Travel: Mon­tal­cino & Mon­tepul­ciano

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Sienese Tus­cany: ex­quis­ite scenery, su­perb wines. By Helen Far­rell

THE SIGN ON the medieval stone wall that marks your ar­rival in Tus­cany’s top wine­mak­ing town says ‘Mon­tal­cino alt mt 564’. The drive from Siena takes around an hour, but is very quickly for­got­ten as the lofty tur­rets rise up be­fore you. Mon­tal­cino, paired with nearby Mon­tepul­ciano, is the con­sum­mate love­mark for oneophiles: bold or breezier Brunel­los, juicy Rosso di Mon­tal­cino and lus­trous Vino No­bile di Mon­tepul­ciano. The scenery in­tox­i­cates: think quin­tes­sen­tial rows of cy­press trees, poetic sin­gle-track rail­way cross­ings and the lu­nar-like land­scape of the Val d’Or­cia min­utes away.

There is only one place to start: Biondi Santi ( www.biondis­anti.com), five min­utes south­west of Mon­tal­cino by car. Time­less­ness is what de­notes Tenuta Greppo, the noble birth­place of Brunello as tes­ti­fied by an 1869 cer­tifi­cate in the brick-vaulted tast­ing room, the first doc­u­mented men­tion of ‘Brunello’. Upon appointment, free tours are avail­able around the his­toric win­ery, from the vini­fi­ca­tion room, with its ce­ment tanks, to the ex­tra­or­di­nary and grand 19th-cen­tury Slavo­nian oak bar­rels in the age­ing cel­lars. Learn how Biondi Santi only la­bels its bot­tles just be­fore sale to pre­vent them from de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, and about its ex­clu­sive ri­col­matura ser­vice, of­fered to col­lec­tors who can choose to have their bot­tles of ris­erva topped up over time.

Also piv­otal in putting Mon­tal­cino on the wine des­ti­na­tion map is Banfi ( www. castel­lobanfi.com), just 20 min­utes away – take the scenic La Marem­mana strada bianca route if you’re not afraid of a few bumps. It is thanks to New York ex­porters, the Mar­i­ani fam­ily, that Brunello has be­come the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned en­tity that it is today. Take time to unwind over a leisurely lunch with estate wine-match­ing at Castello Banfi’s clas­sic Tav­erna, or you could sim­ply stop by the

ad­ja­cent Enoteca for a themed de­gus­tazione. If you have time, the win­ery tour im­presses by the sheer vast­ness of the space pur­posedesigned to wel­come vis­i­tors, the in­no­va­tive Hori­zon mi­cro-vini­fi­ca­tion project with com­pos­ite vats in oak and stain­less steel, and the silent rest­ful­ness of the bar­rique cel­lar. If mu­sic is your thing, mid-July is the time to visit Mon­tal­cino for the Jazz & Wine show­case ( www.mon­tal­ci­no­jaz­zand­wine.com) or­gan­ised by Banfi in the mon­u­men­tal medieval fortress.

Bou­tique Brunello

Back on the road to Mon­tal­cino you will come to comely Le Rag­naie ( www.ler­ag­naie.com, vis­its by appointment), whose old vines and ven­ti­lated lo­ca­tion man­age to con­jure up one of the sagest Brunello ex­pres­sions of the mo­ment. Owned by Ric­cardo Campinoti and his Amer­i­can wife Jen­nifer, the win­ery is a handy place to stay with its peace­ful apart­ments, pool and ex­panses of happy, healthy vine­yards. A quar­ter of an hour south­west, past the Ro­manesque abbey of Sant’Antimo, with Monte Ami­ata stand­ing strong in the dis­tance, Stella di Cam­palto (www.stel­ladicam­palto.it, vis­its by appointment) qui­etly plays Gre­go­rian chants to her spon­ta­neously fer­ment­ing bio­dy­namic San­giovese, an oth­er­worldly wine of di­vine fi­nesse, whether as Rosso or Brunello.

