Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG is one of Tuscany’s three most renowned Sangiovese-based red wine-only denominations, the others being Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano denomination was awarded DOC status on 12 July 1966, three years after the DOC concept became law in Italy. On the 1st 1980 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano became Italy’s first DOCG wine. The wine comes and takes its name from the commune of Montepulciano. This is located 38 miles (70km) south-east of Siena in the eponymous province in south-east Tuscany, bordering Umbria.
First Nobile: The first reference to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano occurs in the late 14th-century. The wine was bottled under Chianti Colli Senesi denomination until the 1960s it became a DOC in 1966 under Law 930 (one of the first ten DOCs in Italy). It was then upgraded to DOCG on 01st July 1980. The last revision of the DOCG rules came in November 2010 (see below for full details). Vino Nobile’s earlier released sibling is called Rosso di Montepulciano DOC.
The ‘Vino Nobile name Titus Livius mentioned wine being made here in his ‘History of Rome’, published 2,000 years ago. Use of the term ‘Vino Nobile’ is ascribed to 1549 when the cellar master to Pope Paul III (Farnese), Sante Lancerio, praised the wines from the Tuscan town of Montepulciano as “perfect whether in winter or in summer, perfumed, not aggressive or too deeply coloured, wine for gentlemen,” meaning as being fit for “noblemen” (no mention of gentle- or noble-women…). The famous Italian classical scholar and poet of the Florentine Renaissance, Poliziano, spoke of Vino Nobile. In 1685 Francesco Redi, using Bacchus as a mouthpiece wrote “pour the manna of Montepulciano…Montepulciano is king of all wines.”
Michele Manelli of the Salcheto winery told me (June 2019) that ‘in the 15th century the the Medici family bought a large piece of land in Abruzzo, near Sulmona, where they asked their people to make a quality wine “a la mode di Montepulciano”; this inspired locals to develop viticulture over time and it is probably the only connection between the two different areas, a kind of tribute to the great wine tradition of Montepulciano town. (The red wine grape called Montepulciano which is grown most notably in Abruzzo has no link with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG red wine or with the town of Montepulciano).
Another interpretation regarding the Nobile name suggests it derives from the Nobile family who lived in town of Montepulciano and left their name on buildings in town. The Nobile family’s land and vineyards were located all around the hill of Montepulciano, close to the town rather than spread far out into the countryside. Such proximity made it easier for the owner to check personally the quality of the wine, rather than rely on the workers as would have been the case if the vineyards had been more spread out and located further afield. The resulting high quality of the Nobile family’s wine may explain why their name became attached to Montepulciano.
In 1759 Voltaire praised Montepulciano in Candide. The use of the word Nobile is well documented in the books of Montepulciano’s cellars from 1829 or 1830. In his ‘Statistica Agraria’ della Val di Chiana, Libro Quarto (1830) Professor Giuseppe Giuly (a lecturer at the University of Siena and member of the Accademia Economico Agraria ‘I Georgofili’ in Florence) gives detailed descriptions of the grape varieties, vinification and ageing methods for Vino Nobile production, meaning Vino Nobile was already being used as a denomination distinct from Aleatico, Moscatello and so on.
An expense account dating from the late 18th-century details Giovan Filippo Neri, Governor of the Royal retreat of San Girolamo sending wine from Montepulciano and Vino Nibile as a gift for the removal of Suor Luisa Sisti to the Convento of S Petronilla in Siena: “to reimburse the cook of Casa Morscichi, Vino Nobile taken as a gift to the Conservatorio known as the Conventino…”.
At the 1870 Winemaking Exhibition of the Provinces of Siena and Grosseto participants included some Vino Nobile wines made by various wineries in Montepulciano. Increasing distinction was being made between Vino Nobile and other wines made in Montepulciano eg. andante or mediocre, comune or ordinary, scelto or selected. Vino Nobile began to denote a wine of higher quality.
