Conference Preview – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Tuscany’s Tiny Gem

Panoramic view of Montepulciano

Panoramic view of Montepulciano

Today we have a Conference Preview on a session to be presented by Paul Wagner and Silvia Loriga entitled Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Tuscany’s Tiny Gem. Read on for some thoughts on the session written by Paul Wagner:

The first time I visited Montepulciano, I was there to research a project for introducing the wines into the larger consciousness of the US Market.  I was looking forward to learning more about the wines, but I wasn’t expecting a state visit.

All that changed when the people from the Consorzio office asked if we would like to meet the mayor of Montepulciano, a town of roughly five thousand in habitants that perches high atop a hill in the province of Siena.  We expected a short greeting, a quick shake of the hands, and a few minutes of small talk interjected into our day of tasting, visiting wineries, and tasting more wines.

But we were wrong.

Montepulciano's "Town Hall"

Montepulciano’s “Town Hall”

The first clue was when we were shown the city hall. Built in the 16th century as a monument to the influence of the Medici’s in nearby Florence, it sits on the main piazza (Palazzo Pubblico) of Montepulciano, and dominates the square.  (Fans of the Twilight films will recognize it immediately.) The other buildings on the main square are a palace that holds the Consorzio’s offices, another palace that is home to the Contucci family and its winery, and the unfinished Cathedral.  There’s no question who is in charge here, and the Palazzo Communale, or city hall, is an architectural masterpiece, clearly emulating the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence.

At the appointed hour we entered the massive front door and walked up the marble staircase to the second floor, where we were to find the mayor in his office, only to be greeted by five well-dressed older men who introduced themselves as the assistants to the mayor.  The mayor was quite busy that morning, and so we were very formally introduced to his consiglieri–this in a town of 5,000 people.

Just as our conversation bogged down a bit, the mayor appeared, and we went through the formal introductions all over again.  The mayor invited us into his office, where we sat around a huge table, joined by all of his consiglieri.  He waited for us to get comfortable and then made a speech, welcoming us to Montepulciano, and stressing the importance of wine in both the history and future of the town.  Then he waited.

The Sanctuary of San Biagio in Montepulciano

The Sanctuary of San Biagio in Montepulciano

I took this as a cue, and made a speech thanking him and his staff for being so kind, and assuring him that we were fully committed to continuing that grand traditional of viticultural success.  He thanked me, and then invited his primary consigliero to make a speech.  And then one of the experts in my group responded with a speech.  And around the table we went.  Everyone had an opportunity to make his or her opinion known, and everyone felt included in the conversation.  It was quite a ceremony.

When no more speeches were forthcoming, the mayor thanked us and stood up, and we followed suit.  His consiglieri brought him gifts which he bestowed on us, and amid countless handshakes and smiles, we were formally escorted back to the gleaming marble stairwell to continue our visit to Montepulciano.

As I walked back out into the sunlit piazza of Montepulciano, I had a pure sense of time.  Surely such meetings had happened for five hundred years in the Palazzo Communale, with generations of VIPs before me.  And now I could say that I had been a part of that tradition–and it was time to taste some wine.

Before we left Montepulciano that day, we were invited to visit the museum in town (Museo Civico Montepulciano) just blocks off the piazza.  It was normally closed, but the mayor had asked the director to open it that day for us, and to give us a tour.  Apparently, there was some excitement about a new exhibit there.

Portrait of a gentleman (Scipione Borghese?) by Caravaggio (1598-1604)-photo via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of a Gentleman (Scipione Borghese?) by Caravaggio (1598-1604)-photo via Wikimedia Commons

As we toured the museum the director could not help but give us a knowing smile every once in a while.  And at the end of the tour, we learned why.  In a newly constructed exhibit, she showed us through a door into a room with a stunning painting (Portrait of a Gentleman) by Caravaggio.  It had been discovered by an expert who was visiting the museum the previous year.  Hanging high on the wall in a neglected corner of the museum, the painting caught the attention of the international expert, who suggested that it might actually be quite an important painting.

Now ensconced in a place of honor, Caravaggio’s newly cleaned and restored work glowed with character—a true masterpiece with roots centuries old, yet still conveying the beauty, elegance and charm to admirers today.

At this year’s SWE Conference, Silvia Loriga from the Consorzio office will lead us in a tasting of the noble wines of Montepulciano. While the basics of these wines are similar to their better known neighbors of Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, the small differences still give the wines a unique opportunity to shine.  In some ways these wines are a bit more focused on tradition than the muscular Brunellos or the constantly evolving Chianti Classicos.  But that is not to say they don’t have all the makings for great wine:  concentration, elegance, and a clear statement of style.  This session–Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Tuscany’s Tiny Gem–will be held on Friday, August 12, 2016 at 10:30 am.

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