In 1789, when Thomas Jefferson returned home from his station abroad in France, he could hardly imagine what lie in store for him. The United States was a nascent country and its fate hung in the balance. Mounting debts and a collapsing currency brought the country to a tipping point and Jefferson seized the moment. He invited Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to his home for an elegant and elaborate dinner. His hope was to broker a deal between the three men that would save the fledgling republic. What was the chosen wine for the evening? Vino Nobile!
Countless comparisons have been made between Vino Nobile and Brunello. Which is better? Are they equals? Which boasts the oldest history? I say simply, it does not matter. They are related only in so far as they come from towns that begin with the letter “M”. Yes, they both rely on Sangiovese. However, they are no more comparable than dark chocolate is to milk chocolate containing almonds or dried fruit! They are similar but it ends there. They are both original, storied and unique. So let’s move on.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
What then is Vino Nobile?
Although there are requirements for minimum alcohol and even proper altitudes for growing the grapes, the basics for wine to be labeled Vino Nobile are as follows:
- The wine must be at least 70% Prugnolo Gentile, which is the local clone of Sangiovese. The remaining 30% can be almost any other red grape such as Canaiolo, Colorino, Mammolo, Malvasia Nera, Cabernet or Merlot. Some producers are steadfast in terms of blending while others have embraced 100% Sangiovese for their wines.
- The wines must be aged a minimum of 2 years prior to release. 12 months is the minimum requirement for aging in barrel. Riserva must be aged an additional year.
- Originally established as a DOC in 1966, Vino Nobile was promoted to DOCG status in 1980.
Interestingly, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano suffers from a bit of a PR dilemma. For the less experienced wine drinker, the name often causes confusion with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the rustic southern Italian red. In that case, Montepulciano is the grape as opposed to the place.
To counter this, the Vino Nobile Consorzio has permitted the labeling of wines to drop the Montepulciano name and simply read: “Vino Nobile”. The success of this endeavor is yet to be measured. What’s curious, is the number of producers that have not dropped the name as you can see in the photos from this report.
I Vini di Nobile di Montepulciano
Tiny is as tiny does. When it comes to artisan producers, Il Molinaccio may have no competition. The current owners restored the estate’s villa which sits among oak trees, fruit orchards and the tiny 3 1/2 hectare vineyard. It’s as much a vacation destination as a winery and it offers an intimate setting in Montepulciano.
The 2016 Il Molinaccio “La Spinosa” is a full medium ruby and 100% Sangiovese. Bright cherry fruit on the nose is accented with smoke, powdery incense and fresh herbs. Medium bodied on the palate. This is more on the savory side. Juicy, slightly austere berry fruit is complimented by dried herbs and earthy notes. Tobacco and ash too. Soft, almost absent tannins make this approachable now. Vinified in stainless steel and then aged 15 months in French oak barrels. Nice value and also available directly from the winery. 88 points. Find this wine.
The Il Molinaccio cellars lie under the Villa which includes apartments for rent, a small restaurant, gardens and a pool.
Since 1972 the Talosa Estate has been owned by the Jacorossi family. A relative fledgling property by historical Tuscan standards, the Jacorossi’s now boast three generations working on the estate. The family farms 33 hectares of vineyards devoted mainly to Sangiovese in a Cru area of Montepulciano called Pietrose. Conversely, the main cellars of Talosa are located in the center of old Montepulciano. Above the catacombed passageways where barrels rest holding Vino Nobile, is a small taverna and enoteca.
The 2016 Talosa Vino Nobile is a deep garnet with crimson highlights. Deep cherry aromas with chestnut, spice and salume are very attractive. Deep cherry flavors with juicy sapidity, hints of tobacco, dusty spices and zippy acidity mark the medium to full bodied palate. I really like this. Good structure. The tannins are just a hint drying on the finish. However, I think that may resolve as this young wine ages and softens. This adds weight and body with more air. Really a wonderful Sangiovese and an amazing value. Vinified in stainless steel and then aged 2 years in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th passage tonneaux. About $18. 100% Sangiovese. 92 points. Find this wine.
