I had the chance to revisit the wines of Salcheto in Tuscany just recently, and to say I was impressed by the quality of their 2016 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano would be a serious understatement. The magic of the 2016 vintage is apparent in this wine’s quality – it is all about the ripeness of the fruit and the balance. I doubt they have ever matched this quality before, so I count myself lucky with the timing of my tasting.
Salcheto is a relatively new producer – this 15-hectare estate was founded in 1984 by Cecilia and Fabrizio Piccin. In actual fact, the estate began as a farm focused on cheese production, but being situated in the district that produces Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, it did not take the Piccins long to change focus, and by 1990 they had made their first vintage. In the late eighties/early nineties, marketing Vino Nobile was a challenge, and so they linked up with Michele Mannelli who set about making bold changes to drive forward the estate. Central to Mannelli’s approach has been the creation of ‘Salco’, essentially a Riserva made from 100% Sangiovese, which is the flagship of Salcheto. The Piccins left Tuscany in 2003 and Mannelli took over, bringing in investors who shared his aspirations for this fledgling estate. Judging by the 2016, his perseverance has certainly paid off.
A word on Vino Nobile di Montepulciano:
Let's get one thing straight – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has nothing to do with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Vino Nobile is a Sangiovese-dominant wine produced in the area around the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, whereas Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made from the Montepulciano variety grown in eastern-central Italy in the region of Abruzzo. They should not be confused and are entirely different wines of much different qualities!
Montepulciano is a famous and historic region that has been linked to wine production for a great many years, given it was mentioned in Livy’s History of Rome around 2,000 years ago! In fact, any research into this Tuscan region reveals numerous historic references, whether it be from Voltaire or Thomas Jefferson. It isn't clear when wines from this region were first described as noble or ‘nobile’ but as descriptors for wine regions go, it is a very good one. Given the success of another great Tuscan wine region devoted to Sangiovese, namely Brunello di Montalcino, it seems odd that Vino Nobile languishes slightly off stage. It would be fair to say that Montalcino is home to higher profile producers, and the average quality of Brunello is significantly higher, but that does not mean that Vino Nobile should be overlooked. Every smart wine buyer knows that regions that aren’t centre stage can offer great value if you can focus on the finest producers. Whereas Brunello has benefitted from wine critics championing its virtues, particularly in the US market, which has drawn easier sales and greater investment leading to higher quality, Vino Nobile's progression has been more subdued.
Some say that Vino Nobile doesn’t have the same silkiness of tannins and possesses a perkier acidity than Brunello. I would argue that’s a tough call – there is more than one style of Brunello and also Brunello must spend an extra year in wood than Vino Nobile according to Italian Wine Law which surely impacts the perception of acidity? Montepulciano does lie further inland (around 15 to 20 kilometres due east of Montalcino) and there are sectors with more clay that can promote robustness and areas with greater sand that can lead to lighter expressions. Climate-wise, Montepulciano is slightly cooler, and perhaps has a little more annual rainfall; all subtle differences. However, all that said, the biggest difference is that in Vino Nobile producers are permitted to blend Cannaiolo and Mammolo as well as international grape varieties to a maximum of 30%. Given this flexibility, styles of Vino Nobile will inevitably vary, but there are producers such as Salcheto exclusively focused on Sangiovese for their top wines.
Back to the wine in question. I would argue this is one of the finest values that I have tasted in Tuscany’s glorious 2016 vintage.