Talking about Montepulciano can be a bit confusing. Are we talking about the town, or the grape? Aren’t they the same? No.
Montepulciano, the town, is a glorious Renaissance hill town in Tuscany where they have beautiful views, good food, and make a lot of wine including the most excellent Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. Yet neither of these are made with the Montepulciano grape.
The Montepulciano grape is the second most planted grape in Italy, after Sangiovese, but none of it is grown around the town of Montepulciano. Montepulciano, the grape, is noted as the primary grape in the outstanding Offida Rosso and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines, among many others from generally a little further south in Italy.
Why the confusion? Chalk it up to Italy and Italian linguistics.
For the sake of clarity, this conversation will be about spending 24 hours in Montepulciano, the town, not 24 hours in a bottle of Montepulciano, the wine – although who hasn’t been there once or twice. I mean, seriously.
Maybe it’s good that the only trains that service Montepulciano are local milk trains. Although not hard at all to get to if you’re good with busses and cars, it is a bit tougher for the casual traveler from Florence, Siena, or Rome because there isn’t consistent train access. One benefit is that does ensure Montepulciano is just a tad less crowded and the people really want to be there.
We took the train from Florence to Chiusi then hopped a bus, bounced around a bit, and generally feared for our lives during the relatively quick but aggressive 45 minute ride from the lower villages up to the base of the walled Comune di Montepulciano. Then it was time for the hike – or series of escalators – up the cobblestone and back through time into one of the most beautiful places in Tuscany – or the world.
Laying Our Heads
We got there pretty late in the evening, so for our one night there, we chose to have a glass of wine and go right to the hotel to decompress. Our hotel choice was the very quaint Albergo Duomo, just off the main Piazza Grande and down the street from, you guessed it, the Duomo. The staff of this converted Renaissance palace was very friendly, the room was very clean and quiet, breakfast was plentiful and free, and they have the most amazing private patio off the main dining room that is filled with trees and just perfect for relaxing with a glass of wine and a book – or laptop.
We came for the wine. And wine life in and around Montepulciano is all about Vino Nobile, with some Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Novello (new wine) thrown in for good measure. Often thought of as a lesser offering when compared to neighboring Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile does have it’s place on the lists of finer Italian wines, you just might have to try a few to find ones you really love. Like Brunello and Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile is made primarily from Sangiovese grapes and have to be aged two to three years in oak to reach DOCG designation.
Rosso di Montepulciano is produced from less selective but more diverse, younger vines and not aged as long as it’s big brother, making it more abundant and less expensive. You might think that means that Rosso di Montepulciano is a lesser quality wine, but do some tasting, find the right producer and a wine at the right price, and you’ll never want to drink anything else. Promise.The requested photo source cannot be loaded at this time. Error: OAuthAccessTokenException Code: 400, The access_token provided is invalid.
Avignonesi and Boscarelli are a couple of the big dogs in the area and have excellent winery tours near town and tasting rooms in Montepulciano. We also wandered into Contucci to hang around the barrels in an ancient stone cellar structure for a while. If wineries aren’t your thing (why are you reading this) then there are some excellent wine bars in town, including the the aforementioned La Bottega del Nobile. Not all the wines are Earth-shattering, but keep trying and you’ll find that spicy and acidic wine you’ve been looking for and you’ll end up buying a case of it for your Tuscan picnics.
With 24 hours and only a couple mealtimes planned for the town, you sometimes have to make tough choices. This can cause travel related stress. However, you should always travel like you’re going to return, so live with abandon and eat what you want, when you want, without the dreaded FOMO (look it up).
Since our breakfast was free, and delicious, our gastronomic adventure started in earnest at La Bottega del Nobile in early afternoon. This is the kind of place you shouldn’t miss. It’s a true Tuscan eatery and wine bar that prides itself on being traditional and not the most accommodating for tourists.
They have dozens of wines by the glass served via the new and trending swipe-card auto-dispensers, allowing you to try lots of wines if you choose and a menu that is filled with seasonal local delights. Any of their pastas with fresh sauces will delight, but the Cinta senese pork meat ravioli with cannellini beans and pesto crushed it.
After traipsing through some tasting rooms (see above), visiting the Duomo and the magnificent ancient church of San Biagio, and enjoying gelato along the main strada, we found ourselves at the hidden back deck restaurant of Osteria del Borgo,…..
catching what was probably the most stunning red Tuscan sunset, eating what could be the best ribollita I’ve ever had, snacking on the freshest tomato bruschetta on Earth, feasting on a pork filet with crispy bacon and vegetable caponata, drinking a Rosso di Montepulciano from Avignonesi, and crying -just hoping we could die right there.
It’s that beautiful. But we were running out of time and needed to head back down the hills to catch whatever bus we could find back to Chiusi. More tears.
Montepulciano is easily one of the best Italy wine country travel destinations and one worthy of more than 24 hours. The wine and the food can be outstanding, and the views are unmatched. If you make it there, you might just never leave.