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Delhi Wine Club
Anteprima Montepulciano: Day in the Diary of a Tasting Journalist

Posted: Tuesday, 05 March 2013 15:39

Anteprima Montepulciano: Day in the Diary of a Tasting Journalist

Mar 05: A day of tasting in Montepulciano might be just another working day for importers and sommeliers but it is a day full of learning and excitement for a wine tasting journalist, writes Subhash Arora who shares the day of Anteprima of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 and Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 besides visiting three wineries- Carpineto, Contucci and Cavalierino before moving on to Montalcino recently

Click For Large ViewThe alarm went off at 7:30 am. It felt as if I'd had only a few minutes of sleep. Although I had retired early the previous night after coming back from an interesting dinner-mercifully a sit down meal drinking 26 out of a possible 100 wines available for tasting with the dinner at the historical Fortezza (Fortress of Montepulciano) restored in 2011 that was looking magnificent. But the previous day had been very hectic what with a tasting of around 40 Chianti Classico Riservas 2009 and a few more in Florence at the Chianti Classico Collection tasting, followed by a 2-hour coach ride to Montepulciano where we had arrived at the Agriturismo Nottola at around 7:20 pm after the driver missed a few turns and had to take directions from the locals.

Staying at agriturismo

The march to the room on the second floor with a bag that weighed as if it was full of gold bricks (it actually had liquid gold from Florence) had been a nightmare as the short road leading up to the apartments from the reception was full of loose pebbles making the wheels of the bag resist every turn. I made a mental note to be careful while advising anyone to stay at an agriturismo especially during the cold season. A day of acclimatization was a pre-requisite, I thought. Here we had only one night with no possibility to get used to the environs, after a fairly comfortable stay at AC Hotel in Florence. Barely settling in the room, a call from the receptionist at 7:45 had meant I could not even straighten my back properly.

Anteprima Tasting at the Fortress

Click For Large ViewTherefore it was not surprising that I pushed the alarm to 8 am-in a state of semi stupor. A mistake I realised within 10 minutes as I jumped out of bed; I had to get ready, have breakfast and leave Agriturismo Nottola by 8:30 am. A seemingly impossible task but I managed a small breakfast with a ham-on-the breadstick in my hand and a cup of strawberry yogurt in my bag for later consumption.

I have seen the majestic Fortezza (the town fortress) being refurbished over the last few years and its grandeur has been impressive. The atmosphere around the tasting room adds to the experience and memories. The free-style tastings start at 9 am and one can taste till 4pm with a sommelier in full attire that includes the tastevin, in attendance. He/she brings the pre-numbered wines to your table. I took my seat next to a window with a nice view of the city below and started the tasting with Rosso di Montepulciano 2011.

2012 declared 5-star Vintage

President of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is Federico Carletti, owner of the well-respected Poliziano that I visited 3 years ago. He has been a familiar face during the last four years at the gala dinner on the previous evening and the tasting day along with the familiar Mayor Andrea Rossi of the commune of Montepulciano. Federico is due to retire from the post after 5 years. He was getting ready to officially welcome the participants with his speech, as was the Sindaco (mayor) who had greeted us individually along with Francesco the previous night.

The usual speeches were short, with Federico announcing that 2012 vintage had been accorded 5-star status (exceptional) by the experts, after 4 years of being rated 4-stars (excellent) from 2008-2011. The usual technical speech about the previous year’s vintage, was in a different format - in the form of a video of Riccardo Cotarella, well-known consultant and technical advisor to the Consorzio, chatting with three producers about their experience with the 2012 vintage. Partly because of the poor sound system and partly because it failed to keep attention as people were still floating in at 10, one could barely make out that 2012 had been a difficult vintage due to less rain but had nevertheless been rated 5-stars by experts. It’s a matter of conjuncture which is a better format-I preferred the earlier style with a speech that was accompanied by slides.

Click For Large ViewThe tasting had been organised very professionally as every year. Four glasses, a reference booklet about the wineries and a set of two tasting sheets detailing wines, are provided to each participant-one without the name of the producer and the other with the name to let you know whose wines you taste. I started tasting blind but soon realised I needn’t take the role of Robert Parker and it made more sense to taste knowing the name of the producers some of which were quite well known to me over the years while I could also taste from those which were recommended by colleagues and experts.

Tasting with Producers

One floor below, I had seen the producers on the ground floor setting up tables for tasting with the journalists. One look at the tasting hall and the buzz amongst the 36 participating producers (earlier years had seen them positioned at different levels due to space restrictions) and I felt the energy and the urge to meet and taste with them rather than tasting sitting in a corner - a style preferred by many tasters. So after tasting about 30 wines-all to myself, I went down. After shooting the video and the customary pictures, I started tasting with the producers who had been lined up on both sides of a long hall. They were positioned in alphabetic order making it easy to spot.

