As we walked through the narrow streets of Montepulciano, the setting sun cast a strange light and I felt as if I had been transported back to the Renaissance. In fact, sixteen men dressed in Renaissance costumes were at the bottom of the hill leading into town.
Two by two, they stood behind eight wooden barrels. As a trumpet and drums began to play, they were off. We had arrived at the start of the Bravio delle Botti, a challenge between the eight Contradas (districts) of Montepulciano for a banner called the Bravium. The barrels each weigh 175 pounds and they are rolled uphill a distance of one mile through the historical center until they reach the Duomo in Piazza Grande. The barrel rollers are called spingitiri. The event started in1337 as a palio (horse race) but in 1973 in became a barrel race. I guess they changed because a number of wine producers have shops in the town selling Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and it seemed more appropriate.
No one is sure how this wine became known as Vino Nobile. It might be because at one time it was produced exclusively for the town’s aristocracy. Sheldon Wasserman in his book Italy’s Noble Red Wines states, “Francesco Redi elevated the wine to regal status. In his poem Bacco in Toscana (1685) the god of wine, quite overcome by a cup of Montepulciano declares that Montepulciano d’ogni vino e’re (Montepulciano of all wines is king).” This was a very famous and much-cited poem at the time.
But that was in the past. Today, in my opinion, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano does not get the respect that it deserves in this country. It is caught between the more famous Chianti Classic and Brunello, and does much better in Italy and in other foreign markets than in the U.S. As if this was not enough, there is a grape and a wine in Abruzzo which is known as Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. When it is grown in other parts of Southern Italy it is just called Montepulciano. When I worked at a wine store, customers would ask for a bottle of Montepulciano and I would reply, “the town or the grape?” However, I think that little by little it is getting the recognition it deserves.
The Vino Nobile Production Zone stretches on one side towards the Val di Chiana and on the other towards the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany. The hills in the zone range in height from 820 to 1968 ft above sea level.
The grapes for Vino Nobile are a minimum of 70% to 100% Sangiovese known locally as Prungolo Gentile and a maximum of 30% Canaiolo, Mammolo and other grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah recommended or authorized by the Province of Siena. There is a compulsory two year aging beginning after January 1 of the year following the harvest. The wine must be made and aged within the zone. New vineyards planted since 1999 must have 3,330 vines per hectare. Minimum alcohol content is 12.5% and 13% for the Riserva. The Riserva must be aged for three years, and six months in bottle, beginning on January 1 of the year following the harvest before it is released. Both Normale and Riserva must be aged for one year in wood.
Prungolo Gentile means “gentle wild plums”. Most of the wines have a hint of violets in the aroma. This may be due to the Mammolo grape, violets in Italian is viola mommola.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2007 Salcheto 100% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) Fermentation and aging in Slavonian oak vats, 30% of the wine spends 3 to 6 months in French oak barriques. Total aging in wood is 24 months and 6 to12 months in bottle before release. This wine has very good fruit with hints of blueberries and a nice mineral character. It had good acidity and is a very good food wine. $35
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2007 “La Braccesca” Marchese Antinori 90% Prugnolo Gentile and 10% Merlot. This is a big wine with red fruit, minerality, tannic with good acidity. This is a wine that will age. $27
Vino Nobile di Montepulicano DOCG 2007 Poliziano 80% Sangiovese 20% Colorino, Canaiolo and Merlot. The vineyards are 300 to 400 ft. above sea level and the soil is clay and slightly skeletal. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with milling which includes repassing the must over the grape dregs. Fermentation and maceration takes place between 18 and 22 days. The wine spends 14 to 16 months in wood 2/3 of which is refined barriques and tonneaux of French oak, 80% second use and 20% new, and 1/3 is in traditional casks. This is a rich concentrated wine with fruit, more than a hint of violets, leather, and a touch of toasted oak. It has nice finish and aftertaste. $31
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2007 Tenuta di Gracciano Della Seta (Toscana) Made from a blend of 90% Prugnolo Gentile,10% Canaiolo and Merlot. The vineyards are located on the Gracciano hills, the historical cru of Montepulciano. The wine is aged at least 18 months, 30% in French tonneaux of 3.5 to 5 HL and 70% in 25 HL casks of Slovenian oak. The wine has red berry flavors and aromas with hints of raspberries and violets. Goes well with grilled and roasted meats.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva DOCG 2006 Tenuta di Gracciano Della Seta (Toscana)
This Riserva is a blend of 90% Prugnolo Gentile and 10% Merlot. The vineyards are located on the Gracciano hills, the historical cru of Montepulciano. It is aged for 24 months in wood, 12 months in French oak Tonneaux of 3.5 to 5 HL and 12 months in 25HL Slovenian oak casks. The wine is aged an additional 12 months in bottle before release. It has deep red and black berry flavors with hints of blueberries and violets with a touch of vanilla. The finish is long and the berry flavors carry over to the aftertaste. It goes well with steak, game, grilled and roasted meats especially roast pork.
