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Vino Nobile di Montepulciano re-emphasizes terroir

bottle top of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Judging by the wines from the nine producers who visited Boston, Montepulciano winemakers have returned to native Tuscan blending grapes. DOCG rules permit up to 30 percent non-Sangiovese grapes in Vino Nobile. In truth, more than half the wines I tasted were more than 90 percent Sangiovese. And those producers blending in other grapes have largely stopped using Merlot. Instead, they opt for Canaiolo (which softens the acidity of Sangiovese), Colorino (which provides color and structure), and Mammolo (which gives a velvety violet note).

Since each producer presented three to five wines between the technical tasting and a dinner, my full tasting notes would be overkill here. Suffice it to say that Montepulciano superstars Boscarelli (poderiboscarelli.com), Dei (cantinedei.com), and Poliziano (www.carlettipoliziano.com)—along with Antinori-owned La Braccesca—continue to define modern Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Each presented a Rosso di Montepulciano with the spicy, fresh strawberry notes of young, unoaked Sangiovese, a voluptuous Vino Nobile with overtones of prunes and mulberries, and a muscular Riserva that added tobacco and leather notes to the full fruit.

But two less heralded producers surprised me with wines that showed greater fruit concentration and sharply defined flavor profiles that seemed to vault them into another category altogether.

Looking over Montemercurio vineyards to Montepulciano

Montemercurio fulfills founder’s vision

Operated by three young Anselmi brothers (aged 28, 30, and 33), Montemercurio (montemercurio.com) sits in the northern sector of the region. The aerial view above looks back toward town over the winery’s vineyards. It is the model of romantic Tuscan wine country. The first three hectares of vineyards were planted by grandfather Damo in the early 1960s, and they represent a field blend of mostly Sangiovese with some other Tuscan grapes (including a bit of Barbera). Another seven hectares have been added in the decades since, including some vineyards of white varietals for making Vin Santo.

Damo Anselmi passed on after the harvest in 2006. The family established the winery the following year and named its flagship wine after the founder. It is treated as an elite wine from the outset. The oldest vineyards are hand-picked, and destemmed and sorted by hand before being placed in small open vats for spontaneous fermentation. The skins remain for a minimum of 18 days to a maximum of 28 days, depending on the harvest. Racked off the skins, the wine is transferred to 1,000 liter Slavonian oak casks for two years. It is coarsely filtered but not clarified before bottling. It continues to age at least a year in bottle before release.

At about $50 per bottle, this wine is a steal. The nose explodes with intense blackberry and blackcurrant aromas and just a hint of violets. More full-bodied than many Sangiovese wines, it has a luscious structure with fully ripe tannins. Open early to let it breathe, and set out a plate of roast boar.

Starting last fall, Montemercurio also makes a stupendous olive oil—grassy and brassy with just a touch of bitterness like a good southern Spanish oil.

Salcheto sets sustainability benchmark

Those clouds lying on the dormant winter vineyards of Salcheto (salcheto.it) provide the blanket of moisture that the tuff-clay soil holds for the growing season. For the rest of the year, the climate is dry and well-ventilated. Salcheto adds no sulfites during vinification and the entire operation has been biodynamic since 2009. (It is not Demeter-certified, but is one of a dozen Montepulciano producers certified as organic.) Salcheto takes sustainability two important steps further. It generates all its own power for the winer, and recycles and manages its own water supply.

Salcheto is relatively young. It was founded in 1984 and produced its first wine in 1990. Since 2003, it has been consolidated under the multinational Lavinia corporation but is still operated by former owner Michele Manelli, who has made the wines since 1997. The capital injection helped create a strikingly elegant winery and turned the 13th century farmhouse on the estate into a nine-bedroom B&B.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Salco from SalchetoAll that is just window dressing. The real story is the wine. Salcheto’s basic red, a Rosso di Montepulciano called “Obvius,” is a big, brash young wine. It is saucy and tart and full of fruit. Salcheto boasts that it is made with fruit and nothing else—no added yeasts or even water. It’s fermented in steel and sold after months in the bottle. It shows what biodynamic farming can accomplish with the grape—and it commands a high price for Rosso, about $13.

Salco sets a high standard

Salcheto tends to over-ripen its Sangiovese, even partially drying part of the harvest. They don’t take the practice to an extreme, so the wines have none of the cooked grape caramel of Amarone, for example. But the flavors, sugars, and acidity are all concentrated in the Vino Nobile wines. My favorite is made with grapes selected from the Salco vineyard, which is planted in an early-ripening clone. (The vines are tied up with willow branches. “Salice” in Italian, the willow is “Salco” in the local dialect.) Listing around $35 but projecting a cellar life of 12-15 years, this is a must for any serious lover of Sangiovese. The nose is full of fresh herbs, mint, and wildflowers. The taste is full-bodied fruit with overtones of blueberries and black raspberries. The finish is smooth and elegant.

