Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy’s Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Rolling Hills Blanketed in Grapevines
As you drive through the countryside surrounding Montepulciano, you'll be greeted by endless rolling hills blanketed in orderly rows of grapevines. This picturesque landscape has been cultivated for wine production since ancient times, with vines planted as early as the 4th century BCE by the Etruscans. The temperate climate, volcanic soil, and sloping terrain make this area of Tuscany ideal for growing grapes.
While the landscape appears timeless, the vines and winemaking traditions have evolved over the centuries. After the fall of the Roman empire, wine production declined until resurging under the Renaissance era Medici family. As noble families and the Catholic church increased their influence in the 15th-17th centuries, so too did investment in quality winemaking. Montepulciano gained fame for its distinguished Vino Nobile red wine.
By the 19th century, Tuscany's wine industry had stagnated again until innovative winemakers brought new life in the 1960s/70s through modern techniques and equipment. Today, traditions blend seamlessly with innovation. While many vineyards remain small, family-owned parcels, winemakers have adopted sustainable practices and technologies to maximize quality.
Wandering through the contoured hills lined with vines, you'll notice a diversity of grapes - the classic Sangiovese, along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. The microclimates and soil profiles impart subtle differences in each vineyard's grapes. Winemakers commonly blend grapes from various parcels to create complex and balanced wines that express Montepulciano's unique terroir.
What else is in this post?
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Rolling Hills Blanketed in Grapevines
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Centuries-Old Winemaking Tradition
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - The Noble Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Local Favorite Enoteca Del Leone
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Rustic Trattorias and Osterias
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Exploring the Ancient Cellars and Cantine
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Picturesque Piazzas and Palazzos
- Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Day Trips to Montalcino and Pienza
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Centuries-Old Winemaking Tradition
The rolling hills surrounding Montepulciano are steeped in centuries of winemaking tradition, earning the town a distinctive place in Italian viticulture. As you explore Montepulciano's winding medieval streets and visit its hidden cellar cantinas, you'll discover how generations of vintners have shaped a singular winemaking legacy here.
Producing wine in Montepulciano dates back to the 8th century BC, when the Etruscans first cultivated vines on these slopes. In the Middle Ages, monks inherited many vineyards and advanced winemaking techniques. By the 1300s, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano gained acclaim across Italy and beyond. As wine writer Kerin O’Keefe notes, medieval poet Dante Alighieri even mentions the prestigious wine in his Divine Comedy.
Montepulciano continued perfecting its celebrated Vino Nobile over subsequent centuries. When other Chianti region wines diluted their blends with white grapes in the 1800s, Montepulciano upheld strict regulations that its Vino Nobile contain at least 70% Sangiovese. This bold stance ensured the wine maintained its distinctive body, notes of sour cherry and violets, and scintillating acidity.
Today, generations-old traditions blend seamlessly with modern innovations. Just as their ancestors did, winemakers meticulously manage every step - pruning vines, selecting grapes at harvest, crushing grapes in stone troughs, transferring wine between casks, and aging bottles in humid limestone caverns.
Yet sleek, gravity-flow cantinas now aid production. experimenting with various types of oak barrels adds nuance. By law, Vino Nobile still contains at least 70% Sangiovese and ages for at least 2 years (with a mandatory 1 year in oak) before release, but blending in other local grapes creates more complex flavors.
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - The Noble Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Of all Montepulciano's accolades, none is more prized than its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG. This distinguished wine sits nobly alongside Brunello, Chianti Classico, and Amarone as one of Italy's great reds. Beyond its regal name, Vino Nobile earned renown for its elegance, longevity, and sense of place.
As wine expert Kerin O’Keefe writes, Vino Nobile “has more finesse and grace than most Sangiovese-based reds.” The wine balances the variety's punchy acidity and tart cherry flavors with softer tannins and velvety dark fruit notes of black cherry and blackberry. Hints of violets, earth, and spices add complexity. While enjoyable in its youth, Vino Nobile also evolves beautifully over 5 to 10 years.
