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1999 Contucci "Pietra Rossa" Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Tuscany

Azienda Agricola Contucci sits atop the medieval hilltown of Montepulciano. Their modest shop is found by winding your way up the twisting golden cobblestone streets to the top of the city. Just before you reach the grand piazza, a small stone fronted shop will be on your left, and if you're lucky, a nice old woman in a black dress will be there to welcome you with a smile. You wouldn't know it by looking at this little store, but the Contucci's were practically the first family to be known for wine in the region -- by 1700 already having a well established production that catered to the tastes of popes, monarchs, and well-to-do Tuscans of the Renaissance. Of course if you wander a bit farther down the plaza, you come to the Palazzo Contucci, and then you realize how long this family has been around, and how well connected they actually were.

In any case, after walking up the winding streets of Monteulciano, wine tasting along the way, I finally got to the top and had a glass of Contucci's wine, and as I looked out of the doorway onto the sunlit street, I was a hairsbreadth away from selling everything I owned and renting an apartment -- any apartment -- in this little town where I could eke out enough of an existence to eat and drink and live. Those who have spent time in Tuscany in May will understand the euphoria. And those who have tasted Contucci's wine will also understand -- this is classic Vino Nobile: excellent Sangiovese (to be specific - Prugnolo a clone of Sangiovese), aged in Slavonian Oak and French Barriques, one of my favorites from the region.

It's hard to separate this wine from the memories of the landscape of Tuscany, and the particular beauty of Montepulciano, including one of the worlds most beautiful churches, but even without the context and the recollections of lazy spring days, those who appreciate Tuscan wines will find this an excellent companion to your next Italian meal, or to your own spring reveries, wherever they may be.

This wine is Contucci's single vineyard designate wine, coming from the Pietra Rossa ("red stone") vineyard.

Tasting Notes:
Like many Sangiovese/Prugnolo based wines, after a few years this one leans towards the blood red end of the color spectrum, and in a couple of years will incorporate more brick tones as the tannins mellow. The nose has a lovely warm caramel and redcurrent element with hints of smoke and an echo of floral tones. The body of the wine is classic Tuscan, especially for a wine of this age (young) with heavy tannins that blanket flavors of rasberry, redcurrant, and toasted oak. The finish is heavy and oak driven, but lightens quite dramatically as the wine is left to breathe. I highly recommend decanting this wine, as it will open beatifully for hours.

Food Pairing:
I find all Tuscan wines, even the big Barolos, most accomodating of tomato based or olive based dishes (go figure). Even though they make reasonable accompaniments to red meats, my preference is for pastas. I drank this wine with spicy italian sausage and tomato sauce over rigatoni pasta.

Overall Score:8.5

How much?: about $45

I purchased mine directly from their wine store in Montepulciano, and a quick search of the Internet leads me to believe that this may be the best bet for most people, unfortunately. They list no US importers. If anyone has any leads on this wine, let me know -- my 6 bottles will not last forever.

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