Wine and Culture: Brunello di Montalcino


Brunello di Montalcino is a gorgeous red wine, the pride of Tuscany. The Brunello is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that are grown on the slopes around the town of Montalcino, 30 km south of Siena in the Chianti wine region, Tuscany.

The name ‘Brunello’ – which is the diminutive of bruno, or brown in English – was given locally to a grape variety grown in Montalcino. In 1979, following some years of research the Ampelographic Commission of Siena determined that Sangiovese and Brunello were the same grape variety.

The first recorded red wine of Montalcino dates back to the early 14th century, but the all-Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino style was only created after the Risorgimento, around 1870. Ferruccio Biondi Santi had a huge role in the creation of this great wine.

However, the story begins with Clementine Santi, the grandfather of Ferruccio, who was a pharmaceutical graduated from the University of Pisa. Clemenine Santi’s mother, Petronilla Canali, owned a big estate in Montalcino where Santi developed his winemaking techniques using his knowledge of chemistry. In 1867, his Moscatello (desert wine) received recognition at the Universal Expo in Paris, and it also made a huge improvement in research on red wine.

Later on, Catrina Santi, Clementine’s daughter, married Jacopo Biondi, a Florentine doctor from an aristocratic family. Their son, Ferruccio Biondi Santi, inherited his grandfather’s estate and also his passion for wine.

Ferruccio was a patriot who fought in Garibaldi’s army during the Risorgimento for the unification of Italy.

He took over the Fattoria del Greppo, the estate of his grandfather, where he developed some revolutionary winemaking techniques using Clementine Santi’s extraordinary skills and experiences.

Ferruccio Biondi Santi used 100% pure, high quality Sangiovese for his Brunello, and he vinified the Sangiovese grapes separately from other grape varieties and aged his wine in wooden barrels, sometime for more than a decade.

By the end of World War II, the Brunello di Montalcino del Biondi Santi firm gained a reputation as one of the best wines of Italy. At that time, the only recorded producer of Brunello was the Biondi Santi firm, which had declared only four vintages by that time: 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945.

The success of Brunello encouraged other producers to follow the Biondi Santi firm, so by the 1960s there were 11 Brunello producers.

In 1968, the Montalcino region was granted DOC status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and in 1980 it was the first region to be awarded DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) alongside Piedmont’s Barolo.

According to the regulation of production of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello must be made from 100% Sangiovese and aged for at least 4 years (5 years for reserva), with 2 of these years being in oak barrels. The wine must be bottled at least for month before commercial release.

Today, there are around 200 producers of Brunello di Montalcino, mostly small farmers and family estates.

The Biondi Santi firm still produces one of the best Brunello in the world.



Montalcino, Italy

Wine and Culture: Bettino Ricasoli, the ‘father’ of Chianti Classico

Bettino Ricasoli

Those familiar with Italian history will know that Italy is quite a young country. Before the Risorgimento (1815-1871) – the unification of the states of the peninsula into one state, the Kingdom of Italy – the peninsula consisted of divided regions, city-states and various states throughout history. The Risorgimento movement included many prominent figures such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, who later become the first Prime Minister of Italy. Count of Cavour died after only three months in office, so he did not live to see Venice or Rome being added to the fledgling nation.

Fewer people, however, know about the 2nd Prime Minister of Italy. He was Bettino Ricasoli, 1st Baron Ricasoli, 1st Count of Brolio, who also had a huge role in the history of wine.

Bettino Ricasoli was born into a noble family in Florence on 29 March 1809. Unfortunately, he was orphaned by 18 and left with a heavily encumbered estate. Through his ability and talent, he managed to save the family possessions and support his younger brothers.

He finished his studies as an agronomist but also had a passion for politics. He was a real patriot who had a huge role in Italian unification.

Baron Ricasoli was a stern, tough character who governed with a strong hand, which earned him the nickname Iron Baron.

In 1847, he founded the journal La Patria (The Mother Country).

In 1859, he became Minister of the Interior of Tuscany and later Prime Minister. He promoted the union of Tuscany with Piedmont, which took place on 12 March 1860. Ricasoli became Italian deputy in 1861 and succeeded Count Cavour as Prime Minister of the united Italy, the Kingdom of Italy. He stayed in office until the following year, mostly because of the fragile relationship with King Vittorio Emanuele II, but he returned as Prime Minister in 1866 during a very sensitive period and remained in office only until April 1867. During his times in office, he tried to solve the question of Rome and the Vatican, which he didn’t succeed in achieving despite his great efforts. It was some time later, in 1871, that Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

Despite the failure of his efforts regarding Rome, he is still one of the most significant figures of the Italian Risorgimento.

Bettino Ricasoli was a remarkable statesman, but he had also an outstanding role in the history of wine – he created the modern recipe of Chianti wine.

The Baron had many estates and vineyards in Tuscany, but the ancient family estate at Brolio Castle was the centre of his decades-long search to find the perfect wine to compete with the French wines, which dominated the international scene at that time.

Castello di Brolio

By 1872 Bettino Ricasoli had developed the first recipe of the ‘modern’ Sangiovese grape based Chianti, which later become Chianti Classico. The original Ricasoli formula was: 70% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo and 10% Malvasia or Trebbiano.

