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Chianti, Brunello & Prugnolo?

First, you should realize my proposal has about as much chance of becoming reality as would Château Latour deciding to have a bargain-bin closeout sale on its 2005 vintage.

So let’s begin with some facts. While Vino Nobile di Montepulciano makes some excellent wines, it is now running third to the other two deities that make up Tuscany’s Sangiovese Holy Trinity – Brunello and Chianti – in terms of reputation, collectability and price fetched per bottle. Even the biggest boosters among Vino Nobile producers understand that.

One reason is the wine itself does not have a distinctive taste profile, other than it is primarily made with the Sangiovese grape, although it is often described as rounder and more generous than its Tuscan brothers and should be consumed earlier rather than later. Taste any five Vino Nobiles at random and you are likely to taste three to five different styles.

But there is also the “problem” of the name – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. If you’re tweeting, that’s 28 characters used up before you’ve even started. It’s also hard to pronounce. Listen to the local producers, as I have over the past week, and they seem to be divided between saying “NO-buh-luh” and “No-bluh,” sort of the way people still say “Dub-yuh” when referring to a former President. And even if you can pronounce “Nobile,” it still looks to the uninitiated like a quality classification – a “noble” category – rather than a geographic one.

And let’s not let “vino” go unnoticed. The only other “vino” region that comes to mind is Vinho Verde, and it has its own image troubles – are the wines really green, and why are some of them made with red grapes?

Finally Montepulciano may be a prettier town than Montalcino, but the similar names can still be a source of confusion. And just when the drinker thinks she knows the difference between Brunello Monty and Nobile Monty, she comes across a grape called Montepulciano, as in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (no, it’s not yet another clone of Sangiovese).

Andrea Lonardi, the director of Trerose, the large estate purchased four years ago by Bertani Domains, is lobbying the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (which has recently begun shortening its own name on occasion) to drop the town and make the wine simply “Vino Nobile.” That would certainly be an improvement, but not necessary the best improvement. Let’s consider something else. Sangiovese has a high degree of promiscuity, mutating into local clones at the slightest hormonal rush. One of these is Montalcino’s Brunello, and another is Prugnolo Gentile, as the grape is traditionally called in Montepulciano.

Which brings up my immodest proposal: Let’s just change the name of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to “Prugnolo,” whether or not the full name also appears in smaller type on the front label. That would leave us with simple, recognizable names for the three great Sangiovese wines of Tuscany – Brunello and Prugnolo, utilizing the local names of the grape, and Chianti, presumably named centuries ago for the hills called the Chianti Mountains, although the original area has spread through the years to seemingly encompass half of northern Italy. The Montepulciano region would thus have the three usual levels of wines – Rosso di Prugnolo, Prugnolo (for the DOCG wine) and Prugnolo Riserva. Of course, one winery already uses “Prugnolo” prominently – Boscarelli for its Rosso, not that they endorse using the name for Nobile.            

Does the region need a new name to claim the glory that “Vino Nobile” denotes, at least historically if not in actual fact? Of course not. During my recent trip, I was convinced that a combination of big newcomers and local, small producers are moving in the same direction, even if they are using different roadmaps. The amount of money being invested in research and other quality measures in the vineyards of Montepulciano will undoubtedly produce more great wines than already exist.

But an easily recognizable brand name would make the path to market so much smoother. After all, while Biondi-Santi first made a wine called Brunello in the 1880’s, it was not until an influx of capital in the 1960’s and 1970’s that  other producers started uniformly putting that name on their labels.

Sometimes an impossible task becomes an easy accomplishment once there is a common will.

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