A Nobile Character

boscarellipaolalucaniccolo.jpgThe complaint of where to find true Tuscan sangiovese character in wines frequently comes up in this era of heavily oaked Tuscan sangiovese wines that are often blended beyond recognition by the addition of too much cabernet sauvignon. One answer may lie in Montepulciano and it is hard to imagine a more complex example than the extraordinary 2001 Vigna del Nocio from Poderi Boscarelli.

Vino Nobile may have a grand name, but it seemed the winemaking revolution that swept Tuscany in the 1970's overlooked Montepulciano. Some producers, notably Avignonesi and Poliziano tried to push the region forward, but the lack of an easily identifiable style of Vino Nobile and the loose regulations of the DOC meant that there were a lot of mediocre wines sold making the name far less "Nobile" in the eyes of many consumers.

There is also a lot of confusion caused by the name of Montepulciano and the wines of the Vino Nobile zone do not use any of the grapes from the vine of the same name. The montepulciano vine is responsible for some very good wines in Marche, Abruzzo and Puglia, but you won't find a drop of it in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. In the case of Tuscany, Montepulciano is a lovely hilltop medieval village located east of Montalcino near the border with Umbria. As in Montalcino, the unique characteristics of the sangiovese vine in this region inspired its own name and the Montepulciano branch of the sangiovese family is called prugnolo gentile. The DOCG regulations remain very loose here and still allow for up to 20% of other approved varieties and a maximum of 10% white varieties. Fortunately the regulations amended in 1999 also allow for 100% varietal sangiovese wines. Obviously there still can be a lot of variation in style even within these new regulations.

The concept that prugnolo gentile is "the sangiovese" of Montepulciano is another concept that is dying in the face of the ongoing refinement of clonal selection of sangiovese in central Italy. As vineyards are being replanted throughout Montalcino, Montepulciano and Chianti Classico the types of sangiovese vines selected are from clones that have been identified as providing certain characteristics and superior wine and more attention is devoted to these variables than to if the vine is "brunello" or "prugnolo gentile". Thus on a technical sheet for Vigna del Nocio they list the blend as "80% sangiovese/prugnolo gentile" as it is blend of various selected clones of sangiovese with prugnolo just being one of the clones in the mix. Banfi claims they identifed 650 "clones" of brunello when they started their research in Montalcino and from this it is clear that claiming wines are made from "brunello" or "prugnolo gentile" are no longer very precise statements. The fact of the matter is that all the top wines of the best zones are now increasingly being made from a selection of the finest clones of sangiovese available without regard to the zone of their birth.

While the big firms in Montepulciano have grabbed most of the spotlight, a small gem has continued to shine brightly since being founded by Paola Corradi in 1962. Poderi Boscarelli has always been dedicated to quality and produced some this region's best wines year after year. While traditional in style, they have introduced innovations that enhance the quality of their wines without giving up the character of their vineyards. The barrels used for Vigna del Nocio are 500 and 1,000 liters - not 225 liter barriques and the oak used is both Slovenian and French. The 15% of merlot in the blend fleshes out the lean character of the sangiovese without overwhelming it. The Vigna del Nocio is a must-have for serious collectors of sangiovese.