Rolling hills, sunshine for days, cypress trees shivering in the refreshing breeze – it’s no wonder that the grapes love Tuscany just as much as people do. As thanks, Tuscan vineyards produce an overwhelming bounty of delicious wines, just waiting to be tapped into. The tricky part is trying to combine a wine tasting with dinner! I have no idea why, but almost every winery closes shop by 6PM and offers tastings exclusively with lunch. To accomodate combining a full day of exploring with trying wine, I hunted down one of the few spots in Montepulciano where fantastic wine and dinner go hand in hand. There I found an ingenious invention: the Wine Card at La Bottega del Nobile.
Avignonesi is one of the best known wineries in the area, and it’s also possible to tour their winery.
Why drink wine in Montepulciano?
The view over the Val d’Orcia
Okay, maybe you thought I would start by actually talking about wine. Nope! I have to talk about this impressive landscape. Val d’Orcia is basically Tuscany on a postcard. Avenues of cypresses, golden fields of wheat and sunflowers, hills that seem to tumble over one another towards the setting sun. You get the idea! From the hilltop town of Montepulciano we saw the best Tucsan landscapes of the entire trip.
Beautiful streets lines with cafes and Enoteca
Nothing whispers “Italia” sweetly in your ear like the beautiful streets of Montepulciano. The painted wooden shutters and warmly lit enoteca (wine bars) beg to be photographed and admired while you dine al fresco and sip your wine. Walkable and mostly free of cars, Montepulciano oozes relaxation and a slower pace of doing things.
There is wine everywhere
If you’re not on the hunt for dinner like I was, you could easily come to Montepulciano without any plans and simply stumble into any enoteca or wine shop and start tasting. Practically every turn featured a charming spot to sip a glass of wine.
Dealing with Italian dinnertime
As I said before, most wineries close before dinnertime, so it was not possible to reconcile having a busy day with wine tasting on premises, so to speak. And in case you’re not aware, Italians have a very specific timeframe for eating dinner and in a lot of places you can only get drinks in between lunch and Italian dinnertime.
It is possible, however, to use this to our advantage.
As most places open around 7PM for dinner (when us Americans have already been starving for the last hour), it’s easy to be first in line and beat the local rush that happens between 8 and 8:30. Score! And that’s exactly how we landed our table at La Bottega del Nobile.
The Italians have had a lot of good ideas (Romance languages, Ferrari, and nice shoes come to mind) but I have to say that antipasto is chief among them. Eating before eating is just brilliant!
How it works: the Wine Card
La Bottega del Nobile has a deceptive exterior. It looks like a couple of tables outdoors, a few seats inside, and that’s it. NOT SO. This place is a small underground maze of wine machines and additional places to sit (conveniently next to wine machines). So don’t be discouraged if it looks full. Instead, turn your attention to the Wine Card.
Notice the thin slit below the topmost LCD screen – that’s where the wine card goes!
The Wine Card comes loaded with 50€. I guess that’s to keep people like me from racking up a bill of unknown proportions. It works like this:
- Approach a wine dispensing machine. There are 60 open wines available.
- Place your card, microchip facing down, into the machine slot.
- Decide how much wine you want: several sips (1-2€), a small glass (2.50-3€), or a normal glass (3-9€).
Afterwards, the LCD screen displays your remaining balance. As if arithmetic isn’t hard enough for me sober, it is definitely more difficult after a few glasses of wine.
Nonetheless, three of us spent about 20 euros on wine and probably tried five different wines altogether in varying quantities. What you don’t use of the 50€ you don’t have to pay, so there’s basically no risk for going for the card and tasting to your heart’s content!
Buying a bottle may be cheaper, but it’s definitely not as much fun.
Tips for tasting Tuscan wines
The only thing I really know about wine is that I like it very much, but here’s what I learned about wine from the helpful staff at La Bottega del Nobile (as well as a “personal insight” ;))
- Start with younger wines and work your way back in time, so the older wines don’t ruin your ability to taste the younger ones.
- End with an aged wine, like Brunello, which is a minimum of 5 years old.
- Swirl the glass while the wine is being dispensed to open the flavors. Try not to spill.
- If you’re feeling frugal, you can share the 1.50-2.00€ tastes between several people, and then commit to a full glass.
The staff is also super helpful and eager to suggest wines and show you how to use the machines like a pro.
My favorite wines from the region
The most quintessential wine from Montepulciano is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is produced by a number of different wineries in the area. It enjoys a protected status, meaning that only wineries producing nearby are allowed to use this name for their wines. I thought this was just okay, and I actually preferred the “hardcore” Brunello.
I also greatly enjoyed Grechetto, which is actually produced in Umbria. Since I stayed on Lake Trasimeno, which basically straddles the border between Umbria and Tuscany, I got to try food and wine from both regions. Win! If you’re more of a white wine person, reach for this and you won’t be disappointed.
That said, Montepulciano is known for its red wine in particular, so white wines aren’t dispensed by the machines. I stuck to red while I was here and I think it worked out! Now I’m just not sure if I have purple lips in this picture or that’s just the lighting…
Would you trust yourself to do self-guided wine tasting?
Have you even been to a proper wine tasting at a winery? Would you trust yourself with a card loaded with 50€ and sixty different wines at your fingertips?! Share your thoughts in the comments!