This week my wine comes from Tuscany. Back in the early 1990’s, I was already of a sort to stray from the popular path, so avoided the wine-making area we know as Chianti. Instead, I went a little farther south and drove to a gorgeous little hill town called Montepulciano.
To be honest, at the time, I had never heard of Vino Nobile (“Noble Wine”). Luckily, I strayed into a small wine cellar in the town and met a dynamic, charismatic, and unforgettable winemaker named Arnaldo Crociani.
As it turns out, Arnaldo was a Cantastorie (“storyteller”). That is actually a position in these parts, referring to the storytelling singers who wandered the Tuscan hills sharing tales of love and woe and life in Tuscany.
Beyond entertaining locals and tourists with his songs and folklore, Arnaldo had a deft hand at producing excellent wine. The Crociani label is widely considered one of the best in this area, where hundreds of producers sell millions of bottles annually.
Arnaldo must have spent two hours with me that day, leaving his son Giorgio to deal with dozens of other customers. I guess Arnaldo saw a passion in me even I didn’t know about. Today, 20 years later, I still drink Crociani wine, and I love it every time I open a bottle.
Arnaldo explained that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was the very first Italian wine to earn the highest mark of quality (DOCG) back in 1980. The term nobile dates to the mid-1700’s and referred (originally) to the estates where the wine was produced and the fortunate few who drank it.
Sadly, Arnaldo passed away some years back. His son Giorgio took over, but he died about five years ago. Today, Susanna Crociani, Arnaldo’s eldest daughter is in charge. She runs grape production, wine making, export operations, direct sales, travels to many of Europe’s largest wine fairs, and (since she somehow has extra time after everything else) manages a picturesque farm-house residence just outside of the town of Montepulciano.
The principle grape here is the sangiovese – the same used to produce more famous (and more expensive) wines in nearby Chianti and Montalcino. The Crociani winery makes single vintage wines, but also experiments with blending other locally produced fruit to come up with an impressive offering of six different reds. They also make a good white, a fine grappa, and an absolutely extraordinary olive oil.
The top red wine is the Vino Nobile, made from a blend of three grapes. It is aged in large oak barrels two years, and then spends at least two months in the bottle before being released for sale. At the same time full-bodied and fruity, this wine offers a light touch of tannins to complete a perfect balance.
But the flagship wine, if it can be called that, is Rosso di Arnaldo. Named in honor of his father, Giorgio blended four different hand-picked and specially selected grape varieties, used traditional methods of vinification, and matured the wine in large Slavonian oak for six months, then in small barrels for another six months. Each year, production of this wine is limited based on the quality of the best grapes. It is, quite simply, an extraordinary wine. It would be even if I did not have a personal tie to its namesake.
Since Girogio’s untimely passing, Susanna has made a blend in his honor, Il Segreto di Giorgio (“Giorgio’s secret’). I’ve known her almost twenty years, but Susanna will not share with me the secret of this blend. But she insists the wine, produced in very limited numbers each year, should be served with friends on a special occasion. It is a very good wine, not as flamboyant as the Rosso di Arnaldo, but Giorgio was not as flamboyant as his father.
What I have found to be a terrific evening is a bottle of each.
I’ve taken something in the neighborhood of 100 friends to the Crociani winery in Montepulciano. Nobody has ever walked away without at least a box of wine in their hands.