Montepulciano By Any Other Name

We (the Dinner Doctor and Mr. SeriousFoodie) are insane about our wines – we drink, we study, we buy, then we repeat these steps.  And we’ve had lots and lots of wine from a variety of grapes, especially from Italy.  So, we fumbled a bit when we were dining with friends who asked us, “This Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is delicious.  What region is it from, and what grape do they use?”First, we had to explain that Montepulciano is a the beautiful hill town in the southeast part of Tuscany where they make an excellent wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (and sometimes a rosso called Montepulciano) – which is not made from the Montepulciano grape.   There is a lesser quality (but sometimes also very good) wine called Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which is made from the Montepulciano grape – but Abruzzo is a few regions south and east of Montepulciano. If this sounds confusing, try learning Italian grammar.  By the way, there is no connection between the town and the grape as far as we know.So, here are two fairly common Italian wines, made from entirely different grapes from different regions, with different price points and quality, but sound similar.  So, we’re not surprised that our wine-savvy friends – and our waiter at this particular restaurant – were totally confused.  So, let’s shed a bit of light on these two wines – and then we expect you to do your homework, which consists of buying a bottle of each to taste compare.

————————————————————

We loved the town of Montepulciano when we first visited over 10 years ago.  Like many of the Tuscan towns, it sits on top of a hill, overlooking the agricultural community.  The wines made in and around Montepuliano come almost solely from a clone of the Sangiovese grape known locally as Prugnolo Gentile – kind of ironic.  Montepulciano is technically situated within the large Chianti sub-zone of Colli Senesi.  (Another homework assignment for extra credit – buy a nice quality Chianti Classico Riserva made from the traditional Sangiovese grape and compare it to a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Note the differences).  Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was one of Italy’s first DOCG-certified wines.
————————————————————

There are some very nice, sometimes bordering on excellent, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines, many of which will last 5-10 years in your wine cellar. sabazio-06-10 Check out our “20 under $20” page for red wines, and you’ll find three of our bargain favorites, including (in order of preference) (1) La Braccesca:  2010 Rosso di Montepulciano Sabazio, (2) Fattoria del Cerro:  2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and (3) Leone D’Oro:  2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

————————————————————

avignonesiWe have three favorites, which we have deemed cellar worthy: (1) Avignonesi, particularly the Grandi Annate Riserva if you can find it; (2) Poliziano Asinone (only made in years when the grapes are exceptional), and (3) Tenuta Valdipiatta (especially the Riserva).  The price points for these three range from $25 to $40.  These three producers offer consistent quality at reasonable prices, and can often be found on restaurant wine lists.
————————————————————
The bigger issue, though, is that the “Montepulciano” wine you’re likely to find in restaurants is a cheaper, often mass-produced one from Abruzzo.  As our readers know, we have nothing against low priced wines – but we don’t like cheap wines.  What we mean by cheap wines is that they taste mass-produced – no structure (not enough acidity to match up with food), no complexity (it tastes like fruity alcohol), and the wine is never something you’ll likely remember because it tastes like red wine (no distinctive character).
————————————————————
Like everything in Italy, there are a few exceptions – there are some VERY serious wines in Abruzzo, if you are willing to hunt them down.  We think that the wines from Binomio (ranging from $40 – $60) are very complex, are very good with food, and can rival some of the better Chianti Classico Riserva wines.  Be careful, though – the Binomio wines are very tight and tannic when opened young, so most likely you will be disappointed if you purchase it at a restaurant.

————————————————————

For the real wine geeks, you’ll find that the devil is in the details – in this case, the details of production and aging.  Both Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are made from 80 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of their local Sangiovese clones, you’ll find that the better Vino Nobile wines offer pure Prugnolo Gentile grapes.  The aging requirements for both Chianti Riserva and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are two years minimum before release, so the winemaker does not have a lot of flexibility.  However, the amount of new wood versus old wood, and other factors in fermenting and aging, can make a difference.  For example, the Avignonesi Vino Nobile Riserva is aged 30 months in new French oak, then aged an additional 9 months in the bottle before release; their normal Vino Nobile is aged for 18 months in Slavonian oak, traditionally used for Sangiovese in Tuscany, then six months in the bottle before release.  The later is a nice drinkable wine with some complexity, while the Riserva is an exceptional, nuanced wine that would impress a fellow wine geek.

So, open a bottle of Vino Nobile, find some noble and righteous wine dudes, and you can impress them with your Montepulciano knowledge.

2 Replies to “Montepulciano By Any Other Name”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *