Exploring Tuscany’s Wine Towns

Italy, Tours & Attractions — By on March 15, 2012 at 8:40 am
Cantine ContucciBy Gina Douglas
Special to Lost Girls 

One reason I love when my parents visit  is the yummy nights out they treat me to at delicious gourmet restaurants. So when my mom arrives in town for a visit, I am quick to suggest a trip to a popular Italian restaurant in San Diego. My mom is a quarter Italian, but you’d think she was 100% the way she is obsessed with all things Italian and she immediately agrees to my recommendation.

We get to the restaurant and sit down and my mom instantly notices the Brunello di Montalcino bottle of wine on the menu. It is way over my normal budget for a bottle of wine at a restaurant (like I said, love it when parents visit).

She orders it and the wine arrives. I take one sip and it completely overshadows the rest of the delectable three-course meal. This is what good Italian wine tastes like? This is what I’ve been missing out on with my $4 Italian blends from Trader Joe’s? This. Is. Heavenly. The wine smoothly slides down my throat, coating my tongue in a lingering tangy after-taste, which is made even better when I follow it up with a bit of my beef Carpaccio appetizer. This wine made me sure of one thing: I must go to the source.

A year later my wish comes true. I am going on an 11-night Mediterranean cruise and will be arriving in Rome a couple days before the cruise departs. I know exactly what I have to be doing those two days – or should I say drinking: Brunello di Montalcino and another newfound love – compliments of my Italian wine loving mother – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

I start my Tuscan wine tasting day in Montepulciano, the town where the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine is made. I enter the town and try to slow myself down from rushing to the nearest wine counter. For starters, it’s 10am in the morning; secondly, the atmosphere of this town is something I don’t want to miss. Hundreds of years ago, the city built high walls to keep the villagers safe from outside attacks. Today, those walls are part of Montepulciano’s allure to bring people in. The combination of narrow streets and high walls results in playful morning shadows crawling down the sides of the walls, some alleyways completely enveloped in the shadow, while others have peeks of sunshine dancing on the walls and ground.

I aimlessly wander through the cool, hushed streets of the morning air until I reach Piazza Grande, Montepulciano’s main square. Here I have a specific destination. I head to Cantine Contucci, a tasting room located inside the ancient stone walls of a building adjacent to the Contucci Palace. The tastings are offered on a walk-in basis and are free; though I can sense there will be an expectation to buy. Which is fine by me. The smiling old winemaker working there doesn’t speak any English, but he can tell from my eager grin what I am after. He pours me a few different tastings of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which I breathe in deeply, savoring its full aroma, before tasting. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made from a large percentage of Sangiovese grapes and a lower percentage of Canaiolo Nero grapes. It is one of Italy’s oldest wines and has a well-rounded, tannin taste. A more affordable version of this wine is the lighter and fruitier Rosso di Montepulciano, which is also offered to me to taste at Cantine Contucci.

Afterward, I buy a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and take a walk around the large wine barrels in the dimly lit cellar of Cantine Contucci, marveling at the patience wine making must take.

Enoteca FortezzaBrunello di Montalcino

The bold, red Montalcino wine which inspired my excursion in Tuscany was the second item on my itinerary for visiting Tuscan wine towns. The Brunello di Montalcino is actually a fairly new wine in terms of its popularity. Though originally introduced in the 1500’s, it didn’t reach the level of popularity it now enjoys until after World War II. And today, the town of Montalcino offers plentiful places to taste the wine.

The first tasting room I stop at is Enoteca la Fortezza. It is located inside the walls of the fortress with plenty of outdoor seating. The grassy courtyard area is surrounded by four walls and gives me the impression I could sit down with a picnic or pick up a bow and arrow and travel back to medieval times in the open space. I take a seat at an outdoor table on the patio and examine the tasting menu. It offers an option to do a flight of Brunello wines or a mixture of different varietals from the Tuscany region. I go for the Brunello flight. It arrives with different vineyards and years, signified on paper rings circling the bottom of each wine glass. From this flight, I learn 2004 is a famous vintage year and I find it interesting to taste the difference between it and the 2005 as the 2004 is much more robust. My already large infatuation with the wine grows exponentially after the Brunello wine tasting flight. I immediately want to buy up every vintage I try, but unfortunately Brunello di Montalcino does not come 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 bottles of wine, you’re in luck. The Rosso di Montalcino is a more affordable version of the famous wine. It has a shorter aging process and though cheaper, is still dynamic and enjoyable to drink.

After Enoteca La Fortezza, I head inside the walls of Montalcino. Another walled city – which I love. Montalcino has wider, more open streets that lead to a vast courtyard area in the center of town, which gives it a much livelier feel compared to Montepulciano’s more intimate atmosphere.

Getting There

Renting a car and driving is the easiest way to get around Tuscany. 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.

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