Montalcino From Capital of the Republic of Siena to World capital of wine

It was the year 1555 when Montalcino, because of its unique structure, became the last bastion of republican freedom in Italy.

In fact, starting precisely in that year, Montalcino became the capital of the Republic of Siena until 1559 when the keys of the city were passed from the French state to the Spanish state. For the city, that moment represented the end of a great ordeal which saw it as “prisoner” of thousands and thousands of soldiers from Spain, France and Germany for over four centuries.

Really, what made Montalcino one of the most typical villages in Tuscany today was the possibility of controlling the port of Talamone, which was a strategic point and which could be seen from Montalcino. In fact, geographically, Montalcino stands at 564m above sea level in the heart of the Val d’Orcia in the southern part of the province of Siena.

The first time Montalcino was documented was on December 29, 814, thus in the Middle Ages. Numerous archaeological finds date actually back to the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Etruscan civilization. Most of the Etruscan finds are from the dig in 1950 at Poggio di Civitella, which has become an archaeological park.

The inhabited area of Montalcino, in its cross shape, was constructed according to a precise urban plan and does not lack in important buildings such as the San Salvatore Cathedral from the Xl century, the City Hall from the Xlll century, the famous Abbey of Sant’Antimo of the Xll century and the Fortress, which today hosts concerts and cultural events. Built in 1381 by Domenica di Feo and Mino Foresi, the Fortress preserves parts of the city wall and towers from the previous century as well as its hexagonal shape and nonuniform towers. The buttress and coat of arms on the outside wall date back to the Medici family era.

In the year 1100, over four kilometers of city walls, thirteen watchtowers and six gates were built. There was also already fervent deforestation and terracing of thousands of hectares of hilly land creating space to cultivate vines, olive and other fruit trees. Perhaps for this reason one of the main occupations of the time was a woodcutter.

There are different theories about the origin of the name. In a document dated 814, Montalcino was called Mons Lucinus (small wood), but later the more modern Mons ilcinus seems to refer to the Latin word for oak, a common tree in the area as well as city emblem.

Montalcino was officially designated a city by Pope Pious Il in 1462 and was made Diocese in 1464. There are numerous attestations to its prestigious artistic patrimony.

There were five sieges on Montalcino over the centuries.

In 1199, 1207, 1212 by the Sienese, in 1526 by the troops of Pope Clement Vll and in 1553 by Spanish troops.

After the immobilization by the Medici state, which ruled for over three centuries, Montalcino was finally freed in 1861 after the Unification of Italy with the construction of the railway between Asciano and Grosseto. This moment also marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of great economic, cultural and social development which would make it home of important entities such as the registrar’s office and secondary schools (today there is still a highly regarded Linguistic Secondary School).

In the middle of 1800s, Brunello made its debut thanks to chemist and pharmacist Clemente Santi who made a selection from the Sangiovese Grosso varietal. In 1870, the first bottles of Brunello, the 1863 and 1865 vintages, premiered for an event in Siena. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Brunello was known only by a small circle of connoisseurs and this quality of being a niche wine, however very expensive, intensified after the Second World War because of the gradual desertion of the countryside.

In the 1960s, thanks to EEC grants to relaunch agriculture and the DOC law, the cultivation of Montalcino grape varieties


On May 30, 1966 the Gazzetta Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana published the first set of regulations for Brunello and in 1967 the Consorzio del Vino Brunello was founded by 25 members (today there are 220). In 1980 Brunello received DOCG status increasing its prestige on national and international levels.

Today there are about 24,000 hectares of land in Montalcino on which Brunello is produced and in 2006 it was named “best wine in the world” by Wine Spectator. However there are also other fine wines in Montalcino: Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo and Moscadello di Montalcino, the only white wine produced since the second half of the 1800s.