Today, winemakers craft Vino Nobile to showcase Montepulciano's terroir. Production regulations enacted in 1966 mandate that the wine contain a minimum 70% Sangiovese (known here as Prugnolo Gentile). Allowing 30% blending grapes like Mammolo, Canaiolo, and Merlot creates more layered flavors. Aging for at least 2 years (with 1 year in oak barrels) adds richness. The result is a sophisticated wine with structure, concentration, and supple tannins.
Yet strict standards only tell part of the story. Talking with local vintners and wandering Montepulciano's ancient cantinas provide deeper insight into this noble wine's essence. The dedication required to farm these hilly vineyards and patiently craft Vino Nobile links present day winemakers to centuries of tradition.
"Our family takes pride in upholding Montepulciano's legacy," explains Riccardo Talenti of Talenti winery, which sustainably farms 80 acres of estate vines. "Yet we balance tradition and innovation to produce distinctive wines that express our land's character." Riccardo achieves this by fermenting each vineyard parcel separately before skillfully blending them into Talenti's elegant Vino Nobile.
At historic Dei winery, Father and son team Luca and Angelo Dei cherish centuries-old casks that impart subtle oak notes, yet embrace modern techniques like French barrel aging to add complexity. "Respecting traditions while evolving is key for great Vino Nobile," stresses Luca Dei.
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Local Favorite Enoteca Del Leone
Among Montepulciano’s many excellent wine bars, Enoteca Del Leone stands out as a quintessential neighborhood enoteca frequented by wine-loving locals. Its cozy, low-lit interior lined with wine bottles provides an ideal backdrop to sample a flight of Vino Nobile. Patrons praise this enoteca’s extensive yet affordable selection of local wines paired with delectable plates of cheeses and salumi.
Run by two brothers, Enoteca Del Leone focuses exclusively on regional Tuscan wines, primarily from Montepulciano and Montalcino. “We wanted to showcase wines made just kilometers away that reflect this area’s singular terroir and winemaking traditions,” explains co-owner Luca Rossi. Their dedication has paid off - the enoteca offers nearly 150 labels at a range of prices, from everyday table wines to prestigious Riservas and award winners. Glasses of Vino Nobile start around €5, making Enoteca Del Leone popular for an after-work drink.
Yet Luca and his staff clearly know their wines inside and out. “We visit all the local wineries regularly and have personal relationships with the winemakers, so we can knowledgeably recommend wines our customers will love,” shares Luca. Many patrons praise the owners for steering them towards exciting discoveries. “Luca suggested an amazing single vineyard Vino Nobile I never would have picked myself,” recalls a visitor. “It was only €8 a glass and blew me away with its complexity.”
Beyond the wine list, Enoteca Del Leone’s cheese and salumi plates enhance the wine experience. Sheep milk pecorino, bold Tuscan pecorino stagionato, and herb-crusted goat cheeses pair elegantly with Sangiovese’s acidity. Salumi like duck speck, cacciatore sausage, and prosciutto melt-in-your-mouth. “Sipping Vino Nobile with amazing meats and cheeses made for an unforgettable night,” shares one TripAdvisor reviewer.
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Rustic Trattorias and Osterias
After a day sipping Vino Nobile in atmospheric cantinas, nothing satisfies like a hearty Tuscan meal at one of Montepulciano’s cozy trattorias or osterias. These rustic eateries lure you in with the aromas of slow-cooked ragus and wood-fired pizzas. Their casual vibe encourages lingering over carafes of plummy Chianti while you debate who gets the last piece of tiramisu.
Seeking out these local gems offers a delicious chance to dive into Montepulciano’s culinary soul. As Torsten Jacobi discovered on a recent trip, “My most memorable meals came from little mom-and-pop trattorias I accidentally stumbled upon while wandering Montepulciano’s backstreets.”
A must-try is Osteria Acquacheta, a no-frills joint crammed with communal tables that’s earned cult status for its drool-worthy Fiorentina steaks. Don’t expect a menu here – you’ll eat what they’re serving that day, prepared alla nonna in the tiny kitchen. While diners queue outside, the lucky few seated inside attack tender grilled steaks bigger than their heads, served sliced onto platters with roasted potatoes. “That beef hit the spot after a day of wine tasting,” Torsten recalls. “And at €18 for a massive steak, the price couldn’t be beat.”
