Often confused with the grape of the same name, here’s what you need to know to understand what makes this historical wine unique.
Most people will admit to some confusion about the wines of Italy. It’s a country with a rich viticultural history and grape diversity range that exceeds all others, yet sometimes distinctions are blurred the deeper one digs into this vast subject.
What is Montepulciano?
The language, at times, is no help. Some grapes have names so similar it’s a challenge to keep them straight. Take Montepulciano, for example. On one hand, this is a grape, the namesake for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo — in other words, the Montepulciano grape variety when it is grown in the region of Abruzzo.
On the other hand, it is also a place, the municipality of Montepulciano, a Renaissance town in Tuscany. This is where Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is grown, and here’s the kicker: it’s made primarily with Sangiovese (other grapes such as Colorino, Mammolo, and Canaiolo can be included in limited amounts, but 70% must be Sangiovese). This is a red wine that can be enjoyed in youth, exhibiting fresh red fruit characteristics. It can also age in complexity, in some cases for decades, thanks to a powerful structure balanced with bright acidity.
The Sangiovese grape is hailed as Italy’s “Noble Grape” and forms the backbone of the country’s most distinguished wines. It offers a wide range of flavors, from bright red fruits to savory herbs, along with vibrant acidity and moderate tannins, allowing it to age gracefully. This versatility, combined with its deep-rooted history in Italy and its prominence in renowned regions like Tuscany, has solidified Sangiovese’s reputation as Italy’s most notable grape and the foundation of iconic Italian wines such as Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.
What’s the history of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano?
While Tuscany has plenty of notable and popular wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has a particular claim to fame — in 1980, this was the first wine to be recognized as “guaranteed” by what was then known as the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. This marked the beginning of the DOCG-origin labeling system that consumers around the world now recognize.
But that’s a relatively new development, considering how long this wine has been produced. “The history of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is as old as the history of man,” says Andrea Rossi of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. “In the more recent past, even Thomas Jefferson was a famous buyer of Sangiovese di Montepulciano, and the first time the writing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano appeared in an official register goes back to about 1700.”
There is evidence of this wine’s popularity even earlier than that. But there were seasons in which this prominence was diminished, namely the 1960s through the 1990s, when other Tuscan styles enjoyed more attention and quality commitment. However, the current rise of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is earning the category discovery points with consumers and wine pros in the US, and the fan club is growing!
How is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made?
Aside from the regulations on the grape varieties that can be included, there are other implications of earning the title of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. Vineyards must be situated at an altitude between 250 and 600 meters (around 673 and 2,132 feet) above sea level. Vinification and aging must occur in cellars located in Montepulciano territory, and two years of aging are required, which is calculated from the first of January following the harvest.
The producer may choose to age the wine for the full 24 months in wood, or make slight adjustments — this could look like 18 months in wood plus six months in other containers, or 12 months in wood plus six months in other containers plus six months in the bottle. If the producer chooses to apply a Riserva label, aging must be at least three years in wood and six months in the bottle. There is also a new element, Pieve, the outcome of a geographical and geological study of the region, which identifies 12 areas that can include this particularity on the label.
For fans of Italian wines keen to explore the potential of key grapes and deepen their viticultural knowledge, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is an essential study. And with some high-quality bottles available for less than $30, fans love that this legendary wine still comes at an approachable price.