Discovering Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

ListoesThe turning twisting roads of Montepulciano, Italy feel like home to me. It’s the same feeling when I ran through the doors after grade school, or came home for the weekend from University. It is a feeling that all is right with the world.

The difference is today this home is where the wine is.

This Italian hill town in southern Tuscany has charm in and out of the glass. The people are warm and welcoming. They give you a reason to come back.

twoglassesWhile my husband took a nap, I started my wine adventure at La Dolce Vita (where else?).

Like the tasting area at the SAQ and LCBO, they had a self-serve wine tasting contraption filled with regional choices. The owners give you a credit card and you start pouring.The wine of choice here is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – a lighter version of its big brother, Brunello from neighbouring Montalcino.  It is rich, fruity and as with all wines, the quality is all over the map ranging in price from 3 euros a bottle to 50 or more depending on the vintage.

salcoI started with 2007 Salco from Salcheto a producer I visited the last time I came here. Then I went with their recommendations – a 2009 Felsina Chianti Riserva and a 2009 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino. I bought two of them to savour later.

 

HaikuThere are the curiosities – such as Haiku by Castello di Amo which comes complete with…a haiku of course.

“Hazy Moon

Becoming tipsy, I’ve turned the colour of grapes”

by Toshiiki Bojo

Any notion of wine snobbery goes out the window here. People live and breathe wine, they’re all very knowledgeable and they love to share.

the squareIn the main square, which doubled as Volterra for fans of the Twilight series, is a cavern run by the Consortium of Vino Nobile Producers. You can sample any of the regions current releases,  and get suggestions if you’re looking to visit a winery for a tasting.

 

soilDaina, a sommelier by trade,  explained the different soils in the region – in the south the soil has more minerals, the middle – clay and the northern area sandy soil giving each distinct flavours.  She talked about how hard it is to be objective when you know the producers and they all work SO hard. And  she remarked on the growing number of women at the helm of wineries big and small. All while taking me through a tasting of three wines of my choosing for only six euros.

My wine adventure has begun with the best kinds of lessons that come in a glass.

And this is only day one 🙂

Where will your wine adventure take you?

 

Wine Labelicious

Cycles' Work of Label Art
Cycles Gladiator: A  Work of Label Art

Do you buy a wine based on the appeal of the label? For the longest time, I thought the more clever the label, the more likely the wine would be found lacking.  Remember Fat Bastard? The first time we bought a bottle, everyone just kept saying – 

Fat Bastard
Fat Bastard

“Can you pass the Fat Bastard?” No, we were not 12 at the time.

Then there was Girl’s Night Out, Cat’s Pee, Goats Do Roam, Zin Sin, Mad Housewife – the list goes on. The labels grabbed your attention – designed to appeal to the young wine consumers who buy with the eye.

It worked.

Fat Bastard and Australia’s Yellow Tail became marketing phenomena. They demystified wine – appealling to the consumer who found wine labels confusing and stuffy. While wine writers turned up their noses at Fat Bastard – the wine went from selling 2500 cases in 1997 to $35 million dollars a year by 2006. 

yellow tailThe success of Yellow Tail was even more remarkable. By 2009, Yellow Tail was the second bestselling wine in the U-S.

Their success had winemakers taking notice and triggered a trend of visually stunning labels on wine, often with a great taste to match.

Sine Qua Non Label Art
Sine Qua Non Label Art

 While most of the Old World wines hung on to tradition, the New World embraced the art of the label and reveled in flouting the old ways.  Their labels are works of art that reveal the personality and the story behind the wine. The appeal can be strictly visual or it can strike a chord that you can relate to. I confess.  I have bought Wit’s End, The Procrastinator and Writer’s Block wines.

The Procrastinator
The Procrastinator

 

Toronto writer Tanya Scholes compiled some of the greatest labels in her book The Art and Design of Contemporary Wine Labels. It is a fascinating compilation of gorgeous, clever, irreverent labels and the philosophy behind them. She says more and more winemakers are using their labels as a canvas – designed to catch the eye in a sea of competition.  But they  also offer extra details about the history and philosophy of the wine or the winemaker without sounding pretentious. 

The Dreamer
The Dreamer

The focus on the label is also aimed at making it memorable. If you loved the wine, you’ll remember that stand-out label.  It can also backfire. If the wine did not make the grade, that consumer will remember which bottle NOT to buy.   It is still about what’s inside the bottle. Whether it is a cheap and cheerful Yellow Tail for the consumer who knows exactly what he’s getting for $10 a bottle, or a complex superstar that sells for a small fortune.red zepplin

 

 

ladybug“A good label engages a consumer before the wine is tasted; a great one seems at home on its chosen bottle and lingers in the mind long after the bottle is empty,” Martin Malivoire of Malivoire Wine Company maker of Ladybug Rose told Scholes.