A novice at such tastings would be overawed seeing so many producers with so little time - it was past 11 am and at 1pm, I was expected to rush down to the basement for a quick lunch before leaving with a producer for the winery visit. I had already committed to visit Carpineto, a producer of Vino Nobile Montepulciano as well Chianti Classico in Greve and who is represented in India by Ace Beveragez.

Due to time constraints I tasted only with Avignonesi, Boscarelli, Carpineto, Cavalierino, Contucci, Croce del Febo, Dei, Fattoria del Cerro, La Braccesca, La Berne, Poliziano, Salcheto, Talosa, Valdipiatta and Vecchia Cantina. Hopefully, I will add to this number next time. Of course, I had tasted wines from a few more producers during the dinner on the previous night, thanks to Jr. Antonio Zaccheo of Carpineto, who kept on praising and pouring what seemed like endless wines of his competitors.

Sale at the Cellar Door

Like most Italian regions, a majority of wines from Montepulciano are exported-only 32% is sold in Italy. But what made sense to my promoting wine tourism in India was the fact that almost a fifth of the wines sold in Italy are sold at the cellar door. Indian producers can well evolve their policies to increase their sales manifold at the winery-but they must first form a strategy to get the potential wine lovers. As expected, Germany is the biggest market with 44% of the market. USA (17%) and Switzerland (11%) are the other significant buyers. Surprisingly, UK has only 2% of the exports.

Montepulciano is a baby compared to the big brother Montalcino, with only 1300 hA vineyards registered for Vino Nobile docg and under 400 hAs for the Rosso doc. With a minimum of 70% of Sangiovese known as Prugnolo Gentile, this appears to be most liberal of the other docg appellations-Chianti Classico (80%) and Brunello (100%).

An emotional experience

Click For Large ViewTasting at such events can also be an emotional experience. Several years ago when I was at the University in Perugia learning Italian for a month after winning a 3-month scholarship for my performance in the test at the Italian Cultural Center in Delhi, I had coaxed a few young friends staying as paying guests in the same house, to drive me to Montepulciano and visit some winery. Dei was the recommended winery that took us an hour to locate, but when we reached unannounced, an elderly gentleman received us warmly and told us he was in the marble business but his daughter Caterina Dei looked after the wine production. Nevertheless, he showed us the winery and did a tasting with us. During the following years, I visited the winery twice during the Anteprima and discovered that they were building a modern cellar inching towards completion. I feel a special emotional connect with the winery ever since.

During another visit to Vinitaly a few years earlier, I had visited the stand of another Montepulciano producer whose amica spoke English when I didn’t speak a word of Italian. On their invitation, I once visited their small winery, followed by a delicious home-cooked dinner made by his mother, when I also enjoyed his wines. I always regretted forgetting the names and not being able to meet him again during the past several years. This year, that young lady spotted me at the gala dinner and we talked fondly about my visit, bringing the memories back. Today Sabrina is the mother of a 4-year old from her partner Andrea Natalini who co-owns the small family winery Le Bèrne which produces 4000 cases annually. It was quite an emotional moment, tasting their wines with Andrea’s sister.

Visiting the producers

A wide spread of local cuisine was beckoning at lunch time but I was behind in my programme and could only have time enough to grab some soup and pasta and dash as the two Antonio Zaccheo were waiting to take us to their winery.


Owner/Contact: Antonio Zaccheo or Giovanni Sacchet

Click For Large ViewI had met Antonio in Delhi last year at a dinner hosted by the importer Ace Beveragez when I was floored by the young Super Tuscan Dogajolo - a winner for the price-sensitive Indian market and Farnito, a super value-for-money Cabernet. It was natural to accept his invitation to visit the winery. At the previous night’s gala dinner, I had asked the organisers if Antonio Zaccheo was around. ‘Of course, yes’ was the reply pointing me to the gentleman in the crowd. When I went to meet him and said hello to him, I was foxed. I know one can look and feel younger drinking wine but how could he have regressed to a strapping young man in a few months! It turned out that he was Antonio Michael Zaccheo, son of Antonio Mario Zaccheo.

Click For Large ViewConsidered one of the most innovative wineries in the area, they have been producing wine in this area since the 1980s when they were already established in Chianti Classico area. They have 86 hAs planted, out of which only about 16 hA are dedicated to Vino Nobile and 4 hA to Rosso di Montepulciano, producing about 12,500 cases of these wines. The Zaccheo duo is very proud of the new state-of-the-art winery, close to the existing one, which is scheduled to be completed in 2013-14. A ventilated wooden roof and the 150 kw solar panels with the help of which they sell electricity to the grid and buy back according to their requirement, makes the winery operation carbon neutral, says Antonio Jr. with a gleam of pride in his eyes.

