Good Life

Grape variety a popular moniker

In the Italian province of Tuscany, 79 miles south of Florence is the village of Montepulciano, which gives its name to several different wines made from grapes grown in central Italy.

The first and perhaps the best of these is Brunello de Montepulciano. It is made from brunello grapes, a clone of sangiovese. These grapes are brown in color when they are ripe.

The wine was introduced by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi in 1888 after he had isolated a superior clone of sangiovese — brunello. The Biondi-Santi family was given exclusive rights to the commercial production of this wine in 1932 and was the only producer until after World War II.

Currently, there are about a score of wineries making Brunello di Montepulciano from grapes grown on about 170 acres in southern Tuscany.

Among the vintners making an outstanding version of this wine is Costello Banfi at $56 a bottle. The wine is expensive in part because by law (rules governing the highest quality wines) it must be aged in oak casks for at least two years and aged a total of four years before it is released. Some wine is lost by evaporation and spoilage in the cask, and the mortgage must be paid during the aging period.

This problem has led to the growth of a DOC (a designation for the second level of wine quality) wine named Rosso de Montepulciano, made the same as Brunello but aged for only one year. This wine — for example, Fontevecchia Rosso di Montepulciano at $20 a bottle — is less expensive.

Another Tuscan wine is a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This wine is made from sangiovese grosso grapes, which predated the brunello clone and was declared to be a stellar wine in 1549 by the cellar master of Pope Paul III. In the 18th century, it was given the name Nobile by G. F. Neri. The name has stuck, and the wine is now rated as a DOC wine.

There also is a red grape called montepulciano. This grape grows throughout south central Italy in the provinces of Abruzzo, Molise and Apulia. It is made into a DOC-rated wine named after the grape, montepulciano. Try Citra d’Abruzzo at $10 a bottle or perhaps Dragani d’Abruzzo at $8.

In Italy, there is a system of rules based on the area in which the wine is made. To coordinate the rules throughout the European Union, these were modified in the latter part of the 20th century.

There are three levels in the Italian quality system: the highest designation is DOCG (Denominacion de Origen Controllata e Garantita). The next level and the bulk of the designated quality wines in Italy is DOC (Denominacion de Origen Controllata). The last is vino de tavola (table wine).

As part of this system, there are rules that specify which grapes may be used, how much yield per acre is allowed, how long the wine must be aged, etc. For this reason, some high quality wines must be categorized as vino de tavola because they use grapes not allowed by the quality rules.

For example, a cabernet sauvignon made in Tuscany must be a vino de tavola even though it is a quality wine — a super Tuscan. They should call it Montepulciano — that’s what they call everything else.

Jo and Tom Chesworth are both AWS-certified wine judges and can be found in the winecellar@7ms.com.

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