Vino Nobile is at a cross road. Although it’s history is ancient, it has only recently focused on polishing the brand and increasing engagement through various media channels. This is commendable and important. In the “Post Mortem” section of my Part 1 Article, I drew particular attention to producers increasing quality and relying more heavily on Sangiovese. I think these are positive trends. However, what concerns me slightly is pricing. Though I am loathe to make comparisons to Brunello, in this case, the juxtaposition is apt. In light of the excellent 2015 and 2016 vintages, many producers have created single vineyard Vino Nobile and those have come at higher prices.
What’s exciting is that more and more producers are crafting excellent wines which are becoming increasingly available. With that, let’s start Part 2: Vino Nobile.
Since the 1700’s the Contucci family have been one of the founding members of Vino Nobile. The family farm lies outside Montepulciano and spans 170 hectares. However, only 21 hectares are devoted to vineyards. Sangiovese is the main planting. However, Canaiolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and other grapes are also cultivated. Contucci’s cellars lie directly underneath the center of town in the Piazza Grande. Here they have three stories for visitation and tastings.
The 2015 Contucci Vino Nobile is a lovely medium ruby color. The nose of the wine is so aromatic. It’s wildly floral, with cypress, lilac and lilies that are expansive. Further, crushed cherry notes mix with new suede. On the palate the wine is medium to full bodied with high toned, juicy wild cherry and mouthwatering sour cherry fruit. Tuscan herbs, chestnut and fennel add complexity. This is sapid, fresh and wonderful. What must the single vineyard be like? Drink now or hold 3-5 years. I absolutely love this. 94 points. Find this wine.
For this report, I had a chat with Andrea Contucci. He and his brother primarily drive the estate today. While his brother focuses more on production, Andrea is the marketing face of the winery.
TV: Ciao Andrea, in taking note of your decision to produce Vino Nobile as a blend by including Canaiolo and Colorino, why is that decision made as opposed to using 100% Sangiovese?
Andrea: Grazie Giovanni for this amazing coverage! We are the oldest family and the most historic winery in Montepulciano. Our mission is to produce high quality wines, which are linked to the great history of our city. The enhancement of the original version of Vino Nobile is an essential point of our winery, so the presence of other native vines is indispensable. They give the wine its uniqueness. The wines made from 100% Sangiovese, although good, do nothing more to improve Vino Nobile’s most unique essence and its true link to its centuries-old history.
TV: Another interesting issue for Nobile is the naming. When the Consorzio allowed producers to drop “Montepulciano” from the name of the wine to avoid confusion with Abruzzo, why do you think most producers have not done this?
Andrea: Yes it is, and the reasons are different. Certainly there is the attachment to the original name of the wine, even though we know it is a little too long. Secondly, there’s a desire not to abandon the connection with the territory of origin (Montepulciano) which is one of the strengths of our wine. Finally, the awareness that “Nobile”, despite being a beautiful name, is an adjective. Therefore, it is difficult to defend against any plagiarism or scams compared to the name “Montepulciano”. We believe that the inclusion of the term Toscana in the labels of all Montepulciano denominations will help to smooth out the confusion sometimes created by the Abruzzo wines.
TV: Do you think the ever lasting comparison to Brunello is warranted? I do not. I feel they’re both unique wines that bring different character to Sangiovese. I wonder what the genesis of this argument is? The notion that there is “one great expression of Sangiovese” is silly. Brunello can be great. Vino Nobile can be great. Wines from Chianti can be great. I can find examples of each wine being more or less expensive than the other type. So price really isn’t an issue. What do you think?
Andrea: I totally agree with you, I do not like to have the classic questions: “How come Vino Nobile can’t have the success of Brunello?” Or, “What is the difference between Nobile and Brunello?” As if these two wines were bound by a thin thread. This is not the case! They are both great wines which must have their own distinct identities. This is despite coming from geographically close areas with the basic vine in common.
Andrea: The history of Vino Nobile has nothing to do with the more recent one of Brunello. Montalcino’s commercial success began at the end of the 1970s thanks to Castello Banfi’s huge investments in communication, (especially in USA). If this had happened in Montepulciano, Chianti, or elsewhere, we would probably be telling another story. I know that Montepulciano is an extraordinary area for the cultivation of grapes and for the production of wines of the highest quality. It is no coincidence that the Etruscans planted vines here and not in Montalcino. Montepulciano and its producers are undertaking very important projects to improve the image and quality of wines. This will give Vino Nobile increased international recognition regardless of what our neighbors do.
