Just south of Siena, discover the ancient walled city of Montepulciano with its stunning panoramic views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. In the heart of the Vino Nobile wine region, it’s no surprise that this town – complete with Renaissance and Baroque architecture – is best known for it’s red wines. But what may surprise you is their annual tradition, Bravio delle Botti, which takes place every year in August on the last Sunday of the month.
This competition is unlike any other you’ll see in Italy. All eight districts of the town compete, and each district has their own team of two men. So what are these men doing? Racing uphill through the town’s narrow streets – and pushing a “botti,” or wine barrel, that weighs 80 kilograms (approximately 176 pounds)!
The first team to make it to Montepulciano’s beautiful duomo in the Piazza Grande win, along with bragging rights, the “Bravio,” which is a painted banner that depicts Montepulciano’s patron saint. The tradition dates all the way back to the 14th century. But back then the teams had help, as the race was done on horseback.
Centuries later, the town continues to celebrate the wines that share its name, both the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. Both wines are quite similar since they’re made with the same grapes (mostly Sangiovese, not the Montepulciano grape, which is native to Abruzzo!), although the Vino Nobile is better known and it is one of the few DOCG wines in Italy (due to the strict regulations guiding its production). The rosso, on the other hand, tends to have a fruiter flavor profile, and it is not aged nearly as long (six months compared to the Vino Nobile’s 24).
Whichever wine from Montepulciano you prefer, both are celebrated in this town, and not just with the strenuous wine barrel race. Leading up to the Bravio delle Botti, events are held all week in celebration, including a festive parade in which the participants are decked out in Middle Age costumes. And, of course, the town is decorated in plenty of flags, too.
Want to discover why the wines are so well regarded? Check out this risotto recipe that features the wine as an ingredient, and travel to Italy to experience Montepulciano for yourself. Some of the cooking vacations we offer – namely Cooking under the Tuscan Sun and Tuscan Splendor – include wine tastings of this festive Italian wine.
By Liz Hall
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