Boscarelli Wines – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

boscarelli-montapulciano-custom-bike-tours-italyOn our Italiaoutdoors bike tours and walking tours through the best wine regions in Tuscany, we often spend a couple of days exploring Montepulciano. This hilltop town is surrounded by picturesque vineyards producing one of Italy’s quality wines, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. During a recent visit, I stopped by Poderi Boscarelli, a family producer with over 50 years of history producing Vino Nobile.

Poderi Boscarelli is located in northeast Montepulciano facing the Chiana Valley, in the commune of Cervognano. At 300 m above sea level, their vineyards have the right combination of temperatures and natural air circulation to provide an ideal microclimate. Rich alluvial soil and sand provide good drainage and result in wines with elegant character and minerality.
The estate was founded by Egidio Corradi, a member of the old Poliziana family. longtime wine producers in the Montepulciano region. After spending much of his life working as an international broker in Genoa and Milan, he returned to his home region and purchased two semi-abandoned small farms in Cervognano, a corner of old Etruscan Tuscany near Montepulciano.

His daughter Paola and her husband Ippolito De Ferrari started Poderi Boscarelli in the ’60s on this estate, planting their first specialized vineyards and building the first winery by renovating the old stables. The estate has now passed to the third generation of the family, sons Luca and Nicolò De Ferrari.
Sangiovese grapes are the most prevalent varietal, covering about 80% of the 14 hectares of vineyards in the estate. The remaining 20% consists of several native varietals, including Mammolo, Canaiolo and Colorino, and international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet. In 2006 they planted 2 hectares of Merlot in vineyards in nearby Cortona.

Boscarelli’s commitment to quality wine production begins in the vineyard, with careful selection of location for each of the various grapevines. During my tour I was shown a large rolling field with several varietals, the Merlot vines planted at the just slightly lower elevations where it is a degree or two cooler, the Sangiovese on the crests.
This attention to detail continues during harvest, with the age, optimum ripeness and soil composition all playing a role in determining when a particular grape is harvested. Each selection is then fermented separately, resulting in at least 30 different cuvées. After separate aging, the wines are then blended from these various cuvées a few weeks before bottling, with the final proportions determined in a lengthy – but I imagine very fun – tasting process. This method requires a lot of work but it allows for the deepest expression of the character of each varietal and its terroir.

I enjoyed tasting of a few of Boscarelli wines.


A Rosso di Montepulciano DOC wine, 90% Sangiovese Prugnolo Gentile – the local Sangiovese clone used in the wines from Montepulciano, and 10% Mammolo. The freshness of the fruity notes of Sangiovese combined with spicing from the Mammolo variety. This is produced from younger vines, and is a fresh wine meant to be enjoyed young.


Produced under the nearby Cortona DOC, from their Merlot vineyards in Centoia, this is 100% Merlot. A fresh and fruity wine, again best enjoyed you, within 4 to 5 years.

vino-nobile-montepulciano-custom-bike-tours-italyVino Nobile di Montepulciano

This is Boscarelli’s older label of Vino Nobile, first produced in 1968.  It represents almost half of their total production. This Vino Nobile is produced with selected grapes from vineyards of at minimum 10 years of age, planted in red, sandy and mineral soils to give the wine a great deal of character and aging potential. It consists of 85% Sangiovese Prugnolo Gentile, with the remainder Colorino, Canaiolo and Mammolo.

The grapes are picked manually, soft pressed and fermented in oak vats. Indigenous yeast is used in the fermentation process.

This Nobile vintage is aged in Allier or Slavonian oak casks from 18 to 24 months. Before delivery the wine is aged in the bottle for several months. This has the potential to age a few decades, but the recommended maturation period, depending on the vintage, is between 5 to 8 years after harvest.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

This wine was produced in 2010, making it almost 20 years since the reserve was last released in 1992. The reason for this break was that for the previous 26 years Boscarelli gradually re-selected and replanted their historic vineyards, focusing on clone selection, different expressions of Sangiovese vines in relation to the soil and the potential of combining the characteristics of Sangiovese grapes with other international varieties.

2010 found increased complexity and structure in the grapes from the first replanting of native vines, which inspired Boscarelli to repeat, with the same blend of local grapes, the Reserve of the Vino Nobile of the 1970s and ‘80s.

