Potentially majestic and certainly noble red wine made exclusively in the township of Montepulciano 120 km/75 miles south east of Florence in the hills of Toscana in central Italy. It was one of the first four docgs conferred in 1980. Following a change to the DOCG regulations in 1999, the wine can now be made solely from Sangiovese, and must be at least 70 per cent Sangiovese, here called Prugnolo Gentile. Traditionally, producers would have blended in Canaiolo, Mammolo, Trebbiano, and even Gamay, but since the mid 1980s Sangiovese has come to the fore as the principal variety of Montepulciano.
The soil of the zone has a higher percentage of sand than the production zones of Chianti Classico or Brunello; the slopes, which face mainly east to south east, are planted at altitudes of 250 m to 600 m/2,000 ft, although the best wines undoubtedly come from the lower vineyards.
Vino Nobile has an illustrious history, having been lauded as a 'perfect wine' by the cellarmaster of Pope Paul III in 1549, by Francesco Redi in his 'Bacchus in Toscana' of 1685 (he called it 'the king of wines'), and by G. F. Neri in the late 18th century, who gave it the title 'noble'. The area planted rose rapidly after the introduction of the doc in 1966. Between 1970 and 1989, the total vineyard rose from less than 150 ha/370 acres to 760 ha; production rose from 8,000 hl/211,000 gal to 30,700 hl; and the number of producers bottling their own wine increased from seven or eight to 40. By the mid 2000s there were 820 ha of vineyard in the zone owned by 167 producers who account for an annual production of just under 34,000 hl.
The wine itself is rather fuller in body and more alcoholic than Chianti, reflecting its warmer production zone. It has so far not shown the aromatic finesse and elegance of the best Chianti or Brunello, possibly because of the lack of limestone in the soil, or because of Montepulciano's warmer evenings and nights. In recent years, producers such as Avignonesi and Poliziano have shown the potential that the zone undoubtedly has with Riserva wines such as Grandi Annate and Vigna Asinone, both of which contain some Cabernet. New oak has replaced large old casks in many cellars, and while an excess of oak is evident in some wines, this is balanced by a decrease in the number of oxidized or musty wines that spent far too long in old casks. Legally, the wine must be aged for two years (from January 1 following the vintage) in order to qualify as a Vino Nobile; for Riserva, this period is extended by a year. Despite these improvements, the wines have not been able to gain the prestige or fetch the prices of the better Chianti Classico Riservas and are undoubtedly the poor relation of Brunello di Montalcino.
In an attempt to mirror the success of Rosso di Montalcino, a DOC for Rosso di Montepulciano was created in 1989 for earlier-maturing wines but the total production is less than 5 per cent of that of its big brother.