Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Contucci: One of the Oldest Producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

As with many, Tuscany was my first love in discovering ItalyIt’s where I first lived outside the United States and fell in love with the city of Florence.  Chianti were really the first wines that I gravitated to once I returned to the states since no matter where you go you can easily access them and reminded me of my life in Tuscany.  To this day Sangiovese is still one of my favorite Italian grapes, if not my most favorite.  Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted red grape and can be found through a multitude of regions all showcasing this grape through their own expression.  This week I feature one of the areas of Tuscany most known for producing Sangiovese in its finest expression, Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from the Contucci winery. 

About Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 

If you’ve traveled throughout Tuscany’s wine region you may have stumbled across the town of MontepulcianoLocated between the Val d’Orcia and the Val di Chiana, Montepulciano sits in the southeastern part of Tuscany just east of the town of Montalcino, Italy’s other finest expression of Sangiovese in Brunello di Montalcino.  It’s another classic Tuscan hilltop village, but bring your comfortable walking shoes as you stroll uphill to the top at Piazza Grande. Thankfully there are plenty of great shops, restaurants and places to stop and visit during your journey to the stop that provides stunning views over the land. 

visiting Montepulciano

Montepulciano was upgraded to the DOCG designation in 1980 and was the first in Italian wine to receive it preceeding Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco. The vineyards of this area sit at 800 feet up to almost 2,000 feet above sea level.  The wines from this area are produced with at least 70% Prugnolo Gentile, a clone of SangioveseUp to 30% of other permitted Tuscan varieties are allotted even up to 5% of white grapes, although not commonly used. Most producers will blend Canaiolo and/or Mammolo with the Prugnolo Gentile, but many producers are also producing Vino Nobile from 100% Prugnolo Gentile. Vino Nobile requires a minimum of 2 years of aging with 1 year in wood and the riserva wines require at least 3 years of aging with 6 months in the bottle. 

Piazza Grande in Montepulciano

The Contucci winery

I stumbled upon this winery on my visit to Montepulciano some years back and have been sitting on this wine since I brought it backNot knowing much about the Contucci winery at the time it was hard not to want to stop in as they are located in the historical center of Montepulciano right near Piazza Grande that you can’t miss as you stroll through this village.   

The winery has a rich history with over 40 generations of winemaking since 1008Imagine, 40 generationsPer their site they are one of the “founding fathers” of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and I can imagine with their history the family has probably seen it all with the transformations that have taken place throughout the years. 

The Contucci winery and palace in which they occupy in the center of town is from the 16th century architected by Antonio di San Gallo with frescoes by Andrea PozzoThe palace was once occupied by Pope Giulio III and Ferdinando I, the Grand Duke of TuscanyThe Contucci family has occupied the state since 1646. 

When you enter, although its been years since my visit, you are able to taste the wines produced by the Contucci family and also have the opportunity to wander through the cellars underground that were built into the rock and contain the original old walls of the town.   

The Contucci family follows traditional techniques along with manually harvesting their grapes and bringing them into the winery/palace in town for vinification where the wines are also agedTheir oldest bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano dates to 1887.   

Today the winery produces over 100,000 bottles annually and of their 420 acres of land about 50 acres are dedicated to vineyards with the grapes of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano occupying about 37 of those acres.  

Cantina Contucci winery in Montepulciano

The Wine 

I finally opened my bottle of 2008 Contucci "Mulinvecchio" Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG that I brought back when I visited the Contucci winery years ago.  I tasted this wine during the Christmas holiday and delayed posting this last week as I've been trying to track down my notes, but unfortunately cannot locate them.  When I stumble upon them I'll update this post hopefully.  I don't have the particular blend used in this vintage, but the Mulinvecchio wines from Contucci are only produced in the best vintages.  It's a single vineyard Vino Nobile from their 25+ year old vines.  Contucci has had a strong impact on the history behind Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and in tasting these wines one can get a sense of the land and where these wines originated from.

2008 Contucci Mulinvecchio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

As rich as its history is I believe Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is still crafting its identity amongst some of the producers. There can be widely different styles due to the usage of a variety of grapes allowed, the type of oak used and the sand and clay soils where the vineyards are planted depending on the location of the estate. I personally can appreciate the wineries that are working in producing Vino Nobile made from 100% Prugnolo Gentile or even with some of the additional grapes included such as Canaiolo, Colorino or Mammolo. I think this best expresses the identity of the land with less intervention, influences from new oak or international varieties added. 

