A springtime view of Montalcino in Tuscany, Italy. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
A springtime view of Montalcino in Tuscany, Italy. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Tasting Report: Rosso di Montalcino (Fall 2022)

8 Wines of Exquisite Grace and Ease

8 min read

“Yes, but what about pleasure?” That could easily be the question we ask every time we step up from a Rosso di Montalcino to its Brunello di Montalcino counterpart. For all the impressive feats of strength that Brunello brings, it can be an overpowering brute in its youth. In Rosso di Montalcino, we often find an enticing cherry note, a supple tension, and a sapidity that keeps us coming back for more. As a category of wine, I’m not sure why it doesn’t get more attention than it does. You can drink exceedingly well at the Rosso di Montalcino level, often getting two — or even three — bottles for the price of one Brunello. Would I lay them down for a decade? Nope. For one, they wouldn’t last that long, but also, laying them down is not the point of them. Their point is pleasure.

Well, actually, their point is cashflow. In Brunello di Montalcino, we have Italy’s longest and most stringent aging requirements (four years with at least two in oak). Older vines are also a de facto requirement, so whether it is the long wait in the vineyard as your saplings mature, or in the cellar as your Brunello chills the heck out in oak, winemakers need to sell something to keep the cash flowing. Enter the “second wine.”

I’ve never been a fan of talking about wines in a stratified way. Different wines serve different purposes, and the measuring stick we use for each needs to be different for that reason (which is why I have no problem assigning top marks to Brunello and Rosso wines, based on their intended aims).

So in assessing Rosso di Montalcino, I look at two things: how well the wine introduces a stylistic identity from the winery, and how approachable and versatile it is at the table. These should be wines that, price be damned, you’d be OK opening on a weeknight with a rotisserie chicken or a spaghetti dinner or even something heartier and more protein rich. And as I dove into this class of wine this year, I found plenty that satisfy that criteria. (I can’t say the same for Brunello on the whole).

Here are my top eight wines sampled from the Rosso di Montalcino DOC this year. A photo essay of my time in Montalcino follows along the side … unless you are on mobile, then scroll to the bottom.

Rosso di Montalcino

A refresher on what Rosso di Montalcino wines are, and how you should approach them:

  • Rosso di Montalcino is the second wine of the area, meaning winemakers use either younger vines or their less-than-best vineyard holdings to comprise the wine.
  • They can also be a declassified Brunello di Montalcino wine.
  • Rosso di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese and cannot be released until after September 1 following the harvest.
  • By their nature, Rosso di Montalcino wines represent great value, balance and have an earlier drinking window and greater versatility at the table upon release.

TOP PICK: 2018 Biondi-Santi Rosso di Montalcino



For the uninitiated, there may be a bit of sticker-shock that comes from this wine: “more than $100 for a second wine?” Yep. I am not one to tell anyone how to spend their money, but for lovers of Italian wine, this is worth trying at least once in your life. For all the glory and attention paid to Biondi-Santi’s Brunello di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, I found their 2018 Rosso di Montalcino to be the most transparent in terms of conveying this esteemed winery’s identity.

It is thrillingly forthcoming and stunning aromatically. I held up our tasting because I could not get my nose out from under the rim. The fruit has remarkable depth, there are lovely floral scents swirling about, and on the palate, the citric acidity of Sangiovese takes on a blood-orange tone that I found as focused and hospitable as this grape can get. The finish makes you realize just how light and ethereal the wine has been all along.

For an introductory wine, this is as good as it gets. In fact, I may even prefer it to the Brunello di Montalcino from Biondi-Santi, simply because it was more memorable. Obviously, if I had the Brunello with 10 or more years of age, I’d be singing a different tune. Find this wine, at least once in your wine-drinking career.

THE OTHER TOP PICK: 2019 Il Marroneto “Selezione di Iacopo” Rosso di Montalcino



Deciding between Biondi-Santi and Il Marroneto’s Rosso di Montalcino is a bit like picking a favorite child, so I am awarding them both with a “top pick.” The following write-up on this wine comes from Il Marroneto’s Essential Winemakers page, which I encourage you to check out.

How epic are Il Marroneto’s wines? Well, the entry-level “Selezione di Iacopo” Rosso di Montalcino is more elegant and complex than 95% of the Brunello di Montalcino wines on the market. Perfumed and brilliant in its radiant ruby color, the wine has vaporous floral tones that lilt across the senses. This is everything one can hope for in Sangiovese: the juiciness, the tart cherry fruit, the energetic tension between bitter and sweet elements, as well as pitch-perfect tannins. Named after Alessandro’s son, and composed of a selection of wines at his choosing, this is a testament to Iacopo’s skill and the many things he has learned from his father. 

2020 Pietroso Rosso di Montalcino



What an exceptional producer Pietroso is. Typically, one does not reach for a Burgundy glass when opening a Montalcino wine, but not only did I find myself pouring this wine into bell-shaped stemware, I found myself making Côte de Nuits comparisons on the second day it was open.

Graceful, agile and brightly aromatic, Pietroso’s Rosso di Montalcino defies that “second wine” category by being upper echelon on its own. Bright cherry-like tones are complemented by blood orange acidity, savory and herbal streaks run through the core, and nearly silky tannins unify the whole experience. This is likely the most cuisine versatile Rosso di Montalcino of those I sampled.

