A 'Noble' Tuscan

Riding in the slipstream of their more famous Tuscan neighbors, the flashy and high-priced Brunellos and Super Tuscans, but attracting far less attention are the delightful wines of Montepulciano, a medieval hill town in the southeast of the region.

The best of these go by the immodest name of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but don't be put off by the grandiose handle as it is mere Italian braggadocio. The wines themselves are charming, delightful, and totally without pretension, while at the same time commanding prices that are anything but aristocratic.

One of the top producers is Avignonesi, and the Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2005 ($27) is about as good as the appellation gets.

The wine is wonderfully quaffable, the ideal drinking wine as opposed to a sipping and contemplating-and-discussing wine. It's full of light, airy freshness backed by succulent, red-fruit flavors and just enough earthy richness to make it really interesting. It has a bit more gravitas than your usual Chianti Classico without the credit-card thumping price of the more august Brunellos.

This makes it the perfect wine to share with a group of friends over a casual, laughter-filled supper.

To find this wine near you try www.wine-searcher.com.

WOW Rating:

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: A half-hour of breathing really helps it open up.

Food Pairing: Grilled meats, game, hard cheese, pasta with meat sauces

Grapes: 85% prugnolo gentile (sangiovese), 10% canaiolo nero, 5% mammolo

Appellation: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Region: Tuscany

Country: Italy

Price: $27

Availability: Moderate

Web Site: www.avignonesi.it

See more wines at www.nickonwine.com.

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