Under a cloudless cerulean sky, grids of Sangiovese grape vines grow between rocks that pock the red clay ground. This is the view—vineyards and sky—from the Ruffino winery where their Brunello di Montalcino is grown and barreled. Travelers to the town of Montalcino, Italy and the area that surrounds it don’t come for religion or art; they make the pilgrimage for the rarified Brunello wine.

The vineyard manager states that this wine’s appeal starts in the field. “To be certified DOCG [Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita—the strictest regulation possible in Italy], Brunello must be made of 100 percent Sangiovese grapes,” he says. “They have to be dry-farmed rather than irrigated, as excess water can bloat grapes and dilute their characteristics.” He goes on to explain that when roots have to grow deeper into the earth to...

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