Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
As anyone who knows us would guess, one of our favorite things to do in Italy is to taste wine. Wine making on the Italian peninsula has it's origins, as does nearly everything, in the Roman and Etruscan civilizations. Romans created large scale wine production using techniques that were already 4,000 years old. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Church assumed the mantle of wine advocate due to the use of wine during the Catholic mass. Thus, a liniage of wine production nearly 7,000 years old continues until today. While wine is no longer aged in clay casks and the fermentation tanks have taken on a decidedly modern appearance, the alure of wine is as much in the history as it is in the flavors and techniques.
Tasting wine in the Cantina Contucci, where the cellars date back nearly a millenia, we met a charming old man, Adamo Pallecchi, the current celler master of this famous wine, who proudly led us through a tasting of the wines.
Contucci is unique among Vino Nobile producers in that they are the only family still producing wine in the town of Montepulciano itself. Each harvest the grapes are brought from their 450 acre farm just outside of town and delivered into the 900 year old cellar just off of the Piazza Grande in the center of town. The grapes are then crushed, fermented, aged and sold in these venerable cellars. Some believe that the age of the cellars contributes to the uniqeness of the Contucci wine and that is why the family is reluctant to move their operations outside of town as most other producers have.
The Cantina Contucci cellars sit below the Palazzo Contucci, which has housed popes and royalty since it was built in the 13th century. The palazzo houses amazing frescos and artifacts that would make most museums green with envy. The history of the family can be linked to the Medeci's and members of the Contucci family served the royal house as well as commanded the military. In the 1700's the family began accumulating accolades and awards for it's wine and, since that time, has been producing wine of the highest standards. The earliest mention of a Contucci family member producing wine is contained in a document dating from the year 1008!
Adamo poured our first tasting, a lovely Rosso di Montepulciano. This baby brother of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a lighter, more sip-friendly version of the heavy big brother. We moved through the various wines, Adamo teaching us about the methods used to produce each. We spoke about our families and after some time, and a few glasses of wine, we were all old friends. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, savored and spoken about.
Wines in Italy are labled with 3 different quality classifications; DO, DOC and DOCG, as well as 2 different qualifying terms; Classico and Riserva. DO, or Denominazione di Origine (designation of origin), is rarely used and wines labeled as such come from a large swath of land bearing the qualification. DOC is a much more comon label and means Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin). This indicates that a bottle of DOC Chianti, for example, is indeed produced in the actual region of Italy designated as the area where Chianti is produced. No other region may call their wines Chianti. The DOCG label - Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed) - is even more specific and indicates that a wine is both from a specific area and also produced in strict accordance with the law. DOCG wines are actually tested by the government to ensure their adherence to the highest standards. One further designation which was more recently introduced is the IGT classification (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) which is used to indicate the high quality of Super Tuscan wines that do not adhere to the DOC or DOCG standards.
Don't let these labels fool you, just because there is a DOCG seal on the cork does not mean it is a bottle you will enjoy. As with all wine, regardless of price, the ultimate decision to purchase has to be based on taste. I personally have tasted amazing bottles with no designation at all on them.
To be designated a Vino Nobile and get the DOCG label, the wine must be produced with a minimum of 70% Prugnolo Gentile, which is a Sangiovese varietel. A small amount of other grapes, primarily Canaiolo Nero are blended to create unique flavor profiles among the producers. The wine must be aged for 2 years in oak and 6 months in the bottle before being made available for purchase.
The result is my absolute favorite wine. Dry and tannic and garnet colored with hints of violets, currant and blackberry as well as black cherry and licorice. This wine demands to be paired with wild game, boar or roasted red meats. It is neither rustic nor civilized but much like the area it comes from, it sits squarely in the a space that is timeless.
As we finished our time with Adamo we realized that it had felt much more like a visit than a wine tasting. The musty coolness of the cellars, the laughing and attempts to make each other understood in our languages had been much more than a simple commercial transaction.
2 weeks after arriving home, our shipment of the Contucci Vino Nobile Riserva arrived. Each time we uncork a bottle we return to that tiny room at the back of the wine cellars and enjoy the memories.
When the Bella Toscana tour makes its way to Montepulciano we encourage our guests to seek out the Cantina Contucci and say hello to Adamo.