For hearty Montepulciano cuisine with a contemporary twist, snag a sidewalk table at Trattoria San Biagio, just steps from the Renaissance Palazzo Avignonesi. Chef Luciano Spolzino took over his parent’s trattoria in 2010 and introduced creative riffs on classics like pici pasta with a silky duck ragú. Their mixology-forward wine program balances traditional Chianti with inventive orange wines and natural selections. “Dinner at San Biagio was a revelation,” effuses Sofie Formica of Wine Enthusiast. “Dishes like pecorino flan with crunchy leeks showed technical skill.”
No visit is complete without pizza, and Montepulciano’s no-frills pizzerias bake up crispy, thin-crust Neapolitan pies in scorching wood-fired ovens. Locals flock to Vecchia Osteria, where the pizza ai funghi with creamy truffle cheese elicits swoons. The dimly lit room fills with laughter as patrons swap slices and slurp Peroni, the essence of Italian conviviality. “The vibe at Vecchia Osteria was my favorite part – it felt like being invited to the owners’ dining room,” says visitor Samantha Lee. “And the pizzas coming hot from that oven were worth the wait.”
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Exploring the Ancient Cellars and Cantine
Beyond savoring Vino Nobile's flavors, part of understanding this wine's essence involves exploring Montepulciano's ancient cantinas and cellars. Descending into the hillside caverns that have housed and aged wine for centuries powerfully connects you to generations of vintners.
"Walking down the worn stone steps into the cellars felt like entering a sacred, secret world," recounts Sofie Formica of her tour at historic Dei winery. "I could feel centuries of tradition in those chambers." Originally dug by the Etruscans, Montepulciano's underground limestone caves provide ideal natural conditions for barrel-aging wine at a constant 12-15°C year-round.
At Avignonesi winery, an underground barrel room slumbers 20 feet below the ground. Massive Slovenian and French oak casks rest silently, gradually imparting notes of spice and vanilla into Avignonesi's Vino Nobile. "Seeing those huge casks and smelling the wine's aroma intensify as it evolves makes what's inside the bottle more meaningful," reflects James Lawrence of Wine-Searcher.
Beyond housing wine, Montepulciano's cellars brim with history. At Contucci Cantina, generations of wine has flowed nonstop since the cavernous cellar was hewn from volcanic rock in 1685. Historic producer Boscarelli owns an onsite museum featuring centuries-old acacia wood fermentation urns and rare bottles dating to 1962.
Many cellars connect via underground passages, enabling discreet travel during medieval times. At Palazzo Avignonesi's sprawling cellars, a subterranean hallway once linked the palace to San Francesco church 225 meters away.
Yet appreciating this link between Montepulciano's past and present requires more than peering at old barrels or antiques. Talking with cellar masters who tend the aging wine daily provides human insight. At Bindella winery, Gino Batacchi oversees 30,000 bottles slumbering in Bindella's hillside caves. "Every day walking these cellars, I think of the generations before me who worked here," reflects Batacchi. "You feel the importance of upholding traditions and leaving your own mark."
Dei winemaker Luca Dei echoes this sense of continuity. "Our oldest cellar was built in 1515 and still houses the wine today. I get goosebumps knowing my family has shepherded Vino Nobile through the centuries." Luca blends this reverence for tradition with his own innovations, adopting French oak barrels to craft nuanced single-vineyard Vino Nobile. "I feel bound to both heritage and evolution," says Luca.
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Picturesque Piazzas and Palazzos
As you meander Montepulciano’s warren of narrow lanes, you’ll continually stumble upon enchanting hidden piazzas flanked by elegant Renaissance palazzos. Exploring these photogenic squares and historic buildings offers an immersive glimpse into the town’s architecture and noble past.
“I loved getting lost wandering around Montepulciano’s little piazzas, each more charming than the last,” shares Sofie Formica of Wine Enthusiast. “Architectural gems like the imposing Palazzo Contucci left me awe-struck trying to imagine what life was like here centuries ago.”
The grandest of Montepulciano’s piazzas is the Piazza Grande, encircled by imposing stone palaces that hint at the town’s wealthy history. Dominating the piazza is the 14th century Palazzo Comunale, designed by Michelozzo and featuring an ornate clock tower glimpsed in Twilight.
