With a Fillet Steak, John recommends ………….

ROSSO DI MONTALCINO 2011. Il Poggione. (£19.99 at Majestic)

I’ll put my cards on the table. After a recent visit to Tuscany and being lucky enough to stay in the vineyards and taste lots of bottles, if I now have to choose between the Top Johnny, top dollar Brunello di Montalcino and the lower rated, lower priced Rosso di Montalcino I’ll go with the Rosso and save a few bob.

JD Why? Italian wine law of the region says that Brunello di Montalcino must, yes must, spend a minimum of 2 years in oak casks. So far so good I hear you say. Well, it’s all good if the fruit produced that year is up to a holiday in an oak barrel. If it’s not then you’re left with a lifeless, low fruit, woody, and don’t forget expensive, wine that can only disappoint. So, soap box away, try this medium bodied Rosso di Montalcino with your fillet steak.

View over Montalcino vineyards.

The attractive hilltop town of Montalcino is 100 kilometres south of Florence and 540 metres above sea level. My illusion that these illustrious vineyards rolled down the town’s spectacular hillside slopes and then spilled over into a limited sweep across the adjacent hills was destroyed when, during my recent visit, I discovered that the region stretched over an area of 40 kilometres by 40 kilometres! So much for my small, classic Italian region.

This extensive, Mediterranean-influenced area is divided into four sub regions that are known simply as ‘north-east’, ‘south-east’, ‘north-west’ and ‘south-west’. Not very romantic but hellish effective. Not surprisingly, each producer extolled the virtues of their particular compass-located vineyard zone which, again not surprisingly, lead to contradictions. Add altitude, varying soil types and aspect into the equation and an interesting discussion was never too far away.

The total area of this surprisingly large vineyard covers approximately 3500 hectares, 2100 ha. being Brunello di Montalcino with Rosso di Montalcino accounting for 510 hectares.

Rosso di Montalcino wines must be 100% Sangiovese and can be available for sale on the 1st September the year following the vintage. Having no oak ageing regulations gives the winemaker more freedom; he or she can bottle the Rosso whenever they feel the wine’s tasting ‘just right’. Tasting notes from my trip revealed that the Rosso wines were open, fruity and more vibrant than some Brunello’s that struggled to handle the compulsory two year oak regime.

The region’s production is 4.5 million bottles for Rosso and 9 million bottles for Brunello di Montalcino; it’s interesting to note that 50 years ago the vineyard area was only 20 per cent of today’s area, “the 80’s saw enormous growth in Brunello”, one producer told me. Try this Rosso with the fillet steak; if you’re feeling rich and can afford to taste the Rosso and the Brunello side by side, let me know your thoughts on Twitter @JOHNDOWNESMW.