Bacchus in Tuscany – Francisco Redi, 1685
“Hear, all ye drinkers! Give ear, and give faith, to our edict divine – Montepulciano’s the King of all Wine!”
Embedded in this post is an intersection between a story and space age satellites, an interactive Google Mashup Map of Montepulciano. In addition to the map’s standard scaling and scrolling abilities, mashups populate it with information. It’s optimized both for desktops while planning at home and portable devices wherever a Wi-Fi connection is available as you walk this medieval city.
Vino di Nobile has been celebrated since Etruscan times, but it was only 50 years ago that the wine was officially classified and regulated by law. A few years later, with the inception of a stricter set of laws and regulations, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was ranked among the world’s best. But Thomas Jefferson already knew that when in 1805 he wrote to his diary – “I confine myself to the physical want of some good Montepulciano, this being a very favorite wine” and “most superlatively good”.
Today the “in” thing to do is the equivalent of an pub crawl to taste the variety from many different producers and terriors. Because the streets by law are traffic-free this makes driving not possible for travelers – which is a good thing. Remember, in Italy the permissible blood alcohol level while driving is less than .5%, or one glass of wine, and the legal system here evolved from one that presumes guilt until proven innocent.
However, I didn’t need to walk too far to sample the many different wine’s available – just visit Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and do it all in one spot. Located inside the historic Palazzo del Capitano building in Piazza Grande, this enoteca offers products from more than 70 producers. But no visit to this city is complete without spelunking into the cool depths of an ancient Etruscan wine cellar, and I found the best just down the road at Cantina de’ Ricci.
The 17th century saw the beginnings of a non-secular pilgrimage to continental Europe’s hot spots. This “Grand Tour” was undertaken by young men of means to get, as Thomas Locke put it, “a knowledge of the world through external sensory input”. Or in less lofty language, to experience the world as it really is. One highlight of the Tour was Tuscany and Montepulciano – and Redi’s poem, Bacchus of Tuscany, was required reading.
Immediately I find the vibe here is unlike that in Rome or Florence. One thing I notice is the shopping has far less international influence – Montepulciano’s commerce is built around wine and the local industry that supports it. Second the population is far less than either, adding an intimate feeling to my experience.
However, like all Tuscan hill towns I find the best way to comfortably see Montepulciano uses a start at the peak and work your way downhill strategy. If this is a day trip use the recommended parking – if spending the night stay at the recommended hotel and parking is included. Either way a bus stop is just across the street – catch one to the top, Piazza Grande, and avoid the uphill trek.
Here’s a partial list of my favorite things to do and see along the way:
- The Palazzo Ricci, a Renaissance palace built in 1562. Below this palazzo is the Cantina de’ Ricci and a spelunking opportunity to explore ancient wine cellars carved into rock.
- The Piazza Grande is found at the crown of the slender ridge the gated city is built on. Many of its major sites are clustered within this square. One not to miss is the Town Hall (Palazzo Comunale) with its beautiful central tower that brings to mind the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
- The Porta al Prato is the entrance to town for the main road from Rome. A piece of the 13th century town walls, it was added in the 16th century by Antonio da Sangal as part of the town’s defensive system.
- The cathedral Sant ‘Agostino designed by Michelozzo.
- The Museo Civico, a museum holding a small collection of Etruscan artifacts along with an eclectic collection of art.
- The Church of the Madonna di San Biagio, which is actually located outside the city walls. Designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder and consecrated by Pope Clement VII in 1529, this beautiful domed church is a must see when entering or departing town.
- Use the Map and find more favorites to call your own.
Written by Steve Smith
Montepulciano Map built by Steve Smith