Prior to this trip to Tuscany, I had only ever associated it with the cheaper-end red wine found on the lower shelves in Tesco, one I long overlooked and definitely wasn’t giving the respect it is due.
Montepulciano is a quaint and lovely hilltop town located in southern Tuscany, in the verdant Siena province.
We were visiting the Tuscany and Umbria regions of Italy for five days and had driven down from Ravenna which took just over two hours.
There are acres upon acres of vineyards everywhere you look, all over the rolling hills and punctuated by trees, farmhouses, and cantine (wine storehouses that sell the wares from their vines).
The weather was variable when we were there, from spells of sunshine to prolonged dramatic, thundering storms.
Fortunately, it was sunny and a warm but tolerable temperature when we spent the day walking around Montepulciano’s town centre.
Immediately, its medieval origins and enduring influences are evident in the gothic stone buildings and castle-like structures, along with dungeonesque cellars dotted along cobbled roads.
Wine permeates the town, with warm, inviting familial enoteche strung along the main road, the Via di Gracciano nel Corso, and the vistas of vineyards sprawling out into the horizon like a chlorophyll sea.
Naturally, we started our afternoon by visiting an enoteca called Ercolani to take part in a tour of their bottega located deep down in the dungeons.
First of all, a man gave us a talk in the street regaling myths that had apparently taken place there centuries earlier. He gave half-bottles of wine to people who answered his questions correctly, however I wasn’t able to translate from Italian quickly enough to answer so I wasn’t able to acquire any freebies- yet.
We were then ushered inside and lead down the winding stone stairs, past iron-barred windows and torches on the walls into the cellar to see their variety of wines in the ageing process.
I had seen wines ageing in large, modern metallic vats when I visited Saint Emilion in Bordeaux, France, so I was surprised to see very different apparatus for the different varieties of Montepulciano. Many of the wines were ageing in traditional oak with a glass recepticle plumbed into the top to catch any leaking gases or wine.
Montepulciano wine is primarily made with the sangiovese grape blended with others, however Montepuciano is also the name of a grape that makes Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a different wine from the Abruzzo region of Italy, not Tuscany.
The Montepulciano wines made in Tuscany are:
- Montepulciano Rosso for normal consumption; a sort of house wine
- Montepulciano Riserva
- Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (this has the prestigious Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita protected status)
- Vin Santo- a sweet sherry-like wine
Blending the beauty with the horrific, glass cabinets along the dark, cold corridors exhibited instruments of Medieval torture including the scold’s bridle, used to silence and humiliate women into submission if they dared to speak up. Society is still not equal or safe for women today in 2022 but seeing things like that always makes me feel so glad to be alive today rather than in those oppressive and barbaric days.
But, back to the wine.
We were lead back upstairs and we gathered at the counter where the staff talked us through a degustazione, or tasting, of four different wines paired with something small to eat.
Balsamic vinegar is also made in many wineries and I tried the most gorgeous sweet aceto ever which was a pomegranate balsamic.
A pleasant surprise at the end of the tour and tasting was that it was all free!
Afterwards, we got on the little train that circulates around the town to see the streets and the views over the vineyards which came with an audio tour and lasted around half an hour. I stopped off at a shop to buy a fridge magnet as I always do then we stumbled across an old, nondescript church.
I am not sure what compelled us to in except for that Italian churches often look normal on the outside yet have great architecture, stained glass windows, mosaics or other intricacies inside.
I wasn’t expecting what we saw here at the Santa Agnesi Segni church (St. Agnes).
St. Agnes was a woman born in 1268 to a noble family in Montepulciano. She was said to have performed miracles such as multiplying loaves and curing locals of physical and mental ailments, and seeing visions. Her own health suffered often and she died at age 49.
The friars intended to emblam her body but found that it had remained incorrupted some time after her death. She was canonised by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 and her body remains still incorrupt at the altar in this church. I didn’t go close but I was stunned to see the body of someone who died over 700 years ago, to think of everything that has happened in the world between then and now and her body has been there throughout it all.
We moved on to see a couple of neighbouring areas, recommended to us by Andrea’s Tuscan colleagues.
We stopped off at a little town called San Quirico d’Orcia which was very cute and delicate despite the omnipresence of Medieval looking stone.
There was even a quite literal sparkle of modern art in the form of a large metallic cross outside a church which caught the light at the beginning of sunset:
The streets were sleepy and quiet for the most part, with bursts of liveliness at occasional bars for aperitivo hour. The temperature in the mid 20s was perfect was walking around at this time of the day, with street cats strutting around like the town proprietors and the sound of early evening birdsong.
Why do scooters look so elegant in Italy? The Vespa is named after a wasp because of the way they dart and dash all over the place which is efficient but can be quite annoying when you have to duck out of the way!
We then drove through an area called Pienza to watch the sun start to go down over views of the countryside. It was fairly windy up there by that time so we didn’t stay out for long but when in Tuscany, the views of the hills are one of the best things you’ll see and we had to make the most of the sun while we could as there were a massive storms the next day.
The next morning we went to another cantina for another tour and tasting, where a Dolce & Gabbana men’s fragrance campaign had been shot.
This one was situated in the countryside with beautiful views over their expansive vineyards. We waited for the one member of staff to become available to take us into the bottega and stood near the door looking out at the view, when suddenly the sky clouded over dark grey and we watched a sheet of rain travel across the landscape. Thunder drumrolled and perfectly defined forked lightning pierced the sky then the downpour really hit in a massive acquazzone.
In the bottega, thousands of wine bottles were stored by type and vintage, and when I saw bottles labelled 2004 it made me think how I was sitting my GCSEs when that wine was bottled. This is why opening and tasting a wine is a trip into the past and a trip across the world, depending on when it was made and where it is from.
We were then brought into the tasting room where we could choose three wines including a white and a muffato, a sweet white wine that tasted a bit like honey.
It was then time to move on to the next part of Tuscany- Arezzo.
I highly recommend Montepulciano for a day or two when visiting Tuscany even if you aren’t a fan of wine, as it is so much more than that.
Go for the Medieval atmosphere, the beautiful countryside views, the cutest little villages, and even to see a 700-year old saint’s body (!).
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