The Vino Nobile Riserva is made from 88% Sangiovese Prugnolo Gentile grapes and 12% Colorino. The grapes are picked manually and fermented in oak vats using indigenous yeast. Nobile Reserve is aged in Allier or Slavonian oak casks from 28 to 32 months. Before delivery the wine is aged in bottles for several months.

The aging potential of the Riserva is a few decades, with the recommended optimum, depending on the vintage, from 5 to 10 years after harvest.


Vin Santo di Montepulciano

Vin Santo is a sweet wine with a long history of production in Tuscany.  Once called the “wine of hospitality”, it was used to warm up a passing stranger on his way down from the hills, celebrate some happy event, or make a toast on a Sunday after a special meal.

The traditional fermentation method is extremely typical for Vin Santo wines: the harvested grapes, Trebbiano Malvasia and Grechetto, are selected and hung up to dry in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms. Drying concentrates the sugars, makes it possible to obtain the sugar levels necessary to make the wine. During my visit, I watched a couple of workers carefully selecting and laying the grapes out on mats for drying.
According to the specifications, the grapes must be pressed from December 1 for Vin Santo di Montepulciano, then aged in wooden barrels. The aging period lasts for at 4 to 5 years for the Boscarelli Vin Santo di Montepulciano.

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Exploring Tuscany – Montepulciano

montepulciano-view-custom-walking-tours-tuscanyWinding our way through southern Tuscany by bicycle, we arrive in the hill town of Montepulciano. Situated between the Val di Chiana and the Val d’Orcia, and offering views of Lake Trasimeno to the east, and Monte Amiata to the south west, it is a lovely place to while away the afternoon.

val-dorcia-custom-tours-tuscanyThe main street of Montepulciano stretches for just under a mile from the Porta al Prato up hill to Piazza Grande. Car traffic is severely restricted within the 14th century walls of the city.  There area several examples of medieval and Renaissance edifices, including the Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo Tarugi, and the Duomo. The lovely church seen just off the hill outside the city is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Biagio. For more information on the history of the region, and places to explore in the area, visit

vino-nobile-private-tours-tuscanyToday the city is most well-known for its wine and unique culinary specialties. On 1st July 1980, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano became the very first Italian wine to earn the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) which places it alongside the most prestigious wines in Italy and the world. According to the current production regulations, the basic features of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are a minimum of 70% of the local Sangiovese clone, called Prugnolo Gentile, blended with up to 30% of other authorized varietals. Like Sangiovese-based Chianti, Vino Nobile is bright with fruit, but with greater depth and intensity of flavors due to Montepulciano’s clay terroir. Vino Nobile is not to be confused with the Montepulciano wine from other regions in Italy, which is produced from the Montepulciano grape.

cinta-senese-custom-tours-tuscanyEnjoy the local dishes with your glass of Vino Nobile. Look for prosciutto or other pork dishes from Cinta Senese pigs. Black, with a white stripe around the middle (cinta means belt), these pigs have been raised in this region for hundreds of years, but almost faced extinction not too long ago. Local farmers resurrected the breed, prized for its unique flavors from its diet of foraged roots and nuts, and its high fat content.

Pici pasta is found on every restaurant menu, a long thick hand shaped spaghetti topped with tomato (al pomodoro), garlic (all’aglione) or a ragu of cinghiale (wild boar) or coniglio (rabbit). Fall brings tagliatelle topped with fresh porcini.


For those craving a steak fix, the Bistecca alla Fiorentina will more than satisfy. The cattle from the Val di Chiana, Chianina, are the largest cattle in the world, large white beasts that served as working stock until fairly recently. Bring a large appetite, or a friend to share – these steaks are priced by the 1/10 of a kilogram, and usually run about 1 kilo minimum size, over 2 pounds. They are best grilled, and served rare, seasoned simply with salt and pepper.

My colleague, Vernon McClure, has developed a very comprehensive guide site,, on the history, geography, culture, outdoor activities and general travel in Italy.

