Montepulciano is famous for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and we visited La Ciarliana (www.laciarliana.it), a small winery a couple of miles outside of the town. The vineyard is run by Luigi who is the third generation to farm this land. The business was started by his grandfather – a farmworker in the area – who, by the 1960s, had saved up sufficient money to buy a couple of hectares of land. Subsequent purchases mean that they now have 21 hectares with an annual production of around 50,000 bottles.
Luigi is a softly-spoken man but he has very strong ideas on what he wants to create and places care and quality right at the top of his list of priorities. He moved the business towards the quality end of the market when he produced his first vintage in his garage in 1996. Today, things have moved forward but that care is still obvious in his attitude to his wines. We were shown around the winery by Sara, the very knowledgeable guide, who pointed out a large bottle of Vino Nobile from 2016 that could have been released onto the market in the spring of 2019 but Luigi thought it needed more time – that is real care.
We tasted three wines, starting with a Rosso di Montepulciano. This is a blend of Sangiovese, known locally as Prugnolo Gentile, with another local variety Canaiolo and Merlot. This spends six months in stainless steel and is then bottled before being released onto the market after one year. The result is smooth, light and fruity with a nose full of strawberry and blackberry. It goes very well with pasta and pizza but be aware at 14.5% alcohol its lightness is deceptive.
Next to be sampled was the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a blend of 95% Prugnolo Gentile with another local variety, Mammolo. Rich with cherries and strawberries, this wine has spent around two years in wood, 70% in botti and 30% in barrique. The result is a finely structured wine that can be enjoyed with red meat or game.
The final wine we tried is a tribute to Luigi and his search for his idea of perfection. This is technically another Vino Nobile but this time it is 100% Prugnolo Gentile with all the grapes coming from the one vineyard that gives the wine its name, ‘Scianello. It has been matured for two years in large botti made from Slovenian oak before ageing for another 12 months in bottle. The ‘Scianello vineyard itself is a microcosm of the landscape around Montepulciano, featuring four distinct soil types all bringing different characteristics to the wine. This is a wine that can be enjoyed by itself as a vino di meditazione or it will pair with the strong flavours of bistecca fiorentina or wild boar.
Italy has many small vineyards run by people with a passion for what they do and it was a real pleasure to meet Luigi and get an understanding of how much the land has made him and, in return, how much he has made from the land.