The Marchesi Antinori firm began to invest in this zone – one of the newest and most promising of Tuscany and of all of Italy – in the early 1990’s.
At that time, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano appellation was going through a second Renaissance. But the wines were, to tell the truth, already famous at the time and many years before as well.
MONTEPULCIANO AND WINE
The first historical document which refers to the wines of Montepulciano goes all the way back to the year 780 A.D. They were already widely known and appreciated during the Medici epoch in Florence, when the city of Montepulciano was allied with Florence against Siena. Theirs were wines for the nobility, and noble were the grapes selected for making them: this is probably the source of the name of most highly prized wine which was produced.
This is confirmed, moreover, by Francesco Redi in his poem “Bacchus in Tuscany” (composed in 1685), which describes a sort of oenological tour before the fact which Bacchus and Ariadne decide to undertake in Tuscany. Referring to the wines of this area, Redi speaks of a wine which “slides into one’s heart” and declares that “it is the king of all wines”.
And Vino Nobile is cited both by Voltaire, who in his Candide of 1759 describes a table laden with luscious food and wine (“… maccheroni, partridges from Lombardy, sturgeon eggs, and the wine of Montepulciano”) and by Alexandre Dumas in his Conte di Montecristo. As do even two presidents of the United States. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) were both enthusastic admirers.
In 1966 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was one of the first Italian wines to gain appellation status (DOC), and this gave a certain impetus to the substitution of the old vineyards - planted to a mixed system of cultivation with fields of various crops - with specialized vineyards. All of this took place, however, in the context of older traditions of vineyard work and aging of the wines, which were maintained.
DOCG rules establish that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano must be based on a minimum of 70% of Sangiovese along with 30% of other grapes. Prugnolo gentile – a Sangiovese Grosso clone selected in the zone during the 1970’s – remains, nonetheless, the reference point grape for the wine: its name derives from its color and from the aroma of its berries which, when mature, resemble plums. Up until the end of the 19th century, as well, it was the custom to train the vines to other fruit-bearing plants, and many of these were, in fact, plum trees.
One year before achieving appellation status, in the meantime, in the year 1965, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Producers Consortium was founded.
DOCG status arrived fifteen years later in 1981, and opened up a new chapter in the history of the wine: several established houses introduced modern methods and equipment into the vineyards and cellars, new producers, not necessarily Tuscan, also arrived and began to work, and the entire zone started to show a significant improvement.
Beginning in this period, the great international success of Super Tuscan wines contributed to an increasingly greater interest for everything which could be called Made in Tuscany in the widest sense of the term. This led to a radical transformation of the viticultural situation of the zone.
CORTONA AND WINE
The Cortona zone, instead, began producing quality wine only over the last few years. After gaining DOC status in 1999, it has gone through a decisive reconversion of its vineyards which replaced white grape varieties with red ones.
Effectively speaking, we are not dealing with a reconversion but rather to a return to the origins: in the past, in fact, red wines had a dominant position in the zone and the choice of varieties such as Merlot and Syrah merely grafted them onto an older tradition and renewed it. The Tabula Cortonensis , an Etruscan document of the second century B.C. of rare historical importance, testifies to very ancient links between Cortona and wine. In this “tablet”, which we would now define as a contract, the goods of the Cusu and Petru-Scevas families are divided, first and foremost a vineyard in the area of Lake Trasimeno, precisely where now Cortona DOC wines can be produced.