While Californians and Australians are at the forefront of label art – some Canadian producers are catching up with their own outstanding labels. 

 

 

Okanagan's Blasted Church
Okanagan’s Blasted Church

BC’s irreverent Blasted Church Vineyards tells the story of a local effort to relocate a church.

The Organ Caper
The Organ Caper

Organized Crime on the Beamsville Bench immortalizes a stolen organ that polarized two Mennonite communities in the 1900’s.

 

Award-winning Megalomaniac
Award-winning Megalomaniac

And one of my personal favorites: Megalomaniac Wines with its punchy graphic labels on its Sonofabitch Pinot Noir, My Way Chardonnay, Coldhearted Cab Franc and the Narcissist Riesling label that took top honours  at an international competition in 2007.

 

 

There are so many other great ones featured in Scholes’ book.

The Playful Mollydooker Label
The Playful Mollydooker Label
Bonny-Doon-Vineyard-Le-Cigare-Volant-2006-Label
The Genius of Bonny Doon

Mollydooker which I freely admit I bought for the label, but it was the taste that sent me back for more.

Boony Doon Vineyards‘ Le Cigar Volant with its design of a flying Cigar (UFO) over a vineyard.

 And Salcheto, the winery in Montepulciano, Italy that changes its label on its Salco wine each year – from prize winning photos, to designs highlighting some of the greatest drummers of all time.

The Drummer Series by Salcheto
The Drummer Series by Salcheto

So the next time you pick up a bottle – know that the eye-catching label on the outside may be ever bit as fascinating and memorable as what’s on the inside.

 Send us a picture of your favourite label.

 

The Best Day Ever

There are days that are circled on your personal calendar of life followed by five stars. Today has been one of those days.

The Salcheto Vineyard

We started out by visiting Salcheto, one of my favourite wineries in Tuscany. The vines, heavy with ripe fruit, are ready for picking. Three years ago when we came to Cortona with friends for a birthday celebration, we were introduced to Salcheto, producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Salcheto’s Vertical Garden

 

It was one of highlights  of a week. And we stayed in touch with the director of hospitality, Ettore (Italian version of Hector) even when the winery was operating out of the back of a restaurant while the main facility was being turned into an ecological marvel.  Ettore gave us a tour and orchestrated a tasting of their outstanding wines over a Tuscan brunch.

The lunch of homemade pasta e fagioli and a plate  of Tuscan meats and cheeses was spectacular, the wine even more so.

My husband Steve at the Mozart Vineyard

Next stop about 35 km from Montepulciano was a winery known for its music.  Il Paradiso Di Frassina believes music will influence the growth of the vines. So it plays Mozart in the vineyard, 24 hours a day. This relatively small operation is in the heart of Brunello country – a region so beautiful that everywhere you look, is a photograph worthy of framing.Returning to Montepulciano, a 16th century hilltop town, we wandered down the side streets steep enough to give your calves a serious workout. We poked around the little shops, including my favourite, Fantamagoria where all the jewelry is handcrafted by the owner. I found a necklace that will make me smile and think of this day every time I wear it.

Then it is wine with a view.   Lucevan e Stelle, a little bar-restaurant at the top of the hill at magic hour.  the outdoor terrace overlooks the valley. Kristian and Luca, attentive, informative, knowledgable to a fault, suggest their favourites from their wall of wine. Each has the  price to order by the bottle, or for 20% less, to take home (which made one of my traveling companions wonder why the mark up has to be so much in restaurants in Canada – GOOD QUESTION! Two visits – 6 bottles. Seems about right.

Guilio – Owner of Osteria Acquachetta

Our day of days,  ended with dinner  at Osteria Acquachetta, a little hole in the wall with a big reputation. It’s the kind of place that represents everything that is best about dining in Italy. It’s loud. Its crowded. The owner and server have personality galore! Anina who is seven months pregnant, greets us like we are old friends.Guilio the owner, armed with a cleaver and eyebrows that stretch halfway up his forehead, deftly navigates the tables loaded down by slabs of beef. The food and wine just keep coming. Each dish is better than the last. The house wine, an excellent a Rosso di  Montalcino cost  6 euros a litre. That’s right. Less than $7.50 a LITRE.

What made this day so special, was getting to share all of this with my husband and with some of my dearest friends.

So when I will have one of those days that feels far too long, and couldn’t end soon enough, I will look back on this one, and know that whatever is going on, I have been truly blessed.