Lurking in Brunello di Montalcino’s shadow is a Tuscan wine with just as much grace and finesse (that’s also much friendlier to your bank account). Say hello to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Before you get confused, know that this wine isn’t Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, and has nothing to do with it whatsoever. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is produced in southern Tuscany, not far from the more famous Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino wine zones. Full of crazy medieval history, long-standing winemaking practices, and a rich terroir, Montepulciano is home to a wine that is just as refined as its history and is much too easy to drink.
Let’s explore Vino Nobile di Montepulciano!
Montepulciano is quite the idyllic Tuscan town. It’s perfectly perched on top of a limestone hill overlooking the rest of the rolling Senesi hills. That said, Montepulciano is located in the southern end of the Tuscan region - it’s just south of Siena and east of Montalcino, a neighboring town world-renowned for its Brunello di Montalcino wines. Montepulciano is found right between Val di Chiana and Val D’Orcia, a UNESCO cultural heritage site.
It’s Main Grape - Sangiovese
Let’s clear the air here - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made with Sangiovese, not Montepulciano grapes (like another Italian wine - Montepulciano D’Abruzzo.)
To get more nitty gritty, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made mostly with Sangiovese (to be precise - at least 70 percent,) the same grape that produces Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino wines. No surprise, as Sangiovese is the royal red grape of the Tuscan region, for good reason. This grape most likely predates the Romans - many believe this grape is just as ancient as the Etruscans.
Now, if we want to get nerdy - the main grape behind these wines is Prugnolo Gentile (or Sangiovese Grosso), a biotype of Sangiovese. However, some believe it is a grape variety all on its own!
The remaining 30% of Vino Nobile can be made with local red grapes. More often than not, Canaiolo Nero makes up around 20% of the blend, with Mammolo and Colorino filling up the remaining 10%.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano History
Winemaking in Montepulciano isn’t anything new. Like other Tuscan wine regions, the winemaking practices are ancient. Montepulciano has actually been producing wine as far back as the 8th century and exporting its wine since as far back as the 14th century, with the first official reference to Vino Nobile in 1787. The town itself is a gem of the Renaissance, boasting impressive art and architecture.
Yet, winemaking here dates back even further than that. Before Montepulciano was Montepulciano, it was an Etruscan settlement. These pre-Roman peoples were incredibly accomplished, setting the foundation for Tuscan winemaking. The Etruscans created tunnels and caves intact today, offering ideal temperatures for storing and aging wines. Cantina Talosa is a perfect example. This family-run winery ages its wine in an underground Etruscan tomb that you can visit and enter right from the center of Montepulciano. You can even have your tasting down there too.
Fast-forward a few centuries, and the wines of Montepulciano gained respect on international markets. In America, it began with Thomas Jefferson. He apparently ordered 123 bottles of Montepulciano wine back in 1803.
With a history like this, it's no surprise that the wines of Montepulciano received DOC status in the 20th century. Vino Nobile became a DOC in 1966 and then a DOCG in 1980, the first wine to have this denomination (along with Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, and Barbaresco.)
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano’s Terroir
When it comes to soil types, they can vary. You will typically find vineyards with clay-limestone soil, sandy soils, or a mix of both. These are all favorable to Sangiovese, which is an adaptable varietal. But, it does thrive in clay-limestone soil.
What Does Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Taste Like?
Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of any wine is how it tastes. Vino Nobile is quite an elegant wine that can please a multitude of red wine lovers. Why? It comes down to how it's made.
We know that Vino Nobile is at least 70% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) with 30% other local varieties. While the grapes and vineyards affect Vino Nobile’s character, the aging process does define the wine. That’s because the denomination has distinct parameters around aging.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano must be aged for at least 24 months. Now, what that aging process looks like can vary. It can be 24 months in a barrel, 18 months in barrel with the rest in bottle, or 12 months in barrel with 6 months in bottle, and the rest must be in some other vessel. The choice is totally up to the winemaker. And, when it comes to the Riservas, these wines must be aged at least 3 years.
So, as you can imagine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano varies per producer, just like its northern neighbor of Chianti. This is precisely what makes Vino Nobile such an exciting wine - you can experience different expressions from a small wine region. And, all are almost always very elegant - led by the richness of Sangiovese and traditional winemaking practices.
Getting straight to flavor and character, Vino Nobile is quite bright and shiny in the glass when young. It has a beautiful ruby color with refreshing acidity and a bold structure. In other words, this is a wine that can age.
Vino Nobile - An Age-Worthy Secret
Before you pick up that bottle of Brunello, we suggest you try something a little different. The neighboring Vino Nobile di Montepulciano brings true finesse to the table, with better prices on its older vintages (that often taste just as impressive as their neighbor Brunello!)
Vino Nobile’s naturally firm structure makes it an exceptionally age-worthy and elegant wine. Since it’s lesser known than Brunello, you can, fortunately, find Vino Nobile vintages at very fair prices. In other words, you can enjoy a more spectacular wine rather than settling for an average Brunello that fits your budget.
Explore Vino Nobile with Big Hammer Wines
Traveling with your tastebuds to Montepulciano is easier with Tuscan wine experts by your side. Our Big Hammer wine team loves exploring Montepulciano and all the riveting wines of Tuscany, ready to answer all your questions when you have them. Because - for us - there’s nothing better than helping people discover new wines to fall in love with.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to Try
2019 Talosa Alboreto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano DOCG
2018 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
2016 Talosa Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva
2017 Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva I Quadri
2016 Tenuta Tre Rose 'Santa Caterina' Vino Nobile di Montepulciano