Belnero Toscana with deep dish pizza.
Belnero Toscana with deep dish pizza.

T his is an outstanding wine that shares a strong heritage with one of Italy’s most famous wines, Brunello di Montalcino, often called a Super Tuscan. The Belnero comes from Montalcino, but it doesn’t qualify as a Brunello because it is not 100% Sangiovese and it doesn’t spend enough time in oak.

But this is an incredible price for a wine you might call a Baby Tuscan. It is full-bodied, rich and smooth, with tastes of black cherries, prunes and spice notes. It has a pleasant aroma with hints of coffee, tobacco and vanilla.

The finish is smooth and pleasant, but not terribly long. The tannins are well-balanced.

Belnero Toscana 2010
Belnero Toscana 2010

The Belnero is primarity Sangiovese, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Sangiovese, a dark-berried vine, is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy. It is especially popular in the Tuscany region. The variety grown around Montalcino is called Brunello.

The wine is fermented in wood and stainless steel hybrid tanks and aged in barriques a minimum of 12 months. Wines that become a Brunello di Montalcino must be aged a minimum of four years prior to release.

So the winemakers took some shortcuts with the Belnero. But with only a slight dropoff in quality, it is a trade most wine drinkers will gladly make. Most of us would not notice much difference between the two, and certainly not enough difference to justify spending several times the cost of the Belnero.

Castello Banfi has been working these particular vineyards for 30 years with their outstanding Brunello di Montalcino, so we wine drinkers reap the benefit of all that experience. The Belnero has only been made since 2005.

This wine is still young and intense. I think it would benefit from a year or two of aging, and certainly would keep in your cellar for another decade or so.

Serve slightly chilled and decant at least 30 minutes before drinking, preferably one hour.

From: Italy
Winery: Wine has been grown in this region at least since the 8th Century BC by the Etruscans. Castello Banfi is a family-owned vineyard estate and winery located in Tuscany’s Montalcino region. Born in the 9th Century as Poggio alle Mura, the estate’s gentle western slopes lie between the medieval hilltop town of Montalcino and the Mediterranean Sea.

This award-winning estate was founded on the philosophy of blending tradition with innovation, and is recognized as a pioneer in elevating the standards of Italian winemaking.

Castello Banfi is a constellation of single vineyards encompassing over three dozen varying subsoils covering 7,100 acres. The estate is renowned for its clonal research that allows noble grape varieties to thrive in their optimal terroir, creating not only a consistently outstanding Brunello, but the ultimate expression of Montalcino Super Tuscans.

Castello Banfi is the first winery in the world to be awarded International Recognition for Exceptional Environmental, Ethical, and Social Responsibility (ISO 14001 and SA8000) & International Leader in Customer Satisfaction (ISO 9001:2000).

Overlooking the vineyards is the estate’s showpiece, a medieval fortress now known as Castello Banfi. Meticulously restored as a hospitality center, it boasts a glass museum, enoteca, and the informal “Taverna Banfi,” serving traditional dishes of the region.

Signature estate wines include the single-vineyard reserve Poggio all’Oro and unfiltered cru Poggio alle Mura Brunellos, as well as three proprietary cuvées, ExcelsuS, SummuS and Cum Laude. Other single-vineyard bottlings include Tavernelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Colvecchio Syrah and San Angelo Pinot Grigio.

Cost: $22
Year: 2010

Pizzeria Uno deep dish pizza was perfect with the wine.
Pizzeria Uno deep dish pizza was perfect with the wine.
Goes with: I figured I couldn’t go wrong by pairing this Tuscan beauty with a pizza and I was right. I love all kinds of pizza, but for this one I chose a deep dish Chicago pizza from Pizzeria Uno. The closest one is in Lexington, S.C.

The match was perfect with the rich, full-bodied fruit and spice of the wine standing up well to the tangy pizza. We had a cheese pizza, which is good, but the wine would have been even better with an Italian sausage pizza. Sometimes I get a cheese pizza or a veggie pizza to show my sensitive side to my wife Teri, who is not as big a fan of meat as I am.

The wine also would go well with soups, grilled meat and medium aged cheeses.

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