Saturday, May 2, 2015

Want Complex, Reasonably Priced Sangiovese? Look to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you’re looking for delicious, age-worthy Tuscan reds, but don’t want to spend a lot of money, you really need to explore Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Perhaps overshadowed by the big boys of Brunello di Montalicino, which garner more critical acclaim (and come with correspondingly higher price points), there are lots of exciting wines hailing from Montepulciano. Here, Prugnolo Gentile, the local clone of Sangiovese, is the staple. But winemakers are allowed to blend in up to 30 percent of some indigenous grapes like Canaiolo and Mammolo, as well as international red grapes and even some white grapes, (although few producers use the entire pallet allowed by the appellation laws).

I recently tasted through some Vino Nobile wines at
Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC, and was impressed by the across-the-board quality. At the tasting, arranged by a trade group called the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, I was joined by a group of Vino Nobile winemakers and the mayor of Montepulciano, Andrea Rossi. 

Several of the producers were quite young, and the discussion turned to the differences between the Montepulciano of old and the more recent released. They explained how a new generation of young winemakers is stepping up to the task, willing to put in the time, effort and money to make the best wines possible from their sites and to promote them to a wider audience.

Marco Anselmi took over his family estate when his grandfather died in 2006. The 2007 Vino Nobile we opened represented his first vintage as winemaker. Marco named the wine “Damo” in honor of his grandfather, but he readily admits his grandfather came from a different time and place — and he made very different wine. 

Marco talks about lowering yields in the vineyard, rethinking vine density and clonal selection, and using sustainable farming and winemaking practices. I’m sure Damo’s wines were interesting (and I’d love to taste them next to Marco’s), but it’s inspiring to hear a young winemaker speak so passionately about raising the caliber of his hometown wines. 

My notes on the wines are below the fold. While these wines are not easy to find in the States, poring through Wine-Searcher yields price points in the $20-$30 range. 

2010 Della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva Tenuta di Gracciano - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Bright and floral on the nose, with light roast coffee, elegant red fruit tones and tart red berries. Silky but firm on the palate, the purity of the fruit is impressive, red currants and red/black cherries. I pick up scents of roses and loamy soil, along with hazelnut-toasty notes on a balanced, elegant, food-friendly frame. Long and worthy of cellar time, but showing very well right out of the bottle. (89 points)

2010 La Bandita e Lunadoro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Quercione Riserva - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
My wine of the night, this is the whole package: depth, elegance, complexity, a food-friendly and contemplative wine. Spicier on the nose, I get black cherries and currants accented with plenty of sweet baking spices, cola, pepper and dried flowers. Young, but it opens up on the palate to show a lot of depth and intrigue: exotic roses, cola, cinnamon and tobacco on top of crunchy red berry fruit. Graphite, dusty soil, hazelnut and cola add complexity, while fine tannins and fresh acid form a silky frame. Really opens up with air and gets more and more complex. Gorgeous now, but will develop well over the next three to five years for sure. I was surprised to see this wine is 15% alcohol, as it is incredibly well-balanced. 90% Prugnolo Gentile and the rest Canaiolo, Mammolo and Merlot. (91 points) 

2008 La Braccesca (Antinori) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva Santa Pia - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
More open aromatically, showing black cherries and raspberry jam, underneath some cola, roses, fig paste and an herbal kick. Bright, clean acid with firm tannins, but they’re velvety and the wine is approachable. Tart cranberries and cherries, raspberries, mix in some loam, clay, sweet herbs and green coffee. Dusty, earthy notes become more prominent with air. Long finish, a very pretty wine but plenty of evolution to come. 90% Prugnolo Gentile and 10% Merlot. (89 points)

Honoring the past, looking to the future.
2007 Montemercurio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Damo - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Aromas of dark berries, loving the granite and rocky elements in this wine, along with some violets and sweet coffee. Silky tannins, moderate acid, still quite structured but one of the smoother wines in the tasting. Deep black cherry and plum flavors are blended with notes of rocks, loam, coffee and sweet baking spices. Smooth and ripe but complex and long-lasting. Only 70% Prugnolo Gentile, the minimum required, with Canaiolo and Mammolo blended in. (88 points)

2006 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Poggio Sant’Enrico - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Initially a bit stemmy and rough on the nose, but it opened up considerably to show black cherries, currants and tobacco. Fleshy on the palate, still firm tannins, a bit lower on the acid. Red currant and plum fruit tasted a bit stale to me at first, but the wine changed significantly after an hour to show more vibrant fruit. I also get tobacco, loam and granite notes, and a significant amount of smoke and charcoal. Perhaps needs a good decant, as it got better and better over the course of the dinner. 100% Prugnolo Gentile. (87 points)

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