Montepulciano and fine quality wine: an indissoluble blend with deep roots in history.
This small area of south-east Tuscany is the birthplace of outstandingly prestigious wines. Its extraordinary wealth of artistic heritage and stunning landscape where the beauty of nature blends with the architecture of the town, unchanged since the 16th century, making this a truly blessed area.
Since its far-off origins Montepulciano’s history has been linked to wine, as demonstrated by a cylix (wine cup) decorated red figures, discovered with many bronze items in 1868 in an Etruscan tomb near the Tuscan town and produced in Chiusi. The cup depicts the image of Flufluns, the Etruscan version of Bacchus, the god of wine, playing with a maenad at cottabus, a game in which wine plays a leading role.
In his “Histories” (V,33), Livy describes how the Gauls were attracted to Italy for the wine from these hills which an Etruscan from Chiusi, named Arunte or Arrunte, had let them taste to convince them to cross the Alps enabling him to obtain revenge for his Locumone, over a question of jealousy.
The oldest documented reference to the wine of Montepulciano is from 789: the cleric Arnipert offered the church of San Silvestro or San Salvatore at Lanciniano on Mt Amiata, a plot of land cultivated with vineyards in the estate of the castle of Policiano. Later, Repetti mentions a document in 1350 (in his “Historical and Geographical dictionary of Tuscany”) which drew up the terms for trade and exportation of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
That the vineyards of Mons Pulitianus produced excellent wines has been documented since the late Middle Ages and in the mid-16th century Sante Lancerio, cellarman to Pope Paolo III Farnese, defined Montepulciano as “perfettissimo tanto il verno quanto la state odorifero, polputo, non agrestino, né carico di colore, sicchè è vino da Signori” - suitable for noble tables, although the earliest labels describe it as simply Rosso Scelto di Montepulciano.
From the Middle Ages to the 17th century, Francesco Redi - not only a doctor and naturalist but also a poet - praised this wine highly in his dithyrambic "Bacco in Toscana" of 1685. In this piece Redi imagines Bacchus and Ariadne praising the best wines of Tuscany and “Montepulciano d’ogni vino è Re”.
The poem met with great success and passed from one Royal court to another, at last falling into the hands of William III of England, Scotland and Ireland. Perhaps William’s preference for this wine is due to Redi himself and the fame his writings brought Tuscan wines. We have proof of this in the journey of an English delegation in 1669 to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to purchase Moscadello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano for the English court.
This wine’s history continues, surrounded by high praise, through to the 19th century with the success of some wineries in leading mid-century contests, but also a severe judgment from Her Majesty’s winemaker during the Vienna Exhibition of 1873 – he complained about the single example of Montepulciano present, which was so mediocre in quality as to question the significance of Redi’s commendations.
In the early 20th century Vino Nobile di Montepulciano seemed to be relegated to the past, until the first exhibition of typical local wines held in Siena in 1933, organized by the Ente Mostra-Mercato Nazionale for typical prestigious wines. On this occasion the Cantina Fanetti, which is among those still active in Montepulciano today, presented a prestigious red wine which was highly praised. Other wineries followed this example and in 1937 a cooperative winery was founded with the aim of creating a sales structure for wine produced also by small-scale growers. Most of the wine produced was Chianti, with small quantities of Nobile. However, today the cooperative mainly produces and bottles Vino Nobile.
The Sixties brought a reawakening in winegrowing geared principally towards the production of Vino Nobile rather than Chianti. State and EU funds used by the wineries to convert their vineyards into conformity with the requirements of the DOC (1966), enabled new wineries to enter the market.
Recognition of DOCG status came in 1980 and Vino Nobile began a new life. In addition to this, the Rosso di Montepulciano DOC was created to define the terms of yield per hectare, alcohol content and ageing, although the production zone remains the same. Individual producers were given the option to join one of these two DOCs according to the aspect of their land, the seasonal weather trend and all the other elements which may affect the suitability of the grapes used for the production of one or the other of these wines. Montepulciano’s glorious past and its links to the local terroir, its history and the Vino Nobile remain essential elements in order to guarantee present and future quality and authenticity to all that this “noble land” can yield.