Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France


Contucci – at the heart of Montepulciano

1000 years!Cantine Contucci is a reassuringly solid presence on the central piazza of Montepulciano, opposite the cathedral and the town hall.  The picture on the left of the facade of the palazzo is a charmingly old fashioned one from the company’s website.  It feels as though this operation has always been here and for all practical purposes it has.  Not many wine families can celebrate a thousand years of existence – see the commemorative plaque on the right. (The family were all set to have a big celebration in 2008 but it had to be put on hold as the latest renovation of the building was not quite finished in time.) 

In keeping with this history, Contucci is housed in the splendid family palazzo, part working winery, part fine home.  The building is from a number of periods. The lowest levels date from the twelfth century with further additions which formed the apex and fortified gate of the fourteenth century city wall. The main building you now see dates from the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  This means both that the interior of the building is beautiful and historic – and that the winery has to work within the considerable constraints of plant which goes back centuries.  But then not many working wineries have an address as elegant as Via del Teatro 1, Montepulciano. 

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This is a medium sized wine producer of around 100,000 bottles a year.  The farm comprises 170 hectares of which 22.5 are under wine. Of those, 15 hectares are registered for making the most important wine, Vino Nobile of course.  The land is of pliocene origin, a mixture of clay and sand, with vineyards between 280 and 450 metres above sea level.  With regard to the varieties grown, this is a strictly traditionalist farm: Prugnolo Gentile (ie Sangiovese), Caniolo nero, Mammolo and Colorino for reds plus Trebbiano, Malvasia and Grechetto (we are relatively close to the Umbrian border here). Planting density was quite low by modern standards but there is a programme to bring it up to 4,500 vines per hectare  and to move from Guyot to the now favoured spurred cordon. Yields are kept down to a maximum of 55 quintals per hectare.

As you can see from the photos, working in a historic building has its challenges.  Any machines or casks have to be kept to a certain size so as to be able to get them in to the plant in the first place and then to move them around as necessary.   The largest barrel is 25 hectolitres. The barrels are now a mixture of French and Slavonian oak; in earlier generations there was chestnut.  There are three marooned barriques sitting unused and unloved by the entrance –  all the wine is aged in botti or in bottle.  There is of course a family cellar of old vintages which have been kept systematically since 1964 – with a few much older bottles too.  The bottles which are more than 20 years old will be different to today’s Vino Nobile. They were aged in chestnut barrels and they contained some white varieties as was then required, Trebbiano and Malvasia, but are reported to still have a remarkably good colour. 

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The other great advantage of this historic location is the trade through the door.  (‘Cellar door’ while accurate is a bit misleading when the cellar is in a historic palazzo opposite the cathedral!)  Contucci used to sell 80% of its wine from these premises in the 1990s and despite the development of exports, they still sell 50-60% out of the (once fortified, now open) door.  The company not only makes good use of its prime location with tastings available to the general public, it also has a high proportion of returning customers. 

On our visit in August 2012 we tasted:

family cellarRosso di Montepulciano DOC 2010 – all the DOC/DOCG red wines here are 80% Prugnolo Gentile (ie Sangiovese) and rest is Canaiolo, Mammolo and Colorino.  Medium ruby in colour, some structure and concentration for a simple, early drinking wine; perfume, plum, cherry, real if light tannins; good value at €8 and a good wine for the restaurant trade. 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2008 – this is the most important wine by volume, accounting for 45-50% of the total production.   In Contucci’s version, the wine is aged for two years in the medium sized botti, though this example has also been in bottles for more than a year.  It comes from a difficult year in which there were no fewer than three damaging hail storms in August, destroying one third of the crop, but not damaging the vines.  What remained is very good: rich clove, balsam and fruit nose and palate; powerful but not demanding tannins; good concentration and length.  Not bad for a €13 wine! 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Pietra Rossa DOCG 2008 – this is from a single vineyard of two hectares in which there is plenty of red clay which gives it its name.  Aged for 30 months in wood and released after three years.  Started quietly in the glass and then attractive, deep balsam and traditional old oak notes appear with a rounder palate and greater intensity.  Impressive.  The company has had success with this wine and has quite regularly got 2+ ‘glasses’ (max 3)  in the Gambero Rosso guide. 

Contucci winesVino Nobile di Montepulciano Mulinvecchio DOCG 2008 – another single vineyard riserva, made from 1992 on, originally just 2,000 bottles which used to be sold to a single Japanese company but now is more generally available.  The style is marginally different perhaps reflecting the greater prevalence of sand and tufa here.  Perhaps rather leaner and more profiled. 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva 2007 – two differences here: first 2007 was a 5* year, rather than the 4* 2008 tasted previously; second, the riserva is a selection of the best fruit, though this is usually comes from the Pietra Rossa Alta vineyard.  A dense tightly knit palate; great, powerful, if fine tannins, longer in the mouth and, at this age, crying out for a steak to accompany it … but it has the structure for the long hall which is what the riserva should be about.  At €22 this has got to be considered a great bargain when compared to the many good quality Rosso (ie short aged wines) from another famous Tuscan denomination beginning with M!

Contucci also make a simple red and white for early drinking (Il Sansovino and Bianco della Contessa) and a Vin Santo – from the Malvasia and Grechetto mentioned above. 

With many thanks to Andrea Contucci for an excellent tour and tasting. I am delighted to say that Contucci will be participating in Tuscan harvest watch this autumn.  We will look forward to your reports! 

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Page created August 2012

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