Today, Chianti Classico contains a minimum of 80% Sangiovese and 20% of other grapes.

Brolio Castle, where the Iron Baron invented the Chianti formula, is the largest and oldest winery in the Chianti Classico area, and it is where the Ricasoli family still produces excellent wine on 235 hectares of vineyards.

Baron Bettino Ricasoli is in the history books as the 2nd Prime Minister of the ‘modern’ Italy, the Kingdom of Italy, but he has become immortal through having created one of the best red wines in the world.



Bettino Ricasoli

Brolio Castle

Wine and Cuisine: La Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Bistecca Fiorentina

The Florentine steak, La Bistecca alla Fiorentina is one of the glories of Tuscan cuisine, a simply prepared porterhouse steak, grilled rare on a wood fire.

The English language is full of Latin origin words, but interestingly the word bistecca has been borrowed from the English ‘beef steak’.

The story of the Florentine steak dates back to the times of the Medici family – which led Florence between the 15th and 18th centuries – and it seems we can thank them for this excellent dish. Every 10th of August, the feast day of San Lorenzo, the Medici family organised a big feast and offered the Florentine people free treats, which included beef roasted on the city squares.

Based on the legend, the name ‘bistecca’ came about in the 16th century when many travellers and guest came from all over the world on the feast of San Lorenzo. A group of English guests was present on the feast and when they called out loud ‘beef steak’ on being offered the meat, the word ‘bistecca’ was created and survives to this today.

The word ‘bistecca’ was used officially for the first time at the world fair in Paris at the end of the 19th century.

The Italian gastronomist and critic Pellegrino Artusi in his famous cookbook ‘La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene’ (Science in the kitchen and art of eating well) in 1891 wrote a recipe for the Florentine Steak, which is still regarded as the classic way to cook this excellent dish.

So let’s see how to make the perfect Florentine Steak:

-Real Bistecca Fiorentina comes from the Chianina, an ancient Tuscan breed, which is one of the largest sized cattle breeds.

-The bistecca must be on the bone, the so-called T-bone, and around ‘two fingers’ deep.

-It must be cooked on burning hot, red coals, and it must be turned several times during cooking.

-Salt and pepper must be added once it’s roasted, after it has come off the grill. It must be served with a little butter on the top.

-It must be eaten rare; as Artusi says the bistecca must not be too roasted, so that the most wonderful ‘sauce’ pours onto the plate when you cut it.

You can try to cook it yourself or if you happen to travel in Tuscany you can find excellent restaurants where you can taste the perfect Florentine steak. We recommend the Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano, or La Cantina in Greve in Chianti.

And of course this dish deserves a good wine! Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are an excellent accompaniment.

Buon Appetito!


Wine and Culture: The Black Rooster of Chianti


In a small wine-region in the heart of Chianti one of the most famous and exquisite red wines in the world, Chianti Classico Wine, is produced.

There are not many wine enthusiasts who have never tasted a Chianti Classico or Chianti Classico Riserva.

Chianti Classico is a DOCG wine, is produced in the Chianti Classico subregion, consists of a minimum of 80% Sangiovese grape, and the alcohol level is at least 12 percent.

But what’s the story behind the unmistakable pink label with the black rooster seal on all Chianti Classico bottles?

I’ll tell you …

The legend of the Chianti Black Rooster dates back to Mediaeval times, back to the period of intermittent wars between Florence and Siena over the rights of the Chianti region. In the 13th century, the two cities decided to cease their feuding for Chianti by holding a horse race between two knights. One knight was to depart from Florence and one from Siena at the crow of a rooster, and the point at which they would meet would determine the boundary line between the two cities.

The citizens of Siena chose a white rooster and fed it well as they thought it would crow stronger. At the same time, the Florentines selected a black rooster and chose to starve it.

On the day of the race, the two roosters were supposed to crow at sunrise, but the poor hungry black rooster of Florence began to crow much sooner, while the white rooster still slept with a full stomach.

The Florentine knight left immediately after the rooster’s early sign, and he gained a considerable advantage. Meanwhile, the Siennese knight didn’t manage to ride very far, as the two met only 12 km from the walls of Siena, meaning the Florentine Republic could annex all of Chianti.

Since then, the Black Rooster has been the symbol of Chianti.

‘Il Gallo Nero’ – the Black Rooster – became first the symbol of the ‘Lega del Chianti’ (the Chianti League) in the 14th century.

It has also been of the symbol of the Chianti Classico Consortium since its establishment in 1987.

The territory of Chianti was first established by Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1716, and he named Radda, Gaiole and Castellina as the Chianti Region.

The original area designated by the Grand Duke is today considered the heart of the modern Chianti Classico subregion.

Nowadays, the Chianti Classico subregion covers a territory of approximately 260 km2 between the city of Siena and Florence. Four communes – Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti – are entirely within the boundaries of the Classico area, and parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa, San Casciano in Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa in the province of Florence as well as Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi in the province of Siena are included in the boundaries of the Chianti Classico zone.

As to whether the story of the Black Rooster is true or not, we do not know. But the starving ‘Gallo Nero’ is nevertheless remembered on every bottle of Chianti Classico.