Article By: Harvey Finkel
When, 25 years ago, the wines of Tuscany’s Montepulciano were going through a slough of despond, fewer than a handful of producers continued to fly the flag of quality. Notable among them was, and still is, Poliziano. I was, therefore, most pleased to visit recently with the owner/winemaker of Azienda Agricola Poliziano, to give it its full name (“Poliziano Agricultural Firm”) and to taste his wines. I think they are better than ever.
Federico Carletti wonders whether he may be one of the last Tuscan farmers in Tuscany, so many are the recent proprietors from assorted elsewheres. The scion of an old Tuscan family, he likes the rural quiet life, tending his vines, walking in the forest with his English setters, hoping to flush a woodcock. His father, Dino, purchased 22 hectares of land near Montepulciano in 1961, and planted prugnolo gentile, the local clone of sangiovese, thus establishing the wine estate. He named it after Montepulciano’s 15th-century poet laureate, Angelo Ambrogini, who was known as Poliziano for the place of his birth, Poilitanus, the ancient name of the area.
After qualifying in agronomy at the University of Florence in 1976, Federiico succeeded his father in 198O. He recalls something of a vinous epiphany in 1983 when, while visiting Château Figeac in Bordeaux, he was given an unknown wine. He was amazed to learn that, still fresh and sweet, the wine, a 197O, was of an age that would have long since dried out back home. He has continued to pursue such graceful ageability. He replanted the vineyards between 1985 and 2OO9, and acquired sites at new locations, built new cellars, added a hospitality center, and, of most importance, has lovingly nurtured his vines and vinified his grapes with integrity and artistry. Federico has done clonal research, increased vine density, and brought winemaking to a modern fine point. He has shared his experience with colleagues, lately as president of the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
The vineyards of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano surround the ancient and charming hilltop town of Montepulciano, 75 miles southeast of Florence. Wine has been made here since the Etruscans. The Vino Nobile was part of the first group of wines accorded the DOCG in 199O. It had been honored much earlier, receiving its noble name in the 18th century because the nobility of Montepulciano favored it. Montepulciano got its name, “mount of politicians”, because, it is said, the ruling class settled in the hilltop village, safe from the then frequent local wars, while the hoi polloi lived in the valley below. Vino Nobile was an established aristocrat well before Chianti and Brunello were recognized. The vineyards, at elevations between 25O and 6OO meters, are mainly sand and sandy clay, with some stones. The wine must contain at least 7O percent Prugnolo Gentile, must age for at least two years in wood, tank and bottle – three years for riservas.
The planted properties of Poliziano cover 12O hectares around Montepulciano, 7 in Cortona to the east, where cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and other “international varieties” do well (DOC established in 1999), and 27 recently developed hectares of a mix of red grapes in the Maremma on Tuscany’s southwest coast, where production is expected in 2O1O.
Small concentrated berries are favored. A long, slow fermentation without excessive heat, punching down rather than pumping over, preserves fruit and softens tannins. Between 5OO,OOO and 8OO,OOO bottles are now produced annually, depending on the vintage. When quality is wanting, Carletti makes a strict selection and sells off the rest in bulk. The highly respected Carlo Ferrini is his consultant oenologist. About 55 percent of production is exported, 3 percent to the US. In addition to the five red wine we’ll taste plus the Maremma wines to come on line in 2O1O, Poliziano makes about 5OOO bottles of white from Grecchetto and Trebbiano, mainly for use at home, and a tiny quality of Vin Santo. Neither is exported.
ROSSO di MONTEPULCIANO 2OO6
From 25 hectares of vineyards densely planted at 22O to 3OO meters of elevation. Soil, like all Poliziano’s in Montepulciano and Cortona, is mainly soft clay with some limestone. Prugnolo Gentile 8O percent, Merlot 2O. Aged 8 months, 4O percent in second-use American oak. Although from callow vines, this is a grown-up wine: well colored, fragrant, good mouth feel, long and balanced. Sangiovese character. 3OO,OOO bottles produced. $18
VINO NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO 2OO5
Prugnolo Gentile 85 percent, Colorino, Canaiolo and Merlot 15, from 42 hectares at 3OO to 4OO meters. It and the next planted at 3OOO to 5OOO vines per hectares. All Poliziano grapes are hand harvested. Aged 14 to 16 months, two-thirds in mostly used French barriques and tonneaux, the rest in traditional casks. Although 2OO5 was not a great vintage, this wine, as a result of strict selection (only 65 percent of the grapes were used), is top level. Dark and reserved, long and elegant. Abundant black cherry fruit. $3O
This is one of the area’s first (1983) single-vineyard wines. It is in fact a Vino Nobile riserva. Asinone, “large jackass”, refers to the fancied shape of the hill the 14-hectare vineyard occupies. The wine is all Prugnolo Gentile, aged 16 to 18 months in French barriques. It is made in only the best vintages. A subtle, delicate wine, very elegant and with great length, yet it has the grip of tannin and acid to effectively partner with food. Like the other Vino Nobile, it maintains Sangiovese character. $65
IN VIOLAS 2OO5
In Violas, a poem title, means “among the violets”. A Cortona Merlot 85 percent, Cabernet Sauvignon 15. Densely planted on 3 hectares at 3OO to 35O meters. Aged on lees, with regular batonnage 16 to 18 months in 8O percent new French barriques, then i6 more months in bottle before release. This is the second vintage of In Violas. It is deep in color and sweet fruit. Hello Château Figeac. $5O
LE STANZE del POLIZIANO 2OO5
A Tuscan IGT of Cabernet Sauvignon 7O percent, Merlot 3O, grown on densely planted 15 hectares at 25O to 35O meters on the Poliziano Estate in Montepulciano. Aged 16 months in new French barriques. First made in 1987, inspired by the 1983 Bordeaux visit. Very dark. Dark, sweet fruit. Fine balance. La Stanze means “the stanza”, continuing the poetry connection. $7O