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A Travel Guide to Cortona, Italy

cortona-view-italiaoutdoors-private-italy-toursCortona is a lovely small city in Tuscany, Italy, a wonderful destination on our private cycling tours and walking tours, its hilltop location offering stunning views of Lake Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana. Its ancient walls reveal its Etruscan origins. Legend has it that Cortona was founded by the legendary Dardanus before 500 B.C., becoming one of the twelve cities of Etruria. Today many Etruscan ruins and tombs may be seen in the vicinity. Cortona sided against Rome until 310 B.C. when Fabius Rullianus defeated the Etruscans and took Perugia. Later Cortona was destroyed by the Lombards but was soon rebuilt. In the 14 C, it was governed by the Casali and afterwards became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Today, Cortona is most famous as the setting for Frances Mayes’ novel, “Under the Tuscan Sun”. But strolling its medieval streets, visiting its many artistic treasures, or just enjoying its amazing location with a spectacular view, has always made Cortona well worth a visit. You can explore Cortona’s Etruscan and Roman heritage at the Museo dell’ Accademia Etrusca in the 13th century Palazzo Pretorio on Piazza Signorelli. Or visit the Chiesa di San Domenico near the public gardens to appreciate its 15th century altar and works by SIgnorelli and Fra Anglieco. The Duomo, Cortona’s Renaissance cathedral, was built on the stie of an Etruscan temple, and is home to many lovely 16th and 17th century paintings.
Most visitors never get to the neighborhoods above Cortona. Walk up above the main town, where you will find the main church, Chiesa di Santa Margarita. A beautiful church, and the final resting place of the patron saint of Cortona, Santa Margherita, at the altar in a glass case. Also above Cortona is the 16th century Medici Fortezza, one of the many Medici fortresses built in the middle ages. There are often exhibits here, but it is worth a visit simply to enjoy great views of nearby Lake Trasimeno.
After your explorations, take some time to enjoy the local foods and wines. A great spot to do this is on the Piazza della Republica, with many outdoor cafes. Local dishes include many varieties of bruschetta, toasted bread rubbed with local olive oil and topped with anything from fresh tomatoes (Bruschetta al Pomodoro) to chicken livers. First courses include a bread and tomato salad, panzanella, or a fresh tomato soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. The favorite pasta here in Cortona are thick noodles called pici, with sauces from fresh tomatoes and garlic to ragu di cinghiale (wild boar). A treat for meat lovers is the local beef from Val di Chiana, a Chianina steak, often called Florentine beefsteak. You’ll need a partner for this dish, as they usually are served by weight starting at 1kg – over 2 pounds. For dessert, try cantucci, a biscotti like cookie that is served with the traditional Vin Santo, a local sweet wine.
The vineyards covering the rolling hills surrounding the town belong to the small Cortona DOC wine region. Historical evidence dates the origin of grape cultivation in this area to the Etruscan times when grapes vines were planted among orchards, the adjacent trees used to support thee vines. Wine production in the Val di Chiana area suffered in the Middle Ages as the valley deteriorated into swamp. Grape cultivation returned only in the second half of the 16th century when the area was reclaimed, with Cortona wines particularly prized by pope Paul III who during his stays in nearby Perugia had wine delivered from Cortona for his banquets.
The Cortona DOC was created in 1999 to define and protect the local winemaking traditionas. Vine cultivation is allowed only in fields over 250 m above sea level. Amongst the wines of this DOC you will find a variety produced from traditional local grapes like Grechetto and Sangiovese, as well as international varietals like Cabernet, Merlot, and, interesingly enough, Syrah, which is not cultivated widely in Italy. During the Napoleonic occupation of this area in early 1800s, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, an avid oenophile, encouraged the cultivation of international varietals here.

My colleague, Vernon McClure, has developed a very comprehensive guide site,, on the history, geography, culture, outdoor activities and general travel in Italy.

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Secrets Behind a Great Bruschetta

bruschetta-pomodoro-private-tours-tuscanyEnjoying an afternoon wine tasting with a plate of bruschette is the perfect way to relax after a day of cycling in Tuscany. But what exactly is bruschetta – it seems to take on many forms here in Tuscany – and how do I impress my friends back home with an authentic and delicious version?

