Editor’s note: This is first in a three part series on wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The other two will run Wednesday and Friday.
By DAVE ECKERT
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is not easy to spell. It’s not easy to say. And, it’s not always that easy to find in your wine shop.
But, let me tell you, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is worth the effort on all fronts.
I’ve had exposure to the wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano through the years — a bottle here, a bottle there. I knew they were from Tuscany, crafted primarily from Sangiovese, the noble grape of the region, one of the great red wine grapes in the world.
I liked them, some of them quite a lot, but not enough to regularly put them on my radar screen. That is until now.
In preparation for A Tavolo con il Nobile, a fantastic food and wine contest held annually in Montepulciano that I’ve been asked to judge, I thought it was time to immerse myself in the history, cuisine and most importantly the wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
First, a little history. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are linked to the history of the town of Montepulciano, which is ancient. Documents show exportation of wines from Montepulciano dating back at far as the middle of the 14th century. The “noble” designation was added in the 18th century in recognition of its outstanding flavors and aromas, clearly fit for nobility.
The modern wine producing region, or DOCG, of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, was established in 1983. DOCG is an abbreviation of Denominazione de Origine Controllata, the highest level of Italian wine classification.
This DOCG area is located in the hills surrounding the town of Montepulciano, inside the large Chianti sub zone of Colli Senesi. Some 250,000 cases of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are produced annually.
While Tuscany has tons of history, unfortunately, it has no good food. Of course, I’m kidding. I love Tuscan cuisine. In its simplicity, there is an authenticity of ingredients and a pureness to its flavors and aromas. I can’t dig too deeply into the cuisine of the area, but let me talk about two traditional dishes and their affinity for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
First, Pici. Pici is a typical pasta from the south of Tuscany. It’s handmade. I’ve already filmed it being made and even tried my hand at making some myself. Pici is similar to spaghetti, perhaps a little thicker. It’s usually served in a tomato sauce, a ragu or a tomato sauce with garlic. The bold flavors and bright acidity of the dish make it the perfect fodder for a young Vino Nobile with its ripe tannins and bracing acidity.
On the meat side, I could chat up to the standard Bistecca Fiorentina, the massive T-bone steak that’s absolutely stunning with a Vino Nobile, but I’d rather talk about something near and dear to my heart — duck.
La Nana has been farmed in Italy for some 300-years. The eggs are prized, but ducks are more valued here for their sweet, juicy meat. The Tuscans love to roast ducks, often with oranges, cherries, and/or chestnuts. From a food and wine standpoint, there is little better than a perfectly prepared roast served with a sumptuous Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Which brings me to the wine. As mentioned, the primary grape in Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is Sangiovese, known locally as Prugnolo. The wines can contain up to 20 percent Canaiolo, another local red grape varietal. White grapes, like Trebbiano and Malvasia, are no longer required as they were in the past. This has led to more structured, longer lived, fuller-bodied wines.
I tried about a half dozen Vino Nobile di Montepulcianos in a very non-scientific manor. I secured wines from the following estates: Tenuta Valdipiatta, Carpineto, Talosa, Dei and Avignonesi. Here are some of my thoughts and impressions.
First, let me just say that I am now a huge fan of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, and when my pocketbook allows, I will be securing bottles for my cellar, though, truth be told, they won’t be in my cellar very long.
So, as to keeps things straight, and not to play favorites, I’ll go in the order of my tasting.
First, was the Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. This blend of Sangiovese and Caniolo is a brooding wine-dark and intense, but with an underlying currant of floral and fruity aromas. This is a serious wine made for serious cuisine. I’d suggest a rack of lamb myself.
Carpinetto, a producer I was familiar with, offers a number of single vineyard, limited production wines under the Vino di Nobile label. My favorite was the Vigneto Poggio Sant’Enrico-made from 100-percent Sangiovese grapes. A bit more polished than some of the other Vino Nobile’s, the Sant’Enrico is nonetheless a powerful wine-layered with intense aromas of black fruit and plum with just a hint of black pepper. The winery’s website suggested pairing a thick, rare steak with the Sant-Enrico. I say, “What time shall I be over for dinner?”
Avignonesi is another producer I knew, mainly because of its incredible “Super-Tuscan” bottling Desiderio, of which, I am a big supporter.
Avignonesi’s Vino Nobile is nothing to sneeze at either. A Wine Spectator Top 100, the Vino Nobile is a rich wine, chocked full of black cherries, licorice, and smoke. It’s more about balance than power, and that balance is perfect.
The Dei Vino Nobile was next. Comprised of almost all Sangiovese — 10% Canaiolo — this is a fuller-bodied style, but with ripe fruit and pretty aromas. I’d call it harmonious, and I’d be happy to have it in my cellar and on my dinner table anytime.
The final offering came from Fattoria della Talosa, a newcomer to me, but certainly not to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I enjoyed their Vino Nobile immensely. This bottling was a bit more reserved, but no less enticing. It seemed to take a little longer to open, but when it did, wow. I’m not sure I can accurately describe all that was going on in my glass, but it was a party and I was the beneficiary. I’m certainly not royalty, but Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is fit for this serf anytime.
What’s more, I now feel totally prepped for my trip to Montepulciano, and the food and wine judging that will ensue. Plan on full reports from the scene.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.