In the contemporary period Vino Nobile has been eclipsed by its near neighbour, Montalcino of Brunello fame whose wines tend to be more powerful and more longer-lived, and have the advantage of only ever being made 100% from a single grape (Sangiovese), unilke Vino Nobile which requires only 85% Sangiovese and permits up to 15% other grapes (of which more, below).
The delimited DOCG production zone covers about 16,500 hectares, less than 2,000ha of which are vineyards. The DOCG rules delimit the production area to the communal boundaries of Montepulciano, allowing only vineyards between 250-600 metres (820-1,968 feet) above sea level, and mostly gentle slopes. This excludes the floor of the Valdichiana or Chiana valley (the southern Chiana valley), ‘whose broad basin opening east towards Umbria’s lake Trasimeno and protected by mountains on the west is warm but well ventilated,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p.198).
Vineyard area & wine production: 2018 9.22 thousand tonnes of grapes (more than three times the tonnage of Rosso di Montepulciano) from 1,250ha of vines (more than three times the vineyards of Rosso di Montepulciano). 78 estates were bottling Vino Nobile (representing over 90% of vineyards). 6.2 million bottles sold. The wine industry here as a whole had between 800 and 1,000 permanent workers plus around 1,000 seasonal workers. Winegrowing generated 65 million euros. | 2019 1,300 hectares of vineyards are registered for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG and about 550 hectares are registered for Rosso di Montepulciano DOC.
Soils: The area was under the sea until 2 million years ago, and then was pushed upwards out of the sea. This left layers of sediments of varying composition and geological origin. The soils are fairly homogenous sedimentary soils from the Pliocene and Pleisitocene, characterized by large lakes and rivers. Prof Attilio Scienza says ‘the soils have a lot of silt and a lot of sand [this sand and silt comes both from both freshwater lakes and from saline sea water.] What does this mean? That Sangiovese is generally more elegant, a little lighter, but it has this characteristic, in my opinion, of maintaining acidity and freshness well, because silt is a component of the soil that maintains acidity and therefore the wines generally differ from the others in elegance.’
The above-mentioned Michele Manelli of the Salcheto winery adds that the soil can become particularly rich in clay at higher altitudes (examples are at the Dei and Salcheto wineries), over 30%, which will bring out even more freshness or ‘minerality’ in the wines.
Climate: more continental and cooler (rarely rises above 28ºC) compared to Montalcino. 730mm annual rainfall. Foggier than Montalcino. Nearby Lake Trasimeno has an influence, moderating climatic conditions mainly through light irradiation mitigation.
Topography: hills surrounding the town of Montepulciano between Orcia and Chiana rivers; 250-600m asl. Vineyards on gradual, open slopes from 250m [820 feet] on the valley’s edge to about 600m [1,968 feet] around the town of Montepulciano,’ (Burton Anderson, 1990, p.198).
Montepulciano sub-zones: Abbadia di Montepulciano. | Acquaviva. | Argiano. | Ascianello. | Banditella. | Bossona. | Caggiole–see le Caggiole. | Canneto. | Casalte. | Cervognano. | Cetona. | Località La Ciarliana. | Civettaio. | Fontago. | Fonte al Giunco. | Fontecornino. | Fornace. | Graccianello. | Gracciano. | Il Greppo. | La Piaggia. | Le Caggiole. | Madonna della Querce. | Martiena. | Montepulciano Stazione. | Nottola. | Paterno. | Pianoia. | Pietrose. | Poggiano. | Salarco. | Salcheto. | Saltecchio. | San Savino. | Sanguineto. | Sant’Albino. | Santa Pia. | Stella di Valiano. | Tre Berte. | Valiano. | Via Cupa. | Vicroce. | Vignone.
Wine-growing and winemaking rules
Yields The maximum yield is 8 tons per hectare for Vino Nobile.