bruschetta-tuscany-view-private-toursLet’s begin with saying it correctly – it is pronounced BRU-sketta, note the “ch” is pronounced as “k” in Italian. The name bruschetta comes from the Roman dialect verb bruscare, meaning ‘to roast over coals’. This is an ancient dish, dating back to the Etruscan age. Then, this referred to a simple dish of grilled bread – best day old, a bit stale – either grilled or baked in an oven, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. According to Marcella Hazan, the dish most likely originated in ancient Rome, when olive growers bringing their olives to the local press would toast slices of bread to sample their fresh-pressed oil. In Tuscany, renowned for its olive oil, the olive farmers believe that the oil should be very young and recently pressed and that bruschetta is best accompanied by a glass of wine. As an old Italian proverb goes, “Day-old bread, month-old oil, and year-old wine”.

bruschetta-close-private-tours-tuscanyToday, the term bruschetta often refers to an antipasti that consists of this basic grilled bread served with just about any topping you can imagine. All over Italy you will see an enormous variety of options – with meats like prosciutto crudo, chicken livers, fresh sausage or lard; versions served with zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers and many different kids of cheeses. Probably the most common version is the bruschetta al pomodoro, topped with tomatoes, basil, and more olive oil.

bruschetta-ingredients-close-private-tours-tuscanyThree simple tips for making great bruschetta in your own kitchen:

Great ingredients – Now is the time to invest in a wonderful bottle of fresh olive oil from your local gourmet store, or open that one you brought home from Italy. Buy a marvelous loaf of sourdough or other artisinal bread. Coarse grain salt. Fresh garlic.

Top it according to the season – One of the most distinctive differences between an Italian cook and a US cook is creating menus according to what is in season. If it is not currently growing in their neighborhood, Italians don’t use it. I’ve been in the prosecco zone, about 15km away Bassano del Grappa, home to some absolutely amazing white asparagus, and the producer I was chatting with claimed they never eat this delicacy, even in season, because “we don’t grow that here.” So now, in August, I’m making bruschetta al pomodoro with fresh, local heirloom tomatoes. I’ll enjoy this version until the end of the tomato season, and won’t eat it again until next July. In the meantime, there are mushroom bruschette to enjoy in the fall, maybe radicchio and chestnut; sauteed kale or chicken livers in colder months. Spring will bring bruschette with peas and asparagus.

Serve with a great Tuscan wine – And perhaps explore beyond Chianti. Absolutely nothing wrong with Chianti, I love them. But the Italian wine universe does not begin and end there. There are MANY other wines in Tuscany. How about a Brunello di Montalcino? Or a Vino Nobile? Or a Syrah from Cortona? Or a Carmignano?….

bruschetta-pomodoro-close-private-tours-tuscanyBruschetta al Pomodoro

Makes 8


2 large or 3-4 medium, fresh, local, amazing tomatoes, diced small
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
8 slices of a great bread, sliced about 1/2” thick
1 – 2 cloves fresh garlic
High quality fresh extra-virgin olive oil

Place the tomatoes in a colander over a plate to catch the juices. Season with salt and pepper, and half of the basil. Let sit at room temperature while you toast the bread.

Toast the bread in a 350° oven directly on the rack until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Or grill. You want nicely browned grill lines, but still a softer interior – best to soak up juicy tomatoes.

Remove from oven, and rub each slice all over with a garlic clove. Brush each slice with olive oil. Place the bread slices on a serving plate, top the bread with tomatoes, garnish with remaining basil and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil right before serving.

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Pici Pasta from Tuscany – Fatta a Mano

aglione_pici_tuscany_custom_toursAfter a day of cycling in the hills of Tuscany, or walking through the vineyards outside of Montalcino or Montepulciano, our favorite pasta lunch is a plate of pici all’aglione. Pici is a rustic handmade pasta from Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia. Called pici in Cortona and Montepulciano, and pinci in Montalcino, they are a long, irregular spaghetti, best when “fatta a mano” or “fatta in casa”, made by hand, or in house. The name pici comes from the term “appiciare”, which refers to the traditional manual technique used to form these long, thick noodles. Ancient in origin, dating back to the Etruscans, they were made from only flour and water, the poor everyday pasta of the Sienese peasants. Including a small amount of egg was the rich version, reserved for Sundays and holidays.