The La Braccesca property is Antinori’s Montepulciano estate. With 340 hectares of vineyards and 510 hectares in total, it is one of Montepulciano’s largest estates. Antinori acquired the property in 1990 and rebuilt the underground cellars which house two separate areas for fermentation and aging.
The 2016 La Braccesca Vino Nobile Maggiarino is deep ruby to violet color. The deep nose is full of black plums and cherries with toasted spices and vanilla tones. Full bodied and forward on the palate with large scaled black fruits with hints of tobacco and baking spices. Slightly jammy. A round polished style that will have broad cross over appeal. 100% Sangiovese. (That surprises me a little) 92 points. Find this wine.
Avignonesi is a stalwart. An icon. Despite their long history, the estate has undergone a sort of rebirth with Virginie Saverys. In an article I wrote in 2018, I praised Saverys arrival at Avignonesi after roundly trashing the 2012 Grandi Annate. When she acquired Avignonesi, she immediately set about rebranding the winery with the motto “Terroir Speaks, We Listen“. Under her direction, Avignonesi has become certified organic and biodynamic. The wines have been returned to the glory that put Avignonesi on the map. Vineyards are well maintained, cellar management has been rethought; even wine blends have been improved. Forza!
The 2016 Avignonesi Vino Nobile Poggetto di Sopra is 100% Sangiovese and a beautiful deep ruby color. A bit shy on the nose at first but wild berries, spices, vanilla and tobacco emerge that are rather appealing. The palate is simply delicious! Viscous crushed cherry coat and sit on the mid-palate. Fresh, juicy fruit cascades thereafter bringing vanilla, pipe tobacco and, is that mint? Really great! Classically done and all at 13.5% alcohol. Bravo! 94 points. Find this wine
Progetto di Sopra is an alliance of six iconic producers: Avignonesi, Dei, Salcheto, Poliziano, La Braccesca and Boscarelli. These six winemakers coordinated their respective work to craft a 100% Sangiovese Vino Nobile from the historical clay soils of the area. 2015 was the first vintage of the project. Progetto di Sopra was fermented in stainless steel and then spent 24 months in oak. 75% of that treatment was 2nd passage barrique while the remaining 25% was large cask.
Want to learn about special projects and innovation? The desire to explore and craft? Enjoy this story.
Avignonesi has created what they call the “Celeste Project”. It is a confluence of amazing coincidence but frankly, it’s just freaking cool! One summer day, they took a backhoe and dug a 2 meter deep trench next to one of their oldest Sangiovese vineyards. What they found was bright, blue clay that the Italians call “Argila Celeste”. Hence, the “Celeste Project”. As I said, coincidentally Avignonesi employs an intern from Argentina named, wait for it…. Celeste!
From this clay, the team employed a skilled, local Potter to fashion an Amphora from this blue clay. Celeste, nursed the creation of the amphora and the team nurtured the eventual Sangiovese that went into it. The name of the wine? No, not Celeste. It’s a 2017 100% Sangiovese called Nabit Wall. Not Another Brick in The Wall. Because they can…..
The 2015 Contucci Vino Nobile Mulin Vecchio like it’s sibling above, is 80% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino and 10% Canaiolo. The main difference between the wines is that of location on the estate and the age of the vines. This is a single vineyard wine of 1 hectare whose vines are 25 years old at a minimum. It’s a true Cru that is only made in the finest vintages. In the last 20 years, that means only 8 times.
Deep violet in the glass, the wine is not quite as expressive on the nose as it’s younger brother. Crushed cherry is laced with leather, warmed clay and soft floral tones. It’s very attractive but provides a hint of the greater masculinity to come. On the palate, the wine is well structured, with juicy, ripe flavors of wild cherry, pulverized clay and worn leather. Hints of mushroom dot the finish. The tannins are firmly pronounced and while this was very enjoyable with the Salsicce and pancetta wrapped pork loin pictured, it needs 5 years at least to blossom further. I’m excited to try it again. 94 points and a great value around $32. Find this wine.
Cantina Salcheto is another producer making organic and biodynamic wines. Since 1997 the estate has been run by the Manelli family who purchased the farm and converted it from its sharecropping past to a premium wine destination. Sustainability is one of the Manelli’s driving forces. Their “off grid” winery is a technological wonder, yet remains environmentally efficient.
In Italian, Salco means Willow tree. Willows have ancient history in Tuscany as their branches were often used to bind vines. Salcheto is the name of the stream that creates the border of the family’s estate. Willows are cultivated on their estate and grace the label of their wines.
The 2016 Salcheto Vino Nobile is 100% Sangiovese. In the glass, the wine is a brilliant violet color with lovely reflections. The aromas spill forth with layers of crushed cherry, red and blue flowers, lavender, and Tuscan scrub. I love how expressive it is. In the mouth, the wine is juicy and vibrant. Sapid flavors of ripe berry are accented with dusty earth, brown tobacco leaf and spice notes. This is mouthwatering and delicious. Medium to full bodied, this is drinkable now but will surely last 3-5 years in your cellar. It is actually the “lowest” of four Vino Nobile that Salcheto produces. That’s not a knock. In fact, I think its positive testimony based on how pretty this is. Vinified in wood, then aged in a combination of large and small barrels for 18 months before 6 months bottle age. 92 points and a great value around $22. Find this wine.
Antonio Zaccheo is a masterful winemaker. Since joining essentially since birth, Zaccheo has helmed the winemaking at Carpineto. From the family’s estates in Chianti Classico, Montalcino and Montepulciano, Zaccheo is a master of Sangiovese. Today, he is intimately involved with the winemaking at Carpineto where his policies have led to increased sustainability and carbon neutrality.
Carpineto is unique. They are perhaps the only winery that doesn’t produce a Vino Nobile with a regular designation but instead, their base Nobile is a Riserva. They also produce two very distinctive single vineyard wines that I suggest you seek out.
The 2016 Carpineto Vino Nobile Riserva is a deep garnet in the glass with violet reflections. Wonderful aromas of crushed red fruits, flowers, rosemary and new leather are very attractive. Pretty, medium bodied crushed cherry on the palate is backed by tobacco, dusty clay and fennel flavors. 85% Sangiovese and 15% other red grapes. Aged 2 years in wood and a 3rd in bottle. Should cellar well for up to 10 years. A Cellar Sentinel? 90 points. Find this wine.
The next wine is another entry from Avignonesi and a further testament to how Virginie Saverys has returned this estate to glory. There are reviews on this website for the 2011 and 2013 versions of this wine but the 2016 is significantly better.
The 2016 Avignonesi Vino Nobile is 100% Sangiovese from organic grapes. It’s a pretty violet color with aromas of crushed cherry, lavender and toasted spice notes. On the palate, this is fresh, juicy and mouthwatering. Sweet medium bodied cherry fruit is nimble and lively. Tobacco, fennel and warmed soil complete the package. Easy drinking, but not simple. That isn’t easy to do and with the production level of this wine, it’s impressive. 190,000 bottles produced on average. 13.5% alcohol is also a nice benefit. Great value under $20. 92 points. Find this wine.
I debuted Tenuta Vallocaia in Part 1 of this coverage. Their “Vallocaia” was among the highest scoring wines in that report. Their Cru I Quadri is a completely different animal. While Vallocaia charmed early and often, I Quadri, which means “The Paintings” is built for the cellar. On night one, this was so tight, I re-corked it and stuck back in the cellar. On night two, it really blossomed.
The 2016 Tenuta Vallocaia Vino Nobile I Quadri is a deep violet color. Reluctant aromas of black cherry, eucalyptus and tobacco are coaxed from the glass. On the palate, the wine’s structure is massive. Walls of fruit and tannin are balanced well and accented with leather and cured meat notes. The acidity makes it approachable with food, but it needs 5+ years in the cellar to soften up. 100% Sangiovese. It’ll be interesting to taste this again down the line. 92 points. You can write to the winery directly to acquire or… Find this wine.
So what’s next for Vino Nobile? This installment was restricted to 8 wines given the Celeste Story and the mini-interview with Andrea Contucci. Of the 8 reviewed, 3 were blends and 5 were 100% Sangiovese. Although many producers are firm in their belief that Vino Nobile’s heritage is that of a blended wine, it is equally clear that many are embracing mono-varietal Sangiovese as the future.
As this publishes, I’ve already begun working on Vino Nobile Part 3 which will be out next month. There are more Cru and single vineyard wines coming and more wines from tiny estates that would be thrilled to ship direct to consumer. Help Italy!