When you think of the wines of central Tuscany, Chianti Classico and brunello di Montalcino — both based on the sangiovese grape — probably spring to mind. It’s likely you overlook another sangiovese-based wine, which comes from the picturesque hill town of Montepulciano: vino nobile di Montepulciano.
Vino nobile is less well known for several reasons. For one thing, the wine zone is smaller, encompassing only about 3,200 acres. And only about a dozen producers of vino nobile have good distribution in the United States.
But vino nobile di Montepulciano can be a relatively good buy. Many cost less than $30; there’s also an even less expensive wine from the area called rosso di Montepulciano. Compare that to brunellos, many of which cost $50 or more (sometimes a lot more).
There’s also some confusion about the name. Vino nobile di Montepulciano — made primarily from sangiovese, known locally as prugnolo gentile — sounds very similar to another Italian wine, montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a hearty red from Italy’s Adriatic coast that’s made from the montepulciano grape. For this reason, some producers in Montepulciano would like to see the wine’s official name shortened simply to “vino nobile.” But the bureaucracy moves slowly in Italy, so I don’t expect to see such a change anytime soon.
For a long time, I overlooked vino nobile, too. A lot of the wines used to be quite funky, the result of winemaking practices that weren’t very clean. You’ll still find some of that, but not in the wines from the best producers.
Virginie Saverys, a Belgian who has owned Avignonesi since 2009, recognized the problem with some of the area’s wines. She told me that’s one reason she hired Ashleigh Seymour to be part of the winemaking team. Seymour is Australian, and Australian winemakers have a reputation for their high level of technical training.
Small amounts of other grapes are permitted in vino nobile, but at Avignonesi, the wine has been 100 percent sangiovese since 2010. The 2012 Avignonesi Vino Nobile ($29) is a good example of a more modern, approachable vino nobile, with its lively red cherry fruit, hint of tobacco and fine tannins. There’s also a more expensive vino nobile called Grandi Annate that’s selected from the best vineyard parcels.
An affordable alternative to vino nobile is rosso di Montepulciano, although you don’t see much of it in stores here. Poliziano and Avignonesi both make good rossos.
Pick of the Week
Wild Horse Winery 2014 Pinot Noir ($18) Wild Horse is a dependable producer of really well-priced pinot noir. The 2014 edition is fresh and lively, with strawberry and cherry fruit, notes of baking spices and enough structure to stand up to food.