Plate of pici all’aglione in Cortona

There are several different ways of producing pici, all of which require only your hands, a wooden board, and optionally a rolling pin – no pasta machine needed. I’ve made it in Italy with a local chef, and we simply pinched off pieces of dough and rolled them between our palms or on a wooden board to form 1/4 inch round snakes from the dough. Unless you are quite adept at this technique, this will result in shorter noodles, around 6 inches in length or so.

dough_strips_pici_tuscany_custom_toursThe traditional “appiciare” technique involves rolling out a larger quantity of dough into a sheet around 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. You cut a strip of dough about 1/4” thick from this sheet, grasp one end in your fingers to hold, then, using a flat palm, roll the noodle back and forth on a floured wooden board to round and lengthen. The result should be a rounded, thick spaghetti that can, in expert hands, reach 3 –  6 feet in length. Here’s a YouTube video showing this technique.
As I am not an expert in appiciare, I did a little bit more work with a rolling pin to minimize the rolling by hand. I rolled out a larger quantity of dough into a sheet around 1/8” thick, then cut this sheet into thin flat strips around 1/4” wide. I then attempted to roll the noodles with my palm, but I made these on a granite counter top, and my flat noodles didn’t roll, they just slid around. You really need the traction of the wood board. So I simply twisted each flat strip between my thumb and fingers to form the long round spaghetti, and that worked pretty well. The result are long, fairly thick, irregular noodles. This is a rustic, peasant dish, so don’t worry overly much about making perfectly formed, uniform noodles!
There are several different traditional accompaniment for pici, but in the late summer my favorite is all’aglione, a simple sauce made from fresh tomatoes, lots of garlic, and a great olive oil.

I would always pair with a local wine – in Cortona, a Cortona Syrah. In Montepulciano, a Rosso or Vino Nobile. In Montalcino, a Brunello.



Pici all’Aglione

Serves 4

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons warm water

5-6 medium fresh heirloom tomatoes, or a mix of full size and cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
4 large cloves garlic, minced
10 basil leaves, chiffonade
Kosher salt

Place the flours and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour the flour out on a clean counter, and form a well in the middle. Pour the warm water into the well.

pasta_well_pici_tuscany_custom_toursUsing a fork, begin to scrape some of the flour from the inner sides of the well into the water, slowly incorporating more and more of the flour. The water in the middle will thicken and become a soft dough. Eventually you will be able to loose the fork and just use your hands. Keep incorporating the flour as needed to keep your dough from sticking to your hands and the counter top. You do NOT need to incorporate all of the flour, the amount of flour will depend on the type, the humidity, and other variables. You want a nice soft dough, not too sticky.

dough_well_pici_tuscany_custom_toursKnead the dough for about 10 minutes or so, adding a bit more flour only when it begins to stick. Cover the dough, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

To form your pici:

Pinch off a small piece of dough and roll between your palms or on a wooden board to form 1/4 inch round snakes. Place the formed pici on a sheet pan dusted with semolina flour. Do not allow them to touch, as they will stick to each other.


Divide the dough in 4 pieces. Take one, and cover the rest with plastic wrap. Roll out into a sheet around 1/4” to 1/2” inch thick. Cut a strip of dough about 1/4” thick from this sheet, grasp one end in your fingers to hold, then, using a flat palm, roll the noodle back and forth on a floured wooden board to round and lengthen. The result should be a rounded, thick spaghetti that can, in expert hands, reach 3 –  6 feet in length. Here’s a YouTube video showing this technique. Place the formed pici on a sheet pan dusted with semolina flour. Do not allow them to touch, as they will stick to each other. Continue with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.


Divide the dough in 4 pieces. Take one, and cover the rest with plastic wrap. Roll into a sheet around 1/8” thick, then cut this sheet into thin flat strips around 1/4” wide. Take each strip, and roll the noodles on a floured wooden boards with your palm to form rounded, thick spaghetti. On a granite counter top, and my flat noodles didn’t roll, they just slid around. In this case, you can twist each flat strip between your thumb and fingers to form the long round spaghetti. Place the formed pici on a sheet pan dusted with semolina flour. Do not allow them to touch, as they will stick to each other. Continue with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.

For the sauce:

Coarsely chop and seed the fresh tomatoes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and red pepper flakes. Add the tomatoes and garlic, and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes soften, render their juice and begin to thicken, around 15 – 20 minutes. Season with salt.

When the water is at a full boil, season the water with salt, and add the fresh pici. Cook just until al dente; you want some bite to the pici, not mushy. Drain.

Combine the pici and the sauce in the saute pan, then serve in large bowls, drizzling liberally with more olive oil and garnishing with the basil strips.


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