Heartland for classic reds from Sangiovese
By Michèle Shah
This Guide was last updated on 28 April 2011
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The area around Montalcino and Montepulciano produces some of Italy’s most elegant and expressive wines. Its history, traditions and culture extend to magnificent cities, medieval hilltop villages and countless hamlets scattered around a timeless countryside, which encompasses Italy’s heartland. Its picturesque farmhouses, castles and monasteries are very often home to some of the top wine estates, hotels and restaurants.
Marked by very diverse terrain and microclimates, Montalcino and Montepulciano offer a range of different styles of wine even within the same grape variety, the predominant red Sangiovese, which is the main variety in DOCG and DOC blends. Its name originates from the term sangue di Giove – the blood of the ancient god Jove – which gives an idea of the importance allocated to the variety and the wine. The town of Montalcino is dominated by its impressive medieval castle which dates back to 1361 and is still stands intact with its enclosure, based on a pentagonal plan with towers at the five angles. Montalcino produces Tuscany’s quintessential Sangiovese, made from 100% of the variety and considered one of the region’s most refined, age-worthy wines, showing distinct personality. Brunello is the name given to its localised clone of Sangiovese.
The town and the wines of Montepulciano rose to fame during the 15th century when Poliziano of Montepulciano, humanist and poet laureate to the court of Lorenzo dei Medici in Florence, recommended serving Montepulciano as the court wine. As a result it was given the accolade Vino Nobile.
The medieval hill town of Montepulciano in the southeast of Tuscany, about 30km east of Montalcino and located between Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana, has historically dominated the Chiana valley, while Montalcino, set high on its hilltop, is located some 40km south of Siena. On rolling hills clad with vines, olive trees and cypress trees, most vineyards in both areas are planted between 250m and 600m above sea level on soils which are mainly calcium carbonate (limestone) with clay and some sandstone.
The Mediterranean climate can yield harsh winters with snow-clad hilltops, and hot, quite arid, but breezy summers, with cool temperatures reaching both areas from the Tuscan coast. Temperatures in winter can drop to –6ºC and in summer gravitate to a high of 38ºC. The altitude and the diurnal temperature change in summer give the wine its elegant character.
To reach Montalcino or Montepulciano you can fly to either Rome or Florence. From there the best way to get to the area is by car. There is no direct bus or train service to either town so I would not recommend this means of transport. From Rome, take the A1 motorway in the direction of Florence to the Chiusi/Chianciano exit. For Montalcino proceed on the SS2 (Via Cassia) or for Montepulciano, take the N146 north. Depending on the traffic, this should take you between two and three hours for a distance of 200-220km. If you come from Florence, for Montalcino take the motorway from Firenze Certosa to Siena and then proceed south on the SS2 (Cassia) towards Buonconvento, where you take the SP45 to Montalcino. To reach Montepulciano from Florence, take the A1 Autostrada in the direction of Rome to the Chiusi/Chianciano exit and then continue as above. Depending on the traffic, the routes from Florence should take you about two hours, and is about 110km.
Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino
Piazza Cavour 8, 53024 Montalcino (SI)
Ass. Pro-Loco Montalcino (Montalcino Tourist Office)
Uff. Turistico Comunale, 53024 Montalcino (SI)
Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Piazza Grande 7, 53045 Montepulciano (SI)
La Strada del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Wine Road Tourist information)
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