Here are 11 top brunellos. All hail from 2001, one of the best vintages in recent years and the one now for sale in most wine shops.
Altesino ($35). Though I've heard reports of bottle variation with this wine, the one I sampled in Montalcino last December was in fine shape. Marked by dark cherry fruit and a cocoa-tinged bouquet, it had initially tight tannins but a supple finish, promising superior development.
Biondi-Santi Tenuta Greppo ($175). Biondi-Santi makes firm, dry wines. The 2001 is typically austere and clearly demands cellaring. I've been lucky to have tasted a couple of delicious older vintages in the past, and this one might well turn out as successfully. Still, $175 is a lot to spend on a gamble.
Castel Giocondo ($55). Castel Giocondo is made in an international—or fruit-forward and oak-influenced—style. Yet unlike other similarly designed brunellos, the wine retains its Montalcino character.
Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mura ($81). No one has done more to raise the quality and profile of Montalcino wines than this estate's American owners, the Mariani family. This particular single-vineyard offering tastes and smells ethereal, with an extraordinarily complex array of aromas and flavors. It's scheduled for release in the United States this fall.
Donatella Cinelli Colombini ($60). Donatella Cinelli Colombini produces powerful, meaty brunellos. The 2001 offers plenty of muscle but also enticing notes reminiscent of leather and sweet spice.
Fuligni Riserva ($144). Concentrated yet stylish, this wine has flavors that become ever more expansive with time in the glass. Along with the tight tannins, that evolution suggests excellent aging potential. Save it for a special occasion five or ten years from now. You won't be disappointed.
Lisini ($69). Exceptionally classy, with sweet, cherry-scented fruit enhanced by delicate secondary flavors that unfold gracefully and linger long. Well structured, it nonetheless has softer tannins than many 2001 brunellos and thus can be enjoyed sooner.
Il Marroneto "Madonna Della Grazie" ($90). This single-vineyard brunello displays an alluring bouquet followed by sumptuous, layered flavors. Well-balanced, it will benefit from a few years of cellaring but should offer many years of pleasure.
La Poderina ($72). Dark fruit encased by earthy, smoky flavors make this wine compelling. Muscular but surprisingly accessible, it may be drunk (especially if decanted) before many other brunellos.
Il Poggione ($65). A classic bouquet reminiscent of leather, tobacco, and licorice introduces a dark, deep wine with plenty of sweet, cherry-flavored fruit. The tannins prove formidable, so the bottles should age a minimum of five years before being opened.
Tentue Silvio Nardi Manachiara ($85). Nardi's 2001 brunello normale is certainly impressive, and this single-vineyard offering is spectacular. It offers plenty of dark fruit flavor, but its real charm comes from the myriad of other aromas and flavors that combine to form a seductive whole.