The company has been exporting to 70 countries including India which has been importing their wines for over a decade. Other important markets include Germany, Canada (monopoly), USA, Japan and UK etc. They have been using the QR (Quick Response) codes on all the wines since 2010. Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon produced from the vineyard close to the winery, is one of the best Tuscan IGTs. So is Vin Santo which they release after 15 years of harvest! 1995 is the current release.


Owner/Contact: Damiano, Andrea and Ginevra Contucci

Click For Large ViewLocated at a walking distance from the Fortezza, near the main square, I visited the oldest winery of Montepulciano a few years ago. The family has been present for about a 1000 years and in the current location since 1646, it is being run by cousins Damiano, Andrea and Ginevra Contucci the 40th generation. The scheduled vertical tasting of Vino Nobile 2009, 1999 and 1979 was attractive, if only because it would afford me an opportunity to taste the 32-year old 1979 which was the last vintage before the appellation was upgraded to docg from the 1980 vintage.

Click For Large ViewI dashed towards the winery after being dropped near the Fortezza by the senior Zaccheo after a grand tasting. I was late by 20 minutes but that seemed to be the order of the day. Luckily, the wines had been poured by Andrea Contucci and not tasted yet. I had tasted 2009 at the Fortezza in the morning and it was a 5-star winner. So was 1999 which in fact I preferred as it was drinking very well. I would not call 1979 disappointing but it seemed to have passed its prime; it deserved only 4-stars. It is commendable for a Vino Nobile to be fairly fresh and charming after 32-33 years and it will still go some distance.

Although the family owns 170 hA, thanks to the Napoleon-like heredity laws, the lands got sub-divided with newer generations who perhaps kept on selling their portion with the current generation left with this land out of which only 21 hA are planted as vines. About 80% of the 8,500-case production is the prestigious Vino Nobile. This is the most convenient winery to visit, if you are in a group or perhaps, if you tell them you are from India and delWine recommended to visiting them.


Owner/Contact: Aurelio Busani

Click For Large ViewI met Aurelio Busani, owner of this 155 acres of organic farm, winery and agriturismo for the first time at a wine show in Torino several years ago before I met him again in India. I have been meeting him every year since at the Anteprima Montepulciano but unfortunately could not visit his winery. This time I made it a point to visit the facilities, even if it was too hectic. And I was glad I did!

A Montepulciano outsider, by the classical definition, Busani made his money selling telecommunication equipment, based in Milan. He had visited the town for his honeymoon and fallen in love with it. Therefore, he decided to buy a farm to live in it but subsequently decided to make a winery and convert into an agriturismo keeping intact the organic nature of his farm, producing everything organically.

Not only does he sell organic wines, he also produces and sells organically produced jams, sauces, sun-dried tomatoes, vegetables, olive oil and meats like Cinta Senese Salami at his farm. But the plum of the eye is his agriturismo which he has developed over the last decade by refurbishing the Nazi-bombed buildings and creating apartments with 3 rooms, though one and two bedroom apartments are available too. These are reasonably priced and one can get to taste his wines which have been developing a reputation for quality in the recent years.

Click For Large ViewThe name of the farm has an interesting story. He bought it from the previous owners whose founder had been a Cavaliere. Unlike the titles of Italian noblemen as count, baron, marchese or prince that are carried forwards from generation to generation through a decree, the designation of Cavaliere is for a specific individual only. The legend has it that when the Cavaliere died, the young son could not have the title so the villagers started addressing him as Cavalierino (the small cavaliere) and the name stuck for the property and was carried forward by Busani.

Aurelio dropped us at the usual spot in front of the Church after a light dinner with all the goodies from the farm; we were somehow feeling healthier. The departure of the two coaches had the usual amusing moments. One coach had too many passengers while the other was practically empty. The drivers would take instructions only from someone from the Consorzio and apparently after a tiring day they had all gone home as the evening was wintry with cold winds blowing. Mercifully, after about 30 minutes, someone did come and sort out the problem and we were Montalcino bound for 2 more days of excitement and tasting of yet another Tuscan gem - Brunello di Montalcino.

And yes, I finished that cup of stawberry yogurt 3 hours later before turning in at midnight.

Subhash Arora


Tags: Chianti Classico, Montalcino, Vino Nobile docg, Rosso doc, Vinitaly, Montepulciano, Ace Beveragez, Dogajolo, Torino, Brunello di Montalcino


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