Montepulciano is a medieval town perched on a 1900-foot hilltop located in the southeastern Tuscany region of Italy. This small town is steeped in history and just walking around this small town and admiring the Gothic-style churches would be breathtaking. However, I think the best part is that the town and surrounding area are home to a great wine region: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This has one of the highest classifications of wine in Italy (DOCG). Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. The short translation is this classification has controlled production methods and guaranteed wine quality. Montepulciano is on our bucket list to visit and today we enjoyed the next best thing; a curated tasting in Seattle of 12 of their wines at Vino Nobile Tasting.
Winemaking in this region goes back to the 5th century BC. Through the years this wine was called the King of Wines by some aficionados and even a pope. Also, President Thomas Jefferson’s interest in wine is extensive. He had 287 vines planted at his home, including 24 European varieties. He had very high praise for the wines of Montepulciano.
Interesting that Nobile di Montepulciano was originally called “Vino Rosso Scelto di Montepulciano”. For a basic Italian translation, ‘rosso’ is red and ‘scelto’ is refined or elegant. Then in the 1920 to 1930 timeframe, winemaker Adamo Fanetti called the wine “nobile”. Should Adamo take much of the credit for naming wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano? This popularity took off in one of the first wine shows in 1931 in Siena. Adamo was perhaps a marketing genius. However, he also committed to improving the quality so many awards followed. Interestingly, Adamo’s granddaughter Elisabetta now runs the winery named Cantine Fanetti.
Cantine Fanetti is one of the 230 wine growers in the region belonging to Consortium Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The wine is primarily from sangiovese grape, required to be at least 70%, and has to be aged for 2 years with at least 1 year in oak barrels. If the wine is riserva then it is aged for three years.
In the town of Montepulciano, some locals call sangiovese either prugnolo gentile or sangiovese grosso. Most think there is no difference in the grape, and it has the same DNA as sangiovese. However, a few think that prugnolo gentile or sangiovese grosso is a clone of sangiovese and is different. We will let experts debate this. Due to its numerous clones and cultivation sites, sangiovese goes by over 50 names worldwide.
One final note concerning grape varieties, is that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is an Italian red wine made from the Montepulciano wine grape in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. It should not be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which uses sangiovese grape and not the Montepulciano grape.
Today’s event was hosted by Consortium Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We enjoyed all of the 12 wines, and it is, of course, difficult to choose just a few to highlight. Podere Casanova had a pleasant light coffee/coco nose and a solid tannin structure. The 97% sangiovese wine had a gentle kick with 15% alcohol. Next up was – La Ciarliana. We loved the great structure and cherry flavor notes of this wine. This wine would certainly pair well with the filet mignon that I will be grilling tonight. Arya from Manvi is the other wine that we enjoyed. Arya is 100% sangiovese and spent 24 months in French oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle. It has a lovely earthly nose with light pepper spices.
Climate Change and Solutions
Of course, all growers are concerned with the recent warming records that show an increase of 1 to 1.5 C (1.8 F to 2.7 F) just since 2000. Also causing stress on the grape is the lack of rain, especially during the hot summer. The average rainfall is less than 25 mm 1 inch) in July. Can Italy’s signature grape sangiovese handle this? Many (most) growers say yes. One reason is that the grape has, and will continue, to adapt naturally to the climate conditions over time.
Many growers use smart farm management which some call Agronomic. Canopy management is one method to reduce heat-related stress on the grapes. One example is having an extensive canopy that can provide shade to the grapes from the hot afternoon sun. Another management tool is changing the trellis systems. The traditional method is Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) where vine shoots are trained to grow up in vertical, narrow rows with the fruit growing lower to the ground, allowing for greater exposure to sunlight. This study finds that single high-wire trellis systems instead allow vine leaves to shade the grapes.
The University of Milan is doing a lot of rootstock experimentation that shows some solutions for heat and drought-resistant grapes. This is still a work in progress, but early results are very encouraging. New rootstocks use 30% less water. An advantage to using new rootstocks is that they are generally not affected by the restrictions of the growing regions.
In conclusion, the sangiovese grape is certainly the king of grapes in Tuscany as it is the most planted grape. It continues to hold up well in climate change and no one is expecting any major changes. Just smart management practices and perhaps new rootstocks hold the key.