Mon­tepul­ciano mood

From a re­gion about 45 min­utes east of Mon­tal­cino, Vino No­bile di Mon­tepul­ciano is Brunello’s younger sib­ling, softer, more play­ful, with a mis­chievous spring in its step. The crowds flock to Mon­tepul­ciano town on the last Sun­day in Au­gust for the an­nual Bravìo delle Botti, a gru­elling spec­ta­cle in which mus­cu­lar men at­tempt to push heavy wine bar­rels up the cob­ble­stone streets. Those in the know of­ten pre­fer to head for the more placid Festa di San Lorenzo in nearby Valiano in early to mid-Au­gust for flower dis­plays and food. But the pic­turesque Mon­tepul­ciano area, dot­ted with its 75-plus winer­ies, is a joy to visit at any time, from spring to au­tumn.

On the Um­bria border

The way to Avi­gnonesi ( www.avi­gnonesi.it) is along an av­enue of cy­press trees lead­ing to Le Capezzine, the heart of the 200-hectare estate com­pris­ing vine­yards across Mon­tepul­ciano and Cor­tona. A beau­ti­ful brick fa­cade beck­ons you into the Cel­lar Door, a stylishly mod­ern yet re­spect­fully rus­tic loft con­ver­sion where you can taste wines by the glass – try the Grandi An­nate, Vino No­bile di Mon­tepul­ciano 2012, all wild roses and plums, and silky soft in the mouth. Take the wine lover’s tour to ex­plore the or­ganic vines, mat­u­ra­tion cel­lars and Avi­gnonesi’s fa­mous Vin­san­taia – where its vin san­tos are aged in 50-litre caratelli oak casks – be­fore sit­ting down to a four-course, wine-paired meal. Do not even con­sider leav­ing with­out hav­ing med­i­tated over the leg­endary vin santo, a hymn to the heav­ens.

A five-minute drive south along the Via Lau­re­tana Nord brings you to La Do­gana

enoteca, the wine bar of cantina Palazzo Vec­chio ( www.vi­nono­bile.it). It’s a strik­ing build­ing, whose cen­tral win­dow frames the Val di Chi­ana plain as far as the eye can see. The Sber­nadori fam­ily serves up zero-mile val­ley spe­cial­i­ties such as pici all’aglione, fat spaghetti scented with the mildest of gar­lic.

Poetic plea­sures

Half an hour away on the other side of Mon­tepul­ciano is an his­toric win­ery named after the town’s most il­lus­tri­ous Re­nais­sance poet. Poliziano ( www.car­let­tipoliziano.com) has been pro­duc­ing sleek Vino No­bile since 1961, a trait matched in the de­sign-led An­gelo Am­brogini tast­ing lounge, which has a mar­ble bar, par­quet floors and wavy wood wine shelving. Never a win­ery to sit back, this spring Poliziano opened a stylish enoteca in the old cen­tre of Mon­tepul­ciano, in the palazzo where the great poet once lived. But the Mon­tepul­ciano Stazione cel­lar tour still re­mains a firm favourite. Open year-round, it’s a chance to see the eco­log­i­cal mat­u­ra­tion cel­lar, whose tem­per­a­ture is con­trolled by so­lar power, as well as the old bot­tle ar­chive show­cas­ing Poliziano’s most pres­ti­gious vin­tages and wines – the likes of San­giovese selezione Asi­none and IGT Le Stanze, a classy Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon and Mer­lot blend.

Helen Far­rell is editor-in-chief of The Floren­tine. She tends to take care of the food and wine as­sign­ments in Florence and Tus­cany her­self

Above: just half an hour from Mon­tepul­ciano you’ll find Poliziano, an his­toric win­ery with some pres­ti­gious wines

Right: the lux­ury vil­las and spa at Rose­wood Castiglion del Bosco can be found in one of the old­est and best­p­re­served es­tates in Tus­cany

Brav“o delle Botti

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