Montepulciano, a masterpiece of Tuscany

Today we want to tell you the story of Bruce White, who wrote us about his experience in Montepulciano, last October.

Setting out from Arezzo, we travel south to the very famous hilltop town, and one I have always wanted to visit, Montepulciano. We have a a tour of the town lined up before a very special meeting with the Count of Montepulciano in his 1000 year old cellars followed by dinner with his wines matched to each course. Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance hill town and comune in the Italian province of Siena in southern Tuscany. It sits high on a 605-metre (1,985 ft) limestone ridge, 13 kilometres (8 mi) east of Pienza, 70 kilometres (43 mi) southeast of Siena, 124 kilometres (77 mi) southeast of Florence, and 186 kilometres (116 mi) north of Rome by car.

san biagioMontepulciano is a major producer of food and drink. Renowned for its pork, cheese, “pici” pasta, lentils, and honey, it is known world-wide for its wine. Connoisseurs consider its Vino Nobile, which should not be confused with varietal wine merely made from the Montepulciano grape, among Italy’s best. I will let the photos tell the story of the beauty of this town but the highlights as promoted in Wikepedia are; the main street of Montepulciano stretches for 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) from the Porta al Prato to the Piazza Grande at the top of the hill. The city is renowned for its walkable, car-free nature. The main landmarks include: the Palazzo Comunale, designed by Michelozzo in the tradition of the Palazzo della Signoria (Palazzo Vecchio) of Florence. Palazzo Tarugi, attributed to Antonio da Sangallo the Elder or Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola. It is entirely in travertine, with a portico which was once open to the public.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the Duomo of Montepulciano, constructed between 1594 and 1680, includes a masterpiece from the Sienese School, a massive Assumption of the Virgin triptych painted by Taddeo di Bartolo in 1401.The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (late 16th century). It has a simple Mannerist façade with a three-arcade portico. The interior has a single nave, and houses a precious terracotta altar by Andrea della Robbia. The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Biagio is on the road to Chianciano outside the city. It is a typical 16th century Tuscan edifice, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder on a pre-existing Pieve, between 1518 and 1545. It has a circular (central) plan with a large dome over a terrace and a squared tambour. The exterior, with two bell towers, is built in white travertine. The walls of the city date to around the 14th century.

contucciCarla, our local guide bids us farewell as the sun sets over the hills of Tuscany and we head across the Grande Piazza not knowing that we would soon be below the Piazza walking through 1000 year old cellars . The Count of Montepulciano, and the head of the Contucci family is our host for the evening. Firstly, we are shown the castle of the Contucci family, where the family have lived for over 1000 years, grand being the understatement. Then we are heading down under the Piazza and through mazes of tunnels, with stories of how these tunnels actually have paths leading for miles below the city The Contucci family is one of the oldest families in Montepulciano and they have been cultivating grapes since Renaissance times. Of their 170-hectare estate, 21 hectares are vineyards, with 15 hectares dedicated to Vino Nobile. The remaining 6 hectares are used for the Rosso Di Montepulciano, Bianco della Contessa, Il Sansovino, Vin Santo and Bianco della Contessa.

The Palazzo Contucci on Piazza Grande is the residence of the Contucci family as well as the location of their cellar. All the wines produced by the Contucci estate are matured in oak barrels here.The entrance to the cellar is just off the main square and tourists are welcome to just stroll around the cellar to see where their precious wines are cellared. We were quite surprised that no one from Contucci supervised us as we sniffed around the cellar, drooling over the barrels of the noble drop.

As far back as the Renaissance the Contucci family were cultivating the grape and by 1700 this activity of theirs’ was much appreciated. In fact they were one of the “founding fathers” of Vino Nobile, as is documented in 1773; having a major role in making it world famous: “a noble wine destined for the table of gentle folk”. By 1800 the fame of their wine was demonstrated by numerous medals and testimonials, which they had won. The building of the Contucci cellars took place before the mansion of the same name, which was once inhabited by Pope Giulio III and the by the Grand Duke Ferdinand I. The mansion was built by Antonio Sangallo the older and painted internally with affrescoes by Andrea Pozzo. One can therefore say that both house and cellars were built in the XIII century and were part of the old inner walls of Montepulciano.

