Brunello, a Book, and a Boston Butt: Frescobaldi CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino with Italian Braised Pork #ItalianFWT


There is a lot to be anxious about. The world is a little overwhelming at present with so much work to be done across so many spectrums. I’ve been trying to fill the quieter moments in between with as much softness, light, care, and coziness as possible. On my downtime, I have to admit that I’ve been looking for comfort just about everywhere these days – in food, in wine, in books and movies, and in memories. I decided to bring a bunch of different things that bring me comfort together in today’s post – a bottle full of memories from a wonderful trip paired with a fun read and a meal inspired by it.



Once upon a time in the “Before Times,” when there was no COVID to keep us from traveling,  Greg and I took an amazing road trip through central and northern Italy. I’ve slowly been sharing our trip here, and today I’m adding another piece with a stop at Frescobaldi’s CastelGiocondo in Montalcino. 


Montalcino was actually the very first stop on our road trip after we recovered from our jetlag for a couple of days in Rome. It is off the charts charming. Montalcino is a walled, hilltop town with a castle fortress in the Val d’Orcia. Everything about that sounds like a fairy tale! Once you arrive in the town, spectacular views of the countryside spread out around you that will take your breath away. 



 

I’ve always seen all those paintings of Tuscan landscapes and towns that are so ubiquitous that they almost seem cliché and thought they must all be exaggerating a little. Nope. It turns out that they’re not exaggerating one bit. Walking in around in Montalcino you fully feel that you’re walking around in a watercolor painting because you pretty much are. I went on to have similar sensations in many places we went to, but this was the first spot that hit me in this particular way.



It also feels like you’re in a completely different moment in time since pretty much everything around you was built centuries ago. Here is a brief history of the town from Traveling in Tuscany:
 

The quiet Tuscan village of Montalcino has undergone few changes since medieval times, when it was a stronghold pertaining to the nearby city of Siena. Montalcino was once a strategic point along the road to Rome and offers a panoramic view of the beautiful Asso, Orcia and Ombrone valleys. . . . The history of Montalcino dates back to the Etruscan and Roman periods, and its name was formed from the Latin ‘mons ilcinus’ (holm-oak mountain). Though independent for a time in the 12th century, the town later became subject to Sienese rule. During the 14th century, the city’s fortress was built to better defend the southernmost border of the Sienese Republic. However, four years after Florence defeated Siena (in 1555), Montalcino landed within the jurisdiction of the Granducato di Toscana of Cosimo dei Medici.



The pairing I created for today’s wine was inspired by a novel that brought me right back to this walled city and it amazing wines. Before we get there though, let’s take a look at those wines.


BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO


The area has had some economic ups and downs over time, but its fortunes certainly rose thanks to the fame of its premiere wine – Brunello di Montalcino.

Tuscany’s star grape is Sangiovese and there is no exception here. Sangiovese is an ancient grape with many clones and biotypes and the versions particular to Montalcino helped to make it famous. The story goes that Ferruccio Biondi-Santi isolated superior clones of Sangiovese Grosso particular to the area. He first bottled a wine from this clone(s) in 1865 and gave it the distinctive name Brunello, which translates roughly to “little dark one."


Note: Sangiovese’s story is confusing and evolving as more genetic research is conducted. According to the Oxford Companion there are six to eight different clones of Brunello and I’ve seen more cited elsewhere.

What’s interesting though is that for a very long time the region wasn’t known for its red wines. Even after Biondi-Santi first bottled his Brunello, the area was mostly known for making sweet and sparkling wines from the Moscadello grape. Brunello production didn’t really start to take off until the 1960’s and 70’s. Then it’s reputation and production kicked into high gear. By 1980 it had made a big enough name for itself to be named one of Italy’s first DOCG’s, along with Barolo in Piedmont.

Brunello must be made from 100 percent Sangiovese and aged for at least four years, with a minimum of two years in wood, and four months in bottle prior to release. Riserva wines get an extra year in bottle for a total of five, and six months in bottle prior to release. Even with all that aging prior to release, Brunello wines can age for a very long time and might take quite a few years before they hit their peak.


THE WINE



Today’s wine is the Marchesi de Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013. As this is a long post, I’m going to save sharing a longer description of the winery and details about our trip there for another post. For now, I’ll say that the winery is one of several wineries owned by Frescobaldi. The family has been involved in wine in Tuscany for over 700 years. We spent a really delightful afternoon there and had an amazing visit during which we learned a lot about the land and terroir. 

I had some hesitation about opening this bottle now as it was still a little young for a Brunello. Nonetheless, we decided to go ahead and just made sure to give it a lot of air. Better too early than too late after all! (At the same time, "too late" for this wine won’t be for a long time.) 