Reassessing rich reds of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vineyards surround hill town of Montepulciano in Tuscany
Less oak, more Sangiovese. In a nutshell, that’s the good news about the latest releases of Vino Nobile di Montepulchiano. Having just celebrated the 50th birthday of the D.O.C., the wine makers of Vino Nobile are converging toward a distinctive modern style. Nine leading producers visited Boston on a tour just ahead of ProWein in Dusseldorf and Vinitaly in Verona. Following on the heels of glowing coverage in Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, it was a chance for the small region to shine without the distraction of comparisons to Tuscany’s other major Sangiovese areas: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and even Morellino di Scansano.

Sangiovese grapes in Montepulciano in Tuscany
Traditionally known in the Montalcino area as Prugnolo Gentile, the Sangiovese grape is almost ideally suited to the clay and sandy soils of the hills around the beautiful medieval Tuscan city. (Montepulciano played a supporting role in the films Under the Tuscan Sun and The English Patient.) Typically planted in tiers following the contours of the slopes, the vineyards sit at 250 to 650 meters above sea level.

Montepulciano embraces Sangiovese roots


The Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (consorziovinonobile.it) has always permitted the addition of other grapes, including many minor white varieties once used to stretch the crop. And like so much of the world, Montepulciano embraced international varietals and new oak barrels in a big way in the 1980s. That trend has turned. In recent years, growers have embraced traditional red blending grapes (Canaiolo and Mammolo) in place of white varietals, and have replanted vineyards with more Sangiovese than ever. Slavonian oak is more prominent than French of American, and most producers use very little new oak.

“We finally realized that good Cabernet and good Merlot grow lots of places,” explained Silvia Loriga of the consortium. “But no one can grow Sangiovese like Montepulciano.”

(Photos courtesy Consorzio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano)

The Wine List

05

12 2016

Valori wines show strong organic backbone

Luigi Valori at Boston tasting
“When you grow completely organically,” says Luigi Valori of Azienda Valori in Abruzzo, “an interesting thing happens to the grapes. The skins become very thick.” That’s more than an obscure botanical fact. It completely changes the potential of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape.

Color, tannin, and polyphenols all dwell in the skins of red wine grapes. More of those things make up for the shortcomings of mass-produced wine. Like many Italian wines, the reputation of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo suffers from a tradition of overproduction. Wines can still meet DOC standards while being grown at weights up to 10 kilograms per vine. Since the grape has naturally sweet and soft tannins, overproduction creates wines that are soft, flabby and don’t age well. But properly grown with a limited yield and vinted with care for its peculiarities, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be an elegant, structured, and noble. It is one of my personal favorites.

Valori Sant'AngeloA former professional footballer for Ascoli Calcio, Valori is a botanist by training. His vineyards in the commune of Teramo in northern Abruzzo near the Marche border are certified 100 percent organic. He has been producing wine on the estate since 1996. His yield is aaround 1.5-2 kilograms of grapes per vine/ In keeping with organic regulations, he treats the vines only with copper and sulfur. But he notes that grapevines find the copper mildly toxic. They react to it by forming slightly smaller berries with much thicker walls. By growing organic grapes with skins packed with tannins and polyphenols, Valori gives himself a leg up in the quest to make a great wine from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

He was in Boston recently for an industry tasting of wines distributed by Masciarelli Wine Co. Masciarelli’s property in Abruzzo adjoins Valori’s vineyards. When the American branch of the family began their outstanding boutique distribution of fine wines, Valori was happy to sign on. He would rather grow grapes and make wine rather than make sales calls.

Valori keeps striving for an ever better synthesis of the vineyard and the winery. He speaks of the temperature gradient of the Teramo hills that sweep down to the Adriatic just 30 kilometers away. The wind flows down the hill, then it flows up the hill,” he says. That ventilation eases the job of the organic grower. Late in the growing season (Montepulciano ripens late), he prunes away leaves to expose the berries. “My goal is to grow perfect grapes.”

Taste of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo


Perfection is in the eye of the beholder—or the palate of the taster. Valori harvests entirely based on his subjective taste of the grapes. “You need all the science and stainless steel to make clean wine,” he says. “But you need the human senses to make great wine.”

I’d argue that he does that. His traditional Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is a bargain red with great fruit extraction and enough structure to stand up to light meats and most pastas. It’s about $10.

Valori calls his riserva Vigna Sant’Angelo. The grapes come from a 3-hectare plot of vines that are more than 50 years old. He macerates for an entire month for maximum extraction of color and polyphenols. (“The skins are almost white when it’s done,” he says.) The wine spends 18 months in new French oak barrique, where it undergoes a malolactic fermentation.

The result is one of the truly great Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at about $30 a bottle. With an almost inky color in the glass, it exudes dry dark fruits, tobacco, hints of vanilla—all complemented by a bright note of tart cherry.

29

09 2016