cantinaThe farm estate is 170 ettari in size, of which 21 ettari are vinyards, 15 devoted to Vino Nobile, whilst the others are used for the production of Rosso di Montepulciano, Bianco della Contessa, Il Sansovino and Vin Santo. These vineyards are situated in one of the best zones of production in the area, at a height of between 280 and 450 metres. The soil is mostly pliocenica in origin mixed with some clay and sand. The vines, only local varieties (Prugnolo Gentile, Canaiolo nero, Mammolo, Colorino, Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasìa del Chianti and Grechetto) are raised at Guyot and are planted at a density of about 3.300/4.000 plants per hectares with a limited yield (less than 55 quintals per hectares) which permits the use of the very best quality grapes.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one Italy’s classic red wines, and has unquestionably helped Tuscany retain its privileged place on the world wine map. It comes from the vineyards which surround Montepulciano, a picturesque hill town 25 miles (40km) southeast of Siena, southeastern Tuscany. Viticulture here dates back many centuries to Etruscan times. During the 15th century, the local wine was a favorite among the local Sienese aristocracy, and in the 16th century it was revered by Pope Paul III, who spoke of the wine’s excellent qualities. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was written about in the poem “Bacco in Toscana” (Bacchus in Tuscany) by Francesco Redi, who described it as “the king of all wines”, and the wine was also mentioned by renowned French writer Voltaire in his book Candide.

For a short while in the 19th century, the Montepulciano’s red wines went through a period of somnolence, and were often labeled as Chianti (this town is located within the Chianti Colli Senesi sub-zone). Fortunately, with the arrival of the DOC regulation in the 1960s, it regained its stature as a fine and noble wine, and received further dues in 1980 when it was awarded the DOCG classification. According to DOCG rules, to be labeled as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a wine must come from vineyards on the hills which surround Montepulciano. This area is made up of slopes reaching 820–1968ft (250–600m) in altitude, located between two rivers – the Ocria and the Chiana rivers.

The key grape variety grown here Sangiovese (known locally as Prugnolo Gentile), the same variety used to make another of Tuscany’s other great red wines, Brunello di Montalcino. Sangiovese grapes must make up at least 60–80 percent of the final wine, and may be complemented by Canaiolo (10–20 percent) and other local varieties permitted in the province of Siena, including the rare, violet-scented Mammolo (Sciacarello).

panoramaThe aging period for any Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a minimum of 24 months (36 months for the riserva wines) of which at least 12 months must be spent in oak barrels. Local winemakers long used large Italian botti, rather than the smaller French barriques, as barriques would bring an undesirable level of toasty, vanilla oak flavors to the wine. The larger botti have a lower surface area relative to the volume of wine they contain, meaning less oak flavor in the finished wine. Oak barrels are used here not so much for their flavor as for the slow, controlled maturation they provide. This tradition has now become enshrined in the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOC laws.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is usually maroon-red in color and takes on a subtle brick-orange tint over time. It is characterized by its dark cherry and rich plum aromas, ripe strawberry and cherry fruit flavors, and a gently tannic ‘tea-leaf’ finish. It is also known for its medium body, firm tannins, and for the acidity which makes it a particularly age-worthy wine (well-made examples improve gracefully over one or two decades). Some have described the wine as having the perfume of Chianti Classico’s with the richness of Brunello di Montalcino’s richness.

osteria conteMontepulciano also produces sweet, white Vin Santo di Montepulciano, and Rosso di Montepulciano – a dry red made in a more modern style, with fewer tradition-bound constraints.

Its time for dinner and we are escorted by the Count to the family owned Trattoria Osteria del Conte, where we have a 6 course dinner matched with 6 of the best wines from Contucci ..

Antipasto del Conte, followed by a Prima Piatti of Pici al Ragu, and a ravioli pasta melted with Pecorino, then a pork fillet with Tuscan lard, (amazing) then cheese, pecorino of course. I am sure there was more, but it may have been an additional starter. I was concentrating on the wines , all of which were superb. Definitely do the tasting offered at their cellars, they are all outstanding wines.

Thanks to Bruce White for sharing this wonderful experience! Read full story on Traveller’s Point

Montepulciano Blog
Il destination blog di Montepulciano, la tua esperienza da vivere e raccontare! Vogliamo raccontare un territorio unico come quello di Montepulciano attraverso il punto di vista di blogger appassionati, locali e internazionali, che possano offrire un punto di vista “glocale” e spalancare l’esperienza poliziana a tutto il mondo.

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