Villa St. Anna boasts one of the most amazing gardens I have ever seen. The winery is run by Simona Fabroni and her two daughters; an all female endeavor which is becoming more prominent across Tuscany! The name of the winery comes from Simona’s Mother. Since taking over the winery, Simona has begun an evaluation across all levels. Vineyards are being replanted to higher density and aging barrels are being replaced. The stepping stones are being laid for future success.
The 2016 Villa St. Anna Vino Nobile is a medium ruby that you can see right through. Also shows some violet highlights too. The nose provides focused notes of tar, dried spices, dried floral notes and slight traces of red fruit. There’s little apparent freshness here. On the palate this takes austerity to another level. Dried herbs, light bodied and lean, slightly tart and angular. Very earthy (read: dirt) and not at all fruit driven. I can’t get excited here. Decanted 90 minutes, tasted twice with consistent notes. 83 points. 85% Sangiovese with the 15% balance to Mammolo, Colorino and Canaiolo. Find this wine.
One of the most notable names in Vino Nobile is Boscarelli. Ever since the Corradi family moved to Tuscany from Genoa in 1983, Boscarelli has been in their capable hands. Although small, the 14 hectare estate produces four distinctive levels of Vino Nobile which culminates in the single vineyard “Il Nocio” a perennial Tre-Bicchieri award winner. The last time I was together with Luca Corradi, we discussed the family’s passion for Nobile and their dedication to terroir.
“At Boscarelli, we never forget the link with tradition and the Etruscan roots of this particular place. The challenge is to give balance to the richness and complexity that this stunning territory expresses. Each year, we wait for the harvest with incredible excitement and anticipation and always hope we are able to infuse our wine with the fragrance and aromatic richness of our grapes.” The Boscarelli team has an ongoing consultancy with Maurizio Castelli.
The 2016 Boscarelli Vino Nobile is a lovely deep ruby color with violet highlights. Expressive nose of crushed cherry and fresh flowers. Now we’re talking! Beautiful flavors of crushed cherry, dusty spices, fresh herbs and juicy acidity. Turns slightly dry and astringent on the finish but I expect that’s simply the young tannins cutting the issue short. Give it a few years to mellow. This is so nice. 85% Sangiovese and 15% Canaiolo, Colorino and Mammolo. 93 points. Find this wine. As an aside, given the pandemic, Boscarelli is running some special offers direct to consumer. It’s worth checking out.
Poliziano traces its family roots back to Angelo Poliziano – the classical scholar and poet of the Florentine Renaissance. However, it was a mere 53 years ago, 1968 to be precise, that the first vintage of wine bearing the Poliziano name was released.
From 42 hectares of vineyards that sit at approximately 450 meters above sea level, Poliziano crafts its estate Vino Nobile. This estate Vino Nobile is a blend of 85% Sangiovese along with a 15% varietal mix that includes Canaiolo, Colorino and Merlot. The wine is aged 2/3 in barrique and tonneaux and 1/3 in large cask. The 2015 version of this wine was outstanding but the 2016 may be even better.
The 2016 Poliziano Vino Nobile is a brilliant, dark color. The nose is absolutely loaded with cherry, tobacco and dusty baking spices. Persistent. Medium to full body. A serious rosso with loads of cherry, tobacco, juicy acidity and a viscous plumpness to the fruit. Hint of cured olive on the finish. Great with my Pasta Boscaiola. A wonderful effort here for a “base” Vino Nobile. 85% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, Colorino and Merlot. 94 points. Find this wine.
The premium Cru of Poliziano needs no grand introduction. For me, it exemplifies the best that pure Sangiovese can attain from Montepulciano and re-set the bar in the 2015 vintage. Asinone is named after the vineyard that bears the same name and whose topography strikes an odd resemblance to a donkey’s back. First introduced as a Riserva in 1983, it quickly became obvious that the vineyard was special. Today the vineyard is approximately 12 hectares with vines that date back to 1963. In the best vintages, Asinone will be 100% Sangiovese.