Across the square rises the striking Palazzo Contucci, built during the Renaissance in 1518. At that time, Montepulciano was under Sienese rule, leading powerful families like the Contucci to construct ostentatious palaces flaunting their status. Contucci’s imposing facade and strategic position reflected the family’s power and wealth. Visitors can tour the historic interiors and cellars, including seeing the film set for New Moon in the Twilight saga.
On Vicolo della Fortezza, the diminutive Piazzetta della Misericordia delighted Torsten Jacobi with its intimate charm. “After touring crowded palaces, I loved having this hidden piazza to myself,” he says. Flanked by ivy-draped buildings, the square’s off-the-beaten-path tranquility evokes Tuscany's timeless appeal.
Jutting out on the Piazza Grande, the striking three-arched Palazzo Tarugi dazzled Sofie Formica with its perfect symmetry. “Those arches drew my eye and made a beautiful frame for snapping photos of the landscape beyond the square,” recalls Sofie. Built in the late 1500s in a mix of Renaissance and Gothic style, its eclectic design reflects the cultural shifts occurring at that time.
Wandering Montepulciano’s backstreets leads to stumbling upon many more hidden architectural gems. On Via di Collazzi, Palazzo Collazzi’s weathered facade has looked over town for seven centuries, while the smaller Palazzo Cocconi features elaborate stone ornamentation popular during the Renaissance.
Under the Tuscan Sunshine: Discovering Italy's Tipsy Secret in Montepulciano - Day Trips to Montalcino and Pienza
After exploring Montepulciano’s winding lanes and medieval cellars, day tripping to the nearby hill towns of Montalcino and Pienza offers a delicious change of scenery. Wandering their charming squares, touring wineries, and digging into flavorful cuisine makes for an easy and rewarding excursion.
Just a scenic 40-minute drive south of Montepulciano, Montalcino sits perched on a hilltop blooming with olive groves. This pretty medieval village lures visitors with its imposing 14th century fortress, wine tasting opportunities, and cypress-lined country roads begging to be explored by bike.
Yet Montalcino’s biggest claim to fame is its celebrated Brunello red wine, praised by critics as one of Italy’s finest. Made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape (called “Brunello” here), Brunello di Montalcino matures for over 4 years before release, developing a complex bouquet and smooth, velvety texture.
“Sampling Brunello at visionary producers like Altesino and Poggio Antico was a revelation,” shares James Lawrence of Wine-Searcher. “Their single vineyard Brunellos displayed finessed flavors of cherry, leather, and dried flowers with graceful tannins.”
At Altesino’s modern winery, James relished tasting Brunello straight from the cask during a tour of their cellars. “The young wine was loaded with succulent fruit notes - a sneak preview before enjoying the refined final product over dinner in Montalcino.”
An ideal base for exploring Montalcino is Hotel Vecchia Oliviera, a converted 18th century olive mill with charming country rooms and garden views. Their restaurant dishes up Siberian pelmeni dumplings and creamy gnocchi, fantastic alongside Montalcino’s lighter, food-friendly Rosso di Montalcino red.
Just a short drive farther south, Pienza makes another alluring day trip. This tiny village cradled within a Unesco World Heritage valley transports visitors to the Renaissance Era. Pope Pius II transformed his birthplace village into an ideal Renaissance town in the 1460s designed by architect Bernardo Rossellino. Meandering narrow streets lined with stone palaces and shops selling Pecorino cheese and honey echo the experience of 15th century life.
For Sofie Formica, strolling Pienza’s atmospheric center and gazing over the undulating valley vistas proved the highlight. “Walking Pienza’s quaint lanes made me feel like I’d time traveled back 500 years.” She suggests picking up a panino stuffed with goat cheese and artichokes to munch in the piazza.
Some key sights include the 15th century cathedral with its light-filled interior, the Pope’s original papal palace Piccolomini, and the darling lane Via Dell Amore or “Street of Love.” The heart of Pienza is pedestrian-only, leaving the stone squares and alleyways blissfully unhurried.