This summer's extensive visits throughout Tuscany left so many indelible marks. One of the highlights was the in-depth visit atop Montalcino with La Gerla's winemaker, Alberto Passeri. While Passeri's Brunello and Brunello Riserva fetch the most attention by critics and collectors alike, they aren't necessarily the true crown jewels of the estate.

Much like de-classification in Burgundy where you can buy Grand Cru bottlings labeled with more humbled appellations, here too the practice is used. If there's one wine in Montalcino that delivers the greatest value it's certain to be La Gerla's Rosso di Montalcino, sourced exclusively from vines in the Brunello zone. In 2015, with its perfect growing season, the moniker Baby Brunello couldn't be more fitting. At $29 per bottle this is the best deal in traditional Montalcino.

2015 was the vintage in botti I tasted first at each visit. Laws require that Brunello designated wines are aged 5 years prior to release (6 years for Riservas). At La Gerla, wines in botti that show more approachability in their youth are bottled as Rosso di Montalcino. These come from the same organic, estate-farmed vineyards that supply the two Brunello bottlings, but are released much earlier. When I sat down for lunch over and over again in Montalcino it was the 2015 La Gerla served by the glass that I kept coming back to each day. I did my best to taste through a range of producers and styles, but nothing came close to delivering the total package like the La Gerla Rosso.

On Montalcino's north side, La Gerla was originally owned by the pioneering Biondi-Santi winery, who in fact created the very first "Brunello di Montalcino". The story behind the sale is an amusing one with Franco Biond-Santi's disgruntled sister selling this small slice to Sergio Rosso in 1976. Sergio made immediate changes to the farming and cellar practices to upgrade everything and two years later, in 1978, the first commercial La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino was released. Today the estate encompasses 12 hectares, all of which are organically farmed. Aging takes place in botti for the Rosso and the Brunello.

The name La Gerla refers to the historic small wooden picking bins (pictured below) that vineyard workers would wear on their backs. The name is an hommage to the sacrifice made by the men and the women in the vineyards who worked tirelessly to ensure the best raw materials were brought into the cuverie. It's this warm reflection on the efforts in viticulture that became abundantly clear visiting with winemaker, Alberto Passeri.

Looking ahead, on the heels of the challenging 2014 vintage, the 2015 Brunellos are going to receive the monster press that proceeded the 2010 vintage. Growers were gushing about the brilliant balance, pristine fruit, and deeply developed flavors that were immediately revealed in botti. These rare 100% de-classified Brunello di Montalcino's like La Gerla's Rosso are the best kept secret in this fabled hilltop village. With the bar being raised in 2015 there's really no question that this $29 Baby Brunello hits all the right marks.

2015 La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino
$29 per bottle.

Also available:

2010 La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino
$56 per bottle.