The 2016 Poliziano Vino Nobile Asinone is spectacular and a worthy successor to the 2015. Obtained from 100% Sangiovese, the wine is a glorius, rich violet color. Loaded with crushed cherry, dark cigar tobacco and fresh flowers the aroma is nothing short of intoxicating. On the palate, this juicy red sings. Flavors of wild cherry, fresh fennel, lavender and espresso grinds are amazing. Long, juicy finish. I used a Coravin to draw 4-6 ounces for this report. I let the wine sit for 45 minutes in the glass before enjoying it with Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy”. An apt companion. I will revisit this wine before the end of this series. It may well be that a year or 2 could benefit this vintage for it to reach the heights of the 2015. But, I’m a buyer right now regardless. 95 points. Find this wine.
Tenuta Vallocaia was established in 1983 when Rudi Bindella discovers the property on a trip through Montepulciano. In 1986, a contemporary winery was built on sight and the adjacent olive groves and woodlands were purchased by the family. The first commercial harvest released by the family was the stunning 1985 vintage and immediately the Bindella’s were on the map.
Not resting on their laurels, the intermittent decades saw expanded production and the creation of new wines. In 2019, construction began on a new cellar, adjacent to the old one, which features a visitors terrace, tasting room and gardens. It was scheduled to open in the Spring of 2020. As of this writing there is no update on the debut.
The 2016 Vallocaia Vino Nobile Riserva is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino. The wine is a gorgeous deep garnet color clear through to the rim of the bowl. Fragrant! Blue flowers, crushed berries, new suede and cigar leaf penetrate the air around the glass. Wow!
On the palate the wine is concentrated and aristocratic. Wild cherry is joined by mineral laden salinity, toasted spices and bright fennel accents. Sapid, juicy and tannic, this is built for your cellar but it’s so enjoyable right now. Very, very impressive. The Riserva is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in a combination of French tonneaux and large cask for two years. One year of bottle aging follows before release. 96 points. Find this wine.
As with any Tuscan Vines feature there is always discussion around food. The wines on these pages are natural inhabitants of your dinner table. They are made to excel in that environment and enjoying proper food with family and friends enriches the experience. So what have we been eating?
Well, you can see cured meats and various cheeses in some of the photos thus far. Beyond that, we’ve relied on classic Tuscan dishes that are ubiquitous in the hill towns.
Parmigiano Reggiano is the king of cheese and superlative with hearty red wines like Vino Nobile. However, the aged Pecorino from Pienza should not be overlooked. In fact, that Pecorino may be even more dear than Reggiano depending upon its age.
Croce di Febo is a fully organic winery in Montepulciano. Owned by the Comitini family, the estate spans 35 hectares and includes meticulously appointed accommodations and a trattoria alongside its 4 small hectares of vineyards. The family’s philosophy is driven by tradition and progress. “We combine the knowledge of the past with modern know how to respect nature. In broad terms, this is our vision of winemaking.”
The family’s commitment to the environment is impressive. All of the winery’s energy is provided by solar panels, water is sparingly used and waste and rain water is caught and recycled for irrigation. No chemicals of any kind are employed in the vineyards.
The 2015 Croce di Febo Amore Mio Vino Nobile Riserva is a selection of the best grapes from the estate’s two vineyards. Certified Organic, the wine is 100% Sangiovese.
In the glass, it’s an impenetrable deep garnet color. Absolutely gorgeous! The aromas are wonderful straight from the bottle which was not decanted. Dark black fruit aromas mix with Tuscan herbs, cypress and tobacco. On the palate, the wine is massive in every way. Loads of crushed black cherry are accented with tobacco, grilled meat and baking spices. The fruit, tannins and acidity are very well balanced. This is amazing now with food but could really benefit from 5-8 years in the cellar. Aged two years in small barrels and then 18 months in bottle before release. A wine worth seeking out. 95 points. About $50. Find this wine.
Perspective. Studies in color. Here is another view of the Boscarelli from above. It’s like a sunburst. Yellow, Orange, Burnt Sienna, Ruby, Violet, Copper, Garnet…. It’s a color array that I’ll never tire of. It is quintessential Sangiovese.