On the day we opened this bottle, we picked up notes of licorice, violet, black cherry, and prunes on the nose. All of these notes came back on the palate and were joined by notes of dried blackberries, pine forest, and cigar box.

This is an opulent wine that’s full-bodied, with medium + to high acidity, and dense but fine tannins.


THE PAIRING

Sometime last year, writer Andrew Cotto found me on Twitter and offered to send me an e-copy of his novel Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure. Book nerd that I am, I happily accepted. (Note: all opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.) 




It’s a fun romp through Tuscany in which the main character, Jacoby Pines, heads to Italy after being fired from his PR job in New York. He ends up unraveling a family mystery and finds a new life in the process. It’s exactly the type of wish-fulfillment caper that makes for the type of escapist read that is so appealing at the moment. I mean, who doesn’t want to suddenly find themselves with a delightful new life in Tuscany?! I read it last summer, but have recently found my thoughts drifting to this fantasy.

Food and wine are major features of the story’s backdrop, which certainly helped draw me in. At one point, Jacoby takes himself on a little excursion to Montalcino and winds up falling in love with a Brunello he drinks at the enoteca inside the fortress:

From a handsome man about his age, Jacoby ordered a plate of Pecorino in three varieties and a goblet of 2007 Brunello from a producer called Il Poggione. He sipped and swirled the marvelous wine, deep yet floral, complex yet accessible, taking little bites of cheese, some soft and studded with tiny black truffles or unadorned but dripped with local honey; some aged and dappled in syrupy vinegar. When it was over, Jacoby felt a thread of sadness which he hoped to dash through the purchase of a case of the very wine he’d just drank. (Ch. 30)

While we didn’t have a glass in the castle’s enoteca on our visit, we did stroll around inside and had many meals and glasses at restaurants nearby. One of our very favorite meals of the trip was at Drogheria Franci which is across the street from the castle, and we also had a delicious dinner at  Re di Macchia which is a short walk away.





Our first and best #Carbonara of the trip was at @drogheriafranci. We’d done a lot of research on where to eat (of course) and then lucked out in that this @michelinguide recommended spot happened to be right by our inn. The food was beautiful and delicious. #latergram 1. Carbonara w housemate spaghetti alla chitarra. Sublime! 2. For a starter we had the #Octopus w potatoes and olives. 3. Tortelloni filled w ricotta and herbs, butter and sage, and spicy tomato sauce. 4. Our other favorite dish of the evening! Sesame #lamb chops with pistachio cream. 5. Our server steered us towards this lovely #Brunello from @bellariamontalcino which pair beautifully with our lamb. 6. Dessert and digestif in one. Baba al rhum soaked sponge cake. Greg had a little grappa to finish his meal, but I think these packed an even bigger punch than the grappa. 7. The sign for their shop spoke to me. 8. & 9. Ambiance shots. We closed the place down.
A post shared by Nicole Ruiz Hudson, DipWSET (@nibblinggypsy) on




A post shared by Nicole Ruiz Hudson, DipWSET (@nibblinggypsy) on

Moreover, our room at the B&B we stayed at, Il Barlanzone Affittacamere,  overlooked the castle, so I had a very vivid picture in my mind as Jacoby had his glass and strolled around the streets of Montalcino. 



He goes on to buy a case of the wine and later shares it with his new friend, father figure, and fellow expat Bill as he is preparing a boar for a local sagra, a big town festival. When I read the book, I thought it would be fun to try to recreate a version of Bill’s dish to pair with a Brunello. Now seemed like a great time to give this experiment a shot!

In the book, Bill’s boar is slow-cooked and served with creamy polenta. On the one hand, this type of dish seems very autumnal to me – not typically what I find myself cooking at this time of year. On the other hand, it’s also a super comforting dish, and that certainly seems in order at the moment. I decided to search through the book for clues on Bill’s process:

After the gallons of brine were ladled over the meat in their containers, Bill and Jacoby carried them together, very carefully, to a walk-in storage area off the kitchen. The room was not refrigerated but dark and cool enough to keep the meat fresh, especially under liquid swimming with aromatics and seasoned with dissolved salt and sugar. The next day, they would have to be removed, the meat rinsed of the brine, dried and returned to the cleaned containers to be covered with a marinade for the last 24-hours before the sagra. (Ch 35)
The boar, or cinghiale, is then cooked low and slow. A little later there’s a further description of the finished dish:

On baking sheets, under foil cover, the meat glistened with moisture. Jacoby tried to fork some out but the meat broke on the tines. He grabbed a metal serving spoon and scooped up some meat and its flavorful broth colored by tomato and spiked by seasonings, including whole black peppercorns. He covered the polenta with the concoction and then walked slowly to the dining salon, where he placed the plate on a table. (Ch 40)

So we know that a brine with salt and sugar is used, followed by a marinade with aromatics, and that broth has tomatoes, black pepper, and additional seasonings. I also wrote down and made use of juniper berries, but for the life of me can’t find it now in the book. Still, I do think they evoke the cypress trees you see all over Tuscany, so I think they fit even I potentially imagined reading that they were included.



