Travel Journal

Italy Road Trip, 11/24-12/1: Montepulciano

(Friday 3 December 2010) by Joanne Chang
***Warning -- there's a lot of wine talk in Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano; if you're not interested, skip the italicized parts or you'll be bored to death***

***Montepulciano, 11/30***
I pack in a full day of Montepulciano. Three wineries starting at 10 a.m. -- Avignonesi, Boscarelli, and Valdipiatta, and I want to hit Pienza (where pecorino cheese comes from) for dinner on the way back to Montalcino (my last night!). It's another incredible day of wine tasting, learning as much as I can about Italian wine and falling more in love with it. I find winemaking practices vary more widely in Montepulciano than Montalcino and Chianti. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese is 70% for the Nobile di Montepulciano, so they have 30% to play with Canaiolo, Mammolo, Cabernet, Merlot, etc. and also experiment more with barrel aging. At Valdipiatta, they use new french barrique vs. Slavonian oak for their Rosso di Montepulciano for 3 months, then use the barrels for their Nobile (she called it "preparing the barrel for the Nobile" -- because new oak is so intense).
I take notes at each winery (it gets uncomfortable though, when you're the only one there and someone's watching over you, waiting) and appreciate the time they're able to spend with me. I'm at Avignonesi almost three hours, and Alexander teaches me a lot. Different clones of Sangiovese are planted here vs. Montalcino vs. Chianti -- so terroir and climate are not the only factors, these are actually different grapes too. Their Riserva "Grandi Annate", a Sangiovese produced only in the best years, is fermented at a low temperature to draw out the fermentation to 30+ days (do we do this?) producing a strong violet character, less fruit, and their Vin Santo is the jewel -- grapes dried for 7 months, juice pressed and sealed in barrel for 10 years, and sold for 180 euros (375 ml). Wowza. Avignonesi is very close to Cortona and they produce three Cortona DOC wines -- Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot ("Desiderio", fka Super Tuscan) -- I'm psyched to explore another region of wines, and equally psyched that I have time to go to Cortona for lunch.
Alexander recommends a Osteria del Teatro, and I love it. And this is what I love about traveling alone -- being able to change on a whim, side trip to Cortona for lunch, search out this one little restaurant even though I don't know where it is, and not have to worry about whether anyone else wants to come along. Knowing that if I never find the restaurant and end up grabbing fruit at the market I'm ok with that too. Freedom.

My favorite wines of the three are from Boscarelli. They are the most elegant (unique soil structure and sediment, the estate used to be a lake), and Nicolo is a true Italian, the winery family-owned since the 60s when his grandfather purchased the land (prior to that, sharecropping took place). There I taste a Rosso di Montepulciano 2008, Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, the Nobile Riserva 2006, and the Noci 2005, a 100% single vineyard Sangiovese. Nicolo opens each bottle just so I can taste it, and these wines are really beautiful -- bright fruit, spice, earth, and flowers, and all very balanced. Even the Riserva (10% Cab), which is rich, dark and tannic is feminine on the palate. The Noci is the most different, riper, more tannic and more extracted than I prefer (this is their most expensive bottle at 41 euro) but it's meant to age for many years, and this bottle hasn't had a chance to breathe. Total production is relatively small at 100k bottles (~8000 cases) but you can get this in the States. My favorite to drink now is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007 from Boscarelli. Only 19.50 euro.

I also learn that the quality standards in Montepulciano are not as high as Chianti Classico. In Chianti Classico there are 600+ wineries part of the Consortium and in Montepulciano there are 160. In Chianti Classico there are ~60 "top" wineries, in Montepulciano there are ~10. Chianti Classico has more money and prominence, and Montepulciano needs to catch up. And Italy, though it's been making wine for hundreds, thousands of years, has only started producing quality wine in the last few decades, so from a commercial perspective, it's all very new. They are doing a lot of research on the Sangiovese grape, how different clones produce different wines here vs. there (ie, Boscarelli plants the Montalcino clone in their vineyard to experiment w/ the soil), and there's a lot for them to learn about modern winemaking techniques. I think this is different from France where they've been making high quality wine for a long time (I think, need to research), and Italians are just realizing what they have now. Alexander said that while all Italians drink and love wine, very few have the knowledge of wine. Mmmmm..I think there is some serious untapped potential here, I just need to figure it out.


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