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SIENA Specials - Out of town - Montalcino and the Land of Brunello

One of the many small towns in the beautiful Val d’Orcia, Montalcino stands at roughly 567 metres above sea level.

The magnificent 14th century fortress was built by the Senese and dominates both the town and the surrounding hills, which are planted with vineyards.

This was the final resistance of the Republic of Siena before it capitulated to the imperial troops of Charles V, who was allied with Florence. Today the fortress has been converted into an elegant wine tasting centre for tourists, who are free to walk the bastions as they sip, perhaps also nibbling at the Ossi di morto traditional biscuits made in Montalcino.

Made up of picturesque, narrow streets, Montepulciano boasts abundant craftmen’s workshops, bars and shops selling the many local products from the surrounding countryside. The Romanesque gothic Palazzo Comunale is well worth a visit, along with the Palazzo Vescovile that houses the Museo Diocesano. There are also the Museo Civico, the Museo Archeologico and the Churches of Sant’Egidio and San Francesco.

Just outside town stands the magnificent Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a typical example of Romanesque architecture, where the monks have kept alive the traditional Gregorian chant and sing during Mass. The abbey was founded by Charlemagne in 781. Built in travertine, the architectural decorations are in onyx, from the many onyx and alabaster quarries in the surrounding area.

The excellent wines produced around Montalcino have been prized since the 15th century and have contributed to making this town famous throughout the world. The ‘inventor’ of Brunello was Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, who decided to begin producing a wine using only Sangiovese grapes towards the middle of the 19th century, abandoning the Canaiolo, Ciliegino and Colorino grapes that had previously been employed in the Montalcino area.

The first Italian wine to earn the coveted DOGT (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) qualification, Brunello di Montalcino wine has also been classified DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata). Clear and red in colour, the bouquet is intense, almost heady, but with a strong spicy tinge. The wine can stand long ageing, that runs from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of 30 or more. The serving temperature should be between 18 and 20°C.

Brunello di Montalcino is particularly good with red meat, game, roast meat, as well as with cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Tuscan pecorino. Other wines also produced in the surrounding area include Rosso di Montalcino, Moscadello di Montalcino and Sant’Antimo, which have all earned the DOC quality certificate. But in terms of production, the province of is renowned throughout the world as one of the leading wine areas.

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