In our newsletter we usually talk about food, what we’re making and what’s in season, but this issue I’d like to talk about our favorite Tuscan wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. We just returned from touring two culinary groups through the area and had some wonderful cantina tours and tasted excellent wines when we were in the beautiful town of Montepulciano.
An old walled city high on a hill just to the west of the A1 to Rome, Montepulciano was an important Etruscan town in the times before the Roman Empire. The city sits on a hill of tufo, a yellowish sandstone that is easy to burrow yet strong enough to support large structures and palaces. From ancient times, the people who inhabited the city dug caverns and tunnels under the buildings to use for storage and to make wine, and most of these tunnels are still in use today. The city’s close proximity to a main artery going into Rome meant that it was a stopping place for travelers and pilgrims. The city’s reputation for making excellent wine was reknowned and the wine was served on tables of nobility, aristocrats, cardinals and popes from medieval times. Most of the elegant palaces built by nobility still stand today and date from the 1500’s.
A noble wine with a long history, Vino Nobile is made with a 70% minimum of the prugnolo gentile clone of the sangiovese grape (there are many clones, including sangiovese grosso used for Brunello di Montalcino), as well as a blend of other grapes indigenous to the area around Montepulciano and Tuscany. These can be a combination of malvasia nera, ciliegiolo, colorino, canoiolo nero or mammolo.
Don’t confuse Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with a wine of lesser heritage, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, which is from Abruzzo, not Tuscany. The grape in that wine of simpler breeding is montepulciano. The story goes that they chose that name for the grape because the word ‘montepulciano’ was already associated with excellent wine and they thought it might help this wine from Abruzzo sell. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened and on wine lists and in wine shops all over the US you find many options of the lesser wine from Abruzzo, and very few examples from producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
According to the laws governing the making of Vino Nobile, it must spend 18 months in wood barrels, large or small, which helps it improve with age. It drinks best when it has at least 5 years on it, so hang onto it if you do find it!
The wine is worth seeking out so be sure to ask about it at your local shop or restaurant. If you have a great wine shop, like Wine Rack in Louisville or Total Wines, they may even be able to order something in for you!