A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting Notes from Italy
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Every year, the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers (AIS – Italian Sommeliers Association) publishes its edition of Duemila Vini (“Two Thousand Wines”). One of the biggest and most respected compendiums of Italian wine, its closest Australian counterpart would be James Halliday’s or Jeremy Oliver’s annual handbooks.
To celebrate its annual launch of a new edition in Tuscany, a tasting is organised in Florence where all producers from the region who have been awarded 4 or 5 Grappoli (“Grapes”, but perhaps better understood as “Stars”) are invited to show their wines. This year 142 producers responded to the invitation, and the event, as is the case annually, was held in one of Florence’s oldest and most beautiful hotels.
Here then were showcased the best of Tuscany – from Chianti Classico to Brunello, to the IGTs made from predominantly international varieties in Bolgheri, and of course, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It was the last appellation that I chose to focus upon.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the descendant of centuries of winemaking tradition in the region. Montepulciano itself is said to be Etruscan in its origin, and artefacts thought to be wine goblets have been found dating back to these times. There are also documented references to Montepulciano wines as early as the 8th century, and the English court was said to enjoy Montepulciano wines in the 19th century.
Formalisation of the “formula” for Vino Nobile only occurred in the last century, with DOC status being accorded in 1966, and promotion to DOCG status in 1980. The appellation laws specify maximum yields, minimum aging times and grape varieties permitted. Today, Prugnolo Gentile (a clone of Sangiovese, cf Sangiovese Grosso) is the main varietal used, with smaller amounts of indigenous varieties (such as Canaiolo, Colorino and Mamolo) used, but with French (“International”) varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) also permitted. White grape varieties are no longer allowed.
Hence the appellation laws mirror that of Chianti Classico (to the north), and the similarities continue between the Chianti appellations and with Brunello di Montalcino (just to the west) – there are producers using more “traditional” methods (use of large old inert Slavonian oak butts, ambient yeasts, and authoctonous varieties) while others use a more “modern” approach (with the use of French oak barriques and French varietals).
Indeed, the wines of Brunello and Chianti Classico form the main competitors for Vino Nobie di Montepulciano, and my view was that producers were seeking to find a point of difference, setting the Vini Nobili apart, to produce “terroir wines”.
My own general impressions were that Brunello is a more robust and denser wine, with Vino Nobile being midway between a good Chianti Classico Riserva and Brunelo. My overall preference was for the more traditional style wines, which had weight, body and structure (indicating age-worthiness) but also enormous drinkability. They also tended to provide a vehicle for Sangiovese to be expressed.
Three final points before moving to my tasting notes (the high points are reflecive of the quality of the tasting). Most Nobile producers also produce a Rosso di Montepulciano, which, like the Rosso di Montalcino, can be excellent though less expensive. The area is especially well known for its Vin Santo (produced all over Tuscany also), to which I shall have to devote a whole article next year. Finally, most examples tasted were from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, both excellent, with the 2007s probably just shaded by the superb 2006s.
Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007
All Bindella’s Vini Nobili are fermented in steel tanks, with malolactic fermentation completed in tank before transfer to barrel. They also do a 3-4 day prefermentation soak, thus adding more acqueous extraction and therefore fruit aromas. Only the 50% of the I Quadri spends time in French barrels (6 months), the others are matured in large oak butts.
Red cherry fruit, fine dusty tannins, seamless palate, very gluggable! 17.5 pts
Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006
Similar fruit profile but with a greater elegance, and more complexity. 17.75 pts
Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “I Quadri” 2007
The oak elements were immediately evident, but well integrated into the wine, with more spicy notes in evidence. 17.75 pts
Canneto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006
An example of a more international style, this had 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet and Merlot combined. French oak barrels (500 litre size), a percentage of which were new, were employed (aging for 30 months). The wine showed good structure with firm, ripe tannins, but in my view was far too young for the degree of extraction. 17 pts
Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007
Excellent for their “base” Nobile – this is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino and 10% Canaiolo. Maturation in large oak butts for 24 months. Seamless, with a midweight palate. 17.75 pts
Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Pietra Rossa 2007
Spending an additional 6 months in large oak butts (ie 30 months in total) and from a “better” vineyard, this wine has the same blend of varieties. Softer and more persistent than its cousin above. 18 pts
Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006
Again, the grape blend is the same, but there is a percentage of smaller French oak barrels used, with an even longer aging process (36 months). The result is a wine of good structure, yet approachability, added spicy complexity, with all elements of fruit, acid and tannins in balance. 18.25 pts
Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007
A “traditional” producer, this “entry level” vino nobile managed to attain fresh, aromatic notes (without carbonic maceration) possibly due to the lift provided by the supporting cast of Canaiolo and/or Colorino (the website does not say). 17 pts
Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Bossona” Riserva 2006
This time 100% Sangiovese with 24 months aging in large Slavonian oak butts. Elegant, complex and long, with velvety tannins and spicy/violet notes. 18 pts
Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006
A blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino and 5% Mamolo, this is in a traditional style. Bright cherry fruit with ripe tannins and hints of roasted meat (the last flavour leads me to suggest it might go very well with roasted meat!) 17.75 pts
Nottola Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007
Again aging only large oak butts, but this time 10% Merlot added to the 80% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo. Lovely mouthfeel with soft tannins, good balance. 17.5 pts
Podere Le Bérne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007
A producer with an integrated approach – half modern, half traditional – with wild yeast fermentation in stainless steel and cement tanks, use of only indigenous varieties, but the employment of smaller French oak barrels (in the case of their Riserva below, all first pass). This was the only wine which I felt finished a little hot (alc 15%). 17 pts
Podere Le Bérne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006
The oak treatment added tannic structure and spice, but was harmonious with the wine’s core of dark and red fruits. Alc 14.5%. 17.75 pts
Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Asinone”2007
Indigenous grapes but new French oak, this is a serious wine. It displayed tannins of wonderful texture, cinnamon and clove aromas, deep dark fruit flavours, and exceptional length. Notwithstanding my previous comments about a general preference for minimal oak influence, this wine was so powerful and complete, it was my Nobile of the tasting. Will mature well into its second decade. 18.5 pts
Tenute Flolonari Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva “Torcalvano”2006
I thought the 10% Cabernet Sauvignon component and the (probably second pass) French oak tended to create a wine in which harsher tannins dominated, with the fruit muted and closed in the background. 16.75 pts
A final note on alcohol levels. All the wines tasted had alcohol levels of between 14 and 15%. Most were balanced so that the high alcohol levels did not overtly declare themselves as being out of balance. However, these levels will surely become an issue in the ever-increasing alcohol-level consciousness of consumers, especially in the UK. No more are high alcohol levels seen only in the New World. Global warming may play a part, as would the excellent ripe fruit from two good vintages. When will the now EU sanctioned methods of alcohol reduction come into play in southern European countries? Watch this space….
Ciao for now!