Ageing Wines must age and be bottled in the commune of Montepulciano. Wines must age 2 years from 01st January following the harvest in one of three ways:
- 24 months in wood, or
- 18 months in wood beginning before April 30 following the harvest, and 6 months in other ageing vessels (eg. cement tanks, stainless steel tanks), or
- 12 months in wood beginning before April 30 following the harvest, 6 months in other ageing vessels, 6 months in bottle.
- Riserva wines must age 36 months of which 6 months must be in bottle.
Vino Nobile wine style
Vino Nobile can be bottled as a 100% Sangiovese (called ‘Prugnolo Gentile’ here). The rules also allow 0-30% other red wine grapes authorised for the Tuscan region. These may be of Italian origin in the case of Canaiolo, members of the Colorino family, Mammolo (violet scented), and Malvasia Nera di Brindisi or of French origin in the case of Merlot and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon. The rules also allow up to 5% of white grapes, seeing as some rows of vines in older vinyards still have white wine varieties that were used to make Vin Santo or dry white wines for family consumption. Until the late 1990s a Vino Nobile made from 100% Sangiovese was not officially allowed, the then rules taking account of the fact local vineyards comprised a majority of Sangiovese but had been interplanted with other Tuscan grapes like Mammolo, the Colorino group and so on. The then law was respectful of the tradition here, which was that the vineyards were mixed.
Compared to Montalcino, analytical and phenolic ripeness are said to coincide more easily in Montepulciano due to colder winters and the shorter growing season, Montepulciano having no direct marine influence unlike Montalcino which is nearer the coast. Montepulciano’s colder winters also allow vines complete winter dormancy. The cooling influence of Lake Trasimeno plays only a minor role here (see above). Received wisdom says that Vino Nobile yields lighter, more elegant wines compared to Brunello, the wines maintain acidity and freshness, and are not over-burdened with either structure or power (the sandy element soil is more prevalent than clay). This is one reason why less new oak is [or should be] used here than in other Tuscan appellations.
‘In Montepulciano, sangiovese wines are always some of the hardest and most austere of all in central Italy, but the best examples are also characterized by wonderful freshness and lift,’ (Ian D’Agata, Vinous, Sept 2014).
Certified Biodynamic: Avignonesi.
Certified organic: Belvedere Colonna. | Croce di Febo. | Godiolo. | Il Cavalierino. | Il Conventino. | Il Molinaccio. | Manvi. | Massimo Romeo. | Podere della Bruciata. | Salcheto. | Tenuta Gracciano della Seta. | Valdipiatta.
No certification: Antico Colle. | Antinori. | Azienda Agricola Lombardo. | Barbanera. | Bindella. | Boscarelli. | Canneto. | Cantina Chiacchiera. | Cantina del Giusto. | Capoverso. | Carpineto. | Casa Vinicola Triacca. | Casale Daviddi. | Contucci. | Crociani (Montepulciano). | De’ Ricci. | Dei. | Ercolani. | Fanetti. | Fassati. | Fattoria del Cerro. | Fattoria della Talosa. | Fattoria di Paterno. | Fattoria La Braccesca. | Fattoria Santavenere. | Gattavecchi. | Icario. | Il Macchione. | La Ciarliana. | La Combàrbia. | Le Badelle. | Le Bertille. | Lunadoro. | Metinella. | Montemercurio. | Nottola. | Palazzo Vecchio. | Podere Casa al Vento. | Podere Casa Nova. | Podere Le Bèrne. | Poliziano. | Priorino. | Redi. | Tenuta Santagnese. | Tenuta Trerose. | Terra Antica. | Tiberini. | Vecchia Cantina di Montepulciano. | Villa S Anna.
Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Via San Donato, 21
I-53045 Montepulciano (SI), Italy
Tel+39 0578 757812
Ian D’Agata, Tuscany Part 1: Chianti, Vino Nobile and Supertuscans (Sep 2014) | Vinous