Vino Nobile d’ Montepulciano Riserva DOCG 2005 Made from 70% Sangiovese (Pungolo Gentile) and 30% Canaiolo and other authorized grapes. Carpineto Fermentation takes place in stainless steel and maceration of the skins with the must between 10 to 15 days at controlled temperatures. The frequent pumpovers are accomplished using special pumps designed to move solid parts (skins and seeds) gently. The wine is aged in large 5,500 liter Slavonian barrels, with a small part in French barriques. After bottling the wine is aged in temperature controlled cellars for at least 12 months. The wine is aged one year longer than the 3 years required by law for a reserve wine.
Vino Noble d’Montepulicano 2004 DOCG Cecchi 90% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) and 10% other authorized grapes. Fermentation takes place in small stainless steel tanks and lasts for 21 days. The wine is aged in small oak barrels for 2 years. It remains in bottle for 3 months and is released 28 months after the harvest.
Vino Nobile that ages:
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 1999 Riserva Dei 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo Nero. The vineyards are planted on tufa soil with a South, Southwest exposure. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 28 days. The wine is then racked into large 33 hectoliter Slavonian oak botte for 2 years. It is kept 12 months in bottle before release. $145
A few months ago I had lunch with Antonio Michael Zaccheo the owner of Carpineto. I was very impressed with his Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 1985 &1988 DOCG. I had a number of questions about these two wines that were showing no signs of age and this is what he said about them.
“Our Vino Nobile is made from circa 90% Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) and 10% Canaiolo. In the ‘80’s it was required to include a minimum percentage of white grape varieties, something we never did…we used the Trebbiano and Malvasia for our Vinsanto, and still do.
The ‘85 and ‘88 vintages were much the same, climate-wise, to the point that, in retrospect, they can be considered twin vintages. Both are 5-star vintages and have similar flavor profiles with the three years difference possibly accounting for some bottle variation. There are faint hints of red fruits and violets which give way to porcini mushrooms, dried leaves, hints of spiciness and earth, very complex. The texture is silky smooth, with good acidity and a long finish.
The ‘88 is a bit more fruity and floral in character while the ’85 is a bit more earthy. Wines like these, a quarter century old, pair well with ‘perfumy’ foods, such as a risotto with mushrooms and truffle based dishes.”
He said that they were the first producers that chose to make only a Riserva Vino Nobile, and to this day they remain the only one. “Since our Vino Nobile is subject to an extra year of bottle age, our wine is drinkable at release time. Most consumers do not buy wines for aging; however they are often disappointed when they drink a wine that is too young. This is the reason behind our philosophy of ‘not releasing wine until its time’. We prefer to do the bottle aging for the consumer in our cellars at optimum conditions. For those that do like to age their wines, our Riserva will continue to evolve for 20 or more years, very gracefully.”
Antonio was very optimistic about the future of Vino Noble. He said, “We like to think that if Vino Nobile has finally emerged into the limelight it deserves, Carpineto has, in small part, contributed to this by delivering consistent quality from vintage to vintage to over 70 countries worldwide. This appellation is living a happy success story, still in evolution.”