Most of this was easy enough to incorporate, even though I made a few changes for home cooking. Given that I’m not likely to go kill my own boar (Jacoby provides the boar in the book after an unforeseen altercation), I always figured I’d use pork instead. I don’t typically make use of both brine and a marinade at the same time, but went ahead and gave it a shot. I used a dry brine instead of a wet one because it’s much easier to do, takes up a lot less room, and is a lot less messy. The next day, I used wine and some aromatics for the marinade and let the pork soak in it for a couple of hours before cooking. The marinade then did double duty and became part of the cooking liquid.

I prepared the polenta according to Marcella Hazan’s method, although I decided to add pork fat stolen from my braise instead of butter, and I swirled in a little cream at the end.


The results were fantastic! And the pairing with the CastelGiocondo Brunello was phenomenal. The wine matched the weight of the dish, but all the acidity cut through the fattiness of the pork in a refreshing way. The savory and herbs and spices in food complemented the wine and vice versa. Pepper notes in the wine emerged with the food, as did note of sundried tomato. Light hints of juniper in the sauce elevated floral and pine notes in the wine. I gave a happy sigh at the pairing, while Greg’s exclaimed “Oh Mama!” 


OTHER POSSIBILITIES


I love Brunello, but let’s face it, it is pricey and definitely not an everyday wine, at least not around here. Luckily, there are lots of good alternatives to be found. You can easily opt for a Rosso di Montalcino, which is also made from Sangiovese and from the same area. These wines are usually made from younger vines and require much less aging than Brunello. They tend to be fresher in style, are ready to drink much earlier, and are a lot less pricey. They’re definitely a great alternative for everyday consumption!

Fuller and more structured versions of Sangiovese from elsewhere in Tuscany,
like Vino Nobile de Montepulciano or Chianti Classico, and the rest of Italy should work as well.  In fact, the recipe I created for this Ricasoli Chianti Classico is also a slow-cooked pork dish with some variations, and either wine should work nicely with either preparation.

If you love Piedmontese wines, Barbera and Nebbiolo based wines like Barolo would make great options as well. Actually, polenta would be much more typical of the northern part of the country where these wines are from.

The winery recommends “beef stews, braised meats, and aged cheeses” with this wine. In general, because this is a big wine with lots of flavors, it tends to work well richer dishes.


THE GEEKY DETAILS


Taken from the tech sheet.

Vineyard Location: CastelGiocondo Estate, Montalcino. Well-drained soils, and southwest facing exposure.
Blend:  100% Sangiovese
Winemaking Details:  30 days maceration on the skins. Malolactic fermentation immediately done after the alcoholic fermentation.
Maturation: Completed in Slavonian oak casks and French oak barrels.
Vintage Report: The 2013 growing season saw regular rainfall throughout spring and early summer, which helped the grapevines develop perfectly. The second half of the summer was quite warm, but without the type of heat spikes that could have compromised the grape’s ripening. The ripening of the berries benefited from alternating warm days and cool nights, producing ripe grapes rich in phenolic substances – e.g. anthocyanins and tannins – whilst preserving their delicate aromas.
Alcohol by volume: 14. 5%


MONEY TALK


Brunello’s price tag will almost always be in the Baller Wine realm. The aging requirements alone make making this wine pricey. Growing grapes of sufficient quality to withstand that aging also isn’t easy or inexpensive. Not every bottle is great of course, so if you’re going to buy a bottle it’s a question of making sure it’s a good one. We really enjoyed this one.

We bought this wine at the winery, but I don’t know for how much. The average price for this wine across all vintages is $57, although I believe the release price was around $79. Sadly, I do not see many US retailers listed. If you can find a bottle for $57, I actually think that’s a really good price for this wine.


PRO TIPS

Definitely decant this wine. Our bottle was still a bit young for Brunello and needed the time to open up. I opened it several hours before we drank it and was very glad we did! If you’re opening an older Brunello, it is just as important to decant as it will tend to have a lot of sediment. Be gentle with the bottle as you handle it, and stop pouring as soon as you see sediment appear in the shoulder of the bottle. It helps to keep a light on this spot to help you see as you pour. Candles are traditionally used by somms in this ritual, but your phone’s flashlight will work very well too, and is probably better since you will likely already have it with you! 



