"The Noble Wine"
What's so "noble" about Vino Nobile di Montepulciano? The name, mostly. Although Frank Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia of Wine indicates that "The Noble Wine of Montepulciano" is so called because it was once reserved for the tables of the nobility of Montepulciano, a quaint and historic hilltop town of Southern Tuscany, I haven't been able to confirm this story from any other source.
Playing off the nobility theme, however, the Italian poet Francesco Redi gave the vintners of Montepulciano further bragging rights three centuries ago when he wrote, in his Bacchus in Tuscany, "Montepulciano d'ogni vini è il Re" ("Montepulciano is the king of all wines").
So what makes this hearty Italian red fit for a king? To be blunt about it, nothing in particular. What we have here is simply evidence that there's nothing new about the excesses of the marketplace. Sure, it's a perfectly good wine, and often a reasonable value. But it's only insignificantly different from its equally historic and just-as-enjoyable Tuscan neighbors, Brunello di Montalcino and the well-known Chianti. All three wines are made from similar grapes -- primarily local variants of Sangiovese called Prugnolo in Montepulciano and Brunello in Montalcino -- and follow similar winemaking procedures that vary in details important only to the most serious students of wine-related minutiae.
But let's not pick at the negative. Shorn of its kingly robes and trappings, Vino Nobile remains a robust, flavorful dry red that goes well with a variety of food and generally doesn't break the budget. Sort of like Chianti, come to think of it!
I recently tasted two good, current Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from two good makers -- Dei, a small family owned winery, and Fassati, a larger operation owned by the very large Fazi Battaglia -- and then turned the duet into a quartet by tasting also each maker's Rosso di Montepulciano, a sort of lighter, fruitier variation of Vino Nobile made with similar grapes but that spends less time aging in oak barrels before it's sold.
Fassati 1993 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($9.99)
Very dark ruby. Delicious spicy black-cherry aroma with a pleasant touch of something surprisingly like wintergreen. Full and ripe, juicy and tart; good, clean fruit flavors, consistent and long. Fine wine, exceptional value. U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. (March 31, 1998)
FOOD MATCH: Pan-grilled lamb chops with rosemary; the herbal notes make an exceptional marriage with the wine, while its cleansing acidity seems to "de-fat" the chops.
Dei 1994 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($14.99)
Clear garnet color with an orange glint. Pleasant spicy black-cherry and old-rose aromas lead into a full flavor of juicy black fruit, shoing good acidic structure over soft tannins. Very pleasant wine! U.S. importer: Vintner Select Inc., Cincinnati; a Marc de Grazia Selection. (March 28, 1998)
FOOD MATCH: Very good match with Italian-style pot roast braised with onions.
Fassati 1996 "Selciaia" Rosso di Montepulciano ($7.99)
Dark garnet in color. Very tasty chocolate and caramel aromas over spicy black fruit. Tart and juicy flavor, black fruit and a shake of fragrant pepper. Very fine, and like its bigger brother (above), a remarkable value. U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. (April 1, 1998)
FOOD MATCH: Acceptable match with a roast boneless turkey breast with an Asian marinade, but the wine's almost too hearty for the meat.
Dei 1996 Rosso di Montepulciano ($9.99)
Clear garnet. Lovely floral perfume; soft, juicy and simple, cherry fruit with lemon-squirt acidity to haold it in balance. Good quaff, good food wine. U.S. importer: Vintner Select Inc., Cincinnati; a Marc de Grazia Selection. (March 30, 1998)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with garlicky grilled chicken.
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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.||