Although Vino Nobile is reasonably priced you can also buy Rosso di Montepulciano, which will give you some of the same characteristics of Vino Nobile, but the best grapes of course are reserved for the noble Vino Nobile.  

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has a new Pieve designation that will be releasing their first wines to the market this year that I have yet to try so make sure to seek those out as well. You can read more about it in my article below tasting with Antonio Galloni. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Sicily's Zibibbo Grape with Fish Cakes

Sicily has been the talk of not only Italian wines, but the worldwide wine market as a whole mostly due to its unique volcanic wine production.  Looking outside Sicily’s volcanic wines though one will discover a breadth of unique grapes found throughout the island including the Zibibbo grape I’m featuring today.

What is a Zibibbo? 

Synonymous with the name Muscat of Alexandria, the Zibibbo grape’s origins believe to hail from Egypt and were brought over to Sicily by the Arabs.  It’s an ancient grape that has been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  The name Zibibbo comes from the Arabic word, Z’bib, which translates to dried grape.  This is a grape that shows beautifully not only when produced from dried grapes that result in a sweeter style wine, but also as a dry style white wine like the one I'm sharing today. 

Zibibbo is considered an aromatic grape due to its high levels of organic compounds called terpenes.  Other grapes that you may be able to relate to that carry intense, floral aromas that also contain high levels of terpenes are Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  Before I knew the breakdown of the blend today that I’m sharing, some of the floral notes of this wine reminded me of a Gewurztraminer, one of my favorite white grapes due to my love of NY Finger Lakes wines.  You’ll pick up notes of stone fruits, orange blossoms and jasmine in the aromas of Zibibbo.  It’s a resilient grape that does well in the hot temperatures of Sicily’s climate.  It also is a drought resistant grape.

Firriato's Calamoni di Favignana Estate

I had the luxury to tour the Firriato wine estates spread from the western side of Sicily to the eastern side right before covid hit near the end of 2019.  Firriato's Calamoni Estate is located on the island of Favignana.  Vines had disappeared off this island over a century ago and today Favignana is the only vineyard present in the Egadi archipelago.

The vineyards are located only steps from the sea and surrounded by neptune grass, which is a marine plant that acts as a natural fertilizer providing nutrients to the limestone soil.  Sitting right off the water these vineyards receive a nice marine, Mediterranean breeze that gives a hint of salinity to the wines along with very aromatic notes.  to read more about Firriato please reference my previous blog on Favignana,  Firriato's Calamoni Estate: The Only Winery of the Aegadian Islands.

The Wine

This week I sampled the 2018 Firriato La Muciara Terre Siciliane IGT which is a blend of 60% Zibibbo, 20% Grillo and 20% Catarratto.  This wine was softly pressed and went through fermentation for 12 days.  It spent 6 months on the lees with an additional 18 months in the bottle.  A brilliant straw-colored wine with golden highlights.  Intense florals of stone fruit with some tropical notes. Medium-bodied with the tropical fruits carrying through to the palate creating a roundness on the wine with a touch of salinity.

2017 Firriato La Muciara  Favinia Terre  Siciliane IGT

Food Pairing with Zibibbo

When I consider pairing wines with food I always think of where the wine originates from. What is the typical cuisine of the region?  With many of Sicily’s indigenous white grapes you can’t seem to go wrong with a seafood pairing and creating a dish with the abundance of vegetables grown throughout the island.  It had been awhile since I had made some fish cakes and these are always a big hit in my home so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.  This pairing worked out great!  I was concerned about the body and flavors of the wine with some of the flavors of the fish cakes, mostly the mustard added to the fish cakes but it was so minuscule in the grand scheme that all the flavors blended nicely together. 

The fish cakes, which I made with cod, were an easy preparation.  I poached the fish in some water and milk on the stove with some added bay leaves, lemon and salt until cooked through.  In the meantime, I blended together a cup of bread crumbs, 2 eggs, garlic, a tablespoon of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of mustard with some added kosher salt and pepper.  Once the fish was finished and cooled, I blended all the ingredients with my hands forming the cakes.  I cooked them in some extra virgin olive oil for about 4-5 minutes each side.  Easy peasy!  So try some Zibibbo or any of Sicily’s indigenous white grapes, cook up some fish cakes and let me know what you think.

fish cakes pairing with Sicilian Zibibbo wine from Firriato Favinia
Do you have a favorite Sicilian white grape?

This month our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group, hosted by Camilla the Culinary Cam, featured indigenous grapes of Italy.  Join the rest of our wine and food bloggers as they feature their particular selections.