2020 Sesti Rosso di Montalcino


★★★★ 3/4

At most Montalcino wineries, the Rosso di Montalcino is the opening salvo, but at Sesti, that job falls to their brilliant Rosato of Sangiovese, which is said to be the first rosé in all of Tuscany. It maintains the grape’s familiar savory, meaty personality, and whets the appetite for more. So as my tasting lineup transitioned to the 2020 Rosso di Montalcino, I was looking back at the rosato, not ahead to the Brunello, for reference.

Like the Rosato, the Rosso di Montalcino strikes a graceful chord as it crosses the nose and palate. I encountered recollections of not only cherry and leather, but raspberry and juniper. The focus of the tannins and acidity on the palate nicely lead to a mineral finish. Of all her wines, the Rosso di Montalcino seems to embody Elisa Sesti’s personality the most. It will encourage contemplation, then have you reaching for a nosh and seeking a deep breath.

2017 Salicutti Rosso di Montalcino


★★★★ 3/4

This wine comes with a significant caveat: it is no longer made. Salicutti recently made the decision to make only Brunello di Montalcino, and while those wines are focused, expressive and worth every ounce of attention from the winemaking team, I find it to be a shame. Rosso di Montalcino can be an excellent introduction to the splendors of the area, and subtracting it from the mix feels a bit elitist.

That said, if you come upon one of the remaining vintages in a wine shop or on a wine list, snap it up. The 2018 was the last one. While dining at Boccon diVino in Montalcino, my friend and I came upon the 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed the profusion and intensity of its aromas. Along with the usual milleu of cherries, citrus and game, there was a quality of star anise to this wine — a thrilling bitterness, really — that made it very compelling. Magnificently balanced and ethereal, the 2017 Salicutti Rosso di Montalcino drank like a Brunello on the lightest end of the spectrum — which is perhaps why they made their decision to abandon it and move forward with an all-Brunello lineup. Seek out this wine (and its $50 price tag) while you can. The clock is ticking.

2020 Mulinari L’Aietta Rosso di Montalcino


★★★★ 3/4

“Fun” is not often associated with anything involving Montalcino, but it found its way into my tasting notebook as I was tasting this wine. The acidity has a rollicking momentum to it that brings about waves of berries, citrus and spice, with fully formed tannins lending a cotton-like texture. It may not be the most intense wine in the category, but then again, Francesco Mulinari is not an intense sort of fellow, and this wine holds a very specific spot in the Montalcino canon of wines.

2018 Azienda Agricola La Torre Rosso di Montalcino


★★★★ 3/4

One of the most savage of Montalcino’s Rosso appears to be coming from this Sant’Angelo in Colle estate. The 2018 brings a whole butcher’s shop of meaty flavors to the Sangiovese mix, oftentimes coming across more smokey and nutty than fruity. Rooting it to its origins is that hallmark citric acidity, that screams “Baby Brunello” while keeping things moving across the palate. I will add that the wine greatly improved on a second day open, so if its too caustic to start, replace the cork, put it in the fridge, and give it a try the next night.

2018 Le Ragnaie Rosso di Montalcino


★★★★ 1/2

Le Ragnaie is a favorite among sommeliers. Working with high-elevation vineyards (including the highest in all of Montalcino), proprietor Riccardo Campinoti consistently demonstrates excellent craft in his wines. The 2018 Rosso di Montalcino represents the “baby Brunello” notion well, as it is muscular, tense and highly focused. On the night I tasted it, the wine needed at least 90 minutes to say much of anything coherent to me, but once we got there, I was charmed by its fig and orange-peel notes, the resinous aromas, and potent and long-lasting finish.


All photos: ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle. Top to bottom, left to right: Dawn over the Val d’Orcia as seen from Montalcino; 2020 Sesti Rosso di Montalcino; the modern barrel room at Salicutti; Mount Amiata rises over the vineyards of Salicutti; quiet street scene in Montalcino; terraces near Montalcino; a cask holds Brunello at Sesti; Francesco Mulinari in his L’Aietta vineyard; the deconsecrated chapel at Sesti.

Note: A special thank you to the following estates who opened their winery and generously poured their wines for me in Montalcino: Biondi-Santi, Il Marroneto, L’Aietta, Sesti and Salicutti. This wine also features a handful of samples provided by importers and PR agencies. Learn more about our editorial policy.

An early morning view over the verdant fields of the Val d'Orcia from Montalcino. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
2020 Sesti Rosso di Montalcino. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
The modern cellar at Salicutti. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
A view of Mount Amiata from Salicutti's vineyards. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
The streets of Montalcino at midday. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
The terraces of Montalcino include olive groves as well. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
A cask of Brunello at Sesti winery. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
The chapel at Sesti winery. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Key to Our Wine Icons

– Practicing Organic
 – Certified Organic
 – Practicing Biodynamic
 – Certified Biodynamic
– Promotes Biodiversity
– Old Vines
– Heroic Viticulture
– Volcanic Soil
– Traditional Winemaking
– Clay Vessel Winemaking
– Family-Operated Winery
– Historic Winery
– Co-operative Winery
– Négociant
– Stay at Winery
– Olive Oil Producer
– Age-Worthy Wine
– Expensive Wine (+$100)
– Requires Some Searching

Sign Up for Emails
The best way to stay on top of our upcoming virtual tastings, new articles and wine reviews, and subscription opportunities.

Skip to content