It amazes me how few readers of these diatribes respond to the array of facts –– or fictions –– that are written here each week. I feel like the high school geometry teacher who asks after a long lecture, “Any questions?” and no hands go into the air.
The assumption is that everything has been explained so well that there cannot be any questions. The reality is probably nowhere near that circumstance.
Wine, particularly the European-based products, can be a mind-blowing array of cultures, history and laws. Sometimes the agricultural aspects do not even enter into the discussion. It’s all about what happened back in the Middle Ages or what laws were passed in the 1800s or who really owns the land or even the result of failed land-grabs or migrations.
Often I feel like the guy who returns from France noting with amazement that even 2-year-olds speak French, and he can’t utter a single word correctly in that language. At other times, I feel like the above-mentioned high school geometry teacher who delivers the information but to deaf ears and distracted minds that can’t assimilate the news.
Possibly a good place to demonstrate this disconnect is the picturesque Tuscan town of Montepulciano, in the heart of Italy and up on a plateau. Montepulciano, which dates back to Etruscan times and fully participated in the cultural Renaissance during the 16th century, is surrounded by pretty countryside, planted with precious grapevines, mostly of the red variety.
Not too far away to the east is a region, this one near the Adriatic, known as Abruzzo. An ancient area, Abruzzo boasts a diverse agricultural and tourism economy.
And because both places are very, very Italian and because the Italian DNA possesses a grape-growing genome, Abruzzo and Montepulciano both grow some lovely grapes.
The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is composed of a strain of sangiovese grape named Montepulciano. Simple enough.
The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, around the town of Montepulciano, is primarily composed of another offshoot of the sangiovese grape known in this area as prugnolo gentile. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano contains not a drop of the Montepulciano grape.
To further muddy matters, the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape, according to legend, came later after Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was being crafted, brought from Tuscany by migrating farmers.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is held in higher esteem in the wine world over Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but that does not necessarily mean that the Vino Nobile is always better. Most of the time, it is a deeper and richer wine. And it is always more expensive. We are dealing with an agricultural product here, however, and what nature may generously deliver in one place it may deny in another, even a short distance away. Keep in mind our summer thunderstorms when they dump loads of rain in one part of town, skipping another area entirely.
It is at this point in the lecture that the professor asks if there are any questions, and in return he receives a truckload of blank stares. “Good, then you all understand.”
Still, if you are seeking an incredible Italian wine experience, you usually can depend on Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to deliver. There are bold black cherry aromas, as well as on the palate. Sometimes you will have a bit of a caramel taste in mid-palate, coupled with anise, and a wonderful earthy quality so many Italian wines share in common. The acidity in these wines means they are right for a wide range of foods, from pasta marinara to wild game, such as duck.
The making of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is highly regulated by laws and edicts, requiring that prugnolo gentile be the dominant grape, at least 70 percent of volume, but also allowing the blending of up to 20 percent with canaiolo nero and mammolo. The wines are aged a minimum of two years in oak and then must spend at least three months in the bottle in the winery. If the wine is to be considered a Riserva then it must be three years in oak barrels and a minimum of six months in the bottle in the winery.
Most winemakers exceed those requirements as they, the winemakers, will not release their wines until they, the winemakers, are satisfied that they, the wines, are ready. That being said, these wines have a long life, usually at least 10 years, and although they can be enjoyed upon release, it is better to allow them to lay for a number of years as they develop the amazing fragrances and structures that all great wines possess.
Upon opening, I would suggest decanting and a slow tasting process to allow these beautiful liquids to blossom and show you all they have to exhibit.
One of the more interesting Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines I have encountered in a long time comes from Crociani and is exclusively available at The Bistro at Maison de Ville. Yes, that does sound like an odd pairing because chef Greg Picolo is not exactly known for his plates of Italian specialty dishes.
The owners of the Bistro, Jaydine and Michael Maimone, are personal friends with the Crociani family and have fallen in love with the wines from that house. Every drop of Crociani wine in New Orleans is at the Bistro. You can also try a splendid Rosso di Montepulciano, a Grappa and a Vin Santo from Crociani, all at the Bistro and all from Crociani.
Crociani carries the designation, Azienda Agricola, which means that not only do they grow and make the wines, but they also have visitor accommodations on-site. This is when it really gets fun, when you are immersed in the culture and the product, staying on the property and enjoying the cuisine as well as the friendship. Given the beauty of the area, this is a winning combination.
Let me further suggest, if you have an interest in the wines from Montepulciano –– or from anywhere else in Italy –– that you visit Beth and Kerri over at Swirl wine shop and bar, 3143 Ponce de Leon, just off Esplanade in Mid-City (Faubourg St. John), near the back entrance of the Fair Grounds.
No one in town has the passion or the knowledge that the folks at Swirl have for Italian wines and heritage. They can answer your questions and help you find the products you desire.
OK, so maybe you did not even have enough information to ask a question. Fair enough. But now you have more information and even places to go for further enjoyment. Learning can be fun, particularly when it is accompanied by good beverages. I did not learn that in school.
The Wine Show with Tim McNally airs every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.