Ten Things to Know about Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

by Roger Morris
The Tuscan region of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano makes very good, very affordable red wines, but they often get forgotten in the marketplace, as retailers, restaurants and consumers generally focus on other Tuscan reds, notably the various Chiantis, Brunello and IGT blends.

View from Montepulciano. Photo: Roger Morris.

For those who have forgotten about Vino Nobile, or who have never heard about it, here is a brief ten-point primer:


Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese)

1.    Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is part of the holy, hilly trinity of Tuscan Sangioveses. The other two are Chianti (particularly Chianti Classico) and Brunello di Montalcino. Chianti comes by its name as a historic region, while Vino Nobile and Brunello are connected to ancient hillside cities, Montepulciano and Montalcino, respectively.  “Brunello” is the Montalcino name for Sangiovese, while Vino Nobile calls its Sangiovese “Prugnolo Gentile.”


History is deep in Montepulciano. Photo courtesy of Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

2.    Vino Nobile is not to be confused with the “other” Montepulciano. Among the several things that make Vino Nobile de Montepulciano a somewhat confusing name is the fact that, while it is associated with the town of Montepulciano, there is also a grape variety called “Montepulciano,” as in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.


3.    The region has a rich history of winemaking. The name Vino Nobile has been associated with the region for centuries. But until the 1900s, it was generally marketed as Chianti, of which it is still technically a part—a member of the Chianti Colli Senesi sub-zone.  It received DOC status 51 years ago in 1966 and was elevated to DOCG in 1980. There are currently 230 grower-members of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and 67 of the total of 89 local bottlers are members.

 


Luca and Nicolo De Ferrari of Boscarelli. Photo: Roger Morris.
The Boscarelli Rosso di Montepulciano is varietally labeled as Prugnolo.

4.    The secondary wine is Rosso di Montepulciano. The main differences between Vino Nobile and Rosso are the amounts of Prugnolo and other indigenous and international varieties used and the amount of barrel and bottle aging.  Most growers have different plots and different cuvees dedicated to Vino Nobile and to Rosso, but a few producers use the Bordeaux model. Nicolò and Luca De Ferrari produce the well-known Boscarelli brands, and Nicolò says, “To us, Rosso is declassified Nobile.” Except for young vines, all Boscarelli grapes are potentially Nobile—or Rosso—depending on the vintage.

 


Photo courtesy of Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

5.    For better or worse, Vino Nobile produces a wide variety of styles.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because Sangiovese lovers can find in Montepulciano whatever style they love—lean and food-loving, rich and rounded, big and tannic. A curse because Vino Nobile doesn’t have a defining style that characterizes the region, which means buyers usually seek out individual producers rather than something regional.

 


The Santa Caterina Vino Nobile and Salterio Rosso di Montepulciano from Tre Rose.

 

6.    Vino Nobile produces some of the best-value wines in Tuscany. It’s a matter of economics: If you are not as well-known as your competition, there is less demand for your wines. If there is less demand, the prices you can charge are generally lower, even though you have the same expenses in the vineyard and in the winery. Of course, vineyard land is generally less-expensive. True, some of the better-known Vino Nobile wineries have a good presence in the American market and do command higher prices.  And, of course, Rosso di Montepluciano is especially affordable as well as a good entry-level wine and should not to be overlooked.

 


Caffè Poliziano. Photos courtesy
of Caffè Poliziano.

Bravio delle Botte.

7.    Although Montepulciano’s food can be elegant, it generally retains a note of down-home Tuscan comfort. Two good restaurants for visitors to sample are Caffè Poliziano, with its beautiful views of both the hillside town and the countryside beyond, and La Grotta, next door to the lovely Cathedral of San Biagio.

Plus, each August Montepulciano offers food and theater with its annual Bravio delle Botti, a modern version of the centuries-old contests of staging horse races among the neighborhoods in every Tuscan walled city. Bravio gave up on horses long ago and instead pits the town’s eight subdivisions—called contradas—against each other in a barrel race, with eight teams of young men each rolling an empty wine cask from the lowest-lying neighborhood uphill to a plaza at the top of the city. Better yet, the neighborhoods also have cook-offs, which tourists are invited to attend, featuring lots of Vino Nobile and Rosso to match regional food specialities.

 


Map courtesy of Conzorio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Poliziano. Photo: Roger Morris.

8.    The Montepulciano region is a great place for wine tourism. In spite of its narrow streets, Montepulciano, which is still in part a walled city, is fairly easy to navigate, and the countryside around it is mainly rolling hills—great for biking or driving. There are very good traditional and modern hotels and restaurants.

And of course, there are wineries, both small and large, to explore.One of the best is Federico Carletti’s Poliziano winery, now over 50 years old, the last 36 having been under his tutelage after he took over from his father in 1980. Carletti has grown the Poliziano winery to about 900,000 bottles annually and hosts 10,000 vino tourists each year.  Other popular wineries include Tre Rose, Antinori’s La Braccesca, Boscarelli and Avigonesi.

 


Sustainability at Salcheto.
Photo courtesy of Salcheto.

9.    Vino Nobile producers are among the most-devoted to green sustainability. As is the case in other regions, wine producers have independently embraced the various forms of sustainability, not because the government told them to or because consumers demanded it, but rather because it’s the best way to perpetuate the viability of terroir. Salcheto, which makes very good Vino Nobile (and Chianti) in the shadow of the walled city and operates a restaurant on premise, has a stunning winery to tour, one devoted to breakthrough technology that probably uses less water and less energy per bottle produced than any other winery in Montepulciano—perhaps even within Italy.

 


Photo courtesy of Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

10.    The region is on the rise. For years, Montalcino was considered a backwater town, while Montepulciano and its wines were much better known. Then the rising popularity of quality Brunello beginning a few decades ago flipped everything. But that again is changing. Smaller producers have improved quality, and the large outside producers—Antinori at La Braccesca, Bertani Domaines at Tre Rose, Schenk at Lunadoro—are bringing with them their winemaking knowhow and marketing expertise.

Although small wineries are the bread-and-butter of Vino Nobile’s character, quality-driven large producers will most like provide the tipping point—as Banfi did with Brunello di Montalcino—to demand respect for a region in the marketplace.

 

 

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