Celebrate with Family in Montepulciano
By: Ruth Wertzberger Carlson
“Wine is like life,” the vintner explained to me. “You make a mistake or have a bad season and you have to live with the consequences for years to come.” Montepulciano, Italy must have ideal growing conditions because the residents’ lives and their wines are idyllic. Tucked in the rolling green hills of the Tuscany region, Montepulciano is an undiscovered gem.
The residents (approximately 14,000) take great pride in preserving their traditions. They make red plummy wine primarily from the Sangiovese grape in the same manner of their ancestors without any irrigation systems, pesticides or chemicals.
Wine and family are intrinsically intertwined. Children learn early that they will be responsible for the family winery one day. One 12-year-old boy told me that he was planning to run his father’s winery after college and his sister was going to manage his mother’s winery. When you visit Montepulciano you become apart of their family. You’re invited to drink their wine, taste their olives and meat. If you’re lucky the salami and pastrami are made from the rare Cinta Senese, a local wild boar with a distinctive white strip across its back.
The best place for wine tasting is the Consorzio Del Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, which means the Noble wines of Montepulciano. www.consorziovinobile.it The name derives from royals and popes who stocked their cellars with the region’s wines in medieval times and the Italian poet Francesco Redi who said, “Of all the wines it is the King.” The consortium is located in the town square (which sounds so much better in Italian: Piazza Grande).The friendly employees will tell you how to find the wineries with tasting rooms and which ones have lodging. Tasting rooms are fairly new to Montepulciano, which means you will avoid the crowds of Napa California and meet the residents…not other tourists. Most of the wineries are small and located in ancient limestone buildings. The owners are pleased to give you a tour through their fields and cellars.
Tasting rooms in the old part of town will invite you to descend into cantines; underground tunnels that once connected to palaces. And if you don’t know much about wine don’t worry, just say something vague about tannins or acidity. If you visit during August you can attend the Contrada’s competitions. Similar to neighborhood associations these clubs are so tightknit that until recently locals could only marry within their own Contrada! They let go of that rule but not other time-honored traditions.
Men still show off their athletic progress rolling wine barrels up and down narrow hilly streets while women experiment with recipes all year in hopes of receiving the coveted best pasta award. For a minimal price anyone can enjoy a great meal at any of the Contradas headquarters, distinguished by their colors. The entire town performs an evening extravaganza in the Piazza Grande. Boys stage a choreographed flag-throwing exhibition while the girls dance ballet. The adults dressed in regal attire serves as the audience, along with the public.
The areas’ beauty has been immortalized in the movies: Under the Tuscan Sun, The English Patient and most recently The New Moon, part of the Twilight series. Fans can arrange for a tour of the latter film’s locations.
The Old Town has one of a kind crafts made by local artisans. I watched a mother and son weave scarves on looms, a woman delicately using straw to fashion hats, a man welding gold jewelry and a woman throwing ceramic pots. It seemed only right for me to do my part to help the local economy.
It was difficult to leave Montepulciano but the marketing director from the consortium helped me see it wasn’t necessary. “To me, wine is not just wine, it’s about memories,” said blank. For instance I drink some Sangiovese wine and I remember a picnic in Montepulciano.” It was great advice. Now when I go to the grocery store the Sangiovese label sticks out of the wine section. I share it with friends and tell them about the winemaker who also makes movies, gazing out my window at the vineyards, and watching little boys practice flag throwing so they can compete someday like their older brothers.