A guide to Nobile di Montepulciano: expert reviews and top picks from the 2021 vintage

Nobile di Montepulciano, Siena, Italia

Visiting Montepulciano is always an ineffable experience: admiring the perfect shape of the San Biagio temple against the backdrop of a pink sky at sunset, wandering through narrow alleys that lead to viewpoints overlooking Val di Chiana, and strolling through the picture-perfect Piazza Grande are just some of the things I never get tired of doing. So the annual Anteprima tasting is always a reminder that this town is a tourist hotspot even before being the cradle of the first DOCG wine in Italy. 

Beauty, however, has its downsides: it often incentivizes wine producers – and restaurant owners – to live vicariously instead of seeking superior quality. Put simply, Montepulciano has always been a source of solid and well-made wines yet Nobile doesn’t quite spark the same excitement among connoisseurs as Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. 

Understanding Nobile di Montepulciano

There are four main reasons why Nobile di Montepulciano lags a bit behind its competitors:

  • Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to Montepulciano every year, so many wineries in the area have always focused on hospitality or sales from their front door, making simple, universally pleasing wines that could appeal to tourists instead of getting out of their comfort zone and striving to get international recognition like their neighbors from Montalcino – a town with considerably lower tourist appeal – did over the last thirty years. 
  • Among the key denominations producing Sangiovese in Tuscany, Montepulciano has the coldest and most continental climate, benefiting from constant ventilation from the Apennine, which results in even lower average temperatures than Chianti Classico. This may be an advantage in times of global warming but used to be a problem in the past: growers in Montepulciano struggled to achieve full maturity with Sangiovese, and the tannins often proved very mighty – if not downright drying – in the early years of a Nobile’s life. In the age when big and creamy styles became fashionable, producers did everything they could to get rid of this redundant tannic heft. They started picking as late as possible, added Merlot to the blend, and made substantial use of toasted oak. As a result, the wines earned a reputation for being inkier, bolder, smoother, and earlier-drinking than Brunello or Chianti Classico.
  • While housing a good quantity of long-running producers, the town has always lacked big and commercially successful players who could stand for the appellation on a global scale. There is no equivalent in Montepulciano to Banfi in Montalcino or Antinori in Chianti Classico. And you won’t even find many boutique estates that could compete in the fine wine market with Biondi Santi, Soldera, Casanova di Neri, Montevertine, or Fontodi.
  • After giving up white grapes, the Consorzio Vino Nobile adopted a “disciplinare” (set of regulations) that still allows to add up to 30% grapes other than Sangiovese in the blend. Merlot is the second most planted variety and frequently features in vino Nobile. Have you ever noticed how dark some examples are? Well, Prugnolo Gentile, the predominant Sangiovese biotype in Montepulciano, usually contains more anthocyanin than other clones but when you see a vino Nobile with a glass-staining color, that is due to a generous proportion of Merlot in the blend rather than Prugnolo itself. 

The Silent Revolution of Nobile di Montepulciano

Luckily, the situation is slowly changing: unlike in many other Italian wine-growing areas, where individualism reigns supreme and winery owners spend a large portion of their time bickering, producers from Montepulciano are eager to sit together at a table and join forces to find common solutions to the challenges they all face. One of their greatest achievements in recent times was the development of a system of subzones called Pievi, corresponding to historical districts within the feudal territory of Montepulciano and aimed at emphasizing diversity within the appellation.

Besides originating from a specific area, the wine sporting a Pieve mention will also have to contain at least 85% Sangiovese and no international grapes at all.

We tasted some samples of Pievi wine that will hit the market as soon as Consorzio gets the final approval from the European Union, and the results exceeded expectations. The Nobile di Montepulciano Pieve aren’t just site-specific wines: they are more transparent, pure, and refined than most wines produced in Montepulciano until no

The 2021 vintage in a nutshell

Stylistically, the wines hitting the market this year are somewhere in between the purity and lightness of the Pievi and the richer, headier style of the past. Those from the 2021 vintage show some of the most transparent colors ever, also hinting at a good to very good vintage for Sangiovese.

  • Warm but balanced: Up to twenty years ago, 2021 would have been considered a warm vintage for Montepulciano but it wasn’t quite as scorching hot as the warmest ones of the last decade. Winter and spring were colder than average, leading to a late budbreak, and minimum temperatures remained relatively low until the end of April. July and August, instead, recorded above-average temperatures, with a noteworthy heat spike at the end of July, followed by another one in mid-August. September was also warmer than average but relatively low minimum temperatures favored diurnal swings, leading to a regular harvest – by global warming standards – between the end of September and the first week of October.
  • Water scarcity: Drought has been a recurring problem in recent years, and the 2021 vintage was no exception. According to leading Italian news outlet, Wine News, annual rainfalls in Montepulciano were 25% lower than the average for the past 20 years. “ The whole season was very dry – explained Andrea Natalini, the owner of Le Berne – by the end of August the plants were suffering from considerable hydric stress, so showers in September were a literal godsend. They transformed a challenging vintage into an exceptional one”.

In the end, the most talented producers made outstanding wines in 2021. On the other hand, tannin management continues to be a problem in Montepulciano – especially in the face of ever-drier summer months and shorter growing cycles. The least successful examples from this vintage display gritty tannins that outweigh the fruit. Over-oaked or overripe versions, instead, are fewer than in the past.

Late releases and Riserva 

The fact that the top three wines in the tasting report belong to previous vintages hinges on top producers’ usual decision to delay the release of their top-shelf wines. Tasting the top 2020s alongside the 2021s shows the two vintages were radically different, with the wines of the latter being charming, elegant and velvety – lovely to drink right now but perhaps less long-lived. 

As for the Riserva, some of the best wines from the appellation belong to this category but longer oak aging frequently dries out the mouthfeel, causing the tannins to taste even more astringent. So be selective when picking a Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva. 

Check out the full tasting report with a detailed explanation of the best Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from the latest vintages

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *