect to pay between 80 and 120 Euro/Dollar. The cheapest bottle in Montalcino was offered for under 30 Euro/Dollar, the most expensive one I saw for over 300. Wine collectors own "Brunello Riserva" bottles with a price tag of over 3,000 Euro/Dollar. At an auction a "1964 Biondi Santi Tenuta il Greppo Riserva" sold for 14,000 Euro/Dollar, which marks the highest price ever paid for an Italian wine by the way. It's good to know, that Montalcino produces not only Brunello but also other very fine wines, like the "Rosso di Montalcino", a want to-be Brunello, the "Sant'Antimo" and the "Moscadello di Montalcino". 
 
Ancient castle, Town Hall with its unique tower and "Pinci" pasta
Even though the great Brunello wine dominates Montalcino, there still is more about this famous hilltop town. The old fortress, built in 1361 and which remained intact since the Middle Ages, is today Montalcino's second tourist magnet and also used as event location for concerts and festivals, like the Jazz & Wine Festival, organized every year in July. Also worth seeing is the lovely downtown area with its Town Hall and the slim clock tower, dating back to the 13th century.
 
Last but not least I do not want to conceal Montalcino's unique attitude when it comes to its pasta. It's common knowledge today that noodle doesn't equal noodle. Every region in Italy has its own kind. In the Tuscany region you eat "Pici", a thick, hand-rolled noodle, just like a fat spaghetti. "Pici" typically is eaten "con ragu", with meat sauce, or with "briciole", breadcrumbs, or the local favorite, "cacio e pepe", with cheese sauce and black pepper. Everywhere in Val d'Orcia you can ask for "Pici", only in Montalcino you have to ask for "Pinci". Why does the noodle only in Montalcino have the extra "n"? A waiter's answer: "Because it's just like that!"