In 1964 Alibrando Dei purchased land in the Bossona area near Montepulciano and planted his first grape vines. Shortly after that, in the early 1970s, he purchased the estate’s current Villa and the surrounding farmland. The Dei estate was born. Today, the estate is run by his daughter Caterina who has overseen the property for the past 20 years.
In recent years, the Dei’s have constructed a new winery which sits almost entirely underground. Constructed exclusively of travertine marble, it is burrowed seven meters below the earth and blends in with the natural landscape.
Dei’s vineyards are divided across the DOCG zone and sit at many differing altitudes. All the vineyards are treated organically. No chemicals are utilized and various cover crops are sown to balance the soils. Barley, clover, mustard and rapeseed are planted to give microbiological vitality. The Barley helps to naturally plough the soil, clover provides essential nitrogen, mustard provides drainage and rapeseed has a detoxifying effect, reducing levels of certain bacteria and funghi.
The 2016 Dei Vino Nobile Madonna della Querce is 100% Sangiovese and a premium Cru dedicated to Caterina Dei’s father who passed away in 2018. The grapes are sourced from a single, 1 hectare vineyard and total production is limited to about 1,800 bottles per year if produced. The 2015 was the inaugural vintage.
In the glass, the wine is a deep garnet color with violet reflections. We decanted the wine for about an hour and that clearly helped as the aromas were shy at first. Blossoming revealed bright crushed wild berry, blue flowers and chestnut. On the palate, the wine is juicy and fresh but largely structured. Flavors echo the nose with good concentration but the tannins are pronounced at the moment. This clearly needs some time to show its best. Vinified in stainless steel and then aged for 2 years in Slavonian oak and 1 year in bottle before release. 92 points. Unfortunately, not a particularly good value around $90. Find this wine.
In the 1960s Damo Anselmi purchased 3 hectares of land with the dream of making his own wine. Damo made his wine mostly for local consumption but after about 50 years, managed to secure another 7 hectares of land which comprises the estate today.
Legend says that where the Fortress of Montepulciano stands, there was once a Roman Temple of the God Mercury. Mercury, the God with winged sandals, delivered messages to the inhabitants of Olympus. “Mons Mercurius” now lends its name to our final entrant of Part 1, Montemercurio.
The 2016 Montemercurio Vino Nobile Messaggero is 100% Sangiovese. I did not decant the wine but did open it about 60 minutes before dinner. Pouring and playing with a few glasses of wine while I cooked was a revelation.
Messaggero is deep garnet in the glass with violet lasers of reflections. The penetrating aromas include crushed wild berry, black cherry, floral overtones, new leather and baking spices. It’s wonderful. On the palate, the crushed berry notes are intense, wild and juicy. The freshness abounds here. Tuscan herbs, flinty minerals and porcini add accents. The sapidity and balance here are commendable. This was an eye opening Nobile. 95 points. Great value! Find this wine.
The Post Mortem
As the title indicates, this is only Part 1 of this Report which will likely be 3-4 parts when all is said and done. So to recap, what have we learned from these wines?
Of the 10 tasted thus far, 6 of them were 100% Sangiovese and 4 of them were blends. One of the blends included a non-native grape. Despite the constant PR back and forth and willingness to compare Vino Nobile to Brunello, again I say it’s an exercise in folly. A more apt comparison might be to Gran Selezione which, despite relying heavily on Sangiovese, permits various blending grapes.
Scores in this report ranged from 83 to 96 with four of the wines 95+. In that range, I enjoyed wines that were both Sangiovese in purezza and wines that were blends. When the wine-making is good, the wines are equally good. The formula doesn’t matter. That being said, of the winemakers I spoke to regarding this report, the ones who choose to create blends do so out of tradition. Like their counterparts in Chianti Classico, they believe the heritage and tradition of Montepulciano rests in a blended wine.
Interestingly, many of these wines come from very, very small estates. What this means is that although importation may be minimal, you should be able to acquire the wines directly from the producers. In this current environment, that’s clearly worth exploring. They need the help!
With that, I’ll look forward to putting together Part 2 which should be released in the coming weeks.