Italy in Nine Parts: Montepulciano

Plus a day trip to Siena


When we think of Tuscan wine it’s so easy to get distracted by thoughts of Brunello and Chianti, then move on to the Super Tuscans, totally glossing over many great wines. The greatest mistake many people make is to ignore Montepulciano, or rather the wines of Montepulciano: Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano.

Let me rephrase that just a little, missing the village of Montepulciano is almost as big a mistake as is missing the region’s wines.  Montepulciano, besides being the star of some recent vampire movie, is a wonderful little hilltop town that feels untouched by the passage of time.

Travel Tip - A day trip to Siena

Siena is famous for its Piazza del Campo, where the famous Il Palio horse race is run each year. It's a beautiful Piazza, and a huge tourist attraction, but do yourself a favor and skip the many restaurants that line its perimeter. You can do much better than a crappy pizzza. How about artisinal salumi and prosciutto? Visit the Consorzio Agrario di Siena and have them make a perfect sandwich to order.
The Consorzio Agrario di Siena is pretty much just a fancy name for a little grocery store. It’s not that simple of a grocery store, though, since it’s packed with artisanal meats, cheese, and condiments, as well as the staples; if you want a sandwich there is no better place to go in Siena.

Here’s how it works. You enter the store and walk past the counter toward the wooden shelves on the back wall. There you’ll find the machine to get your numbered ticket (very important here) and all the breads. The breads are frequently wrapped together in packages of two. Don’t worry if you only want one sandwich, the folks at the counter will open the pack and make exactly what you want.

In my case, that was one pannino made with Salame Toscane and cheese, and one with Prosciutto Falorni. I grabbed a bottle of mineral water on my way to the check out and paid a grand total of just over 5 Euros. I then headed off to the Piazza del Campo to enjoy my lunch al fresco, enjoying the day, and the sights of bustling Siena. Crappy 10 Euro pizza?  No thanks, I just ate!

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  • Snooth User: diablo58
    75866 298

    I am thoroughly enjoying the record of your trip.
    If you get to Umbria, check out the Goretti winery. They make Il Moggio (from grechetto), L'Arringatore and a nice Sagrantino di Montefalco. They also have a line of grappas and a vin santo. The "filling pumps" that locals come in for to fill their jugs is a sight.

    Dec 10, 2009 at 12:21 PM

  • Snooth User: randy13
    215705 5

    Just love this journey!! Montepulciano is a fantastic place, and oh Sienna is just great. I think anywhere is Toscana is wonderful. If anyone ever gets to Monte San Savino, be sure to try this restaurant La Terresse. Fantastic food, and great owners. Say hi to Manlio

    Dec 10, 2009 at 2:24 PM

  • Snooth User: z235e49
    199151 5

    hey greg

    we just returned from 3 nites in montepulciano. we stayed at the locanda san francesco, a beuatifully restored inn about a 5 minute walk uphill from the wonderful osteria aquacheta.

    our first nite we had a fabulous meal at aquacheta- we were a party of 8- 4 had the steak florentine and it was just how you described it- cooked in a wood fired oven.

    our 2 vegetarians had pumpkin parmagiana- like eggplant parm only a little sweeter- they thought it was outstanding.

    also had pici- a local thick pasta similar to bucatini but thicker which came in a choice of 3. sauces- a simply tasty pomodoro, or a delicious pomodoro with garlic, or a wonderful garlic and oil- we shared them all and they were superior.

    one other diner had homemade pork sausages, cooke in the wood fire- excellently done.

    we had liters of the house vino rosso which was fruity and tasty .

    it was such a great meal ( and not crazy expensive) that we returned 2 nites later. the staff knew we were coming gave us all hugs and kisses when we arrived and also when we left. they also saved a pumpkin parmagiana for us. in fact one of your pictures above of the restaurant includes a picture of our favorite waitress -ana- dressed in black.

    we also had a special of pureed cauliflower with crispy porcini mushrooms. one of the best things ever eaten- it looked like mashed potatos but each bite was the essence of cauliflower and the crunch of the crispy mushrooms. yum.

    we asked guilio- the owner for a recommendation for a good rosso de montepulciano- he brought over a magnum of podere casanova 2005- we asked him what would happen if we didn't like it- then we said everything we have eaten here has been totally awesome so we opened it- it was the best wine we had in our week in italy ( 2 nites in florence, 3 in montepulciano and 2 in rome). i have tried to get it here in nyc but they don't export it. too bad. and at 30 euro for a magnum it was most reasonable.

    the town of montepulciano was picture perfect- an old medieval hill town with great views of rollling country side, cobblestone streets, small local shops in stone buildings. it was a great place to use as a base as we also explored the neighboring towns of pienza, cortona and orvieto.

    a great trip and osteria aquacheta was memorable.

    Dec 10, 2009 at 4:53 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Breaking news...

    Seems the Guardia di Finanza di Siena have just busted a whole bunch of Chianti bottlers who've been 'counterfeiting' Chianti by stuffing the bottles with Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo (10billion liters worth, is the figure being bandied). Not good news for the region, following on the Brunello scandal last summer.

    Very different wines from the Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano you talk about here, Greg, but maybe this is another reason we've all been having questions about many Chianti blends these days... ;-(

    Dec 11, 2009 at 4:36 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Sorry, meant to refer to the Brunello scandal of 2007, three summers ago, now.

    The initial figures from the Guardia are thousands of bottles seized, with 17 individuals and 42 companies currently under investigation. Will be interesting to see how this story plays out...

    Dec 11, 2009 at 4:44 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    And sorry again. 10 *million* liters.

    Would be nice to have an edit button for our posts....

    Dec 11, 2009 at 4:52 AM

  • Snooth User: bropaul
    268864 117

    I'm also enjoying the journey. I loved the part about the road signs!

    Dec 12, 2009 at 8:00 PM

  • Snooth User: cdt
    216520 7

    I own Cucina della Terra, a cooking school in the beautiful countryside of Umbria . I am always looking for great food & wine pairings using the wines from the region. I've thoroughly enjoyed your journal entries as you made your way through Montefalco, Bevagna, Orvieto et al. Any suggestions for pizza with artichokes, caramelized onions, buffalo mozzarella & ricotta?

    Feb 11, 2010 at 7:29 AM

  • Snooth User: EddieL
    618177 16

    I am planning my honeymoon in Italy and two o three days will be spent in Tuscany, touring the wineries there. I am a big fan of Brunello di Montalcino. Can you guys recommend wineries that are a must-see in the region? I also look for places to eat. Any recommendation will be highly appreciated. Thanks

    Apr 14, 2011 at 8:30 PM

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