 
Servings: 6 to 8
By:
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Italian Braised Pork

Italian Braised Pork

Prep Time: 2 H & 10 MCooking Time: 4 H & 15 MTotal Time: 6 H & 25 M, plus brining time

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 lbs pork butt or pork shoulder
  • Brine mixture as needed to coat the pork well (I use a purchased brine mix, but you can also make an easy version with equal portions of salt and sugar. I eyeball the quantity, but about ⅓ to ½ cup total should do it.)
  • 6 to 8 dried juniper berries
  • 1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 to 3 sprigs of sage
  • (Feel free to experiment with other herbs such as oregano or rosemary in place of the thyme or sage as well.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1.5 cup stock, plus more as needed (use what you have – chicken, pork, or beef will work although each will change the flavor a bit. On this occasion, I used homemade chicken stock.)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (certainly feel free to substitute in fresh diced tomatoes as well)
  • 2 to 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 rib celery, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp Wondra flour
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Instructions:

  1. (Optional) Dry brine the pork the night before you plan to cook it. Sprinkle brine mixture liberally over the pork and rub into the meat. Sprinkle the juniper berries and peppercorns in with the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2.  The next day, scrape off the excess salt, pour out any juices that have collected, and pat the pork dry. Place the pork in a 3.5-quart Dutch oven. (Pans and pots of other sizes will work as well, but may require different amounts of liquid.) Add the wine, onions, thyme, sage, garlic, bay leaves, a couple of juniper berries (these can be retained from the brine), and ground pepper into the pot with the pork. Place in the fridge to marinate for a couple of hours.
  3.  Preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove the pork from the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before you intend to cook it.
  4.  Add the stock, tomato paste, tomatoes, carrots, and celery into the pot with the pork and wine. Place the Dutch oven in the oven and cook covered for 2 hours, basting halfway through.
  5. Mix together 2 tablespoons Wondra flour with ¼ cup water, and mix as per package instructions. Uncover the Dutch oven and feel free to taste the sauce adjust the salt and other seasonings at this point. Mix in the Wondra flour slurry, then return to the pork to the oven and continue to cook for another 2 hours, or until the pork can easily be pulled apart with a fork. Make sure to baste halfway through, and if at any point the liquid gets too low, add a little extra wine, stock, or water.
  6. Once the pork is super tender, remove the Dutch oven from the oven. A good amount of fat has likely collected on top of the liquid – skim the excess of the top with a spoon or ladle. (Feel free to reserve this for other cooking needs.) Remove the woody sprigs of thyme, bay leaves, and juniper berries. Check the sauce for taste and texture. Adjust the salt and seasonings as needed. If you’d like a looser sauce, feel free to add in a little extra liquid, or if you prefer it to be thicker, continue to cook in the oven or on the stove-top over low to medium-low heat. You can also transfer the pork to a plate to shred, and allow the sauce to simmer and reduce to desired consistency in the meantime. Return the pork to the pot and coat with the sauce when ready to serve.
  7. Serve shredded pieces of pork on top of polenta, pasta, or beans with the sauce spooned on top.

Notes:

Dry bringing adds 8 to 24 hours to the prep time.
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator






Check out these other posts related to our Italian road trip:


And here are a few more pics of our time in Montalcino.



 



*****

The rest of the Italian Food, Wine, Travel blogging group (#ItalianFWT) is exploring Sangiovese around Italy. Be sure to check out their posts:




Additional sources used for this post:

The Oxford Companion to Wine via JancisRobinson.com
Guildsomm.com
ItalyAbroad.com
VisitTuscany.com 
DiscoverTuscany.com 
Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D'Agata




This post contains affiliate links, including the following Amazon Associate links, from which I might receive a commission at no cost to you.


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6 comments

  1. If you are looking for a little escape, this post does it. Thank you for such a beautiful trip to Montalcino. As I look at the pictures I can almost hear the town waking up and hear the footsteps in the cobbled streets. I can definitely smell the pork roast and you have convinced me to invest in a bottle of Brunello sometime in the not so distant future.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Robin! I hope you have a chance to enjoy a bottle someday while hearing those footsteps on the cobblestones in real life. Cheers until then!

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  2. Those pictures are beautiful and definitely make me ready fro travel. And I sp understand trying to find some quiet time to get away from it all. Our sanity demands it. Kat-(Can't use my url for some reason).

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! And hope all is well with you - Cheers!

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  3. Loved reading about your trip and that pairing looks fantastic! The pictures bring me back to my travels. Such a beautiful place!

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!