Three things were on my agenda when I planned my day in Tuscany wine towns before heading to Civitavecchia for a Mediterranean cruise. The first two were Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. The third: A fiancé to drive me around.
What do these three things have in common? They all focus around the famous wines of Italy’s Tuscany region.
Vino di Nobile de Montepulciano
The first wine on my agenda was the Vino di Nobile de Montepulciano wine. To experience this wine I had to go to Montepulciano the town. Montepulciano is one of the walled towns of Italy, meaning hundreds of years ago the city was worried about becoming under attack so they built high walls to keep unwelcome people out.
Today, those walls are part of Montepulciano’s allure to bring people in. The walls don’t remind me of their original purpose of attacks and warfare prevention. Instead, with the town’s narrow streets and high walls, shadows are cast across the pathways and gives parts of the town a cool, hushed atmosphere – making me feel as if I’m walking in one big wine cellar – albeit a unique one with an open ceiling.
In this big wine cellar that everyone else calls Montepulciano lives the Vino Nobile di Montepulaciano; a mouthful to say and a tannin-filled mouthful to taste. And there are plenty of places to taste it.
In case you’re wondering exactly what you’re going to be sipping, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made from a large percentage of Sangiovese grapes – at least 70% – and a lower percentage of Canaiolo Nero grapes. It has a well-rounded, heavy taste and is one of Italy’s oldest types of wine. A cheaper version of this wine is the lighter and fruitier Rosso di Montepulciano.
Many tasting rooms are available in the Montepulciano city walls, my favorite being Cantine Contucci, since its situated within the stone walls of a building adjacent to the Contucci palace. The tastings are offered on a walk-in basis and are free, but be prepared that there will be an expectation for you to buy.
Afterward, taking a walk around the dusky wine barrels in the cellar of Cantine Contucci is intriguing and is a reminder of the patience and romanticism of wine making.
Brunello di Montalcino
The bold, red Brunello di Montalcino wine was the second item on my agenda for visiting Tuscan wine towns. I’m a bit obsessed with this particular type of wine, I must admit. I fell in love with the art of wine making upon my first sip of Brunello di Montalcino – which was in the U.S. After that, I was determined to actually drink the wine in Montalcino.
The Brunello di Montalcino is actually a fairly new wine in terms of its popularity. In the 1500’s Montalcino was in limbo as it went from being under Florence’s rule to being conquered by Siena. That same century also saw the introduction of the first Brunello di Montalcino, though it wasn’t until after World War II that the popularity of the wine really took off.
Brunello di Montalcino is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes and the grapes must be grown in the surrounding area of Montalcino. And just like in Montepulciano, there is no shortage of places to drink the wine in Montalcino.
The Enoteca la Fortezza has a fun and unique atmosphere for wine tasting. It is located inside the walls of the town’s fortress with plenty of outdoor seating. You can do a flight of Brunello or a mixture of varietals. (pssst…go for the Brunello).
The Brunello flight will come with different vineyards and years. The 2004 is a famous year and I found it extremely interesting to taste the difference between it and the 2005.
As you’re sipping these wines, be careful to manage a possibly growing infatuation. I immediately wanted to buy up every vintage I tried, but…sigh…it is unfortunately not cheap – especially for an ‘04.
If your budget is like mine and you just can’t quite wrap your head around spending that much on more than one or two (ok, or three or four…as I explained to my fiance – when else can you buy Brunello di Montalcino in Montalcino) bottles of wine, you’re in luck.
Similar to Montepulciano, Montalcino’s famous wine has a more affordable version – the Rosso di Montalcino, which has a shorter aging process and despite being much cheaper than the Brunello, most people still find it very enjoyable to drink.
After Enoteca La Fortezza, head inside the walls of Montalcino. Yes, another walled city. Montalcino has wider, more open streets that lead to a vast courtyard area in the center of town, which gives it a much more lively feel compared to Montepulciano’s cozier atmosphere.
Getting to Tuscan Wineries
This is where the fiancé comes in. He was my chauffeur for the day in our barebones rental car. So how can you convince your significant other to become your personal chauffeur? By being a total light-weight when it comes to alcohol and being a supbar driver in your hometown (which will make said significant other really fear for his or her life if you drive in Italy). At least that’s what worked for me.
I also knew my fiancé would not over-indulge in the wine. Which is one of the most important aspects of traveling to Tuscan wine towns such as Montepulciano and Montalcino. Make sure you have a responsible driver. If too much wine drinking for everyone in your party is a concern, there are several limo and town car services you can rent for the day.
If driving is your choice for getting around, Siena or Florence are good starting points. Montepulciano is located in the south-east region of Tuscany, about 26 miles south of Siena and 70 miles south of Florence. Montalcino is located about 15-20 minutes west of Montepulciano.
Renting a car is the easiest way to get to Montepulciano and Montalcino from the big hubs of Tuscany.
Driving through the sunlit hills of Tuscany with the windows down and the scent of the earthy air filling the car is something I recommend everyone should do at least once. Sprinkle in a couple wine tastings and it’s a perfect Tuscany experience.