There are two wines from Tuscany that most wine drinkers have tried or at least heard of: Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino.
But there’s also a third major wine from Tuscany that’s getting more and more presence on American wine menus as it becomes a bigger and bigger favorite among sommeliers — Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Vino Nobile, as it’s often referred to as, is now getting more of the attention it deserves, especially considering it really nails the trifecta of good Italian red wine: it’s made from the Sangiovese grape, it pairs excellently with food and, well, it’s from Tuscany!
Even though all three of these key wines from Tuscany are all made with the Sangiovese grape, winemakers typically prefer a clone (or strain) of Sangiovese called Prugnolo Gentile because it grows better in the heavy clay soil of the region.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is typically bone dry, medium to full-bodied with high-acid, and drinkers typically notice aromas and flavors of dark cherries, dried porcini mushrooms and roasted herbs.
Grown in the vineyards that surround the town of Montepulciano, the town sits in the heart of Tuscany on a limestone ridge.
Not only is the city known for this great varietal, but it’s also known for its fantastic food, including pork, cheese, lentils and dozens of different varieties of honey.
First noted in Italian history books as far back as the 14th century, back then Vino Nobile had a bit of an image problem.
The preferred wine of the time was called Chianti Colli Sensei and was, by and large, the favorite wine of the area, even though it’s virtually impossible to tell it apart from Vino Nobile.
But the wave of viticultural innovation that swept through Tuscany over the last few decades didn’t miss Montepulciano, however, and there have been some very positive results.
Essentially, less wine is being made with greater care, allowing for the unique characteristics of the local terroir, or environment, to shine — and that helps Vino Nobile thrive.
Vino Nobile, like most wine in major producing countries across the world, must follow very specific guidelines in order to be legally called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
The Italian government dictates that in order to be labeled Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the wine must be made from at least 60-80 percent Sangiovese, 10-20 percent Canaiolo Nero and up to 20 percent lesser grapes whose use is authorized in the Province of Siena.
Vino Nobile cannot include more than 10 percent white grapes, and the only aromatic grape allowed is Malvasia del Chianti.
The wine also must be stored in bottis, or large oak barrels, according to traditional custom for a minimum of two years — or three years in order to be labeled as a “reserve.”
When it comes to pairing Vino Nobile with food, it’s as versatile as pinot noir. Vino Nobile pairs nicely with meats, such as thick, grilled steaks as well as pork sausage, salami, and grilled or roasted lamb. Vino Nobile also does well with roasted mushrooms and polenta cheese. The favorite pairing in Tuscany is with “chingale,” or wild boar. And it is excellent!
Having just returned from a trip to Montepulciano over the holidays, I can confirm that the wine is getting better and better over the years, although pairing it with wild boar may be a little more difficult here in the U.S.! It is an easier wine to find in retailers, and I highly suggest you try this little known alternative for your next Italian wine tasting.